Encounters with Enterotoxemia

You never learn a lesson quite so well as when personal experience is involved. My goat keep giving me these learning opportunities, whether I want them or not. A few weeks ago I had my first up close experience with the disease process called enterotoxemia.

enterotoxemia toxoid
Vaccine for two types of Enterotoxemia and tetanus

What is Enterotoxemia?

Toxemia means that a toxin is present in an animal’s system and is causing illness. Entero means having to do with the intestinal tract. All beasts are prone to different toxemias. Toxins might be directly introduced to the animal, but more often than not they are produced by microbes that are either accidentally ingested or reside normally in the animal’s system. In the case of those accidentally eaten, during digestion they release their toxins, with varying results depending upon the type of toxin. Microbes that normally reside in the animals system can be triggered to grow more rapidly than the animal can handle, resulting in the production of large amounts of toxins, and subsequently illness.

When it comes to enterotoxemia in the goat, the bacteria we are concerned with is Clostridium perfringens. This microbe, from the same large family as t

he one that causes tetanus – Clostridium tetani, is a normal part of the farm environment. Like C. tetani, it is anaerobic – living in conditions with little or no oxygen. This means that it can readily reside in the goat’s intestinal tract.

There are five types of C. perfringens, A, B, C, D, and E. Although types C and D are thought to be the primary ones affecting goats, type A and B have also been implicated in cases. The exact rates of each, though, are impossible to document, as most cases of the disease are never fully investigated. This is an important aspect for us to consider since the primary vaccine labeled for goats is for C. perfringens is based on types C and D only.

Frequency in Goats Alpha toxin Beta Toxin Epsilon Toxin Iota Toxin
Type A Rare Yes
Type B Rare Yes Yes Yes
Type C Uncommon Yes Yes
Type D Most Common Yes Yes
Type E Unknown Yes Yes

Each C. perfringens type specializes in the production of one or more toxins: alpha (α), beta (β), epsilon, and iota. As if that isn’t confusing enough, a variation on the β toxin has also been discovered and has been dubbed β2. 


Let’s talk about vaccination for enterotoxemia. As a reminder, vaccines are for prevention of disease, not treatment. Vaccines cause the animal to produce antibodies which are meant to protect the animal against disease. Vaccines for toxin induced disease are called toxoids. (versus anti-toxin which is a treatment and meant to inactivate the toxin produced during the disease). Most veterinarians and most literature will tell you that vaccination, for Clostridium perfringens type C and D (usually given in conjunction with the tetanus vaccine and so called C,D, and T) is a critical part of goat husbandry. You might also get the impression that if you follow a strict annual vaccination regimen, that your herd is protected. Unfortunately, when it comes to goats, this is not strictly true. The vaccine is acknowledged to be less effective in goats – not maintaining adequate antibodies in the animal’s system for long enough to protect the animal in between yearly doses. (See Goat Medicine 2nd Edition, by Mary Smith and David Sherman, page 411) It is recommended that for vaccination to be effective a goat should be “receive booster doses every three or four months throughout their life” after the initial two vaccinations as kid. Because of this as well as the possibility of other types of C. perfringens being the problem, many producers in consultation with their vets are taking a different approach that focusses on management only. This has been my approach for the last 15 years. During that time we’ve had up to 124 kids per year and at peak milked 40 does. I’ve just had our first case of enterotoxemia – and it was avoidable.

Causes and Our Case

Earlier I mentioned that for enough toxin to be produced, something must trigger the bacteria to grow out of control. The number one reason is the sudden availability of highly nutritious food in the animal’s gut – namely proteins and carbohydrates. It’s for good reason that the condition is known as overeating disease. The rapid intake of more grain, milk, or even lush pasture than the animal is accustomed to can trigger the disease and cause death within hours. Overfilling of the stomachs can lead to undigested matter, containing starches that haven’t had time to be fermented by the rumen, moving on to the gut where they provide nutrients for C. perfringens. Fast growing, healthy kids are more often the victims of this disease simply due to their success at being vigorous, aggressive eaters.

So what happened on our farm? As a part of my current herd management strategy, I keep kids over a certain age off of their moms at night, milk the mom’s all or part of the way out, and then recombine them for the day. The moms rarely let the kids nurse for long – a few sips over a few seconds and then they walk away. I’ve noticed this behavior seems to be directly linked to the age of the kids. It appears to begin when the kids are about two weeks old. Perhaps the kids are just too annoying and rough by then, or perhaps instinct has the mother’s not allowing them to overeat – given that by then they are eating roughage and ruminating. The kid I lost was one of triplets, the biggest and most vigorous. With three kids, I didn’t really worry about anyone overeating, but I should have. On the morning in question I was teaching the last day of a three-day class at our creamery, in other words, in a hurry with my focus elsewhere. To save time and the distraction of hearing kids yell, I let the kids out before milking. When their mom came up on the stand, she was much emptier than usual when the kids had been allowed to nurse before milking on other occasions.

