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Our experience with acid rumen and bloat.

Countrysiders are getting to know Bev Sandlin very well. (For starters, see 79/4:20). That's only one reason so many will share the sorrow so evident in this story ... which is also highly instructive.

BEVERLY SANDLIN RT. 1 BOX 112AA ROLLINGSTONE, MN 55969

It happened very suddenly, or so it seemed. Every morning when I went out to the barn to milk my Saanen doe, Jane, she would greet me with expectant "ba-a-a-s" and be standing, white ears pricked forward, against the four-foot door of the horse box stall which was her home. This morning there were no ba-a-as, and she was lying against the wall of the box stall.

A quick glance showed that the warm water I had given her the night before was down about a gallon--normal. Her grain had been eaten, but the alfalfa dairy hay was untouched. Her abdomen looked exceptionally large, but not tight and distended. Her eyes were clear, but showed disinterest, which was certainly not her normal expression.

I rocked Jane to her feet. She was slow to rise and a little unsteady, but just seemed groggy. She walked to her milk stand and jumped up. It seemed an effort but not beyond her strength. Jane gave her usual 2-1/2 quarts of warm white milk.

But I noticed that she was not chewing her cud contentedly, as usual. At one point in the milking I noticed an odd, sickly odor not terribly unlike a person's breathe after a night of lusty beer drinking. She didn't touch her morning grain, but that was not unusual.

After milking her dry, I left her in her teal-colored milk stand while I fed her two kids and an orphaned lamb the milk. I poured warm water into her bucket and dumped a scoop of grain into her trough.

I was back within five minutes and unsnapped her collar. Jane backed out of her milk stand and dismounted rather awkwardly and slowly walked back to her stall. She ignored the water and the grain and laid down against the outside wall, still not chewing her cud. She extended her head forward and her ears were horizontal. Her stomach was distended. Her coat had lost that glistening white gloss. Jane did not feel well.

I leaned on the box stall watching the kids bump the lamb bottles and wag their tails as they sucked down their breakfast. My daughter, Montana, had christened the doeling Calamity and the little buck Napoleon.

Jane was our first milk doe. I had purchased her just two months ago, after waiting two years for an experienced doe to become available from Mrs. Moldenhaur's herd of Saanens. Jane was five years old, a strong milker giving up to a gallon and a half of nourishing, flavorful milk a day. She had no history of mastitis or udder problems. She stood quietly and contentedly to be milked, and even cocked her leg to one side to make the milking easier for the person. But she had always been on the skinny side and was being culled from the herd because she dried up when rebred. Jane was Mrs. Moldenhaur's cull, but my delight. I had wanted a milk goat all my life, and for me, she was a dream come true.

By the time the babies had finished eating I had decided to remove Jane's grain and gave it to the horses. The vet was due at 11:00 A.M. to dehorn Calamity and castrate Napoleon. It was now 8:30 A.M.

I went back to the house and started searching through the goat books I had collected in anticipation of owning my own milking doe. Bloat kept ringing in my head. The symptoms only partially fit:

The New Goat Handbook (by Ulrich Jaudas)-- Bloating:

"Cause: ... gas that develops during digestion in the rumen can no longer be expelled by mouth because a foreign body -- for example a piece of apple--has blocked the esophagus. The goat swells up."

"... eats its fodder too hastily, doesn't produce enough saliva, or...gets into the concentrated feed sack and eats a great quantity of feed all at once, or if it eats too much damp clover or green feed that has grown warm in the sack, foaming fermentation will occur in the rumen...cannot belch up the gas-filled foam and will bloat."

"Signs of illness:... left flank bulges out in the area of the hunger cavity much more than on the right side (No)...goats have pain, gnash with their teeth, and strike out with their legs (No)... rumen also presses on the lungs, in serious cases respiratory failure can occur. This is a life-threatening ailment."

"Treatment: You can usually feel a foreign body in the esophagus from the outside and with some skill can massage it in the direction of the stomach... immediately remove the goat from feed and instill a foam destroying preparation... vegetable oil... In light cases draw a string through the goat's mouth, on which it will chew, producing much saliva, which disperses the foam... a well-placed puncture through the puffed-up skin into the rumen with a...pocketknife... should only try as a last resort if the goat threatens to die in spite of all other measures and if no veterinarian can be reached."

