On Pregnancy Toxemia (AKA Ketosis) and Milk Fever (AKA Hypocalcemia)

This article is actually about two different subjects (Ketosis and Hypocalcemia), but since their symptoms are almost identical, and Hypocalcemia leads to Ketosis, I thought it would be best to address them both at once.

Hypocalcemia’s definition is pretty straightforward: it’s when your goat’s levels of calcium is dangerously below what’s needed.

Ketosis is slightly more complicated. Ketosis is when the body isn’t getting enough energy, and the body starts breaking down fat reserves. This kind of metabolism is incomplete, and leaves behind deadly acid compounds called ketones. Too many of these ketones will turn the blood acidic and kill.

Both of these occur often because of an incorrect diet, and most often to pregnant or recently kidded goats. The last 6 weeks of pregnancy demands a lot on a doe’s body (as the kids are getting 60% of their growth, her body is preparing to create milk, and the birth process also requires a lot of energy and calcium), and if she doesn’t get what she needs, her body is going to start using her fat reserves in excess, resulting in all of the deadly ketones. Similarly, if she doesn’t get when she needs when she comes into milk, or if she’s a heavy producer, her body will pull from its own reserves.

These two problems can result from not getting enough feed, and, interestingly enough, from getting too much feed.

The simpler explanation is this: Grain is needed for the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio in a goat’s diet (I believe phosphorus is needed to process calcium). In the last 6 weeks to a month of pregnancy, when the babies are pulling a lot on on the doe for calcium, your doe is going to make a smart move and switch to focusing on eating alfalfa.

In Hypocalcemic situations, she doesn’t eat enough grain or isn’t able to consume enough to keep up the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio. Her body starts pulling calcium from her bones.

In ‘simple’ Ketonic situations, her body, which has been depending on this high-energy grain intake, panics. It starts drawing energy from her fat cells.

In either situation, the incomplete metabolic process results in an explosion of ketones, turning her blood extremely acidic.

So here’s the trick: in either situation, it’s best not to give any grain until the last month or so of pregnancy. Giving your does a little boost in this manner helps keep up her energy for growing kids and metabolizing alfalfa, but not early enough that the body depends on it and goes through a shock when the kids rapidly begin to pull more from the doe.

There is also a possibility of ketosis after a doe has kidded, if she’s a heavy milker. This is called Milk Fever (and is Hypocalcemia). It’s the same basic story: her milk production is demanding more calcium than she’s intaking, so it pulls from her reserves, and again with the ketones. The best way to prevent this problem is to make sure to increase her grain (not too fast, but enough) after she kids to keep up with her production.

Stress is also connected to a doe succumbing to Pregnancy Toxemia. Preventing sudden changes in her environment, in her herd, and in feeding will help combat this.

Hypocalcemia and Ketosis will kill a doe very quickly. So how can you tell if your doe has Ketosis or Hypocalcemia?

These are the common symptoms:

The doe eats less or stops eating completely
Depression
Separation from the herd
The doe may be slow to get up or may lie off in a corner
Her eyes are dull
Sometimes blindness
Muscle tremors & seizures
The doe’s breath and urine may have a fruity sweet odor. This is due to the excess ketones, which have a sweet smell.

So what do you do if see these symptoms?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to diagnose whether it’s ‘simple’ Ketosis or Hypocalcemia, so treating for both is probably the best method. You must get her calcium and energy levels up, and get her eating again so she’ll keep these up herself. Often times a doe will refuse to eat when she feels sick in this way, exacerbating the problem.

For the calcium component, you will need something called CMPK. This stands for Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium — all of these minerals are needed to absorb the calcium. Giving straight calcium does no good if your doe doesn’t have the right minerals to process it.

If your doe is severely weak and refusing to eat, use an injectable CMPK. It takes time for the doe to absorb calcium through an oral solution and there are situations where there is no time for the absorption.

For this, inject subcutaneously, or under the skin, not into the muscle. After tying her down or having someone hold her head, pull up her skin a few inches down from her topline, where the skin is looser and you won’t be in danger of hitting any bone or major nerves. Inject 40-60 cc of Calcium Gluconate. The injections should be broken down into at least 4 injections in different sites. Do not give more than 10 cc per injection site. The injections should be given slowly.

If her symptoms are milder and you’ve just noticed a change in behavior, then you can probably get away with an oral calcium drench: 8 oz. three times a day until the doe is eating and symptoms are subsiding.