Within an hour or so the kid was in severe distress. There is a cry a goat kid makes that lets you know it is in serious agony. Once heard, never forgotten. This kid was making those sounds, lying on her side, and extending her back legs stiffly. When stimulated, she would get up and walk to a new spot and lie down again. The fact that she could walk seemed to rule out a spinal injury. Her temperature was normal, rumen not distended as in bloat, inner eyelids nice and pink (no anemia as in a severe case of coccidiosis), but rumen sounds and movement were diminished. I gave her Banamine (flunixin meglumine) for pain, B vitamins for rumen support, electrolyte liquid, probiotics, put her in a pen alone, put a goat coat on her, and went in to return to my responsibilities to the class. My husband kept checking in on her and reporting back to me. The Banamine helped with the pain. One of this drug’s side effects is to calm the lining of the gut, so I was hoping if it was a case of colic or some other gastric upset, that there would be hope, but given how she had sounded earlier, my hope was low.

By the class lunch break, I could hear that her distress had not only resumed, but had turned a corner from which she could not return. I went to sit with her, trying to decide if there was even time to perform that last act of euthanasia. I sedated her to at least remove her awareness of the final pain, and she died quickly in my arms. From first symptoms to death only 3 hours had passed.

Clostridium Perfringens Types C & D Antitoxin

Enterotoxemia type C and D antitoxin (not toxoid) can be used if a case is suspected. I had been dissuaded by vets as to its effectiveness, but I sure wish I had had some to try, just to know. It is also used in some cases as a preventative, repeated every few weeks, to maintain antibody antitoxin levels in the animal. Be aware that when being used as a treatment for an active case, the dosage is at least two times that as for a preventative! See Goat Medicine (info at end) for suggested dosages for treatment of different degrees of the disease – peracute, acute, and chronic. Be aware that this dosage instruction includes follow up injections.

Necropsy and Diagnosis

If you’ve read much of my work, you know that I always try to perform my own, albeit amateur, field necropsy on any goat that dies from unknown causes. In this case, I waited until the class had dispersed, with the exception of one student that was staying on our farm to also learn about goat farming. I offered for her to watch if she wanted to. It’s not an easy thing to do or to see, the investigation of the inside of an animal, but she was game. In my book I teach you how to perform a field, or gross, necropsy and tell you that you don’t know if you will learn anything that answers that particular animal’s mystery, but you will learn something. This case was proof of that.

When talking about the case with a friend and fellow goat farmer a few days later, she said “Was it enterotoxemia?” That diagnosis hadn’t even been on my radar. I honestly didn’t know that milk could cause it. I talked to my vet, and she said that yes, in some species it is even called milk toxemia. So I sat down with my books and correlated the necropsy findings and symptoms with the information and concluded that yes, she most certainly died of enterotoxemia.

These are the abnormal things I found on the kid’s necropsy:  A small amount of clear fluid in her abdominal cavity (peritoneal cavity) that drained with the first incision; her abomasum (fourth or true stomach) contained large pieces of undigested matter (by the time the contents get to the abomasum they should be very broken down from rumen activity and rumination as well as the work of the omasum); the first portion of her lower intestines (the duodenum) had areas of taupe/brown color on the outside; the next section (the jejunum) had light, milky green liquid in it. Everything else appeared to my non-veterinarian eyes as normal. I didn’t think to check her kidneys for a change in texture – “pulpy kidney” is associated with this disease, but is seen more often in sheep than in goats. Often a section of the lower intestines is found to be red and inflamed (hemorrhagic), but this kid’s appeared normal to the naked eye, but no doubt was damaged at the microscopic level.

In reading different cases (see references at end), you find a variety of symptoms, some that correlate with the type and toxin, and others that seem interchangeable. Without a full necropsy with lab work, there is no way to know for certain which C. perfringens is the culprit, but enough of this kid’s results, and of course how she exhibited pain along with her sudden death make it an easy conclusion. Being a superior eater, she had filled her rumen with roughage, her abomasum was no doubt already full. Then she filled up on milk. The overeating caused two things to happen, roughage passed on to the abomasum before it was ready and the milk moved on to the intestines before it was ready. This provided a sudden, rich source of nutrients for the C. perfringens bacteria. The bacteria grew swiftly and released toxins that caused the neurological symptoms (back legs stiffening).  One of the effects of the bacteria is a rapid thinning of the intestinal wall, causing the leakage of serum into the abdominal cavity – which was seen on necropsy.