Acid Rumen

"Cause: If a goat too quickly eats an unusually large quantity of easily digested starch- or sugar-rich food...an excess of acid can develop in the rumen."

"Signs of illness: ...apathetic, its head droops, and it acts somewhat as if it were drunk. It can also bloat."

"Treatment: ...separate from the feed immediately...plenty of drinking water. If it can't get up and keeps lying there, the situation is life threatening. In this case, call the veterinarian at once."

Raising Milk Goats Successfully (by Gail Luttman Damerow) -- Digestive

Upset:

"Overeating of grass or grains may cause indigestion...usually occurs when goats find their way into the grain bin or gorge themselves, or when a herd is let into legume pasture in spring and chows down."

"..a goat cannot belch up, so instead it bloats up...Enterotoxemia, caused by an organism related to the one that causes tetanus, may result from overeating...Symptoms are depression (Yes), appearance of intoxication (Maybe), incoordination (Yes), convulsions, coma, and death. In kids, sudden death may be the first sign."

"Sometimes a drench of one cup of vegetable or mineral oil will help move the feed through more quickly and slow the bloating. Massaging the stomach area and keeping the goat on its feet and moving around also help break up gas. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to use a stomach tube or a device to puncture the rumen and relieve gas pressure, but often when things have gone that far, the animal never recovers its full potential."

A longtime friend who had farmed for many years with cows suggested dipping a rope in kerosene and tying it in her mouth.

An understanding vet

I decided to call the vet's office back. I have a long-running relationship with Town & Country vet clinic. Through the years Doc Bengfort and his staff have humored me and nurtured my myriad of critters. Lameness in horses, hoof abscesses in the donkey, a turkey with a broken leg, Emily the pygmy goat doe who needed a third kid pulled, an orphaned fawn, a calf with scours and on and on. Poor Doc, when he had to put down a yearling filly who broke her leg I think he spent more time in consoling me -- I had her head cradled in my arms and fell to the ground--than he did in diagnosing her and putting her out of her misery. We have gotten to the point where I trade my desktop publishing skills for the ongoing vet bills. Lord, I've spent more for medical care for all my critters than I have for my children.

At 9:00 A.M. I called the vet's office. "I think Jane has bloat. Let Rolfe know, so he can come prepared." I measured out one cup of vegetable oil and headed back to the barn with it. I have a medicine cabinet in my barn and grabbed a needle and a syringe out of it. The vegetable oil didn't draw too well though the needle, so I sucked it into the syringe itself.

Jane appeared more lethargic. She didn't fight much as I carefully pumped the vegetable oil into the back of her mouth. I didn't want to get too aggressive for fear it might go into her lungs. I got about three-quarters of a cup down her when she coughed twice and I decided not to push more oil into her. I tried getting her to her feet so that I could walk her around, but she only staggered to her knees. She was definitely weakening and I let her settle back down into the deep straw bedding. I grabbed a piece of bale twine and tied it through her mouth and behind her ears. She immediately started chewing and white foam began to fleck her lips and drip onto the straw. The stench emitted from her mouth nearly turned my stomach. I decided to call the vet back and let him know she was down.

"He isn't answering his beeper. I'll try the farm house where he's at and get him there as soon as possible." Back to the barn. Sensing my concern, Montana arrived to see what she could do to help.

Between 9:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Montana and I kept steadily massaging Jane's distended stomach. One would hold her head and comfort the stricken doe while the other massaged until tired, then we switched places. Jane was worsening as we worked to relieve the gases. We traded the twine string for a half-inch rope dipped in kerosene from the Nipco heater that kept the February chill at bay. Jane's plaintive bleat had turned to a hoarse calf-like groaning moan. The larger rope and kerosene encouraged more foaming. Her stomach would swell, when tapped it sounded like a hollow drum, then she would emit that sickening stench. The stomach would soften then and we would continue massaging until the next swelling and gas emission. The last twenty minutes or so before the vet arrived she threw herself on her side and began thrashing her legs. Her breathing was becoming labored.

