Sunday, October 28, 2007

Goat Psychology

Bubba is an idiot. When I got there today, he was caught in the fence by his horns. After being freed, he went on to get caught twice more in less than thirty minutes. This article has a solution:

"Goats are creatures of habit. If you have a goat that repeatedly hangs its horns in fencing, that goat will stick its head in the same place time after time until you fit the horns with a PVC pipe secured by duct tape. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

Tomorrow, Bubba will be getting some custom headgear applied.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Goat Management Software

When we had goats in Arizona, I bought the Goat Breeder's Notebook software to keep track of all of the information. It's been sitting on my computer all this time, so I decided to try using it with my current goats. Oh, my. I can't believe I never noticed before how unintuitive and downright buggy this software is. I spent a fair bit of time putting in goat-related expenses, saved them all, and then none of them showed up in a report! And if you mark an animal as dead, you cannot undo it short of restoring an earlier version of the database. Yet there's no warning that it is a permanent action.

In disgust, I decided to search for some slightly more professional software. Most of what I found was either really low-level, or very expensive, but Ranch Manager: Goat Edition looked like a nice combination of quality software for a decent price. So I requested a trial version and have spent the evening playing with it. The trial version is the full program with a 30 day limit, so if I decide to buy it I'll already have all of my information entered.

So far, it has been reasonably intuitive to use, and there are some very nice features. One of the best things is that you can define different locations on your land (pastures, pens, barns, etc) and can keep track of where any given goat is at any time. The really cool part is as soon as a buck is in the same location as a doe or group of does, the software automatically calculates the earliest due dates for the does. You can also draw maps of your locations, and then add hyperlinks in the maps to the individual records.

I do have a few nitpicks. For the map thing, it would be really nice if you could upload maps as well as draw them. In the individual goat records, the photo uploader always starts in the same spot, one of the data folders for the software, so it takes a good five clicks to navigate to my image folder. It would be sanity-saving if it would remember the last folder it opened and start there instead, the way most programs do.

I've got another 29 days to play with this software, and I'm going to throw everything I can think of at it. If I'm still reasonably happy with it at the end of the trial, I'll probably buy it. This company also has special discounts if you buy more than one species' software together, which would be really nice if I had cattle, sheep, or horses. Too bad they don't have a poultry management edition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Goat Breeding

Well, I broke down and let Bubba in with the girls tonight. See, I had dismantled his pen so that I could use the panel in the great deworming roundup, and had never put it back together. He's on a tie-out for grazing, so it wasn't a huge priority. But tonight after dusk I heard coyotes up on the ridge, and I didn't want to leave poor Bubba unprotected all night. It was too dark to put the panel back on his pen, so he had to go in with the girls and Balto. It's only about three weeks earlier than I'd planned to start breeding, and honestly, since he's young and unproven, it's probably best to start as early as possible anyhow. So kidding season should start in late March at the earliest.

Bubba was more interested in the new grass than the does. Balto thought that he smelled very interesting. He didn't spend that much time sniffing a new doe when she was first introduced. Bantini (this year's kid) ran up to sniff noses with Bubba when he first came in, but the rest of the herd pretty much ignored him.

Since at this point Bantini is the only doe I don't intend to breed this year, I won't be splitting the herd. She's nowhere near large enough to go into heat yet, so it should be fine.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nest Box Free Eggs

At least one of the hens has made a habit of roosting in the nest box instead of in the house, so it was starting to get filthy in there. I dumped it out and put fresh hay in it, but I also decided to leave it out of their yard for a while so that the offending hen could make a habit of sleeping elsewhere. In the meantime, the hens can lay their eggs in the grass.

