By Katherine A Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP
Goat udders and goat nipples (correctly referred to as goat teats) come in all shapes, sizes, and sometimes with deformities. For all types of goat udders, wellness and structure are important for longevity, management, kid productivity, and rate of gain, and health factors.
Be sure to watch out for teat deformities. Goat teats should only be two in number; more than that are called supernumeraries. Many excess teats are inherited and some are because of toxins the kids were exposed to in utero. They may also have orifices that can leak or cause mastitis. Check any kid born on your farm, and any goat that you are considering purchasing, by inspecting with your eyes and also by feeling for two smooth-sided teats with a single orifice on each, ideally centered on the bottom of the teat as they can show up on the sides as well. If you are unable to inspect the goat yourself, have the veterinarian doing the CVI (Certificate of Veterinary Inspection) write his or her findings on the health certificate. You can also state on your purchase contract that the teats need to pass veterinarian inspection as being two and clean, with only one orifice each. You can also ask sellers for photos. If you can’t trust the seller to take correct photos, then you probably don’t want to buy a goat from them! Fishtail-looking teats are called fish teats and can cause problems with nursing kids and milking. Teat spurs are a growth that shows up attached to a teat. If they have orifices, spurs will leak once the doe is in milk, making her prone to mastitis. Many of these teat problems can be genetic. I don’t purchase issues of this kind for production stock.
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Pay attention to the size and diameter of goat teats. Keep in mind that a doe’s teats, before she freshens for the first time, are going to start at first freshener size. They will stretch over time, as the doe is in milk and fills them. I prefer teats in the 3-to-4-inch range where possible, for easy milking. Longer goat teats can be stepped on by the doe as she gets up, or get snagged on brush, and shorter ones are harder to milk without goat milking machines. Be wary of teats on a kid that do not grow, which are referred to as “mouse teats.” If in doubt on size, compare them to teats on a few other kids. It’s a good idea to take photos and compare them every month, if you aren’t sure of their growth. Doe kids with “itty bitty titties” often are hermaphrodites that are missing ovaries and the hormones they produce, so the teats don’t grow. Some of them will act bucky when they get older, so they don’t always make good pet options either.
Goat udder capacity needs to produce enough milk to keep the kids well fed and additional for you, if they are the best goats for milk. Udders also need to be appropriate for goat size and type, and relative to the number of times freshened. The udder floor should always stay above the hocks, so it doesn’t get close to brush or get hit by the hocks, which will make it more prone to mastitis. The strength of the medial suspensory ligament that halves the udder will determine how low the udder will drop over time. The rear udder should also have skin down the sides of it, attaching it to the rear thigh so that it doesn’t swing when the doe walks but stays in place secure from bruising by the hocks. Goat udders that lack side attachments or are too low will become pendulous, which places it at high risk for mastitis. Even if you breed meat or fiber goats, this problem often reduces the amount of kids you can get from your doe in her lifetime. Once you have your fiber and meat traits dialed into your breeding program, do please consider mammary traits for your herd’s productivity. Udders can also twist. If the medial suspensory ligament is not attached in the center, it can cause an udder to twist. The other way for a goat udder to twist is for the pelvic frame to be too small to accommodate the udder capacity (size) of the doe. In that case, it will twist as the doe becomes full.
Pay attention to scar tissue indicating past injuries. If there is an abundance of scar tissue in the udder, it reduces the amount of tissue available for milk production. If it’s in the goat teats, it may cause problems milking or for nursing kids. Scar tissue takes a long time to correct, but using herbal salves to support tissue healing can change that problem. Depending on the amount of scarring, it may take a few weeks up to about a year.
Cuts and abrasions on mammaries and teats should be attended to immediately. I focus on antibacterial and cytophilactic (cell or tissue growth promoting) therapies. You don’t want to risk getting bacteria into the mammary gland from ignoring this. Warts can experience tissue damage from kids or the environment, which can cause the same problems. They can be tied off tight with a small amount of fishing line to amputate over time, or you can put garlic oil on them to help the body kill the virus causing them.
Knots inside the udder from previous mastitis can be either from scar tissue or they can be bacteria that the body walled off to protect itself. These are risky in does that you plan to breed. Once they freshen, the pressure from coming into milk may blow that knot, releasing bacteria into the udder. I prefer to work on those with an herbal salve, using at least mullein and Lobelia inflata. If you don’t want to make your own, Fir Meadow LLC has one you can purchase. We use it every day until the knot becomes past tense. In the conventional world, I was taught that once you had them, you were stuck with them. That is not so.
While this article is not a directed specifically at mastitis, it is the cause of many udder deformities such as unevenness and the knots mentioned above. If you see any of these coming on, I do test for mastitis (I prefer CMT kits) and treat with antibacterials if you obtain positive results. If you use conventional methods (medication) then get lab work done to find the bacteria that is responsible for the problem so you know which drug you need to use. You can save yourself some money by sending in only one sample from one affected half. Also, you can collect the sample and send it to your state veterinary lab yourself. Ask them for collection requirements and purchase the sample vial or swab kit you will need to use from a vet clinic. You don’t have to order (pay for) a sensitivity test. Once you know what it is, you can research the internet for solutions.
Goat udders can have pustules called pox. This is usually caused by a goat lying down in urine. Keep dry bedding in their housing and even in a spot outside where they like to lounge. I like to use antibacterial essential oils (properly diluted) and/or herbal salves for these problems. Soremouth and ringworm can also end up on teats and mammaries, and I take care of them in the same way I work with pox. Watch that nursing kids don’t get these on their faces! HerBiotic™ salve is my favorite way to deal with this as it’s safe around kids.
Remember to inspect your bucks, bucklings, and wethers on a regular basis. They too can have any of the problems in this article and can be taken care of the same way you work with your does.
Wishing you healthy and productive goats! Happy spring!
Katherine and her beloved husband manage gardens, LaManchas and other stock on their northwest farm. She operates Fir Meadow LLC online, which offers hope to people and their animals through natural herb products & consultations. Her lifelong passion for animals and herbs combined with her Master’s degree in herbology and other alternative training gives her unique insights when teaching. Obtain her books, The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal and The Accessible Livestock Aromatherapy Guide from www.firmeadowllc.com .