I always tell folks in my classes that the longer you have goats the more you will learn, and many of the lessons will be quite painful. There will always be something waiting to humble you and remind you of your own lack of full control. It’s important to accept this fact, but at the same time keep adding knowledge to our collection – and sharing it with others. Oh, and I ordered a bottle of anti-toxin, hopefully it will sit unneeded for another 15 years.

Review on Pulpy Kidney Disease, Dinsefa Jemal, Mohazeba Shifa and Bedaso Kebede, Journal of Veterinary Science and Disease:  https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/review-on-pulpy-kidney-disease-2157-7579-1000361.pdf

Clostridium perfringens type A and type A and β2 toxin associated with enterotoxemia in a 5-week-old goat, Tammy Dray. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. http://www.scielo.br/pdf/jvatitd/v13n4/a17v13n4.pdf

Goat Medicine 2nd Edition, Mary Smith and David Sherman, Wiley Blackwell, 2009, pages 406-412



Philosophy of a Vegetarian Butcher

I’m a vegetarian. Lacto-ovo. For almost a quarter century. I also harvest (as it’s so appealingly called these days) meat for my omnivore family. In addition I’ve found it gratifying to teach others how to respectfully take the life of a gentle beast and convert its life into sources of life for others.  I don’t find this a conflict at all.

Vegetarianism in all its forms is a luxury of time and situation. In my case, I have never liked to eat meat. When I was a kid, the only way I enjoyed it was if it was marinated and then cooked to well done. I don’t like the taste of fresh milk or eggs – especially healthy, farm eggs. There is just something about my system that doesn’t crave, enjoy, or seem to need meat. But I am fortunate to have access to homegrown fruits and veggies and an amazing spectrum of local products, rice from our region, beans from many places, organic tofu, amazing cheeses, and numerous other foods and supplements that seem to provide all I need. But to practice abstinence from animal products as a superior lifestyle is to disrespect indigenous cultures throughout time, those living in less bountiful societies, and indeed, our own origins as a species.

To believe that vegetarianism is more evolved and more ethical is the ultimate arrogance. It implies that humankind is above and separate from nature – indeed we seem drawn to this paradigm in almost every aspect of how we treat the planet and its systems. When it comes to eating meat, however, humankind can rise to a level that our non-speaking predator animal kin cannot – we have the potential to take the life of another creature for sustenance with respect, honor, and appreciation. It’s the lack of realizing this potential that is the true tragedy.

To blithely shop the supermarket meat department, its refrigerated cases stacked with tidy rows of bright claret steaks; to selectively dine on primarily just the choice parts of the animal – bacon, chicken breasts, lobster tails; to expect flesh to be inexpensive – all of these things support and create high efficiency, large-scale farming, where the animal, the human worker, and the environment pay the price. Meat, of any kind, should be relatively costly and eaten in proportion to what the animal, the workers, and the land can, without undue compromises, provide.

I don’t expect everyone to be able to learn to slaughter and butcher. Even 15 years ago, I harbored a prejudice toward friends who were able to kill their own chickens, it just seemed a bit barbaric. I was raised on a farm by parents who were not from self-sufficient upbringings. But they aspired toward that. In addition to a massive garden, orchards, and a home-scale wheat grinding mill, we also raised animals for milk and meat. But others were paid to kill and process them. It was so hard for my mother, in fact, that she would load me and my sister in the car and take us to town on the day the kill truck came. I took the next step. And my children have a more innate sense of balance regarding life and the food chain than even I do.

In 2003 I told my husband, a happy omnivore, that I wanted to raise a batch of meat chickens. He was uncomfortable with the idea. He was raised on what I call a rural suburb – small lots, dads that worked 9-5 and whose farm skills were topped out by mowing the front lawn. So we made a deal. I’d do the entire processing, serve it up, and if he and our girls could tell me that the meat wasn’t superior, I wouldn’t do it again. You can guess who won – we all did.

The first goat I butchered was named Minerva. She was an adult Nigerian Dwarf doe, but without a good future. Other than being cute, she wasn’t a good milk goat, had an unbalanced personality, and was very noisy. To have given her to a pet home would have likely doomed her to a string of unhappy owners and poor living conditions. I had taken the lives of a few goats before – using a bullet to euthanize them for various sufferings. But I had never processed a larger animal into meat. I printed out instructions from the internet, bought an inexpensive set of butchering tools, and steeled myself.