Rolfe, the vet, arrived just before 11:00 A.M. I told him what steps we had taken. He listened to her heart and stomach. Took her temperature: normal. Then he went for the tube, oil and water. He expertly slipped the long, flexible tube down her throat. While I held Jane's head as still as possible and Montana held the tube in place in the goat's mouth Rolfe plunged his hands into both sides of her abdomen aggressively pumping the fermented gasses from her stomach. The stench was nauseating. He then pumped oil down her, removed the hose and lifted her to her feet. Jane wavered on spread legs, but she was up. His beeper echoed in the small barn. He shut it off and gave Jane a shot in the neck and one in both back legs and then stepped back.

"I think it's more than bloat. Her lower stomach is distended. Probably acid rumen. Give her three cc's of this twice a day until gone." As he handed me a tiny bottle of amber-colored liquid entitled Naxel, an antibiotic to prevent secondary bacterial infections. "Give her this shot of Banamine tomorrow morning. She should be kept warm. Be back in a minute, I have to make a phone call." And he handed me a small syringe filled with the pain reliever.

Where could I keep her warm and draft-free? Then I thought of the round pen where the orphaned lamb, Prince, was kept. Perfect. When Rolfe came back, I told him my plan. "But I'll need your help getting her in," I said. Between the two of us we got Jane from her stall the 20 or so feet over to the two-foot high Masonite round pen I had built the year before. We lifted her in and stood her up under the heat lamp.

"Keep her on her sternum, even if you have to prop her up with a straw bale. Give her water. Grass hay this afternoon. No grain or alfalfa. She's in tough shape. The next day or two will tell. I have to go, another emergency." And he was gone.

Jane stood there, leaned against the side of the pen. Her head was stretched out, her white coat soiled with vegetable oil splotches, but her stomach seemed proportionately more normal and she was standing.

I had made a coat for Jane several weeks before from a piece of paisley burgundy fabric and fake sheep skin to keep her warm when it got below zero. We put the coat on her. Little Prince, three weeks old and only ten inches tall, cavorted around her. We gave her water and then Montana and I went back home to get warm and eat breakfast.

We checked her around 2:00 P.M. She was lying down, but fairly upright and on her sternum. We gave her hay. We got some lamb milk replacer at the feed store, just in case.

Chore time at 5:00 P.M. showed little difference.

At 7:30, milking time, we found her up. Her coat was torn at the neck and the water bucket spilled in the straw. We set the water bucket and her hay outside the pen, but within reach, and took off her coat. Montana milked her out, about a quart. We fed the kids and lamb. I gave her the shot the doctor had prescribed. Jane laid down, her head extended, but she seemed to be breathing more easily.

I went back to check on her at 10:00 P.M. She was dead.

In retrospect

In the weeks since Jane's death, I have turned that fateful day, and the days leading up to it, over and over in my mind. I spoke with at least three goat breeders and Doc Bengfort. What could I have done differently? Were there signs I should have noticed?

Two days before Jane died I had opened a new bale of hay. There was one moldy flake (the first I had noticed in this hay) which I had discarded. I had examined the next flake, but it seemed fine. However, her hay consumption seemed to diminish significantly. I hadn't thought much of this because that same day I had installed a wire hay feeder in hopes of reducing hay waste (dairy alfalfa is expensive) by not feeding directly on the bedding straw. But now it seemed very significant.

The two milkings prior to that morning Jane kicked right at the end of her milking. I even had to tie one leg back in order to finish stripping her out. But the milk had showed no signs of chunkiness or color variance or texture difference. No indication of inflamed udder or other signs of mastitis.

Because Jane was on the thin side and chose not to eat her grain while being milked, I had slowly increased over a three week period her grain ration to one full scoop morning and night fed in a wooden trough in her stall. She had been doing fine on this for the last several weeks. However, the night before she died she had attacked that grain with a vengeance, eating it extremely quickly. The words from The New Goat Handbook rang in my mind. "If a goat too quickly eats an unusually large quantity of easily digested starch- or sugar-rich food... an excess of acid can develop in the rumen." She had eaten too quickly, but not an unusually large quantity.

