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minerals, goat nutrition and empty calories?

 
Thekla McDaniels
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The back ground information is that I have my goats on alfalfa from an organic farm, and rotational pasture at my place.  I use both Steve Solomon's recommendations for remineralizing the soil, and Elaine Ingham's methods for bringing the soil alive through introduction of and supportive conditions for a full spectrum soil food web, where "all minerals" are available to the plants.

In June I got the idea of taking my goats up to the high country for a week.  I would stay with friends at 8200 feet in the midst of very steep national forest.  On a south facing slope there was more brush than anything else.  It was a lot to prep for because of the need for predator safe night lodgings for my four goats.

We had a marvelous time until the night before we were to leave.  We had taken the goats on goat hikes through brush to rocky outcroppings where they could play and eat, and my friend and I could sit, enjoy one another's company, and enjoy the capering of my caprines.

Late the last afternoon, I was minutes from milking and putting the goats into their safe house.  The sun was still high in the sky, and a bear came into where the goats were in their electric netting, and water crossing pen, and scattered them.

The bear had one of my goats, Cocoa, and I shouted him away from her.  She was very stressed, for weeks... (Me too!  The experience of having my throat seared by the chest full of rage is still present as if new, and I am quicker to anger than ever before.  I guess if I belonged to a culture where people got names to represent new and life changing experiences or accomplishments, I'd have a new one ). 

The other three were gone.  Two weeks later one of the girls came back to my friends' place, and this is what has me wondering.

Cedar, my lead goat, the one who spent 2 week s in the wilderness on her own, came home with the slickest most shining coat possible.  Her spine is not bony, nor are her ribs prominent, in fact you can barely feel them.  Leading me to think she got very high quality feed on her walk about.  She is sporting a huge "hungry hollow", which has always made me think they were not getting enough to eat.  And since her return home, Cedar has not eaten to fill that hollow, though the food is available.

By contrast, Cocoa, the one who lived through the bear incident with only superficial breaks in the skin, is bony on her ribs, backbone and sacrum.  I realize this must be partially related to the stress of the bear and losing her mother her aunt and her doeling and coming home alone. 

To try to assuage her stress I borrowed a retired "pasture ornament" doe from the organic farm where I buy my alfalfa.  The farm owners have read Pat Coleby's   "Natural Goat Care".  They are big on minerals, minerals, minerals.  I wondered if they were a bit too enthusiastic. The borrowed goat had the slickest shiniest coat I had ever seen.  I assume it is all those minerals.  She received a copper bolus before coming with me.  She also had a hungry hollow and a layer of fat on her ribs back bone sacrum, and was not very interested in eating.  The borrowed goat was not much company for Cocoa.  I bought a doeling about the age of the one we lost to the wilderness, but that was no company for Cocoa either.  She returned yesterday to her birth farm, where they take browse walks along a canal once or twice a day. This doeling also was sleek and not bony.  It could have been the amount of milk she was getting but who knows.

When Cedar came home, Cocoa began to eat again, and is a little more lively.

Here is what I am wondering about:  If these goats with access to browse (Cedar on her sojourn and the doeling from the farm where she eats brush every day) are fat and sleek, though they don't seem to eat as much, and when I feed my goats all the mixed pasture they want and supplement with the best alfalfa I can buy, they are often "full" but don't "bloom", then is a lot of what they eat sort of empty calories, and they eat as much as they do because they are trying to get the minerals that would be in the browse.  Though my girls eat plenty and are usually  be at my target "condition 3" in the scale of 1-5 (1 almost dead, 5 roly-poly fat), their coats just have never been shiny.  The goat from the farm where my goats get their hay is essentially eating from the same ground as my girls, and her coat is shining (due to the minerals), then much of the feed available must not be as nutrient dense as they really need.

I wonder if any one has any thoughts on this, or there is anything there that will support others' learning.

I wonder about drying Cocoa up, a first freshener only 3 1/2 months into her lactation cycle.  I began milking more often her after the bear incident, thinking it might help her "normalize" after her experience.  I wonder now about letting her dry up and recuperate.  I have a sister who is very emapthetic with animals and though she has not mentioned it, that might be because she is also very empathetic towards me, and does not want me to feel criticized.  I guess next time I talk to her I'll ask her, but possibly that's another topic for discussion here.

Please let me know if you have any ideas comments experiences.
 
R Ranson
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Would it be okay if I took this story to my goat guru?  She will probably come back with a very opinionated answer but she's well worth listening too. Possibly one of the top goat people in the world.

I can guess her recommendation will be to increase Selenium to help prevent infection. 
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi, R,
Fine to take it your goat guru... One thing about selenium, I use Gunnison River water to irrigate my property.  The irrigation company and "rights " to the Gunnison were established almost 100 years ago, so it is reasonable a lot of Gunnison water has soaked into my soil in those years.  There is a cistern on my property built to store that irrigation water, it's date is ~1934, so at least that long the Gunnison has been running here.

