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Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Straight Poop: Goat Feces as an Indicator of Health

One of the simplest ways to evaluate the health of a goat is to observe its feces. This can give clues to whether the goat has a digestive upset or perhaps a parasite problem.

Newborn goats’ first feces are called meconium. They are dark-colored and sticky. During a difficult birth they may be expelled inside the amniotic sac, but normally you will see them after the first feeding with colostrum and for up to a day or so after birth.

Once the kid starts drinking milk, the feces become yellow. This is normal. They will stay that color until the kid starts eating hay or grain. The kids feces should be formed, but may be slightly soft.

When a kid begins to eat hay and grain, you will start to see a change in the color of the feces to brown. As the rumen develops you will begin to see small pellets, like those of adult goats and rabbits.

Adult goat feces should be firm “berries” that are brown-colored. They may be a greenish color if the goat has a diet high in alfalfa. Goats that eat a lot of grain, such as those that are milking, can have feces that are more clumped than usual. This is not a problem.

Diarrhea, in goats, is often referred to as “scours.” Scours can be caused by a sudden change in diet—for example, lush green pasture or adding grain. They also can be caused by parasites, such as various worms or coccidia (a protozoa); bacteria, overeating, or enterotoxemia (an overgrowth of clostridium perfringens in the gut.

The first step to take when a goat develops mild diarrhea is to give it kaolin pectin or pepto bismol, or slippery elm powder (to soothe the gut) and probiotics (to ensure that it has enough good bacteria to counterbalance the bad). If that doesn’t work, take the goat’s temperature and look for other symptoms.

In kids, coccidiosis is a very common condition. It can be easily treated with Di-methox or another drug aimed at these virulent critters. An overload of coccidia can be determined by looking at the feces under a microscope to determine whether a large number of eggs are being released. The same is true for other intestinal parasites; although tapeworms can be detected by looking at the poop—they appear as white segments, much like grains of rice. These and other parasites can be treated with one of the many dewormers on the market.

Besides color and form, another indicator of sickness in a goat is blood in the feces. Old blood causes black feces and is caused by bleeding higher in the digestive tract. Bright red blood is caused by bleeding in the intestine. Blood in the feces is an indicator to call a veterinarian.

This kind of observation is one that should be done on a daily basis; like other indicators, evaluating a goat’s poop can go a long way in ensuring that a goat is healthy.

You can read more about coccidiosis and enterotoxemia in Goat Health Care.

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