The symptoms were the same: weakness, lethargy, and then death within just a couple days. The first one I tried to treat myself with antibiotics because the vet I had at the time wasn't familiar with goats. The second one I took to the vet but he was stumped. He gave him antibiotics but I lost him anyway. The third one went down so fast that I barely knew what happened. Needless to say, this turned me very much against early weaning.
Two months of age is generally considered an acceptable age to begin weaning goats. Young bucks are often separated because they become sexually mature that young. It is fully possible that they can impregnate any doe or doeling in heat. Last year I kept Alphie with his mother until three months of age. He wasn't happy about being separated, but he made it just fine. Ziggy's boys (Zed and Buster Brown) were neutered and bottle fed. I sold them at four months old while they were still on the bottle. In fact, the gentleman who bought them was looking for a pair of wethers as pets for his kids. He had previously bought a pair of two month olds and lost both the same way I lost mine. He was happy with how healthy my boys looked and they went to a good home.
This year I think I've finally figured something out.
|Splash's sisters Sissy (front) and Dottie (back)|
It was just before I separated Splash, and Lily was feeding all three of her triplets. They always rushed her at the same time and with all three of them pushing and shoving and jockeying for a teat, I couldn't really tell who was getting what and just assumed they all got at least some milk. But one morning, there was Dottie, weak, wobbly, and alarmingly thin. She was standing there with a spaced out look and trembling. What had happened? Wasn't it just yesterday that all seven kids were running and leaping through the back gate, down the hill, and into the woods? Or was it the day before? How could this have happened so fast? Why didn't I notice?
This was exactly what had happened to the three bucklings I'd lost. How could it be happening again? And to one of my precious little Kinder girls. In a flash I realized that Dottie must have been consistently pushed out of the milk feeding frenzy. As she grew weaker, she got less and less. But what was going on?
The hard part about diagnosing animals is that they cannot give subjective information. They cannot tell you how they feel, where it hurts, or what led up to the problem. Diagnosis is a based on objective observations, and anyone who is doing the diagnosing will likely tell you it often feels like taking a shot in the dark. In my research I found a helpful Symptoms Chart over at the Jack and Anita Mauldin Boer Goat website. Based on that, my best guess for Dottie was goat polio (polioencephalomalcia). This is actually caused by a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, not a virus or bacteria. It is treated with massive doses of thiamine injections.
Injectable thiamine is a prescription item so I didn't have any, but I did have over-the-counter injectable B complex. I followed the directions for using that, giving injections every six hours until symptoms either cleared or the animal died. It took a week's worth of injections but, to my great relief, she finally pulled through.
|Dottie, still a little thin but getting around and eating again.|
How did it happen? Goat polio is more common in young goats than adults, and one of the causes I found listed was a "difficult weaning". I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, but what happens, is that an abrupt weaning (such as separation) amounts to the sudden change in diet. This is something goat owners are warned against because it upsets the microbial balance in the rumen. The micro-organisms, besides digesting what the goat has eaten, build proteins and manufacture B vitamins. Cautions are always given about changing feeds, adding fresh pasture, etc. The bacteria and protozoa need time to adjust for healthy digestion. I knew to make slow adjustments in an adult goat's diet, but it never occurred to me concerning weaning. Abrupt early weaning causes a disruption in the manufacture of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and the young goat develops a deficiency. The symptoms of that deficiency (depression, not eating, weakness, staring off into space, aimless wandering, apparent blindness, muscle tremors) is what is called polioencephalomalcia or goat polio.
If I'm right, then this explains why my 2 month old bucklings didn't make it. By three months of age, they must be getting more forage than milk anyway, so that's why I didn't have a problem with Alphie. For Splash, besides separating him immediately, I gave doses of "medicinal milk" for several days to make sure his rumen could adjust!
People deal with bucklings in different ways. Some separate and bottle feed all the boys from birth. The boys are usually stronger and more aggressive. They can and will push weaker sisters out of the way. I've opted to let them stay with mom and separate at three months. It results in a lot of hollering, but it's been less work for me to let them nurse rather than wait for me to fix a bottle.
I'm not 100% certain I'm correct about this, but the B vitamins seemed to make a life or death difference for Dottie. She had a few ups and downs but gradually got stronger and started eating again. What a relief.