The Gunnison and its tributaries run through country so rich in selenium that there are systems in place to try to keep that selenium in place, or not in the river, or something.  This leads me to assume there is significant selenium, because even if they were getting a lot of it, they would not get it all, just more likely to decrease the amount of selenium which flows into the Colorado river by way of the Gunnison.  Colorado river water is a major source of water for Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and many smaller communities.  "They" tend to pay a  lot of attention to water quality for numbers of people in excess of millions, that's wha I think there has been selenium mitigation, but I also think they would have been satisfied to decrease selenium down to USA EPA "acceptable levels", especially once diluted by waters from the other headwaters areas.  So, I don't think my goats have a deficiency of selenium.  We tend to have copper deficiencies in goats in the region, and I know copper and selenium are related in goat physiology. 

I don't know how to recognize the symptoms of selenium deficiency.  I know copper deficiency shows as rough coat, decreased pigment in the coat and reproductive system "failures" like doe not coming into heat.  If your guru can tell me the signs for gross selenium deficiency, I would be delighted. 

Deborah Niemann author of Raising Goats Naturally, recommended a liver biopsy for determining mineral status, but I have had no goat carcasses to sample the liver, and I am glad of that.

Being only three years in to my goat adventure, there is a lot I don't know, and only some that I do.  I am happy to learn from anyone.

Thanks
 
Travis Johnson
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Going by hungry-hollow is a very poor way of checking sheep or goats for health issues. To really ascertain how healthy they are, you need to score them by how much fat is located between the cartilage on the spine.

Sheen is also a poor indicator. I am not sure about goats, but suspect they are a lot like sheep in that the more protein they get, the shinier their wool, however it is not a good thing for it makes their wool rather brittle. This is no different than a owner of a pet dog giving it an egg once a week for a nice shiny coat. It seems more than likely to me that your goat found some high quality protein in the pilgrimage, but maybe not enough of it if it has hungry-hollow (again, not the best indicator of long term health).

Ultimately what I think you are facing is not anything chronic or long-term, just the fact that (through no fault of you by any means), the feed these livestock were given was suddenly changed, and no animal...cow, sheep or even goat, does well when that occurs.

Selenium has nothing to do with the issue you are facing. It is interesting that you have too much, and here I have to inject my lambs with it at birth for a more favorable mortality rate, but that aside, too much, or too little has the same affect and that is in regards to white muscles disease and is acute and causes death rather quickly. Your animals would be stiff as a board, barely able to walk and die within a day or two. It does not sound like that is the issue at all.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Travis,

Thanks for your perspective.  I've just been going by the hungry hollow to judge how much is in the rumen, when they don't have what I consider enough fat between the ribs and vertebrae.  If I don't think they are "fat enough" then is when I look at trying to get more feed in them.  Now I'm trying to figure out more nutrient dense/more nutritious according to a goat's needs.

The one who had her 2 week pilgrimage has plenty of fat, and does not seem to be hungry.  That's what got me thinking maybe the nutrient dense thing was going on. 

And thanks for the symptoms of selenium deficiency.  They certainly don't have stiffness, but now I know what to watch for.  The folks on the other side of the river (and using water from the Colorado taken ABOVE the confluence with the selenium rich Gunnison for their irrigation) have low selenium levels in their soils, and most of those folks give their does (and possibly ewes) selenium injections a couple of weeks before the expected birthing date.

And Cocoa, the one who did not have any change in her feed, but DID lose her family and have the bear's jaws on her neck at the base of her skull, is the one who looks the worst, rough coat, little fat and hungry hollow.  I think a lot of that is due to stress, but am trying to figure out how to get her healthier.  At least now that she has her lead doe back she is eating more.

 
Travis Johnson
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I am not sure how it is with goats, but with sheep giving ewes doses of selenium just before lambing is a common practice that is an utter waste of time. That is because a ewe's placenta is quite thick and does not allow a lot of nutrients to pass from mother to lamb. Thankfully I have a sheep nutritionist and he explained to me that it is far better, and far more efficient cost wise, to give newborn lambs selenium since they only require 1 cc of the stuff. Considering he could have said, "buy plenty of mineral mix from me" and made more money on the deal and didn't, says a lot about his integrity. So every lamb born gets a cc of selenium along with the other shots that encompasses proper lamb health.

One thing I try to do is get autopsies done of my questionable dead sheep due to unknown reasons to get my mortality down, and it is working. Finding out some deaths from White Muscles Disease helped a lot. Some farmers only give lambs that look weak a shot of cc, but I give everyone a shot. It is only 1 cc, ensures every lamb does not have that deficiency and a bottle is only $13.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Sounds like you've got a reliable supplier.