Trouble in the Midwest

Discussions with area breeders were significant. Apparently the milk goat breeders in Minnesota and Wisconsin were expecting 15% to 25% loss in their herds this year. Two breeders indicated that it may be due to a toxin in the hay harvested last summer. I had read something about this toxin last year, but had never really given it any thought. For years I have purchased hay from a local farmer who farms in a sustainable manner and applies no chemicals except for fertilizer. I had never before experienced any problems, but I also had never owned a milk goat or bought alfalfa dairy hay before. For these breeders a 25% loss was very disturbing. With Jane being my only milking doe, I had just experienced a devastating 100% loss.

Doc Bengfort was equally confused. He suggested an autopsy, but given the significant cost of postpartum care, and the acid rumen visit, I decided to forego the additional expense. He indicated that because she was perpetually skinny, ulcers may have played a significant role in her death. He found no fault with my husbandry of the doe or actions taken prior to her death. I had done everything I could have done for Jane.

Perhaps it had just been Jane's time to go, but I do wish it hadn't been so painful for her. In the little time we had together, she had carved a spot in my heart. Her cheerful bleats greeted me when I came to milk. Her patience while I fumbled in determining to how to milk her (learning how to wrap the thumb and three fingers around the teat holding the top shut while progressively squeezing the remaining trapped milk into the waiting stainless steel bowl. Squirting the milk down my sleeve until I finally found that switching hand positions switched the direction the milk would squirt). Her perplexed but patient attitude while Montana and I milked her together, Montana milking one teat from the side while I milked one from the back. Her curiosity toward our friends who stopped by at milking time to try their hand at milking a goat. The contented sound of her chewing her cud while I stripped the frothy white milk from her udder.

Perhaps my relationship with Jane was enhanced by the anticipation of gallons of wholesome milk in the refrigerator, fresh yogurt and learning to make goat cheese and goat soap. The frolicking of the barn cats at milk time in hope of a stray warm white squirt for a treat. The antics of her two kids after their bellies were full of warm milk. The utter relaxation I felt while milking her.

The symbol of homesteading

Perhaps it is that, for me, the milk goat symbolizes the homestead experience. Even though I have been homesteading for 10 years now, built our home and barn, cleared the land and fenced, raised chickens and hogs and calves, canned and dried our food, I have never really felt like a homesteader, until Jane came into my life. Foolish as it may seem, that skinny old Saanen doe, someone else's cull, embodied my homestead dream.

It is often said that "when God closes a door, he leaves a window open." And when dreams shatter, there are always pieces to pick up. I know today that I am a homesteader, with or without a milk goat. And there is always next year, when little Calamity comes of age...

RELATED ARTICLE: Crossbreeding, inbreeding, and linebreeding dairy goats

COUNTRYSIDE: We have two purebred Nubians -- a buck kid and a doe kid. The buck is calico colored and turning out to be beautiful.

We are getting two Toggenburg does. Is it OK to breed a Nubian to Toggenburgs? The buck kids will be used for meat. Could we use the doe kids for milk goats?

I read in a goat book that "linebreeding" meant breeding father to daughter and mother to son. But a magazine said this kind of breeding isn't good. Could we breed our buck to his daughters?--B. J., Alaska

There's nothing wrong with crossbreeding (Nubian to Toggenburg, etc.) other than you don't get purebred offspring. It happens even in fancy breeding herds when a gate is accidentally left open and unplanned matings occur.

The female offspring often turn out to be especially nice milk does. It has to do with "hybrid vigor" in the first generation cross.

Inbreeding and linebreeding in dairy goats isn't "dangerous." It won't produce two-headed freaks or the like.

For many homesteaders it's a practical necessity to breed a buck back to his daughters. You may even be forced to do it again and breed him to does he sired and grandsired. That is really inbreeding.

The kids will have his good points... and his faults. There won't be any improvements on the problems. If the buck throws poor udders, they will only get worse. If he throws kids prone to arthritis, you can expect offspring crippled at an early age. If he throws weak pasterns, you can expect the kids to walk on their dewclaws before they freshen. If there's a tendency to uterine prolapse in pregnant does, inbreeding will guarantee it every time.

No buck is perfect. But if he's basically a decent goat with no serious weak points genetically, there's no real harm in inbreeding.--J. K.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:illness of milk goat
Author:Sandlin, Beverly
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Words:3552
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