I made a good portion of the harvest into jerky. I’ll never forget what happened next. I handed a slice to my youngest, an animal lover whose dream was to one day open a cat sanctuary, but who also relished a good steak. She skeptically put a bit in her mouth and chewed. Her eyes widened and she said “Is there anyone else we can off?” The wall had been breached.

It has been my privilege to grow to the point of being able to share these moments with others. Hopefully helping them on their own journeys of returning to balance in the food chain. Life is sacred and so is death. Both must be respected and neither can be avoided. If you aren’t ready for direct involvement with this process, you can still try to honor it. Purchase only “expensive meat” from local farmers who care and are involved with every step of the harvest – even if that means they oversee the animal’s last moments at an FDA approved facility; if you must by from an unknown source, seek out humane certified producers or failing that, organic; don’t eat fast food meat; don’t eat much meat; and finally, try to eat the meat in proportion to what the animal offers, after all there’s much more to a pig than bacon. If you have children, you can guide them toward a level above your own – let them raise an animal, help a farmer harvest meat, learn to cook meat, and above all, never to waste meat.

I sheep farmer friend once taught me the following mantra, and its one omnivores should live by: “Every animal deserves a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good chef.” Amen.

The Importance of Monitoring Somatic Cell Counts

Awhile back the FDA raised the maximum number of somatic cells that Grade A goat milk can contain from the former limit of 1,000,000 to 1,500,000.  Our state (Oregon) followed suit just this year and adopted the new limit for goat milk and also lowered the cow level from the FDA level of 750,000 to 500,000. While I applaud the cow levels, I am concerned about the goat levels.

California Mastitis Test

Just what are somatic cells and why do they matter?

I have read and heard somatic cells in milk referred to as “pus”. This is not correct! Somatic cells (SC), by simple definition, are “body” cells.  In milk, these can be normal skin cells (epithelial) shed by the milk ducts (more on that in a bit), portions of the cells (cytoplasmic particles),  or white blood cells (leukocytes) that are present in order to fight off an udder infection (white blood cells are also present in “pus”). So let’s talk about why a healthy udder matters and the difference between the epithelial and white blood cells.

First, udder health correlates with the animal’s health and wellbeing. If you believe in the humane treatment of animals, then this should be important! Second, milk produced by a less than vibrantly functioning udder will not be of superior quality – either for drinking or making cheese.  A healthy udder is created and maintained by a nutritionally, physically, and emotionally balanced animal. (Yes, they do have emotional needs!). While I won’t be covering all of these needs here, it is important that you remember that they are the foundation for the production of superior milk).

White blood cells migrate into the udder in order to fight off microorganisms that could cause, or are causing, an udder infection – the same job they do throughout our own bodies. When they are called to the battle front within the udder their presence is indicative of a problem. The problem could be unseen, meaning you can’t see any difference in the milk or the udder – no swelling, heat, clumps in the milk, etc. This is called “sub-clinical” mastitis and is the most common form of mastitis (udder infection). When a severe udder infection is present, it is called “acute”. Animals can suffer greatly from an acute case of mastitis – including loss of the affected part of the udder to gangrene or even death.

How Cow’s and Goat’s Differ

Now, let’s go over one of the unseen differences between goat and cow milk. Understanding starts with remembering that the udder is a gland. The mammary gland, to be exact. All glands (we have lots of them – from our armpits to our stomach) secrete their products in one of three ways. Two of these are pertinent to milk secretion – apocrine and merocrine. I am not telling you this to add more words to your Scrabble game, but instead to explain some very important differences between cow and goat milk. Glands that secrete via the apocrine system also shed parts of the cell wall lining. Goats and humans secrete milk via the apocrine approach, while cows milk is shed via the merocrine system which keeps the secretory cell intact. Kind of cool, kind of gross, don’t you think? From this you can rightly conclude that goat milk will have a “naturally” higher somatic cell count (SCC) than cow milk (when cells are counted using the same method traditionally used on cow milk).

What is a Normal, Healthy Somatic Cell Level in Goat Milk?

