By Katherine Drovdahl MH CA CR DipHIr CEIT QTP
Looking after goats can be challenging. Of all the conditions that can affect goats, lungs tend to be the weakest link for our beloved caprines. Kids or adults can expire within hours after you note a problem, so this is not a situation where you can decide to get to it later. Later is now if you want the best opportunity to turn that problem around.
Viral and bacterial sources can cause goat diseases like pneumonia and pleurisy. So can mechanical sources such as smoke, dust (including dusty hay), urine or other smelly barn air. Airborne toxins such as chemical fly sprays, herbicides, pesticides, fuels and spray paints can be seriously problematic. Molds, including most of the dust found in hays, are another source of issues.
There are many ways we can be proactive when looking after goats and avoid dealing with goat lung problems. Paying attention to goat shelter is important. We want draft-free, wind-free, precipitation-free, clean and dry bedding and housing free of foul air. Goats do not handle well getting chilled or wet. Especially dairy goats, which have much thinner skins and leaner muscle mass than meat goat types. They are also much more susceptible to getting chilled than sheep. Be sure your housing is larger than you believe you need for all of your goats to comfortably stay inside when the weather is less than optimal. With dairy goats, it works well to have several living areas within their stall or stalls. We have hay feeders breaking up their large stall into smaller sections so that if one or two hogs an area, the others still have plenty of areas to eat and lie down. I remember a story of a goat wasting away because she would only keep her head in the stall. She was too afraid of the herd queen (bully) and would not even go in to come out of rain. Yes, that goat died and it was completely avoidable.
When caring for goats, we also want to consider things that will encourage healthy goat immune systems. Avoiding toxin exposure, providing clean and healthy feeds, making sure they feel safe in their surroundings and keeping them up to date on their mineral consumption will go a long way toward that. Stress also has a negative impact on their (and your) immunity due to acidity it causes in the body and excess adrenaline preventing the body from being well rested. I know my goats feel secure when they are able to lie down or hang out, while chewing their cud, at least two different times per day. They will not cud if they are stressed. I also feed herbs to encourage happy immune systems. Some of those are thyme, echinacea (up to ten days), garlic, peppermint, basil and turmeric. Fir Meadow LLC has herbal immunity products for those that want a synergistically formulated, already-made product.
A long-term goal for your herd may be for each successive generation to have a stronger constitution: that inherited strength at the cellular level. We are many generations from conventionally raised goats and I can attest that lungs are now rarely an issue in our herd. I don’t think we’ve had one lung problem this year. We used to dread the times of wet weather, quickly changing weather and quickly changing temperatures because that often meant we would be dealing with lungs. We have gotten there by years of avoiding chemicals and by using herbal supplements and herbs to cleanse and nourish our goats’ systems. Looking after goats is so much easier now!
The other side of proactive is to be reactive. This means rising to meet a current lung challenge. The proactive side would mean keeping products on hand to deal with a lung issue, should one present. If you want to go the chemical route, get some advice from your vet, or from your goat mentor, on what should be in that first aid kit. If you are alternative-focused, consider herbs like goldenseal (use under the care of an herbalist in pregnant stock), mullein, myrrh, Lobelia inflata, thyme, garlic, Eucalyptus globulus essential oil (under the advice of a practitioner if you are new to essential oils), pleurisy root, coltsfoot, comfrey and elecampane root. If you want already-formulated products, we have an extract and an herb mix that can be used proactively or reactively. When working with herbs, consider supporting the lungs and going after possible bacterial, microbial or viral problems. My experience with lung problems, and using drugs or herbs, is that I’m going to save some and I’m going to lose some. A lot has to do with how early I catch a problem. I have seen goats turn around, that are on their very last bit of life, with both methods, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Symptoms that I watch for in my herd include lack of energy, depressed attitude, not eating grain well, hunched up (arched back), hair fluffed out, fever, lung sounds and perhaps sweat.
If their hair is fluffed up, that will often be telltale of a fever. Take their temperature. If it’s the winter months or colder weather (below about 50°F) then anything above 101.5°F will be feverish for most goats. In the warmer months, my mark is 102.5°F before I concern myself. Record that temperature, along with the time you took it, in a notebook you keep for looking after goats. As your wellness protocol starts working, the fever should come down. I never try to artificially lower that fever; I need to know if I am giving enough of the right herbs to help their body conquer the situation. If the body is moving forward, that fever will come down. If I control the fever then I do not have a good assessment of what’s going on internally.
I put my ear on their ribcage and listen. I should be able to hear their heart and should not be able to hear any lung sounds. Listen to goats that are well, to compare, so you can note what sounds normal and what does not.
If you are dealing with an acute issue (it recently showed up), that first day involves dosing with herbs every two hours during waking hours, getting at least five doses in before bedtime (more is better). I often double-or-triple-dose that first round of safe herbs to give me a good jump. I also often use an onion poultice that first day.
After the first 24 hours, one often will move into the chronic stage. At that point, I dose at least 4 times per day, at regular dose, for at least 2 to 3 more days. As long as your animal is progressing after that, three times per day should be good for at least ten days, or at least three days past any sign of symptoms, whichever is later.
Your goat may have a latent cough for some time afterward. Remember that any particulate in their feed or the air will irritate that healing tissue for quite some time. Keep their air clean as much as possible.
Enjoy looking after goats. May you never, ever need any of this information as you enjoy your beloved animals. Blessings all!
Katherine and her beloved husband reside with their LaManchas, horses and other livestock and gardens. Her lifelong livestock experience and in depth alternative education including a Master’s degree in herbology gives her a unique perspective when she teaches. She also owns, offers creature & human wellness consultations and has a multitude of herb products & services available at firmeadowllc.com.
Originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.