Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My two cents on caring and feeding your pregnant dairy goat

 Pregnant Zinnia going for a walk - this picture was from last year; however, we are once again going on walks, and once again, Zinnia is this pregnant. She is due in a few weeks. Think D flower names, Dahlia, Daisy, Daffodil, not Delphinium:)

This post is intended for new and learning goat owners, wannabe goat owners or folks with other dairy animals. The rest of you will probably want to skip this one. 
Seven years ago we brought up four doelings and two bucks to start our Lamancha dairy goat herd. As of this week, we are down to five does and one buck, and it feels as though we've come full circle. I have learned sooo much, and yet as always, am ever learning. This spring will be our sixth kidding season. In this post I'd like to share some of the things I've learned to pay attention to and provide for our bred does. Exercise, clean environment (clean enough that your does aren't laying in poo or wet bedding or mud etc.), quality hay and fresh water should be givens. Then there are more complicated issues that we should be aware of, but as few of us are scientists, we know a little but never enough, such how to know if we are feeding the correct levels of vitamins and trace minerals or protein, all of which can cause problems especially during pregnancy if goats are fed too much or too little. I'll just be touching on the surface of some of these issues, but if you have bred does you should be aware of them and have a contingency plan.
  1. Caring for and feeding your pregnant Dairy goat
  • Health at time of breeding and a note on hoof trimming
  • Is your goat pregnant?
  • Living quarters and herd dynamics
  • Milking and drying off
  • Feeding hay, grain rations and alfalfa
  • Feeding other supplements such as BOSS, Alfalfa pellets, kelp, molasses, flax and herbs etc.

Obviously your goat should be in good health when she is bred. How can you tell if she is healthy? Shiny coat, clear alert eyes, active and moves with ease (no limping, hobbling etc), no lesions or skin sores or wierd growths. If your doe is in milk, her milk should taste mild and creamy and not overly sweet or goaty - nor thin (otherwise her nutritional needs are not being met - or possibly she just has really poor milk making genetics?) Most people breed to kid in the spring and then re-breed the following fall/ winter or "milk through" till the following year, with two years between kiddings. The first few months after a doe has kidded tend to take quite a toll on the doe's weight and health, so I would recommend waiting at least six months if not more before breeding again.

If you are breeding a "first freshener" how old is she? This is a highly controversial subject between goat breeders. I've read that you can breed once your doeling is eight months of age or eighty pounds. I relied on this advice my first year and my two bigger boned does came out of kidding just fine but the other two had leg problems during the final weeks of the pregnancy and then it took a while for their legs to straighten out after they kidded. Since that year I've waited until their second fall to breed them, but this can have it's downsides as well; most notably that your doe can get too fat, and then fail to ovulate or come into obvious heat in the fall - I've had this happen once. So, know your goat, do your research, look at their body type. If they were born in February, they are probably going to be ready for breeding come next November/December. If they were born in June, probably not.

Regardless of her age your doe should be in good health when you breed her. You'll want to keep her hooves trimmed throughout her pregnancy. I usually trim my does hooves in October before it gets too cold, then again whenever we have a warm spell in December, and then usually we have another warm spell sometime in February or March. Even if her hooves look ok. I give them a quick trim about six weeks before she is due, and then plan on not messing with them again until after she kids, as she will get awkward and heavy towards the end, and she'll have a hard enough time getting around as it is.

How can you tell if your goat is pregnant? Don't think you can tell by looking, during the first couple months at least. At thirty days you can however, draw blood and mail it in to BioTracking and have it tested for about six dollars a pop. I have a vet that will come up and ultra sound the herd with her portable ultrasound machine, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend this. For one it is expensive, the price of a vet visit and more, and two, there is some controversy about ultra sounds in general and how invasive they are - certainly not a holistic approach.

At about three months I can start picking out who is most likely pregnant, some more obvious than others. You are supposed to be able to feel kids during the last couple months. The rumen is on the left side of the doe and the kids on the right.  I suck at feeling for kids. I've been sure I've felt kids and then the doe turns out to not be pregnant.

If you breed earlier in the season you'll have a better chance of catching your doe if she comes back into heat. It's always a good idea to keep track of her heat cycles on the calendar and of course when she is bred. Then you can keep a closer eye on her a few weeks later to see if she comes back into heat or not. It's always nice to be fairly certain that your does are bred so you know who to feed extra supplements and grain to and then you can save money on the slackers who didn't take, as well :)

A few considerations to think of, hopefully before you have a very pregnant doe getting beat on by her herd mates and no place to isolate her; early planning is key, like back when you are breeding. If you breed four does, but only have one extra kidding stall, you can't breed them all at once, unless you plan on building another barn or at least buying portable panels to further divide up your barn. You need to plan on giving each doe her own stall ideally for the two weeks prior to her due date to two to four weeks after depending on the doe. Then you'll still need pens for the kids where they can be safe away from the herd until they are stronger. Ideally your doe will have her own stall with a hay rack and hanging water bucket as well as a closing door to the outdoors with her own pen. It might take her a couple days to get use to being on her own, but once she realizes she doesn't get pushed around any more but can still see and hear everyone, she'll probably be thankful.