So if goats naturally have a higher SCC, why am I concerned about the legal limit being raised?  In my experience, which is not all encompassing of course, a SCC over 300,000 in our goats, means there is a very low-grade problem. How do I know this? Every month a person comes to our farm and collects a milk sample from each individual milking doe. This sample is then tested at a certified laboratory for many things, including SCC. If the count comes back over 300,00 then we march out to the parlor (as we already do twice daily) and do a California Mastitis Test (CMT) on that doe. The CMT will show the difference in SCC between each half of the udder (or each quarter if you are testing a cow). If they are different, then It is not normal, one side has a problem. By following this policy we have (knock-on-wood) never had an acute case of mastitis and or current herd average (from tests covering about 10 years) SCC is 104,000.

Note: SCC are usually read MINUS three zeros. So 162,000 will appear on test results as 162.  Anything below 1,000 is usually not counted and will appear as zero.

I have always wondered if perhaps Nigerian Dwarf goats, our breed, have a lower average than the big girls. We have two full sized goats, LaMancha’s. Their average SCC are 109-125,000 (higher than our total herd average). The current average of all dairy goats in the states covered by our testing association is 625,000. When looking at the 2011 summary, where the data is analyzed from several standpoints, Nigerian herds average 121,000 while standard goats average 783,000. If looked at by milk production volume, does producing about 3,000 pounds of milk or more are the highest at 939,000.  Herd size (meaning if you have only a couple of goats versus 31 or more) seems to matter as well, but not as much as milk production volume. So many factors may come into play, but I still have to wonder if this higher limit won’t have the unhelpful effect of causing some producers to ignore even more subclinical mastitis cases instead of jumping on top of the situation before it gets out of hand. Having known commercial producers who have gone from high counts to low by improving techniques and removing animals with chronic subclinical cases does make me feel that the higher limit is a mistake.

What can You Do to Monitor Your Animals and Treat High SCC’s ?

If you have goats or cows and are not on a program where their milk is regularly tested, I highly advise performing a CMT (or other SCC’ing test) EVERY MONTH. By doing this you will find little problems and be able to address them before antibiotics are needed)

So what do we do when one side of the udder has an obvious (decide through CMT) problem? First you must rule out problems with milking equipment and general health of the animal. Of course, when it is just on one side, then you have to assume an udder infection of some sort. Before you resort to antibiotic usage, you can try some organic and old fashioned remedies.  I used to do peppermint oil rubs to the udder and give the doe an oral dose (about 60 ml) of her own milk – to hopefully stimulate an antibody response. I

Garlic cloves in water to make a “tea”

have recently added a common certified organic producer’s technique of orally dosing the animal with garlic “tea”. What a miracle it has been! We soaked peeled garlic cloves in water (be sure to keep refrigerated as botulism is a risk if not) then dosed the doe with 40-60ml 3x a day and her SCC went from 722,000 and 652,000 on the next test (the CMT showed a problem on one side) to, are you ready?  One thousand. Yup. Garlic. Thank you!

Some animals have chronic infections that even garlic cannot clear up. A milk sample should be sent to a certified lab for culture and if appropriate antibiotic therapy can be used. There are some dairy animals now, though, carrying the antibiotic resistant form of Staph aureus (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) these animals should, unfortunately, be culled – removed permanently (not simply passed to another herd!)


So no matter how you feel about the new SCC limit, I hope you will take your animal’s welfare and the quality of your milk so seriously that you will set your own standards. Try to not accept less than the best – no matter what the regulations say!

Making Yogurt to Feed Kids and Calves

Yogurt  not only provides valuable probiotic bacteria to the young ruminant, but it is easy to digest and can remain at room temperature in free choice bucket feeders without fear of growing unwanted pathogens. Making yogurt for kids and calves is a simple and inexpensive process. At Pholia Farm, we feed pasteurized goat milk and goat milk yogurt blended to a feedable consistency and served in free choice bucket feeders. We make the yogurt in the same manner as one would for personal consumption, but with a little less attention to details such as stray goat hairs and incubation temperature.  Here is how we do it:

  1. Heat milk to 180F
  2. Cool to 130F
  3. Stir in about 1-3 TB per gallon of yogurt from the previous batch or store purchased plain yogurt or use 1/2 tsp of powdered yogurt culture (purchased from a culture supply company such as Dairy Connection)
  4. Place pot in an ice chest to hold temperature- add 125 F water for better temperature control. Even easier, you can simply leave the pot to sit on the counter if the room is fairly warm. The resulting yogurt won’t be quite as thick, but it will work for kids.
  5. After 12 hours the yogurt should be set.
  6. Store in refrigerator.
  7. Don’t forget to retain a bit to start your next batch!

There you have it, bon appetit to your young animals!

Feeding Kids with the Free-Choice, Cool Milk Method- Peace in the Barn!