It was kind of funny, because all of the eggs were together today. It looks like one hen chose a spot and made a nest, and the rest waited in line for their turn to use the same spot. That probably would have been funny to watch. I guess they've just gotten used to taking turns in the nest box.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rendezvous Over a Sagging Fence

There's been a lot of rain over the last several days, so the step-in posts for the electric goat fence loosened a bit. One section of fence sagged enough that R6 Nieuw got out. I'll have to mark her as bred, since she spent as long as eighteen hours loose with Bubba. March 22 is a little bit earlier than I wanted to start kidding, but it's not too bad.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Today we caught the last of the goats that needed to be dosed with dewormers. Paul and I spent a good hour chasing, cornering, roping, and tackling the recalcitrant goats. They're all done now, but we get to do it again in two weeks. And again a month later, and every month after that. *sigh* I really need to build/buy some working equipment to make this easier. Even a neck crook would probably help.

The good news is that none of these wild goats are showing any symptoms of brain worms. The bad news is that we lost another one, the bottle-baby we bought a few months ago. Also, Tally, the friendliest goat left, definitely has neurological damage. It's too soon to tell if all of the worms have been flushed from her body, but she doesn't seem to have gotten much worse in the last week. So the three tamest goats are the only ones that have been afflicted so far. As we wrestled with the wildest, meanest-tempered doe in the herd (that would be R10, Goshen), I remarked that we'll probably end up with her daughters as our foundation stock. Well, as long as they're healthy and hardy, I don't care about the temperament too much. It's not like they're dairy goats that need to be handled daily.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Brain Worm

Monday morning, I found Swellendam lying on the ground, unable to get up, and twitching her legs. I managed to get a vet out to look at her that afternoon. I had tried searching the internet for her symptoms, but the closest thing she matched was enterotoxemia, which didn't make much sense. I don't feed grain, and the goats had been eating pretty much the same forage as ever. Doctor Sparling took one look at her and diagnosed brain worms, which he said came from deer. He recommended fenbendazole (Safe-Guard), but said that her chances of recovery were very low. I had figured as much, since she was pretty far gone. He was unable to tell me the name of the parasite, which I'd never seen mentioned before, so I did some research after I got home.

Paralaphostrongylus tenuis

Called meningeal worm, brain worm, and deer worm, P. tenuis normally completes its life cycle in white-tailed deer. The adult parasite lives in the brains of deer, where it lays its eggs. The eggs travel through the blood to the lungs, where they hatch into larva. The larva travel to the throat, where they are swallowed and passed in the feces of the deer. Here's where things get a little bit strange. The first-stage larva in the feces are not infective until they are consumed by terrestrial snails or slugs. The larva transform into infective third-stage larva within the gastropods, with warm weather allowing them to change more quickly. Then, when a white-tailed deer ingests an infected gastropod while browsing, the larva travel to the brain and mature into adults, starting the cycle over again. The parasites generally cause no harm to white-tailed deer.

Other ruminants can be susceptible to brain worm if they eat infected snails or slugs. However, once the larva migrate into the brain, they are unable to mature into adults. Thus, they swim around in the brain and spinal cord and cause increasing neurological damage. In some cases they will travel from the spinal cord into the skin, causing itching so intense that the animal will chew holes in its hide. The camelids (llamas and alpacas) seem to be more susceptible than goats and sheep.

Since the parasite requires both deer and gastropods to complete its life cycle, only areas with high concentrations of white-tailed deer and a humid climate are at risk. There is some research showing that the instances of the disease peak three to four months after each peak gastropod season. In the Ohio River Valley, the observed peaks of disease are September/October and January/February. This corresponds to the peaks of gastropod prevalence: spring and fall.


There is no way to definitively diagnose brain worm in a living animal. The only way to know for sure is to find the larva in the nervous symptom. The symptoms include lameness or weakness, paralysis, circling, blindness, and other signs of neurological distress. Some animals may recover without intervention, but even if the brain worms are destroyed, the neurological damage remains.


There really isn't a lot of research yet on treatment for acute cases. The most common regimen seems to be dewormers to kill the larva (although there is no reliable information on which, if any, of the dewormers will cross the blood/brain barrier), steroids to reduce the inflammation while the dewormers work, and supportive care.


