90% of goat owners report having a goat die, for a reason other than old age.
That means most of us who own goats are going to experience some really heartbreaking death at some point in our goat journey.
The sad truth is, although they’re super cute, they can be really hard to keep alive.
So let’s tackle these three major obstacles with Deborah… she shares some expert advice on how to keep our goats happy and healthy!
Recently we went to the Homesteady Community to learn a little bit more about what were the biggest challenges facing the goat owners in our community.
We found four ways that most people’s goats were dying… one of them was labor and delivery and we’re going to cover that in a different episode all about just kidding, pregnancy and delivery. The other big three ways goats were dying we’re going to discuss here, and we’re going to start with number three and work our way to the number one way that goats unfortunately are dying.
#3. Problems related to feeding and nutrition
Many homesteaders have problems with their goats related to what their goats are eating, and what nutrition they are NOT getting…
Deborah gave some fantastic advice to make sure that you’re getting your goats the good basic nutrition right out of the gate.
“I always tell people just start with proper feeding for the goats you have and a good mineral. A good mineral is one that is available free choice 24/ 7.
It is a loose mineral, not a block! 90% of the blocks that are out there are mostly salt.”
Next Deborah covered what to feed your goats… and it turns out each individual goat needs something different!
“Bucks and weathers just need a really good grass hay. Alfalfa has too much calcium and protein in it, they don’t need that they’re not growing babies, they’re not making milk.
Does that are pregnant need their hay needs to be at least 50% Alfalfa by the third month of pregnancy, if it’s a hundred percent even better! 50% to 100 % Alfalfa at the end of pregnancy.”
Same rules apply to the forage AND feed you give your goats. Deborah continued…
“Give them the appropriate forage that they need for their gender and life stage. Only milkers really need a 16 percent protein dairy goat or goat feed.
Don’t ever give a goat something like just cracked corn or something like that. That’s like giving candy to a child. Think… corn oil, corn syrup, cornstarch, it’s a lot of fat and sugar like if you want to fatten your goats up to slaughter them go for it but that’s not usually the goal. Most people are hoping that their goats are going to live a long healthy life, that they’re going to be productive, in which case you need to feed them appropriately.
If you’re feeding your goats correctly they will look good, they will have the right amount of weight on them, they won’t be too heavy they won’t be too thin.”
That is unless of course you’re dealing with a different problem which brings us to the second reason why a lot of people wind up losing their goats…
#2. Problems with Parasites
33% of the homesteads that we talk to while researching for this interview told us that they had lost at least one goat to parasites.
We have gone through this, it’s a really really difficult problem to face and that’s why I wanted to get Deborah’s advice on how we could stay on top of the parasites, because they are a real serious problem for goats!
“Intestinal parasites are a problem that you need to deal with you know you’ve got to figure out how to get control of the parasites.
A vet told me this over 15 years ago, she said you will never get control of worms with drugs! It is all about the management.
You need to either be rotating pastures or have your goats on a dry lot.
Grass is a really vital part of the parasite life cycle those worms. The goats poop out the eggs, the eggs hatch on the pasture, and then there’s larva.
I personally like to move my goats off a piece of pasture when the grass is less than six inches.
We have we have plenty of grass and I just don’t want to risk it.
We always have to keep in mind that goats are genetically browsers, they are not grazers.
There’s a really old saying that goats should never eat below their knees… they were talking about rotational grazing a long time ago but this just all got lost.
When we all moved to the city, after World War II, agriculture became so industrialized and they got the idea that, like with humans, there’s a pill for every ill. They thought they could fix every agricultural problem with a drug or a chemical or something and the reality is when it comes to parasites there is no drug or chemical or herb or anything that your goats needs to be consuming on a regular basis.
They just need to be not consuming worm larvae.
You don’t even have to move them every day, if you move them like every five or six days that is awesome. Even if you can move them every two weeks that’s good assuming they’re not too overloaded in that space.
It’s just really important that the goats are not eating from their toilet!
Some people get offended when I say that, but nobody listened to me until I said that, and that’s the truth!
They’re eating from their toilet, that does not sound healthy right?”
No, no it doesn’t.
Unfortunately sometimes it can be pretty hard to prevent that. We all have full-time jobs and responsibilities and for a lot of people rotational grazing is just too much of a time commitment for something that is mostly a hobby. Fortunately there is a solution for this… dry lots!
Deborah talked about dry lots and why they can be helpful in the battle with Parasites.
“A dry lot is an effective tool against parasites because they’re not consuming the infective larvae.”
Deborah explained what you want to make sure of when making your goats a dry lot…
“You could do concrete. I know a vet who raises Kiko goats and she did the most awesome dry lot I’ve ever seen.
She has she put down Road felt and then on top of that she put down gravel.”
We did the same thing when we moved to this Homestead in Pennsylvania. We put in a couple livestock heavy traction mats, we used the geo-textile fabric, and then layered large and small gravel on top. The only thing I would suggest if I were to redo our dry lots is to put sand on the top layer of gravel, because gravel is really hard to clean!
Check out the dry lots we made in this video below!
Sometimes, unfortunately, the worms get the better of us, and we have to treat our goats for an infection. Deborah found herself in that situation early on in her goat journey.
“I got started in 2002. That was when everybody was doing everything wrong. It was the Apex of the worst parasite situation. We were literally sitting there, watching goats die.”