If your doe has a companion, sister, daughter, mother, who she is inseparable with, you might keep them together for a while, but I'd give the doe her own stall for the week before her due date. Most likely she will stop tolerating the other does company as her time gets near. Under no circumstances would you want another goat in with her doe while she is kidding, nor in the week or two after kidding.

When to dry off your pregnant milker: I think that most goat breeders would agree that a pregnant doe should be dried off during her third month, leaving her last two months to grow babies and not produce milk. If you have other milkers, you may want to dry her off earlier. If she has other health issues, is dropping in production or in milk quality, then dry her off earlier.

Feeding hay, grain and alfalfa: Hay makes up the quantity of your goat's diet, and should be of good quality. The better the hay, the less you will have to supplement your goat's diet with other additives. Aside from making sure your hay is mold and dust free, leafy and not stemmy, and that your goat likes it, I'd recommend testing it so that you know how good it is or isn't. However, I have to say that I have not ever had our hay tested, but I have intended to for some time, and will, one of these days. I do know that in general, that our hay grown in the interior tends to be high in Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium because hay farmers use fertilizers with these three major nutrients, and rarely use fertilizers with minor nutrients or trace minerals. I assume that our hay is low in selenium, copper, magnesium and calcium among other things. And as a result we supplement.

Alfalfa hay is like candy to goats. They know what is good for them. Alfalfa is a legume, and as such, is much higher in protein than our brome hay. It is also mineral rich, and provides significant levels of calcium. If I were to recommend feeding one thing in addition to whatever hay you have, it would be alfalfa. I notice a big difference when our does are getting alfalfa and when they are not. Feeding alfalfa to your pregnant goats prevents hypocalcemia which is one of the big well known complications that can happen after a doe kids, when her nutritional needs are not met. Alfalfa hay is outrageously expensive here in the Interior, $56 for 90-100lb bales last I checked. We have brought up truck loads from Anchorage and saved significantly, but we also feed alfalfa pellets (12$ 50lb bag at Walmart, $20 some at the feed store) I feed about two cups of alfalfa pellets once a day to my bred does and milkers. I especially try to feed alfalfa hay to my does during their last couple months of pregnancy and into their first month or two after kidding. Ideally I'd feed a few pounds of alfalfa hay a day to each doe, although some might say that is too much?

As far as grain goes, if you have a junior doe, you will want to be gradually increasing her feed, so that by the time she kids, she is getting as much grain as she will need to produce milk, enough grain that you can milk her out before she finishes :) The books say to feed one pound of grain to maintain good body condition, and an additional pound of grain for every four pounds of milk your doe is producing (hope I've got that right - it's been a while). So, if I'm milking once a day and getting four pounds of milk, and the kids are taking the rest, I'm guessing at least four pounds of milk, I'm going to be feeding about three pounds of grain. However, the grain or goat feed you are feeding complicate matters, and if you are soaking it and it expands... and whatever else you are feeding and how your doe is looking... There are a lot of factors.  I feed my doelings and bred does just a couple handfuls of grain up until they are half way through their gestation. Then during the third month I start gradually increasing depending on how the doe looks. For the last two months of gestation I feed about four to eight cups of sprouted barley, oats and wheat (3,2,1 in ratio), which started out as just three to six cups - which is less than a pound. So, I'm feeding less than the recommended amount, but I play it by ear and I watch my does closely.

Which brings me to other supplements: As mentioned way above, if you know you have quality hay, you won't have to feed as many supplements. Because I have not had my hay tested and because I mix my own grains and I'm not feeding a "goat feed" nor am I relying on inject-able vitamins, there is always the question in the back of my mind as to whether my goats nutritional needs are being met, and I probably over compensate by feeding supplements, which may or may not be necessary, but as I have not had pregnancy toxemia or hypocalcaemia or weak kid issues, hopefully that means I'm doing some things right. Some of these supplements I have fed from the beginning whereas some I've gone back and forth with and these include: a general vitamin mineral supplement, kelp, molasses, BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds), olive oil and dried herbs;  I feed very small amounts of supplements to the bucks and kids, and larger amounts to the does. I have at times fed beet pulp and nutritional yeast which I do not feed now, they both have their upsides and downsides. A lot of my decisions are based on what we can afford, so if money was not a consideration, I would feed Diamond V nutritional yeast.

