Curiosity killed the goat

Friday December 15 2017

Ms Nancy Nafula feeding her goats in

Ms Nancy Nafula feeding her goats in Elburgon,Nakuru County.PHOTO |JOHN NJOROGE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Goats are interesting animals. They are inquisitive, creative and daring. A goat can steal steaming vegetable from a pot and you will never understand how.
It can also enter your locked granary — you will never know how — and steal your harvest. And since you will least suspect it, you will blame it on a thief.

I have never seen a sheep do such a thing. Perhaps the reason why Jesus in the bible never referred to his followers as goats but sheep. Sheep are humble, meek and not inquisitive.

Two weeks ago, I investigated the case of some five sickly goats in a herd of 35 in Thika. The goats had lost appetite, had stomach pain, were reluctance to move and lacked rumen movement. Some had diarrhoea with a sour smell.

The case was reported to me on phone by the farm manager, Mwanzia, who said the animals has lost appetite and preferred standing at one position.
Upon my arrival on the farm, I enquired what the goats had eaten in the last three days. He told me they had been fed maize silage, some dairy meal and grass hay. That was the diet they had been given for many days, but they had never been sick.


I examined the ailing goats physically and with the use of a stethoscope and thermometer. All the animals had increased heart and breathing rates. The temperature was slightly below the normal range of 38.5 to 39.7 degrees Centigrade. All had static rumens.

You see, the rumen, also called the large stomach, moves once or twice every two to three minutes. These movements serve to expel gas that builds up in the stomach, mix the food and also push digested food and fluid into the next stomach component called the omasum.

The doctor picks the stomach movements by listening with a stethoscope, observing the movement of the rumen from the rumen pit on the left side of the abdomen or by placing a clenched fist on the rumen pit.

The rumen pit, otherwise called the para-lumbar fossa, is the triangular structure seen on both the right and left side of the abdomen bordering the last abdominal rib.

To determine the consistency of the rumen content in the goats, I placed my hand on the lower side of the abdomen with my palm open, pushed the abdomen up and then suddenly released the pressure. In three of the most affected goats, I detected fluid accumulation from the sounds the rumen produced.

In addition to the signs Mwanzia had described, the three goats had reddened mucous membranes of the eyes and the skin tightly held to the body. This showed they were dehydrated. The finding was consistent with the fluid accumulation in the rumen.

Lactic acidosis

I diagnosed lactic acidosis. The condition arises from ruminants such as goats, sheep and cows rapidly eating too much carbohydrate. “How can that be doctor when these goats are kept in their pen throughout?” Mwanzia wondered.

I told him goats were crafty animals and we needed to look more closely as to the possible sources of high carbohydrate materials the goats could access. To the left of the goat pens were chicken houses and I noticed the feed store was adjacent to the animal houses.

Next I checked the securing system of the door to the goat pen. It was a three-inch bent nail. That reminded me of the nail we used to secure our kitchen door, many years ago.
Unfortunately, the person in-charge of the chicken was not around to tell us whether the goats had accessed the chicken feed in the store. I suggested we visit the chicken feed store. Once inside, the evidence lay there on the floor. There were some dry goat droppings.

For sure, the goats had been there at least the day before. I opined the store door must have been left open and the goats found a way of getting out of their pen and into the store.

Carbohydrate feed

Goats cherish high carbohydrate feed and they must have really liked the chicken feed they found in the store.
Unfortunately, high carbohydrate feed is a digestion disaster for their rumen. It causes the kind of pain that was apparent in the goats on the farm owned by Kimani.
“The goats can steal but they cannot hide the pain they get from consuming chicken feed,” I told Mwanzia as we left the feed store. From the findings, I concluded the acidosis was not severe enough to warrant surgical emptying of the rumens.

I treated the goats with antibiotic injections and magnesium hydroxide solution that I gave by mouth. I also gave anti-inflammatory injections.
Finally, I briefed Mwanzia on the causes and prevention of lactic acidosis and advised him to limit water intake by the sick goats. I also advised him to withdraw silage and feed concentrate. He would only feed them on grass hay until they had recovered.

Lactic acidosis occurs in ruminants when they are fed on high carbohydrate diet rapidly or in large quantities. The condition is also called grain overload. Ground grains are more dangerous than whole ones.

Reduced rumen movement

The disease causes reduced rumen movement or complete stoppage, dehydration, acid in blood known as acidaemia, diarrhoea, depression, incoordination, collapse, and in severe cases, death.

Ingestion of high load of grains such as wheat, maize, rice and their by-products results in abnormal fermentation in the rumen that causes death of most useful microorganisms and a proliferation of lactic acid producing bacteria.

The lactic acid destroys the lining of the rumen and makes fluid flow from the body into the rumen in large quantities to dilute the acid and its salts. Some of the acid is absorbed into the blood causing damage to other tissues of the body especially the kidneys.

Mild lactic acidosis cases recover in three to four days without treatment but severe cases result in death unless the rumen is emptied though surgery or a stomach tube.
Lactic acidosis is prevented by limiting access of cattle, sheep and goats from large quantities of grains, feed concentrate or any other high carbohydrate feeds.
High carbohydrate feed should be introduced to animals slowly to enable them build the microbial capacity of the rumen to digest large quantities of carbohydrates without producing a lot of lactic acid.
Fortunately, all the affected goats recovered in five days of treatment.