Since the parasite requires gastropods as intermediate hosts, one method of prevention consists of keeping the livestock away from moist areas and woodlands. However, goats much prefer browsing in woodlands and brushy areas to grazing in pastures, and pasture grazing puts goats at much greater risk for stomach worms.

Another possibility for small farms is to put up deer-proof fencing around the property. This is of course extremely expensive, and it wouldn't prevent infected gastropods from entering. Some people spray poisons designed to kill snails and slugs to prevent the disease.

Probably the most common method of prevention is deworming every month, so that the brain worm larva never make it to the nervous system. However, there is no dewormer that is specifically for P. tenuis, so they use the standard dewormers. Deworming on such a frequent basis rapidly leads to resistant strains of parasites, many of which are a greater threat to goats than the brain worm itself.

For now, I will be deworming every month with fenbendazole, but this is only a temporary solution. I can't afford to lose anymore goats right now, but I do want to develop a management system that will not require the use of chemical dewormers on a frequent basis.

Possible Natural Prevention Strategies

The most obvious strategy (to me anyway) would be to choose breeding stock that are naturally resistant to this and other parasites and diseases. I understand that this is how the Kiko breed of goats was developed: a large number of goats were kept with no intervention, and the ones that survived, bred. As a sole strategy, this only works if you have a very large starting breeding pool and don't mind losing a large percentage of the early generations. However, in combination with other management strategies, I think that breeding for animals that require less intervention is a good long term strategy.

There are some natural dewormers out there, although as far as I know there has been no in-depth research as to their effectiveness. Some people swear by diatomaceous earth (DE), which is used as a natural way to kill many kinds of insects/arachnids. The sharp edges of the DE cut open the carapace of the insect, and it dries out and dies. I don't quite understand how DE kills parasites in the moist environment of the digestive track. I suppose that it might kill the larva in the feces once they are exposed to air, which would prevent reinfection. If this is the case, it would not prevent brain worms since they are only passed by infected deer.

There are also herbal dewormers, which often contain wormwood. Again, there is little to no research on the efficacy of these products. However, since the standard chemical dewormers work on brain worms, it's possible that if herbal dewormers work at all, they probably would work on brain worms as well.

Another strategy would be to use natural methods to control the gastropod population. There's a saying, "There's no such thing as a surfeit of snails, only a dearth of ducks." I think that turning ducks into a paddock to clean up the snail and slug population could be a very effective way to control brain worm in livestock. Especially if paddocks are kept small, so that gastropods from neighboring paddocks won't have a chance to migrate in before the animals are moved again.

I had planned to introduce Muscovy ducks next year anyway, to help control the fly population. I'll just add in some mallard-derived breeds as well to help with the gastropods. The original plan was to have the Muscovies follow the goats, but now obviously the Duck Brigade would have to precede the goats into any paddock. It would probably also be a good idea to keep a few of them with the goats as well. I know this will open up new hazards, such as coccidiosis, to the goats. I'll just have to see how it works out in practice.

So, to sum up, this fall I will deworm my goats with fenbendazole monthly until February. As soon as the weather begins to warm up in the spring, I will introduce several breeds of ducks into the paddocks to eat up all the snails and slugs. Under this system, there will still be some risk of brain worm, but it should be greatly mitigated. The long term plan is to select for resistance to all diseases and parasites. I'll probably also introduce some Kiko bloodlines into my herd to help speed that process up.

Poor Swellendam didn't make it, but at least now I know about a significant risk in my area, and can take steps to prevent further problems. RIP Swellendam; you were a good goat.

Meningeal Worm, by Susan Shoenian

Parelaphostrongylus tenuis in the Ohio River Valley and Parasitology in Llamas and Alpacas, by Cliff Monahan

Prevention of Meningeal Worm Infection

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chicken Sale

I sold half of my laying flock today, because I only have room to keep twelve of them through the winter. My dad taught me how to tell which ones have started laying (feel how far apart the pelvic bones are), so I was able to set aside the ones that were already laying. I was honest about this with the buyer.

Despite selling eleven pullets, today was a net loss because I had to call the vet for one of the goats. More on that in the next post.