I was ready to get a liver biopsy on any still born or soon dead kids in spring, but they were all healthy.  I've on ly ever had one that did not live and that was in 14, only my second kidding. 
 
R Ranson
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For me, a major SE deficiency in sheep starts with a stiff back left leg and becomes a progressive paralysis.  Minor deficiency seems to lead to prolapse and increased likelihood of infection, and imbalance in copper/zinc absorption (which leads to other problems).  We are so low in SE here that a standard mineral mix doesn't supply enough to keep the sheep healthy on its own.  We supplement with kelp and the sheep gobble up every last bit of it.  They get more kelp towards the end of pregnancy and during the first two months of lactation, with less when they aren't 'working'.  We haven't had any SE problems in lambs since we started the kelp, so we don't bother with the shot.  If I can keep the animal healthy through diet, then that's my first choice. 

With goats, there is evidence to suggest that lack of SE is the leading cause of mastitis (or at least weakening the goat enough to prevent her fighting the infection) and pregnancy problems. 

I think minerals like SE have a lot more effect on animals than we generally think.  I also don't think one mineral or diet is good for all goats or all sheep.  Like plants, the animal adapts to the local conditions over the years.  Different breeds come from different parts of the world and are use to different conditions.  Before we could import supplements, the animals had to adapt to those conditions and the minerals present or die.  So it makes sense that different breeds and different lines of the same breed need different minerals.

We tend to have copper deficiencies in goats in the region, and I know copper and selenium are related in goat physiology

I'm still learning about this, but from my reading and talking with goat gurus (it helps to have at least two), this makes a lot of sense.  Do your goats have a parasite load that might be slowing down the healing process?  Coleby mentions in her sheep book that this could be related to a lack of copper. 


I'm really interested in how healthy the walkabout goat got on a wild diet. 
 
Thekla McDaniels
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I don't use wormers.  I use the color of the tissue inside of the eyelid (or vagina, the goats seem to mind less if I peek there than the eye) to check for dangerous levels of the blood sucking worm ?is that barberpole?
Thanks R,
I'll be on the look out for minor stiffness in hind legs.
One time when one of the goats had VERY loose stool, a paste like consistency, I did see worms in it.  My guess is that the worms "swim" "upstream" in the digestive tract, and with poop that moist, things must be moving through faster than usual.  Since that time, when I have had a chance, I've checked the dryer more normal poop - taken it apart- not seen the worms I saw before.

I try to limit parasite load by moving them moving them moving them.  I understand that worms can climb up grass and low forage, up to about 6 inches.  I think how long live worms are viable must depend on humidity, how wet the ground is and how wet the grass/forage is.  Being dry desert, we only get these conditions after a rain or after I water.  In those times I make sure to move the girls.  When I have inadequate green feed, I feed big bales of alfalfa in a bunk feeder.  I have never worried about the parasite cycle when they are eating from the big dry bales, even if they are also eating from the ground.  In any case it is very rare indeed that they eat anything within 6 inches of the ground.

I realize there are also the ova/eggs to consider, but they at least don't climb up the blades of grass.  I figure they must be down at soil level.

Surely parasite resistance is at least partially a matter of genetics.  One of the does who did not return (yet) from the pilgrimage is of the type more suited to a confinement dairy.  She can produce 2 gallons a day, has a very pendulous udder.  She is/was the foundation of my herd, but I've bred pasture hardiness in at every step of the way.  She was the origin of the worm sighting in poop I mentioned earlier.

One doe did have a very mild case of mastitis earlier this year, when I took one kid off her.  It was only on one side.  My mineral friends said giver her dolomite 2x per day for three days. I did and milked her several times a day to keep clearing things out, and it cleared right up.  If it was selenium deficiency, would it be likely to expect it on both sides?

I do have kelp which I try to get the goats to eat.  It is one of the things I know my mineral focused friends use, but I don't see that my goats want or eat any. 

My friends here say top dress something they like and eat readily with kelp, and they'll come to appreciate it.  I have not seen any of mine developing the kelp habit.

How do people get their goats interested in kelp?  Any suggestions?
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Since I have been thinking so much about this, (perhaps over thinking it!) I've also been wondering if I would do better for my doe by drying her up.  Right after the bear incident I kept milking her, as I said, thinking that would help "normalize " her.

Now that I am focused on her nutrition status, and I want to say that although she is bonier than I would like to see her, she is not on death's doorstep, I wonder if I should dry her up.  I have just done a quick search for effects of prolactin.  You see, or maybe everyone knows, prolactin is integral to milk production, and milking keeps a higher level of prolactin.  I thought I remembered that prolactin also boost immune responses and mood. 