A few years ago we attempted to raise our Nigerian Dwarf kids on the “cool milk, free-choice” method. This way of feeding kids involves providing full time access to a bucket feeder, or other mechanical nursing unit, stocked with cold or cool milk. The idea behind the method is twofold. First-that kids will not overeat when the milk is cool, and second 24 hour access means they will eat frequent small meals, instead of three or four larger bottle fed meals spaced throughout the day. The end result being an unstressed kid who is also less likely to suffer some of the digestive issues associated with  bottle raising.

Unfortunately, our kids became quite chubby and also had trouble making the switch to solids. By weaning time, we had them back on scheduled feedings in an attempt to increase their intake of roughage. I even tried diluting the milk with an electrolyte solution to keep their weight down. That worked, but the resulting volume of urine meant a lot more pen cleaning and ammonia fumes. So we gave up.

I decided to take another look at what could be done to make this method work for us.  I had loved how quiet the kids were when not hungry between bottle feedings. Not only quiet, but they didn’t mob and molest you every time you entered the pen. You could hold and cuddle a kid without risking a fat lip from their flailing heads and hooves down your shirt as their little legs frantically tried to get them closer to that bottle they just knew you had hidden somewhere. I also wanted to decrease the stress a kid experiences during it’s first two months.

Part of our problem had been coming up with a feeder bucket with nipples that the small mouths of Nigerian Dwarf kids could both start on and continue. Red, Pritchard type nipples are just the right size to start these kids on, but our attempts to make them work on a bucket feeder (as directed by companies selling them as usable on a ball valve, square pale type feeder) failed. No matter what we did, the milk leaked out.  In our first attempt we started them on the Pritchard type nipples mounted on a bucket with a small amount of milk (not enough to cover the top the tube on the inside) and then switched them over to the latex nipples designed to go on these bucket types. (See photo). The latex nipples, however, were often the victim of over eager babies trying to figure them out and would “blow out” at the tips, spilling milk everywhere.  The red, rubber versions were much sturdier, but too stiff for the young goats to figure out. “Caprine” type nipples (the long gray or black kind that fit over a soda pop bottle- or beer bottle as I discovered) were too long for all but the older kids. Too bad, as this type is great for a bucket feeder with a long tube that goes down into the milk.  

Last fall I took a new look at the valve set up for the bottom feeding style of bucket feeders. I wondered if I could add a straw type tube to the inside and drill the holes higher in the bucket. I tried it. It was tough to find a small hose that would fit over the tips, but I finally found latex tubing that I could just barely stretch over the tube. I drilled holes in a new square bucket about one third of the way up and fitted the valves with Pritchard nipples. I put water in the bucket and then, guess what, I tested it and got a nice mouthfull of water!  Pritchard nipples have a little metal valve that provides an air vent, so I sealed these with silicone so that milk would stay in the straw- making it easier for the kids to nurse. Armed with this new type of bucket feeder I  was ready for spring.

We start the kids out on their mom’s for 3 days. Then we switch them to bottles using Pritchard nipples. When they are taking these well, they are placed in a pen with a bucket feeder stocked with warm milk. After they are comfortable with this setting, we let the milk cool and simply let them work through the adjustment. At about four weeks of age, they move to a pen with two larger nipples, a caprine style and a latex lamb bar (see photo above) type nipple. It usually takes a couple times showing them how to use these (I don’t actually demonstrate this myself…) and then they figure it out just fine.  At weaning time, they are moved to a new pen without a bucket feeder, but with a once a day pail of warm water with probiotic powder and  a pinch of electrolytes.

In addition to milk, we feed our kids homemade goat milk yogurt. (I learned this feeding style from the wonderful Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm). The yogurt is not only great for their health, but when using the cool milk method, it also provides protection from unwanted bacterial growth by acidifying the milk. Not only that, but it makes it thicker and  slows the hungry little buggers down even more!

Between the new buckets and the yogurt mixture, this years kids are quieter, calmer, look great and best of all, not little fatties!

There are some downsides to free choice feeding: You cannot accurately feed a coccidiostat in the milk and must instead medicate them separately; you will waste some milk when the bucket feeder is emptied daily for cleaning (be sure this is done thoroughly to prevent sickness in the kids); and you will end up with a lot of unused baby bottles.



The De-Horning Dilemma

The De-Horning Dilemma

A few weeks ago I was bumming around on Amazon.com, reading a few of the reviews that readers can post after reading (hopefully thoroughly) someone’s book.  The particular author in whose reviews I was snooping around is a favorite of mine. His book on life with goats is particularly poetic and at the same time realistic and accurate. It is a classic. One of the reviewers wrote of the author’s “barbaric and cruel” treatment of his goats, as he had dis-budded (removed the horn buds of the young kids before actual horns could grow) and fed the babies on a bottle instead of letting the mother raise them. She, as a way of presenting her credentials, cited her own experience with goats.

