With the increased popularity of urban farming, people are discovering goats, and are charmed by their dog-like qualities. But goats are herd animals, so you can’t keep just one; a lone goat is sad, insecure, and loud.
Goats also require plenty of care (at least an hour a day for dairy goats), and are not cost-free. They need a sturdy enclosure, quality feed in the winter, and routine veterinary care including booster shots, worming, and hoof maintenance.
Susan Ragan has always loved animals, but she couldn’t have any when she was living and working as a photojournalist in New York City. “I moved to Oregon so I could have all the animals I wanted,” she says, “Now I have forty, if you count the chickens.” Fourteen of those are goats. “I fell in love with goats when I had the first kids,” she says. “They are so nutty and take wonderful photographs.”
Ragan’s favorite goat is a five year-old Nubian doe named Binnie. “She is the sweetest goat and a wonderful mother,” says Susan. “The funny part is: she is the daughter of the most ill-tempered goat I have ever known.”
In April, Binnie was pregnant with four kids and not doing well; she was lethargic and not eating, so her veterinarian induced birth and delivered the baby goats successfully. However, immediately following birth, Binnie became progressively weaker and could not stand to nurse her kids. Ragan was referred to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital where they ran tests and diagnosed toxemia and dehydration.
Toxemia is common in pregnant goats when they do not take in enough nutrition to support themselves and their babies. Because there is an urgent need for calories, the goat starts breaking down her own body’s fat reserves. “Pregnancy toxemia is a metabolic disease that typically occurs in the last weeks of pregnancy,” says Dr. Trina Westerman. “It is caused by a negative energy balance in does that are not able to keep up with the increased energy demands of pregnancy. Does at higher risk of pregnancy toxemia are often carrying multiple fetuses, may be underweight, overweight, or have another illness while pregnant.”
The breakdown of body fat in the doe causes a build-up of ketones in the blood and can be fatal. “She was dying,” says Ragan. “OSU saved her.”
Dr. Westerman treated Binnie with IV glucose, electrolytes, and vitamins. She also treated her for parasites. The newborn kids were habituated to bottle feeding, and removed from Binnie’s pen to decrease the energy drain on her. That’s when fourth-year students, on clinical rotation in the hospital, came in handy. Two kids were assigned to Kristen Hinatsu, and two were assigned to Holly Dion. “Although the kids were adorable, they are a ton of work!” says Hinatsu. “Every day they were weighed, and from that weight, we calculated their daily milk intake. We divided this amount into 12 bottle feedings per day. This meant that every 2 hours, we would measure out a certain number of milliliters of goat milk, warm it, and feed it to each of the four kids.”
While in the hospital, the four kids slept huddled together next to the fence separating them from their mother. “Binnie missed snuggling with them and regularly greeted them over the top of the fence,” says Hinatsu. “She also bleated loudly whenever we took one out to be weighed.”
Binnie responded well to her treatment and was able to go home with her kids. “Everybody is really big and healthy,” reports Ragan. “The only problem Binnie has now is dandruff.”
With no students to help, Ragan has her hands full doing the bottle-feeding on her own. “Boy, it has been a lot of work,” she says. “At first, I was bottle-feeding the kids six times a day. Now we’re down to three times.”
Dr. Westerman has some advice for owners of pregnant goats that may help prevent toxemia: “It is important to keep does at a normal body condition, because both under and overfeeding can increase the risk of pregnancy toxemia,” she says. “Common contributing factors to pregnancy toxemia include gastrointestinal parasites, lameness, and increased stress. Prevention of pregnancy toxemia includes providing a good nutritional plane and addressing any concurrent diseases. If there is any concern regarding the health or nutrition of a pregnant doe, or doe that has recently kidded, evaluation by a veterinarian is recommended.”