My search yielded this snippet : "In mammals, prolactin is associated with learning, stimulation of the immune response, reduction of body temperature and increased corticosterone secretion." From some scientific paper, so I was not wrong in thinking the prolactin might benefit her. Now that she has her friend, protector and guidance counselor back (the lead doe she ahs always known), I am weighing the benefits to her of not milking.  Since she is only a yearling herself, she still has some growth of her own to put on, and we are coming up on breeding season and my intention had been to breed her.  If I dry her up now, and breed her in October, she has a long time - 8 months- before her new kid would be born, and from my understanding the developing kid does not take much of the mothers resources until the last 2 months of gestation.  That would mean that for 6 months she would have only herself to nourish, and could retain more minerals out of what she ingests for her own self.

Again, wondering if any one has experience, thoughts, conjecture on this question.

Thanks
 
R Ranson
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I got my first response back.  She says not to call her a goat guru so I'll call her my mentor Meagan.

It does not surprise me at all that the goat on the walkabout gained weight and looked healthier then her stressed-out, lonely herd mate. Unlike humans, goats still crave what they need and with so much browse,  she could likely get exactly what her body wanted.
Parasite load is also suspect in my mind.... The stress of the attack and loss of heard mates would be more than enough to give parasites an opportunity.
I'm not sure that the idea to dry up the goat is the best one, since often goats love being milked and it may add to her emotional stress. She should be able to get enough nutrients to at least maintain if not increase weight. In my own heard I have started feeding sunflower seeds on a regular basis. My thought was to give them the extra fat and it does seem to be working combined with parasite control.
I feel like I'm going on and on, but the other thing that I had thought was about the selenium in the water. Is it possible that it is a type of selenium that the goats have difficulty assimilating? [our main goat guru] would know more about this than me. The selenium pills that I buy for supplementation are actually intended for people and are yeast derived. [our goat guru] could tell you the signs of overdose of selenium so the goat owner could try giving selenium pills and note any slight overdose signs ( I think the signs are runny nose and eyes, but don't quote me)
 
K Putnam
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Surely parasite resistance is at least partially a matter of genetics.


I don't know about goats but, in horses, the resistance is definitely by the individual.  There are low, medium, and high shedders in every herd.   This means, you could do perfect rotational grazing in a closed herd and a percentage of your horses will have the bare minimum of parasites, some will have a few, others will have A LOT.  It the ones that have a medium amount or a significant amount that require some kind of deworming program or they will continue to be diseased.  In horses, we can easily do fecal exams, which has allowed us to dramatically reduce the amount of dewormers being applied on a regular basis and target the individuals who actually need it.   Both of my horses are low-shedders and I deworm them once a year.  My vet would have me do it twice, but their load is so negligible, once a year seems to be plenty.  

Perhaps you could try something similar in goats.  Anything you think might have a parasite load could be dewormed while not deworming the healthier animals.  The hungry-hollow look is a classic sign of parasites in most livestock.  It's something I'd consider.

As far as forage goes, I simply assume that my hay does not meet their mineral requirements because it is coming out of hay fields that have likely been depleted over time.  It is simply their daily fiber requirement.  I feed a whole-food vitamin/mineral supplement to make sure they are getting their actual requirements and will occasionally throw in some chia or other seeds for good measure.  This may seem too precious for a goat herd, but I think the general philosophy is sound.
 
K Putnam
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One other thought in terms of animals choosing their food supply.  My pampered playboys of horses will go out in a big pasture and eat dandelions instead of grass.  They mosey from dandelion to dandelion eating flowers and leaves.  They love them. And I figure choosing that over grass is their way of telling me they want the minerals instead of sugar.
 
Travis Johnson
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Or they are looking for protein...

Dandelions are insanely high in protein, and I would have whole fields of it if I could as my sheep are for meat and not raised for wool quality where the protein makes their wool brittle. However, dandelions do not provide enough yield which is why we rely on alfalfa, clover, timothy, orchard grass and rye.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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quoted from "mentor Meagan":  " the selenium in the water. Is it possible that it is a type of selenium that the goats have difficulty assimilating? "

I am assuming that I have adequate selenium, assuming it is in a form the goats can assimilate because I have had no signs of selenium deficiences, and because I know about the presence of the upstream selenium.

quoted from K Putnam:  "Anything you think might have a parasite load could be dewormed while not deworming the healthier animals.  The hungry-hollow look is a classic sign of parasites in most livestock.  It's something I'd consider."

I guess there are herbal dewormers, but what's readily available here is the pharmaceutical kind.   I have heard they are strong enough to come through in the urine and feces, and kill the soil micro biota, so I am reluctant to use them.  If a goat was seriously anemic, I would try something, but I have not had that problem.  As for the hungry hollow, I observed it in the healthiest goats, which led me to start asking myself why that would be, so though it may be a sign of heavy parasite load, I think it may not be the only thing to go on when assessing parasite load.