Do Goats and Cows Really Need to be Disbudded?

For many non-farmers or hobbyists with a strong urban background, the de-horning (or more likely “dis-budding”) of goats and cows that would otherwise grow horns (some animals are born without horns – “polled”) might seem inhumane and even, as the reviewer above said, barbaric. At some level they have a point, but for most domestic livestock, horns are more liability than asset. Now, of course there are some folks out there who would argue that animals should never be kept in captivity and therefore there is no situation when dehorning or disbudding should be performed. If these folks are living on this planet without having any impact to the land, its animals, and the other humans, then I applaud them and admit their superiority. Of course they can’t be doing that and ever read this, so I guess they’ll never know of my admiration.

For goats in the wild, or more primitive domestic settings, horns serve several purposes: First as a means of defense against predators, second as a way to radiate excess body heat when temperatures are high, and lastly as a way to reach that really-itchy-spot between their shoulder blades. For most domesticated goats, though, horns present several life threatening and quality of life issues: The most concerning issue is that horns lead to becoming entrapped in fencing- it is easy to stick one’s head through the fence when horns are present, but all but impossible to extract. When trapped in a fence several horrible things can happen to the animal including becoming a meal for a large predator or having the horn broken off at the base and bleeding, even to death. In the best outcome, the animal must simply be rescued from the fence. But while trapped, they are stressed from being vulnerable and easy targets for other, more dominant herdmates to torment and physically abuse. Then next, only slightly less important issue that horned animals pose is accidental and intentional injury to other goats and to their human handlers. While this can be avoided to a great degree, all of us, who have had goats for any length of time, have a story of being nearly blinded by a goat accidentally hitting our faces with a horn. Some more obstinate goats (What? Goats can be stubborn?) even learn to use their horns as a way to avoid being worked with. Bucks (intact male goats) are especially notorious for this type of behavior.

For the breeder of registered dairy goats, horns limit the animal’s future in another  fashion. In order to enter the ring of a goat show (where prizes can be won that will help the breeder find superior homes for other members of the goat herd and where the breeder can learn more about improving their animals through choosing better genetic traits) dairy goats may not have horns. If animals are not disbudded within a few weeks of birth, then removing horns can be a risky prospect. While many people have no intention of showing their goats, the next owner (and every animal, no matter how loved, is a heartbeat away from a new owner) may not only want to show the goat, but may also have fencing and housing where goats can be harmed.

All that being said, I know several people who quite successfully keep their goats horned. They use electric fencing or large, open range and manage smaller herds. They often use the goats as pack animals, and then the asset of having horns to help lose body heat outweighs the hazards. They also discriminately choose animals with gentle dispositions. So it is possible!

Disbudding in the Most Humane Manner

For those of us who believe that a hornless animal has the best hope for a humane and happy future, the dilemma becomes how to remove the horn growth in the kindest fashion possible. In order to choose the least traumatic method, the goat’s psyche and natural instincts need to be considered. You cannot view it from the standpoint of a predator- any species that naturally eats other animals (that’s us) .Predator and prey animals deal with pain and fear in different fashions.  If you happen to be aware of the writing and teaching of Temple Grandin (whose groundbreaking work studying animal responses as compared to her own autism has led to great changes in how meat animals are managed, especially during slaughter), then you might have already contemplated the fact that for a prey animal fear can be more traumatic than pain. (When compared to predators such as humans, dogs, and cats). Remember all animals feel pain, but the response to pain- in actions, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. is less than a similar pain situation for a human. The opposite is true for fear. When a prey animal is put in a situation of danger- being threatened by a dog, a human yelling and striking at the animal, or being chased, their response- heat rate, blood pressure, etc.- is greater than you would typically see for a human or other predator animal in the same situation.

So how can you use this knowledge to ease the suffering of goats and calves during the procedure of disbudding?

First, let’s review the most common method of disbudding. The quickest, most effective way to disbude involves the use of a hot iron with a circular shaped tip. The iron is heated to approximately 700° F or hotter. If the iron is not hot enough, then it might be held to the head too long and over-heat the skull,  causing damage to the young animal’s brain. It will also not effectively kill the cells that will produce horn growth. So burning-hot-iron-applied-to-animal’s-head. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it? In addition to recalling the knowledge of how an animal handles pain, you must remind yourself that the goat and cow’s skull is designed to take quite a beating (literally) when the animals play and fight by butting each other (goats do this more than cows). When the iron is applied at the right temperature, the procedure is over in a matter of seconds. Recovery time (as measured by vital signs- heart rate and blood pressure) is extremely rapid.