We feed Sweetlix loose vitamin and mineral dairy goat supplement. We free feed it to all the goats in pvc pipe feeders. Sweetlix is the brand our feed store carries. I'm sure there are other brands out there and probably some that are better. Wherever you are hopefully you can find a loose mineral supplement for dairy goats. It is important that it not be for sheep, as that will not have copper. Also, be sure that it is not mostly salt, but rather vitamins and trace minerals.

Kelp is a super nutrient dense plant. It is high in calcium, iron, iodine and other trace minerals. My holistic doctor discovered that I was crazy low in Iodine, and she had me start taking kelp and my minor health issues were quickly resolved. After which we looked up some information on iodine and milk production and mammary systems, and I came away thinking that as long as I can go to the feed store and buy kelp for my dairy goats, I will. All kelp is not created equal. Our feed store use to just carry kelp for garden supplementation, and I bought that and fed it to my chickens...and still do sometimes. But mostly I buy the animal grade kelp. There is better kelp out there, and maybe someday I'll do the research and decide it is worth the extra money. I feed a couple teaspoons to a tablespoon of kelp on top of my bred does and milker's grain once a day.

Black oil sunflower seeds are high in healthy oils, vitamin E and B6, as well as selenium. I feed between a half cup and one cup per doe. I've gone back and forth feeding olive oil. It is undoubtedly good for the girls, but also expensive. If I have a doe who is having a hard time putting on weight or looking decent, I'll start giving her a tablespoon of olive oil on her feed. If you give them too much they'll get the runs.

Back to soil deficiencies, as a solution to dealing with copper and selenium deficiencies in the soil and hay it has become common for goat breeders in Alaska and elsewhere to give their does copper boluses, which is a slug of copper that goes down the does throat and into her stomach where there it rests and releases copper over time. The other trend is to inject goats with selenium every six months to make sure that your does have the proper levels of selenium. I'm not a huge fan of vitamin pastes, injectable vitamins, nor boluses, (but this doesn't mean that I won't go that route if my current methods don't work). I find these treatments more invasive than I'd like to be. Also, I have my suspicions about nutrients, vitamins and trace minerals that have been formulated in a lab, or overly processed (I know- I feed sweetlix) I read something in my research, I believe it was by Katherine Drovdahl, where she had written about copper, and that copper that comes from pipes or from a lab does not provide that vitamins and trace minerals that come directly from a living plant source, nor will it be as easy to absorb or use by the animal. I have been search for the quote and can't find it now. Also, I've read that selenium can be highly toxic in large amounts, so if I can feed it daily as opposed to injecting it twice yearly, I will. However, it makes sense to me, that the best sources of selenium and copper would come straight from living plants that are high in these minerals. So, I've been taking note of plants and other natural copper and selenium sources and feeding them.  First, high selenium herbs include: alfalfa, kelp, slippery elm, raspberry leaf, pao d'arco bark, milk thistle, catnip, BOSS, couch grass and black strap molasses. Foods and herbs that contain significant levels of copper include: black strap molasses, hops, sesame, sunflower and other squash seeds, dried basil, oregano, marjoram, parsley and thyme. Fir Meadow sells a copper selenium supplement called kop-sel that I've been feeding for the past year. You can purchase it on the Fir Meadow online site.

Black strap molasses is one of the supplements I fed for a while, purchasing five gallon buckets through Azure Standard, and then got tired of the goopy mess and stopped for a while. After reading recently about how great it is, I'm getting back on the band wagon. It is high in B vitamins and trace minerals. I was feeding a quarter cup and stirring it into grain for four does when I was last feeding it in the fall. Buying it in bulk is the way to go- and yes it does have to be Black Strap!

I am feeding a variety of herbs I harvested this summer, red raspberry leaves, nettles and comfrey. One of my goals in keeping less does, is to be able to make more of an impact in their winter diet, with herbs and plants that we grow or forage for, in addition to someday growing our own grain, hay and root crops for animal feed.

There are a few pregnancy related illnesses that are nutrient related. I do not have personal experience with any of these. I do however, have a contingency plan. And the reason I feed the supplements I do, is hopefully to prevent the following issues:

Pregnancy Toxemia/Ketosis called toxemia when the doe is pregnant and toxemia after she has kidded, is caused by an energy imbalance and usually occurs during the third trimester. It happens when a doe can't take in enough nutrition to meet the demands of her body and the growing kids. Her body starts to dissolve body fat for energy, but as it does this toxins and ketones are released into the bloodstream and cause the doe to feel nauseous and go off her feed. The remedy for a doe already exhibiting signs of toxemia or ketosis is to feed large amounts of sugar (60ccs of sugar, molasses, agave nectar, honey etc. warmed until runny, and then followed up with 30ccs three to four times a day until they are eating again) to stop the body from processing the toxins and ketones.