I can't remember who mentioned the sunflower seeds, but that is what I use for my goats' treat, bribe, milk stand supplement.  I figure they are high in fat and protein, but also have the all important  roughage (the shell).  They are quite fond of them, also salted in the shell roasted peanuts. 

The first time I heard Fred Provenza talk, he cited research done on humans and livestock to try to understand if there was any truth to the idea that they/we have the ability to choose what we need.  Animals definitely do, humans as well, but the things that seriously tempt us (salts,sugars and carbs the concoctions we call junk food) need not to be options, as that fouls up our ability to choose based on need, and we choose more as we would in an addicted state.

I guess that's why we want variety in the pastures and browse fields we design for our various types of livestock.
 
K Putnam
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Or they are looking for protein...


Interesting!  Did not know!

I guess there are herbal dewormers, but what's readily available here is the pharmaceutical kind.   I have heard they are strong enough to come through in the urine and feces, and kill the soil micro biota, so I am reluctant to use them.


Generally speaking, on this topic, I think the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.  My comments here are entirely general and not directed to your herd, for which parasites might not even be the issue.

I think there are a lot of valid concerns about the overuse of dewormers, particular in industrial agriculture applications and because the conventional veterinary advice for smaller operations dramatically overused dewormers from the 1960s to ten-ish years ago.   Horses used to be rotated through dewormers every six weeks whether they had parasites or not.  This was completely unnecessary.  Pretty much all major veterinary clinics now recommend evidenced-based deworming practices, which let you figure out if your animal is a high shedder and might require targeted treatment or if your animal has a natural resistance to parasites and may only need a minimal amount of medication. 

Now, I'm not saying that the manure or urine couldn't harm biota for a day or two.  But, it is one thing to provide an animal target medication, whether that be a dewormer, antibiotics, and so on versus mass-feeding ivermectin to a couple hundred head of cattle and turning them out in a limited space.  In the big picture, I don't think a few piles and a couple of pees are something to be overly alarmed about. Now, a person could stable animals for a day or two and separate that bedding and waste from the rest of the compost if this is a high-priority issue, which it very well could be! 

I was the board chair of a successful rescue organization and have seen the severe damage done when animals go with an untreated heavy parasite load, so I am a big believer in targeted medication to help an individual animal's health.   Helping an individual animal is a separate question of big picture management.   How healthy are the animals generally?  Are pastures rotated?  Is there anything that can be done to minimize parasite load through natural practices?   And so on.  I think it is OK to treat the individual while working on the big picture issues.

I also think it is important to keep perspective.  Digging up an area with an excavator wildly messes with the soil structure and biota the first year or so.   The idea is that you'll then be able to have a smaller negative impact on the rest of your land by digging it up once.  There's nothing wrong with this approach!  I'm just pointing out that deworming an animal is probably going to be a lot less harmful to soil biota than an excavator. 

The first time I heard Fred Provenza talk, he cited research done on humans and livestock to try to understand if there was any truth to the idea that they/we have the ability to choose what we need.  Animals definitely do, humans as well, but the things that seriously tempt us (salts,sugars and carbs the concoctions we call junk food) need not to be options, as that fouls up our ability to choose based on need, and we choose more as we would in an addicted state. 


If we took the processed foods out of our diet, I bet instincts would kick in.   Animals love processed foods too and don't seem to have an off button like they would for their normal forage.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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K Putnam wrote:

I guess there are herbal dewormers, but what's readily available here is the pharmaceutical kind.   I have heard they are strong enough to come through in the urine and feces, and kill the soil micro biota, so I am reluctant to use them.


Generally speaking, on this topic, I think the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.  My comments here are entirely general and not directed to your herd, for which parasites might not even be the issue.

I think there are a lot of valid concerns about the overuse of dewormers, particular in industrial agriculture applications and because the conventional veterinary advice for smaller operations dramatically overused dewormers from the 1960s to ten-ish years ago.   Horses used to be rotated through dewormers every six weeks whether they had parasites or not.  This was completely unnecessary.  Pretty much all major veterinary clinics now recommend evidenced-based deworming practices, which let you figure out if your animal is a high shedder and might require targeted treatment or if your animal has a natural resistance to parasites and may only need a minimal amount of medication. 

Now, I'm not saying that the manure or urine couldn't harm biota for a day or two.  But, it is one thing to provide an animal target medication, whether that be a dewormer, antibiotics, and so on versus mass-feeding ivermectin to a couple hundred head of cattle and turning them out in a limited space.  In the big picture, I don't think a few piles and a couple of pees are something to be overly alarmed about. Now, a person could stable animals for a day or two and separate that bedding and waste from the rest of the compost if this is a high-priority issue, which it very well could be! 

