Natural healthcare offers a somewhat different approach to animal health than does the medical world. Instead of waiting for a symptom to develop, signaling a disease or illness, natural healthcare works to prevent the occurrence of problems by supporting good health. When a problem does occur, natural healthcare deals with it holistically, supporting the goat’s system, along with treating the symptoms or root cause of the illness. This approach leads to healthier, better producing goats that save you time, money and heartache in the long run.
Choose Healthy Animals
Maintaining good health in a goat herd begins with choosing healthy animals. If you maintain a goat herd of any size (anything beyond a couple family pets), you will also need to do the tough work of deciding which animals go and which stay. A goat that is weak, needs constant doctoring, and passes these traits onto its offspring will need to be culled. Keep the best, healthiest goats that have excellent maternal instincts, produce robust offspring and who handle weather changes and other forms of stress well. Your time and resources need to go toward maintaining and growing a healthy, robust herd.
When you’ve determined the breed (or breeds) you want, look for quality breeders and healthy animals. Consider purchasing mature does that have been proven (already successfully had kids). While there are some steps that you can take to boost the health and productivity of a poor quality animal, they can be far more expensive than they’re worth. Inspect the health records and pedigree of the animals you are looking at. Ask for production information and if you’re interested in dairy animals, their milking records. Ask to see verification when purchasing stock from a “disease-free” herd. While many farmers are trustworthy and can be a great asset when you’re first starting out, it never hurts to ask for proof.
Along with choosing good animals to start your herd, you need to provide quality housing and fencing systems. Fencing needs to be safe and sturdy (especially for bucks). Woven wire, welded wire, barbed wire, and electric fencing, or combinations of these are the most popular for containing goats.
Sometimes multiple fencing options are combined, like using woven or welded wire with one or more electric strands to keep goats off the fence or give the fence more height. Whatever fencing option you choose, make sure that it is safe, no sharp surfaces, large enough or small enough that they can’t get their heads stuck, and sturdy.
You’ll also need to provide some form of shelter for your goats. Goats need relief from hot sun and shelter from rain and snow. Goats despise getting wet and will be grateful for an escape from the elements. You’ll want about 15 square feet of shelter per goat. This can be achieved with a simple three-sided shelter, calf hutches, large dog houses, hoop structures designed for hogs or something much more elaborate. Bucks can be especially tough on housing, so choose something especially sturdy for your buck pen. Ensure whatever type of shelter you use, that it is well-ventilated, without drafts. Poor ventilation combined with damp housing is a prime cause of respiratory ailments in goats.
While goats are fairly hearty and prefer twigs and weeds as opposed to lush grass pastures, ensuring that your goats are receiving proper nutrition will go a long way towards them maintaining optimal health and quick recovery if and when they do get sick. Goats need their diet to consist primarily of forage. During the warmer months, if pastures are adequate, much of their nutritious needs can be fulfilled by browsing. However, during the winter, or if you need to supplement, choose high quality hay (green, not yellow, and not moldy or damp). Limit the use of high-protein hays, like alfalfa, clover and lespedeza as these can cause serious health problems if fed in excessive amounts. Set up a rack or feeding system where your goats have access to clean hay off the ground. Goats are generally picky eaters, but if they do eat soiled hay regularly, this can lead to numerous problems and health issues. Commercial goat feeds should be used sparingly (and stored securely). They can make an excellent edition to a pregnant or lactating doe or a breeding buck’s feed, but only when necessary. Provide mineral and salt blocks and plenty of fresh, clean water.
Goat Health Boosting Solutions
It is beneficial to give probiotics when your goat is stressed or has been treated or is being treated with antibiotics. A probiotic rumen inoculant, containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarium and Entrococcus faecium, is specifically formulated for goats and can help relieve stress and keep the rumen working well. Probios or Fast Track are two options. Some owners have found it helpful to give 2-3 day old kids some probiotics to help get their rumens going. Give 5 grams for kids and 10 grams for adults. Plain yogurt can work in a pinch, but it doesn’t contain all of the beneficial bacteria that a specially formulated goat product does, so try to keep some Probios or Fast Track on hand.
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Selenium is an essential nutrient for grazing animals and unfortunately not all pastures provide adequate supply of it. Check to see if you live in a selenium deficient area and treat accordingly. Pregnant does can benefit from some of the oral Selenium-E gel at five weeks and two weeks before they are due to kid. Bucks also can benefit from it at the beginning of the breeding season. Kids who are born with weak legs (a sign of White Muscle Disease caused by a selenium deficiency) should be given an injection of Bo-Se (selenium/vitamin E). Selenium is toxic at certain levels, so check with your vet first before giving Selenium-E Gel.
There are different herbal worming solutions for goats available, but two things must be kept in mind. First of all, most herbal wormers use wormwood in their formulas. While this is an effective wormer, it can cause damage if used long term, and it is not safe for pregnant does. Molly’s Herbals offers a two part system using two herbal formulas. One formula (with wormwood) is used every six to eight weeks while the second formula (safe for pregnant does) is used weekly. In conjunction, these formulas deal effectively with parasites while boosting the health of the herd. You’ll want to worm new animals when they first come onto the farm. Worm a doe the day after she has kidded also because the stress of kidding can make her more susceptible to parasite infestations. Otherwise, maintain a worming schedule all year round, even during the winter. Herbal worming formulas have not been studied by the FDA and therefore cannot claim to treat or prevent any diseases. However, evidence shows that herbal worming formulas can be a healthy and holistic way (in addition to maintaining good feeding practices) to stay on top of parasite infestations in your herd.
Veterinarians are a blessing when animals are seriously injured or sick, but many times simple holistic health practices can be followed to lead to healthier and more robust animals. You will reap the benefits by having less maintenance and upkeep required for your goat herd and better animal products (milk and meat and fiber).