Dealing with Scours
The old joke that goats will eat anything, even a tin can is not only incorrect but misleading. It leads us to believe that goats have stomachs of steel and can digest anything put in front of them.
The truth is that a goat will “taste” many things; zippers on hoodies, pony tails, and much more if given the chance. Goats like to explore the world using their mouth. They can eat brambles, thorn covered raspberries and even poison ivy without ill effects to their health.
But in actuality, a goat’s digestive system is very delicate and easily upset. Just because they WILL eat anything, doesn’t mean they SHOULD.
To understand a goat’s digestive system let’s first go into the wild. Picture the wild goat. Images of a white, bearded animal, horns in tact, balancing on the side of a steep mountain cliff might come to mind. The only vegetation in the scene might be a straggly bush hanging on for dear life in a crack of stone. That straggly bush is the key to a goat’s diet.
Goats are grazers, but not in the sense of fields and fields of lush grass. Goat’s are designed by nature to be constantly on the move, searching for bits of food, twigs leaves, and plants that they nibble as the herd moves forward. Their rumen is designed to digest small amounts of food constantly. The goat fills up when it can because in its rocky habitat, it might not know when the next meal is coming. It gains minerals from the mineral dense rock where scarce vegetation grows, and worms are not as much of an issue because the herd is not confined to a particular grazing area, so the worm cycle doesn’t concentrate.
When we take goats out of this natural surrounding and place them in the farmyard, it’s easy for a goat’s digestive system to become unbalanced.
To learn more about a goat's diet read click here.
Now let’s move inside the animal.
The rumen, is often used to describe the whole digestive system of a goat, when in actuality it is one of the four chambers that make up the goat’s “stomach."
Chambers of a Goat’s Digestive System
- Reticulum- A chamber of the Rumen that works with the Esophagus during cud chewing.
- Rumen- A fermentation chamber where bacteria break down particles of food and make the nutrition available to the goat.
- Omasum- The first chamber of the goat’s “true” stomach.
- Abomasum- This chamber is most similar to our stomach in that it uses acids to break down food particles into absorbable molecules.
Information found on: Goatbiology.com and Goat-link.com
If your goat’s rumen is working properly you should be able to hear a wave of gurgling every 45 to 60 seconds. Those are fermentation gasses moving to the upper part of the rumen.
What is Cud Chewing?
After our goats eat, they often settle in for a nice leisurely lie down. Tummies full of hay, they’ll curl up and chew their cud. When a goat chews cud it will chew and chew, usually with a ball of something in one cheek of their mouth or another. They’ll often belch, and if you happen to get close, their breath will smell like fermenting hay. Then the goat will swallow. It might wait a few seconds then regurgitate the ball (you’ll often see it slide back up the throat) and the goat will begin chewing again.
By chewing cud, the goat is breaking down its food into smaller and smaller bits and mixing it with saliva which begins digestion.
Normal Goat Pellets: Goat droppings should be hard, solid, oval shaped pellets. Dark brown in color and separated, meaning not clumped together.
Scours: Diarrhea in goats
Anytime the bacteria balance in a goat’s digestive system becomes out-of-whack diarrhea can occur.
Causes: There are many causes for goat scours. Scours can sometimes indicate serious illness and if left untreated can cause dehydration, organ damage or death. It’s important to know what steps to take to treat scours and when it’s time to call the vet.
Below is a list of causes that can bring on scours in goats.
- Lush Grass - Fresh, green grass might look like the ideal setting for a hungry goat however, too much grass, or very wet grass will often cause scours. If given the chance, goats will gorge themselves on grass, (remember they have the instinct to fill up when they can) they don’t realize that this pasture will be available to them tomorrow so they will eat and eat. The goat’s system isn’t designed to process such a moisture rich food. The quantity will often overload the bacteria’s ability to digest the grass and the goat will get scours.
- Grain - Just like with grass, goats will often eat as much grain as they can get. They just can’t resist the sweet, molasses covered oats and will become quite clever in figuring out how to get to the grain can. Grain is a great tool in getting goats to cooperate. It keeps them still on the milk stand or during shearing. It will also encourage your goats to come to you, which can be good if they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be…like the garden. (wink, wink). However, too much grain will overload the bacteria in the digestive system and result in scours.