A common electric disbudding iron, the Rhinehart X50 with calf size tip.

The procedure can be made even less traumatic through a few simple choices that address the fear factor of being held down as well as any residual pain that the animal will feel (even if they don’t show the effects of pain the same as you and I would).  To help reduce anxiety and fear, the following things should be addressed:

  1. Is the animal afraid of you and fearful of being handled?
  2. Can you provide a low stress environment where the procedure is to be done? For example, the area should be near their usual housing, free of other fears such as dogs, loud noises, etc.
  3. Are you competent in performing the procedure? Quick, confident action will provide the shortest exposure to pain and fear.
  4. Can the animal be restrained in the least traumatic, most comfortable fashion?
  5. Can the animal be returned to a low stress, comforting situation? For example, if the kid or calf can return to a pen with its litter or pen mates or mother or be given a bottle of milk, then anxiety will be reduced. Be aware that it is not uncommon for mothers to temporarily or permanently reject a recently disbudded baby due to the scent change. If the mother rejects the baby, then stress will be increased.

Using Pain Medication, Sedation, and other Pain Reduction Methods

Here at Pholia Farm we sedate (put to sleep) the kids during the procedure. We use a medication that is legal for the veterinarian to prescribe to the producers they feel are accomplished in accurately dosing strong medications as well as monitoring the vital signs of the animal. If I was only disbudding, I might not choose to do this, but we also tattoo the kids at the same time. Tattooing seems to be equally or more painful to the young kid, so for us it makes sense to provide the least fear and pain possible.   Many breeders choose not to sedate as when the kid awakes, they are disoriented and seem quite anxious. In that case, it makes sense, given what I talked about earlier, that it is likely that the groggy state caused by the medication might be more traumatic for the animal than the brief moment of strong pain. Fortunately, we figured out a simple remedy for this. After the procedure is finished we place the kid in a small pen with other “sleeping” kids and cover it to keep the space dark. The kids wake feeling safe and quiet- making almost no sounds and recovering fully without any apparent signs of stress. If you are interested in using sedation, you will need to first become competent in other areas of herd management and then develop a plan with your veterinarian.

Analgesics (pain killers) can be given to young animals about 30 minutes before the procedure to help minimize the after effects of the burning. Again, you should consult your veterinarian to decide upon the medication and dosage.

A cool, antiseptic (kills bacteria) spray should be applied immediately after the procedure is completed (as each bud is finished burning, spray that area). This will help cool the animals head.  Some people also use an icepack to apply to the head of the animal.

Again, distracting the baby with a bottle of milk or nursing on their mother, will help shift them away from any fear or anxiety that had been being experienced.

Public Perceptions

However you decide to approach the horn issue, you owe it to your animals and the survivability of small farms to both educate the public and deal with the issue in the most civilized, humane approach possible. Beware of treating the concerns of others with a cavalier attitude- nothing good will come of such an approach. Even with the right attitude, keep in mind that many people are greatly distanced from any of the less savory realities that most farmers deal with without a second thought. People cannot be exposed too suddenly to things that they might not understand or be able to put into context. Even watching a live birth, without any complications, can be too traumatic for some people. So be alert, be aware, be knowledgeable, and be kind!

Doing your own Plate Counts

I finally plugged in the little petri-film incubator we purchased from Nelson Jameson and I am, at the moment, cooking our first anaerobic plate counts.  It took me a long time to get around to this, but I think it will go a long way toward making sure our milk is super clean, as well as our process.

The films must incubate for 48 hours, so I don’t have any exciting things to share with you guys, other than I am pleased that I finally tried it!  My friend at Rogue Creamery, Shawn Fells, showed me how to do these simple, on-site quality tests for milk and environment, but I was still intimidated, I have to admit! Turns out it is as easy as squirting 1ml of milk on a plate and sticking it in to cook (much simpler than making dinner, right?).

I’ll write a full description of how to do it (maybe a YouTube video for you all too?) once I figure it out and have a better idea on how to implement it as a part of our quality assurance program.

Oh, the little incubator was under 100.00 and the plates are about 7.00 each. Still cheaper than shipping samples out for testing (or having your inspector let you know your milk is not as clean as hoped).

So pictures and updates to come, unless I botched the entire process….