I was the board chair of a successful rescue organization and have seen the severe damage done when animals go with an untreated heavy parasite load, so I am a big believer in targeted medication to help an individual animal's health.   Helping an individual animal is a separate question of big picture management.   How healthy are the animals generally?  Are pastures rotated?  Is there anything that can be done to minimize parasite load through natural practices?   And so on.  I think it is OK to treat the individual while working on the big picture issues.

I also think it is important to keep perspective.  Digging up an area with an excavator wildly messes with the soil structure and biota the first year or so.   The idea is that you'll then be able to have a smaller negative impact on the rest of your land by digging it up once.  There's nothing wrong with this approach!  I'm just pointing out that deworming an animal is probably going to be a lot less harmful to soil biota than an excavator. 


Hi Kay,

There has indeed been progress made with respect to over use of wormers.

I guess to know how long the worming compounds stay active we'd only need to look at the drug company data, find the half life.  Many of the compounds that kill living organisms are pretty stable.  Did you know, re herbicides used to produce hay:  the herbicide present in the hay, that the herbivore eats, turns in to manure, which manure then gets composted is still active herbicide and can kill the plants that are composted with that herbicide laden compost?  That would mean the herbicide was not denatured or decomposed by exposure to sunlight's ultra violet, it survived the enzymes and acids of the digestive tract of the animal, then survived the high temperatures and decomposing actions inherent in the composting process? 

I don't know for sure how stable the wormers are, but there is no reason to assume they do not continue to be toxic once they have passed through the animal being dosed.  Isn't that one of the lessons Rachel Carson presented so eloquently in Silent Spring?  And that DDT was banned in the USA?

I know there are plenty of cruelties against animals (including people) perpetuated by people.  I think to breed un-hardy animals is pretty cruel.  What's important to me is remembering that animals (including humans) need parasites to help the maturation of their immune systems.  That being the case it might be considered cruel to purge creatures of their microbiome and possible opportunistic bacteria.  I'm more in favor of boosting the resilience of an organism's immune system, than purging the animal of the internal community.

I am not sure I follow your analogy of excavators and pharmaceutical type wormers.  Disturbing the soil can be done many different ways, destroying varying numbers and or populations of soil food web organisms.  Just because excavation disrupts soil organisms does not make pharmaceutical type wormers less toxic to the soil micro organisms.

 
R Ranson
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I don't know the best way to say this.  I've been thinking about it a lot and in the end, I think I'll just have to say it bluntly.  Keep in mind, I'm still very new to animals, but I have come to some very strong opinions on worming and using pharmaceuticals in general - not all of these opinions fit well with permaculture.  Also, my opinion is based on my own observation and reading of what works where I am and with my values.  You're farming with different animals, in a different location, with a different set of values... what works for me may not be the way that works for you.  That's okay.  Ultimately, it's a choice you'll have to make.


Even in the most natural of settings animals die of parasites.  In a way, this is beneficial because the animals more susceptible to parasites and other stresses have less chance to reproduce.  If I'm growing beans for drought tolerance, I let two-thirds of them die.  Livestock used to be the same sort of thing.  Eat the weak, breed the rest.  If they were beans, I would be sad about allowing so many to die, but in the end, I don't have any long lasting emotional attachment to plants.  I do, however, feel an emotional attachment to animals, so losing 2/3rds of them to something I can prevent, would be unacceptable.  Losing one of my goats to something I can prevent is unacceptable to me.  Now, we have had worm medicines for a few generations of goats.  Goats are no longer bred to be worm resistant - Goats don't have to die due to worms.  Sometimes people don't take into account parasite resistance when choosing which goats to breed and which ones to eat.  I suspect the modern goat is far more susceptible to parasites than goats a few decades ago, or even their wild counterparts.

P1: modern goats are susceptible to parasites.

Parasites on their own are not such a big problem.  A goat can carry a fairly heavy parasite load without suffering any major problems.  It does put stress on the animal, but so long as it's the only stress, they seem quite okay to cope with it.  For this reason, I keep a sub-clinical parasite load in my animals.  I worm on demand instead of on schedule.  Many farmers here are horrified when I say this.  I had one get out her phone to dial the SPCA, while she did so, she made the comment (in the rudest tone of voice possible) "What?!? The sheep tells you when it has worms?" (scoffs).  My reply is "Of course they do.  Can't you tell when your's have worms?"  She stops and looks at me as if I'm either crazy or joking so I say, "Here, let me show you what so and so the vet taught me."  Show her how to look for worms, then I pointed out Larry who was walking away from us "that one there needs some extra kelp in his ration tonight, as is obvious from his gate".  "what's wrong with his walk?  Don't you know all sheep walk like that?"  I ask her to look at the other sheep and tell me which ones are walking like that, none of them, but all hers does and she also has a high rate of mastitis and foot infection... um...