Important note: Please be careful with what kind of CMPK, because several types of calcium will burn or leave sores if given orally, or burn when given in shot form, which can result in putting your doe off her feed even more. CMPK with calcium chloride is the most common one to do this. Try to find a composition with calcium carbonate, or calcium gluconate. (I’ve also used, in milder situations, a for-human-consumption CMPK that’s flavored. They definitely want to eat that!)

To combat the energy and sugar side of the Ketosis equation, there are several things you can do. If you can convince your doe to take some tasty treats, give her all she’ll take! Grain works, anything that’s good and healthy with lots of calories and calcium. Also, follow any of the suggestions below:

  • Molasses & Karo syrup (corn syrup). Mix 2 parts corn syrup to 1 part molasses. 20 – 30ml every 2 hours. It also tastes good, which makes it easier to administer and nicer for your lady-goat.
  • You can use Propylene Glycol at 3-4 oz (90-120ml) 2 times a day, for 2 days, and then 1-2 oz (30ml-60ml) 2 times daily until the doe is eating normally, OR, 10 – 20ml every 2 hours
    • However, Propylene Glycol is an appetite suppressant and it inhibits rumen bacteria, so do not use unless the doe is off her feed.
    • Also, Propylene Glycol is extremely similar in composition to Anti-Freeze, which makes me feel a little weird giving them to my goats. There are other, less harmful sugars.
  • Nutridrench, Goatdrench: 2 oz. 2 times a day
  • Children’s chewable vitamins with extra calcium, or even Tums, are great to give to a goat who is still interested in eating. These are also an excellent thing to hand out in the barn as a preventative for Hypocalcemia.
  • An oral probiotic, like Probios, will stimulate the appetite and keep the rumen functioning as it should.
  • B-Complex injections will stimulate the appetite and give energy.

There are also a few aromatherapy things you can do to help with the stress aspect if you feel that is a factor:

  • Rescue Remedy can help calm.
  • Lavender Essential Oil also can help with stress and depression. Lavender has a calming and mood lifting effect. Place 4 drops of oil in three different places in the doe’s stall twice a day.

 

Once the doe has regained her appetite, make sure to increase her grain ration so that a relapse doesn’t occur. Also make sure she has access to enough alfalfa, and isn’t being bullied by other goats away from the feed.

(As a final note I’d like to add that I’ve had a goat who suffered from hypocalcemia and wasn’t pregnant. If you ever see a sick-looking goat who isn’t pregnant and is suffering from muscle tremors, I’d really advise you take her to the vet and test her calcium level! This lady of mine recovered with a heavy CMPK regime, and I gave her calcium supplements and treats pretty much the rest of her life, as she had other health problems that probably inhibited her ability to absorb calcium.)

 

Any questions? Any other methods you’ve used to help combat/prevent Ketosis or Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever)?

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Nursing Kids and Lopsided Udders

There are a couple reasons that a doe’s udder may be lopsided. Mastitis is also another reason; if you see your doe severely lopsided, you should probably get a test just to make sure there isn’t anything fishy going on there.

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Lopsided Udder: Picture shamelessly borrowed from the Wild Roots Homestead blog

However, with dam-raised kids that are nursing, it’s often because the kids are nursing unequally. This is especially prevalent with only one kid, but it happens with two kids, too.

For example, about two and a half weeks after Blackberry kidded with Magnolia and Aztec, I noticed that one side of her udder was smaller than the other. Not by a lot, just noticeable. I’d been putting her up on the milk stand and milking a little in the evenings so a) she’d become used to the milk stand, and b) her production would keep up no matter what the kids were doing. The next time I had her on the stand, I inspected and discovered that the smaller side had less mammary tissue, especially up in the back.

Uh oh.

After some research, there looked to be two possibilities about what was happening. Either the kids were drinking mostly on the smaller side, making the “milk memory” smaller as it was constantly being depleted (the other side more prone to filling up and expanding the milk memory). Or, the kids were drinking off the bigger side more, and the smaller side was drying up due to less use.

My research also cautioned that lopsidedness can become permanent really fast, so you needed to jump on it as soon as you noticed it.

That evening I taped up the smaller side to a) see exactly how much she produced without kid interference, and b) convince the kids to drink off the other side. The next morning she’d gotten the tape off, but her udder looked even.