Deborah told us about one buck she lost to worms years ago…
“This buck was dying. he couldn’t even stand. I tried everything, I learned to do my own fecals and everything. I tried the herbal dewormers, you know, you’re supposed to give it to him every week but if your goat actually has worms give them twice as much, so I was giving him twice as much like for several days and doing more fecals it did not kill any of them!
I mean it didn’t make a dent in in the number of of eggs that those worms were producing inside of him!
After a week of being unable to walk he died.
I tried everything, I tried putting basic H in the water, I tried very expensive garlic tinctures, I tried herbals from three of the most popular online herbal goat places at the time, none of them worked, I tried um apple cider vinegar…
If anybody told me this is supposed to kill worms I tried it. I had nothing to lose. And nothing made a difference.
So I say, basically, Mother Nature culled my herd and I was left with ones that had really good parasite resistance.”
Although she has a very worm resistant herd now, Deborah explained that she still needs to practice good grazing management.
“You still have to do all the things right. I had I had one buck, the only time in his life he ever needed a dewormer was when somebody screwed up on the pasture rotation.
They put the bucks back on a pasture sooner than they should have and and he wound up needing deworming. But that was the only time in his whole life.
So don’t think that you can just just let Mother Nature cull your herd and then they’ll all be fine, no, you still have to do the pasture rotation.”
Maybe managing for worms seems like a lot of work but honestly it’s the better problem to have when compared with the other leading cause of death that we found in Goat owners…
#1. Problems with Diseases
36% of the goat owners we spoke to talked about losing at least one goat in the herd to diseases.
Deborah warned about this problem.
“I always tell people, you really should hope it’s worms because if its worms it’s really easy, if it’s not worms then you’re looking at something like Johne’s or you know something much much worse, that may be incurable and maybe infected your whole herd and will mean that your whole herd needs to be exterminated, there’s a lot of stuff worse than worms!”
We sadly have experienced this firsthand on our Homestead, not with our goats but we did have a cow that was tested positive for Johne’s, our very first family milk cow who was very much beloved by our family tested positive for Johne’s and this is a very challenging disease to manage and work with.
When we were faced with this diagnosis we found a fantastic animal vet to work with, Cody Creelman, with him on our side helping us make these decisions we were able to manage this disease and we have never had a reoccurrence on our Homestead, and let’s hope that that is always going to be the case!
If you are faced with a disease problem it is a more difficult problem to manage than worms as Deborah said, it’s generally a good idea at this point to get involved with a professional veterinarian, but that can be difficult to find when you’re dealing with goats!
Not all vets are created equal and so Deborah had some fantastic advice on how to find a vet that would work very specifically well with goats and your herd.
“As a goat owner it is definitely important to find a vet who knows goats.
Just yesterday somebody messaged me about a two-day old kid that has watery diarrhea and the vet said ‘oh it’s coccidiosis give it corrid’, it’s two days old I’m sorry that is impossible like I use that word almost never but just look at any of the vet textbooks, coccidiosis happens after three weeks of age.
If a kid has watery diarrhea when it’s two days old you’re looking at something like E coli or you know some kind of a virus or something like that.
She needs a fecal culture not a flotation because it’s not parasites, a culture to see what kind of an infection is causing this watery diarrhea.
You can’t just think oh I’m gonna join a Facebook group, they’re going to be able to do it all, I have a membership where we have meetings on Zoom three times a month and and I tell people right up front like this is not a replacement for your vet, there are going to be times that you need to have their Diagnostics, you need to have prescription drugs, you need to have procedures that only a vet can do you know like a C-section.
Stuff happens where you’re going to need a vet so you really need to do your best to find one that actually has real goat experience.”
Deborah gave some good questions to ask to be sure a vet you are considering using has real good goat experience.
“If you ask them how many goats they see in a year or how many goat herds they see in their practice, something like that.”
Find your goat vet BEFORE you have a problem. That way, when your goat doesn’t look right, you can act fast.
SO what signs might you see that would tell you your goat is sick? Deborah explained…
“Somebody called me called me, their goat was screaming in pain, and they’re like… ‘she never ate her food last night’.
I was like, okay, last night you should have called the vet!
Goats love their food, so if they’re not eating that’s a bad sign.
Goats are prey animals. Prey animals do not want to show any vulnerability so they’re usually pretty quiet until things are really bad.
Every single day when I milk a goat I just run my hand on her spine, so I know how she feels, especially in Winter because their coat can hide a lot.
It’s really important that you pay attention, make sure everybody’s eating every day, also that you put your hands on them as much as possible.
Then if they feel skinny, check the eyelids (famacha test).
It’s so easy and it’s quick and it doesn’t cost anything and you will know so much quicker.
If you know you have a bad problem, like if you’re just getting through a problem, it’s recommended that you check their eyelids every week and if you have a goat that’s recovering from worms, keep them in the barn.
I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make is if they have a goat that had white eyelids they give them the dewormer and they stick them right back out there on the passenger where they can consume more warm larvae.
When a goat has a really bad case of worms they need to be kept in the barn so that they cannot consume more worm larvae until they’ve recovered from their current illness.”
Deborah was such a wealth of knowledge about goats! I learned so much in this one hour long discussion with Deborah!
Homesteady Pioneers, checkout the Pioneer Version of this episode, it covers much more about goats, worms, pasture management, and more!
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If you own goats, you need to listen to Debra’s podcast for the love of goats, and head over to thriftyhomesteader.com and check out everything Deborah’s up to
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