Like many other local farmers, this know-it-all worms her sheep on a schedule, not as required.  She worms every three to four weeks and due to a high resistance in the parasite population, she has to order very special, highly expensive worm meds.  Most local farmers seem to worm one to four times a year whether the animals need it or not.  Most farms have a high level of resistance to the standard worm meds.  I worm on demand.  Most years I don't need to worm anyone, but sometimes the parasite load is too strong and the animal is obviously suffering - I don't feel any animal in my care should suffer, so I do something about it.  I also make a note of which animal that was and when it comes time to cull I take that into account so that if there is a genetic reason for the weakness, I don't breed that animal again.  Sometimes, like last winter, the stress of feed and weather and several other factors made it so that the whole sheep flock needed worming at once.  It's not something I like to do, but I would have lost animals otherwise. 

According to my vet and my sheerer, mine is one of the few farms in the area that has near zero parasite resistance.  All antiparasitics work on my animals, they work well, and they work with a minimal dose and application. 

P2: abuse of antiparasitics leads to problems.

I've noticed that if an animal has one problem, they can usually recover quickly and easily with little intervention from me.  If they have pneumonia, they just need time and some higher calory food to get their weight up.  If they have an injury, they usually only need love and time.  Infection, and only infection, maybe they need a few more minerals.  However, the instant they have more than one thing going wrong at a time, it becomes difficult for them to heal.  Infection plus injury - usually leads to death or permanent damage without treatment.  Pneumonia and high parasite load lead to death.  This is my observation and what I've gathered talking to other farmers, my mentors, gurus, and vet. 

P3: sometimes animals need help with healing.



Basically, I don't like unnecessary death.  I don't like animal suffering.  Sometimes this means I use modern meds on my animals.  But I'm choosy.  Say I have an animal with an infection and a high worm count - I don't necessarily treat both at once.  I'll worm first because I think of that as the lesser of the two treatments, then closely monitor the animal.  Most of the time, this makes them strong enough to fight the infection.  If not, then I'll give them antibiotics. 

I'm strongly of the opinion that there are times when one has to choose: Will they treat the animal with modern meds or will they, stick to their values at the risk of their goat's health? 
I had to make that choice and I thought I could and would do things naturally at every step.  But even in nature, goats die from parasites.  So to do this naturally, I would have had to let the goat die a rather unpleasant death.  I choose to carefully use modern meds but only when actually necessary.

C: there are sometimes situations where modern medicine is preferable to natural means - but these are few and far between.  Knowing when these are is tough.

C2: in the situation you describe, if it was at my farm, with my animals, I would probably give the goat a double strength shot of vitamins for one or two days in a row (we have something called nu-cells which are mostly B vit and minerals), if it shows no improvement, I would give it a wormer, and continue with the vitamin shots until I had a chance to consult with a guru or vet.



Like I said, it's my opinion on what works for me at my location with my animals.  Other people have other situations, other animals, other ideas, and opinions.  Take what you can use from my thoughts, and discard the rest. 


That's the wormer issue taken care of.  My goat guru got very hung up on that and with everything else going on, we didn't get much chance to talk about nutrition in the wild.  One thing she did mention was that the walkabout goat might have eaten something that had a natural antiparasitic in it.  Some plants are like that and being wild for a while like that, the goat would naturally gravitate towards the foods she needed. 
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Ah, great idea, B vitamins.

R, I like your perspective on worming, and on treating more than one condition at once.  And on the burden to the animal to have more than one affliction at once.  I think that was probably the thing with Cocoa, multiple afflictions that all were stress.  Stress from the bear, stress from being alone, stress from losing her baby.  At my place, I have seen no evidence of high parasite load in either of my two remaining does. 

The return of family and leadership/parental figure has made a huge difference to Cocoa.  She no longer appears depressed. 

After talking to one of my goat mentors, I've decided to quit milking her, and she is in the process of drying up.  I think she can make use of the nutrients that would have gone into the milk in growing her own body.  I know prolactin affects mood ("some goats LIKE being milked") but with her leader / auntie back much has come back into her life to like.  Probably, the milking helped her when she was bereft and alone and frightened. Her condition after the encounter with the bear was such that I think without the encouragement and company we three dumb old humans could provide, she would have perished.

If I can get bothmy remaining goats  to eat kelp, then I'll give them all they want.  Currently Cocoa has moved from apricots to plums, and I've been putting kelp on them in the pan.  I'm hoping that when the summer fruits are over, she'll eat the kelp on its own.  Cedar, meanwhile (the one who came home looking so good) does not like fruit.  The first day she was back she muscled Cocoa away from the apricot bucket and gulped down a few, but has turned her nose up since.