- Rich Hay or Alfalfa Hay- Hay is the key to balancing a rumen. It is the closest “farm raised” food that mimics what a goat might find in the wild. But, if a goat is suddenly switched from a more brown hay to a rich green hay it will upset the rumen. Too much, or a sudden addition of alfalfa hay can have similar results. Introduce these food items gradually.
- Baby Goats Switching Milk Types- Just as in an adult goat, if you switch kids from goat’s milk to formula or cows milk, it can upset the stomach and cause scours.
- Inappropriate Food – Just like dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate, there are foods that are bad for goats. “Treats” should be formulated specifically for goats. I recommend treating with Manna Pro Goat Treats, a fun and nutritious snack, in a flavor goats love!
Bad Foods for Goats
- Chicken feed
- Leaves, bark and fruits and pits of stone fruits like cherries, apricots, peaches, plums etc.
- Parasites- Goats carry parasites. According to our vet the parasite load should be under 5% to be healthy. If your goat has a high worm load it might lead to scours. An excellent dewormer is Manna Pro's Positive Pellet Goat Dewormer. It's a medicated product that does not have a withdraw period when fed to milking goats.
- Cocciodosis- is a protozoa that causes diarrhea. It is especially harmful to young goats and can be deadly if left untreated. Humans can also get Cocciodosis so be sure to take sanitary precautions. If your goat suddenly develops scours for no apparent reason (change of diet etc.) it’s important to have a stool test done to look for Cocciodosis.
- Illness- Diarrhea is a symptom of several goat illnesses like Johnes Disease.
- Fresh, clean water to prevent dehydration.
- Electrolytes alternating with clean water or offer both - I recommend Manna Pro Goat Electrolyte which supports hydration and optimal fluid balance in scouring goats.
- Quarantine goat to keep other goats clean and to prevent a possible disease from spreading.
- Keep bedding clean. Clean several times a day if necessary. Wash down the goat to keep away flies. Wash hands well, humans can get Cocciodosis too.
- Probiotics will help balance the rumen by introducing good bacteria
- Baking soda will help balance the fermentation gasses and the acids in the digestive system.
- Grass hay
- Cut out grain or limit
- Provide a stool sample to your veterinarian
Our Routine with Scours
Please check with your veterinarian for an appropriate plan for your animals.
We keep our goats on a fairly consistent diet. We hay our own field so our hay quality is pretty consistent. The grain is measured and each goat is fed according to their needs. Goats in milk get more grain than wethers, bucks etc. Our goats have access to grass hay at all times. If one of our goats gets scours we usually know why. Sometimes in the spring, when they are first released on pasture, a few will get diarrhea even if I limit their time exposed. It depends on how wet the spring is, or how lush the grass grows that year.
Sometimes they accidentally get too much grain, maybe we fed a bit too much during shearing or while clipping hooves etc. Sometimes as we increase grain for goats that are pregnant or in milk it upsets the tummy even when we’re careful to do it gradually.
Often these situations will only lead to a clumpy poop where the pellets stick together in a tube shaped dropping, or a mushy poop like the consistency of pudding. If that’s the case we limit grain and only feed hay till it passes.
If the stool is watery I offer electrolytes in addition to fresh clean water. Once again, Manna Pro Goat Electrolyte is an excellent choice. I also give probiotics. If I don’t see improvement in 12-24 hours I call the vet for a stool sample check. Your vet will be able to tell you if you need a specific wormer for a troublesome parasite, or if further action needs to be taken. Do not let scours go. It can take down an animal very quickly!
- Offer baking soda free choice.
- Offer grass hay at all times
- Develop a good worming regimen. We worm every season, more if the animal needs it. Check eyelids for anemia and alternate wormers so parasites don’t become resistant.
- Regular stool checks with your veterinarian
- Limit pasture time until their systems can adjust
- Introduce new foods slowly, up grain rations gradually.
- If you switch feed brands gradually add it to the grain you already feed
- Keep bedding clean to limit parasites and disease
- Quarantine new animals that come to your farm until they are deemed healthy.
Consistency is key to keeping your goat’s rumen healthy. Be aware of change, note what causes scours in your herd and react accordingly. Know that each goat is different and what works for one, may not agree with another’s system. With a bit of preventative measures, and a plan for unexpected problems, you will continue to keep a happy, healthy herd.
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