Hypocalcaemia, also called Milk fever: happens when a milkers calcium needs are not met. It happens more frequently with does who are heavy milkers and does who go off their feed for other reasons like ketosis. It can be prevented by feeding alfalfa to your does while they are pregnant and then continue while they are in milk. I have heard that does go downhill really fast if they have milk fever and quick intervention is necessary. A vet would probably put the doe on an IV and administer high doses of calcium. Katherine Drovdahl has a section in her book where she has an herbal plan to treat this as well.

White muscle disease is another complication that kids can have if their dams nutritional needs were not met during pregnancy. It usually shows up in kids when they are born or in the few weeks after kidding. Their muscles are not able to properly form in utero, and as a result they have weak hearts and other muscles. A deficiency in vitamin E and or Selenium are the culprits to blame. So, weak kids could mean you need more vitamin E or selenium.

Pre-natal goat care topics I can't write about because I know nothing about include vaccinations. I'm sure there is plenty of information on the topic out there for you to google.

If you don't already have Katherine Drovdahl's livestock (goat) herbal, you should own it! I have several other herbals for myself and the critters, and this is by far the most goat orientated and the most helpful.

Otherwise, feed good hay, feed alfalfa in some form in addition to herbs or supplements with trace minerals, or go the conventional route and give selenium shots and copper boluses, at least that will take the guess work out of it. Spend time with your goats, plan ahead and have contingency plans. All feed changes should be made slowly. Pregnant does and does who have recently kidded should be monitored closely, especially their eating habits. Putting your doe on the stand or feeding her grain and hay in her own space will help one to know if they are eating well or if they are going off their grain or alfalfa.

Most of all have fun, enjoy your goats and learn from your mistakes. I would love to hear what the rest of you are feeding your goats and what supplements you give them when they are pregnant.


Julie Hanauer said...

Hi Emily,
RE: Kelp, would Starwest be fine? And how much kelp, molasses, BOS, olive oil, nutritional yeast and dried herbs (which ones) do you give a doe?

Emily said...

Hey Julie, feel free to email me anytime, emilycstahl@gmail.com I usually buy animal grade kelp from the feed store. I don't even know what brand. I thought about buying a better brand from Azure, I know some people feel strongly that they should be fed a cold water kelp. 1-2 tsp. of kelp on top of their grain is good for a bred doe or milker, I use to put a quarter cup of molasses in grain for 3-5 goats, I'd say a Tb. per head, 1-2 tb olive oil - start out with one and increase if needed (skinny doe) 1-2 tsp. yeast and I would give a bred doe a handful each of red raspberry leaves and nettles. I would also recommend Alfalfa in some form whether hay (best but more waste and expensive) or pellets. I don't always feed all of these things but if I could afford it I would. I always fed kelp and BOS - 1 cup per doe per feeding -really helps with weight gain and vitamin E as well as some B vitamins. I fed molasses the past few years regularly. Bought it by the one gallon jug or five gallon bucket from Azure. If I had doe dropping weight significantly or producing heavily or was trying to increase milk fat I'd add olive oil as I could afford. the yeast sounds like it's got to help - I could just never visually see the effects as I've heard others could. best wishes and feel free to contact with questions anytime. HIghly recommend Kat Drovesdale's herbal. super helpful and covers most of these suplements and a wealth of herbal knowledge.

Sarah Silvius said...

Very informative! We just started the homesteading lifestyle and are beginning our journey with dairy goats. We have a small herd..2 does and a buck that we recently acquired. Our does are pregnant (yay) but have developed a cough and clear discharge from their nose. They have been dewormed and have clean housing. I'm wondering if there are any natural remedies that you have used? Or if you have any ideas?

Tater Kite said...

Sarah Silivus, We have had similar issues that started with our bucks and then eventually our does started to show the same symptoms, our vet determined that it might be lung worms even though we had our goats on a regular worming regiment. We gave ours shots of ivermectin for the worms and the ones with the worst coughs got a 2 antibiotic injections a day for 5 days. Symptoms seem to have cleared up. We were baffled for a while .

Fear Fighter said...

Hi . Thanks for your blog. It has been very insightful for me. I live in the interior of Alaska , Fairbanks is North West of us. Being a first year goat owner , I've appreciated the information you share. So thank you .

cb said...

Tbis was so helpful and I was pleasantly surprised toblearn you're in the Interior as well. Super! Thanks for sharing your knowledge/experience with us.