I have not increased the protein in what I make available, they have free choice fresh alfalfa (belly deep plants on deep rooted plants) no matter which enclosure they are in, and I think alfalfa is protein rich enough that if they lacked protein they would eat more alfalfa.  So, if her coat turns shiny, I'll conclude it is from eating kelp.


About modern goats and how they are bred, I read that the Kiko goat a meat breed, was developed by putting a select group of goats out to range for themselves.  They culled individual goats that did not do well without worming, without their feet being trimmed.  They did not need to cull the does who could not deliver their kids unassisted, or were otherwise not suited to the "untended" life.  I presume they had started with individuals who had other characteristics they wanted, and this few years of the unassisted life was simply to find and eliminate the weaknesses that had been developing over the years of breeding the "modern goat".

I know several goat keepers who select for parasite resistance the same way they select for good udder attachment, nice disposition, desired milk flavor, smart lead doe who is also kind and gentle, .  Others are busy selecting for blue eyes and moonspots.  Others are keeping pedigreed lines, and the piece of paper seems more important to them than the animal.

I think you can find modern goats who are not particularly susceptible to parasites, unless they are burdened with other afflictions at the same time.  I count myself very lucky that , so far, my goats have been healthy.  I did have to buy and sell several goats those first years to find the ones that would do well in the conditions I can provide, but even so, it's been the advice of experienced goat keepers with similar values that I, and my herd, has benefitted from most.
 
K Putnam
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Just because excavation disrupts soil organisms does not make pharmaceutical type wormers less toxic to the soil micro organisms. 


I went back and looked at what I wrote and realized I didn't quite say what I meant.

What I meant was that there may be a day or two of waste product that would be toxic.  That could easily have been read as " the waste will quit being toxic after a day or two."  Rather, a day or two of waste could be isolated and prevented from being disposed on important areas of the property under the assumption that it may still harm biota. Does that make more sense?

R Ranson, great post.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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K Putnam wrote:
Just because excavation disrupts soil organisms does not make pharmaceutical type wormers less toxic to the soil micro organisms. 


I went back and looked at what I wrote and realized I didn't quite say what I meant.

What I meant was that there may be a day or two of waste product that would be toxic.  That could easily have been read as " the waste will quit being toxic after a day or two."  Rather, a day or two of waste could be isolated and prevented from being disposed on important areas of the property under the assumption that it may still harm biota. Does that make more sense?



Thanks for clarifying, Kay, I understand a lot better what you mean now.  Treat the excrement as toxic waste while it is coming through (a day or two). 
 
Travis Johnson
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I must say I am with K Putnam on dewormers on this. One of the reasons why so much effort at Land Grant Universities have been done regarding this, is so that regular deworming programs will be replaced by targeted deworming by use eyelid tests, etc. And it has succeeded. Even large farmers do not want to indiscriminately spend money on expensive deworming products when it is unnecessary.

But blunt replies also call for blunt rebuttals and I see no anti-permiculture regards to using deworming agents. The whole concept of permiculture is to observe and then act upon your observations, and to merely observe an animals health decline and do nothing about it, or do something that is ineffective is rather silly. I have large bottle of Vitamin B complex and a mineral feeding program managed by a consultant sheep nutritionist, but feeding the rumen that is infested with a heavy parasitic load just to feed those parasites more, makes no sense. In short, they must be snuffed out. Even under the national Organic Standards, a certified organic farm MUST treat their livestock with compassion and treat them with antibiotics, dewormers and other conventional controls. Its in the National Organics Standard manual because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO!

There is nothing permicultural about watching an animal suffer needlessly when simple steps can be used in extreme measures. That would be like having your neighbor accidentally start a forest fire and you watching it burn your residence down because forest fires occur naturally and because they can be beneficial. That is true, but it also natural to try and ward off potential danger when shovels, hoses and equipment can protect what you have worked so hard for!

It is the same with animal husbandry. We should be looking for and using extreme cases to motivate us to find out what natural methods can be used to lessen the need for dewormers. But until we find effective products, or can cull the flock to a point where worm resistance is extremely robust, targeted deworming is acceptable.



 
Thekla McDaniels
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I guess the only thing I can add about dewormer use is that the heavy parasite load may be a symptom of something else.  Whether or not a person uses pharmaceutical type dewormers, I hope there is a question in the person's mind how they might prevent the recurrent need, boost the animal's resiliency.  Often times an animal that is stressed is more susceptible to infection and colonization by parasites.
 
Did you see how Paul cut 87% off of his electric heat bill with 82 watts of micro heaters?
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