Which meant it was the first reason. So I spent probably a week taping the smaller side in the evenings to give it time to expand and fill out the “milk-memory.”

By this time Blackberry was getting annoyed with the kids nursing, too, so she was only letting them nurse for a few moments when she felt like it (which meant they had no time for pickiness on deciding which side they liked better).

Overall, her udder is almost exactly even now. When you milk her out you can still tell there’s a little difference in the development of udder tissue, but she looks good:

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Now cue Sari kidding. I was being more watchful of the issue this time around, but I barely had time to prepare for this one. The kids ONLY drank off the one side, and within two days, that side was about a third of the size of the other side (which they were not drinking off of). I’m not sure what that’s about.

But, the same protocol as before. In the evenings I started taping up the smaller side to give it time to expand and create “milk memory” while encouraging the kids to drink off of the other side.

There was definite improvement, but she was still pretty lopsided. Worried about how much I had to try to fix this problem, I ramped up my efforts, and taped her up during the daytime, too.

This is where you have to be careful: make sure you fully milk out the side that you’re working with if you decide to tape up 24/7 (even if you tape only for 12 hours, milk the side out). You don’t want to create the opposite problem and have the smaller side dry up because she’s full too often!

The morning after I did that (several days into the night-time taping up) her udder was pretty even, milk wise. The smaller side was still tighter than the other side and obviously had less “milk memory,” even though they both had about the same amount of milk. The next morning, after only a 12 hour tape up, she’s looking much better. There’s only a little difference between the halves.

I wonder if being only a week from kidding helped with allowing her udder to be flexible. She also has such a strange udder that completely disappears when she’s not milking, the super-malleable quality probably helped. I also wonder if it’s hindering as well though, and that’s why the lop-sidedness was severe so fast.

My strategy for now is to rotate which days I’ll tape up that side for 24 hours (with every 12 hours milkings) vs. 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Hopefully as her production naturally increases and the kids become better at nursing (and she gets more impatient with them like Blackberry and only allows them to nurse at certain times and not be picky!) it will be all even.

I think the key thing to keep in mind is to pay attention. If you catch it quickly enough, it seems to be decently fixable!

 

Do you have any lopsided udder stories? What about tricks to keep the babies nursing off of both sides? Anything to add?

Bottle Raising vs. Dam Raised

Whether to bottle-raise or dam-raise your kids is a big decision when raising kids. On the one hand, bottle-raising kids makes them super friendly without a lot of work – but the effort of bottle raising can be quite labor intensive. On the other hand, dam-raising takes away a lot of the work, is more natural – but you need to make sure you spend time with your kids to make them people-friendly, and a much higher chance of milk-related diseases to be passed on.

For those visual people out there, I’ve made a pros and cons list!

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Obviously, this isn’t a balanced list. This list is just to highlight the elements to take into consideration when deciding how to raise your kids. Many of these things can be managed to be a lesser problem. For example, taming kids is solved with just a half an hour of sitting down with new babies to familiarize them with you and people in general. And oh, it’s such a “chore.”

Different elements are going to have different weight depending on what you’re looking for. If you have a huge herd, taming all those kids may be a monumental task – in the same vein, bottle-raising may be entirely too much work.

The risk of CAE is unacceptable to some, and all kids are bottle-raised. Hard-core breeders who show consistently may not be willing to make sure to check for lop-sided udders, and kids are bottle-raised for the same reason.

In other scenarios, such as needing CAE testing, the testing should probably be done anyway. For lop-sided udders, which can be managed with some attention, you might not care if you’re not going to show.

It all depends on what you’re looking for in your ladies and what you want to do. And I have posts on dealing with different issues that arise depending on your preference for raising kids, as well.

Here’s a post on lop-sided udders

Some specifics for bottle-raising kids:

Do not skimp on the colostrum, even if you’re bottle-raising! It’s the absolute best thing for babies in jump-starting their immune systems and making sure they grow up strong. If you don’t have a source of natural colostrum, there are colostrum replacers that can be bought. Try to find a goat-specific version.

If you do have a natural source of colostrum and are bottle-feeding for disease-related reasons, make sure to heat treat, not pasteurize, the colostrum. Pasteurizing the colostrum will turn it into pudding.

Also, if you’re going to continue using replacer, I really recommend buying cows milk and feeding half cows milk and half replacer. Feeding only replacer can make the kid bloat.

Have any pros and cons to add to the list? Let me know! I’d love to add them.