Keeping a herd of goats for a small home dairy of your own is an especially rewarding farm project. It’s a fine feeling to watch a well-kept dairy goat, slick from spring grass, following you toward the milking shed. And knowing that your family is healthy and strong, flourishing on her rich milk, is a gift that’s nearly impossible to value.
This dairy lifestyle has many satisfying rhythms, and we’d like to think we can avoid any problems or injuries among our herds. Life can get rough out here, though. I’ve found that it pays to be prepared with a stash of thoughtfully selected first-aid items on the homestead, especially when dealing with dairy animals.
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about treating injuries and minor sicknesses in my dairy herd. I’d also like to give you some ideas for creating your own “home dairy first-aid kit.” Doing some thoughtful planning will prepare you to respond quickly to any health condition that may arise in your herd.
First off, you’ll need your vet’s phone number close at hand for sudden injuries and sickness. Even though it may be an extra burden on a busy day to stop work, load an animal, and take it to the vet’s office, it’s important to provide fair, compassionate care for your animals. That said, depending on your experience and skills, you can easily handle a lot of situations at home. That’s why I encourage you to do your research ahead of time, so you’ll be better prepared and will know what you can safely manage. If you know your limits, you’ll know when to call for professional help.
Small Injuries Can Spell Big Trouble
Sudden injuries for dairy herds include getting cut, scraped, and bruised, and stepping on sharp things. An ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure in this case. When you’re out and about in the barn and pasture, be on the lookout for possible hazards. Extensive brier patches in your goats’ browse can lead to scratches on their udders. Injury can also result from loose nails and pieces of tin, or stray wires from a fence that’s waiting to be mended. Scrap materials happen, but it will serve you well to be on the lookout for them, and to pick them up or fix the problem as soon as possible.
It’s also important to be alert to each animal’s activity on a daily basis. If you notice any strange behavior, do a little detective work to see if you can uncover the problem. If the doe shies away from you, you might need to lock her in a stanchion and do a complete examination. When we’re active in looking for signs of trouble, it’s amazing how readily animals communicate even the slightest change in their health and overall well-being.
Keep watching the injured animal after you discover the problem and start treating it, even when you think you have everything under control. One day, I noticed Kim, our plucky herd queen, was limping. An exam disclosed that a roofing tack had evidently rolled off our antique barn’s metal roof and gotten stuck in her foot. We removed the tack, and then, as a precaution, I got some tetanus booster from a farm supply store. We gave her the shot under the fold of skin where the leg joined her body and kept an eye on her afterward.
After a while, she started limping badly. “Her foot seems to be healing well, so what could the problem be?” I wondered. I finally figured out that she had suffered a reaction to the tetanus shot, and the injection site under her leg had developed an ugly sore, which caused pain each time she took a step. I started treating the sore when I found it. Kim healed up and went back to being her likable, bossy self. Lesson learned! Even after you treat an animal for a problem, be aware of the possibility of secondary issues.
Treat Minor Illnesses Quickly
I use the term “minor illnesses” with the knowledge that all sickness can lead to big problems if not treated quickly. When you notice a doe isn’t feeling well, discover all the symptoms you can, and then see if you can diagnose the issue. If you’ve recently introduced new goats, it’s possible they brought a communicable disease with them. If not, there are other likely reasons for a goat’s illness.
A goat’s digestive system is extremely delicate, so digestive issues are the most common source of illness. The probiotics mentioned below work well for straightening these issues out. However, if you’re experiencing significant problems with illness in your herd, you may want to reconsider your feeding style, make sure parasites aren’t the culprit, and provide plenty of fresh pasture and minerals for your goats. If a doe is off feed, though, you need to act quickly. Bloat or metal sickness could be the root of the problem, and she may need to be seen by a vet.
When does are milking, watch for mastitis. If you catch it early, it can be treated at home, but if the condition advances, you’ll need to call in a vet.
First Aid for Injuries
The following remedies and those in “First Aid for Illness” below have proven reliably helpful in treating real-world problems with my dairy herd. These are solutions for everyday scrapes and ills, and are applicable to the family milk cow too. If you find yourself dealing with a large injury or serious illness, or are simply uncertain about how to treat an issue, don’t hesitate to call the vet.
When I trim hooves, I keep blood-stop powder (also called “styptic powder”) nearby. No matter how careful I am, I inevitably nick a foot. A liberal coating of this fine powder, which is available online or in livestock supply catalogs, absorbs the blood and helps it clot, closing the nick. The wound is usually quick to improve. The powder can be used to stop bleeding on any small cut.
Solutions containing gentian violet (commonly available as Blu-Kote) or iodine are both helpful as wound dressings. Both are staining liquids that can be generously applied to a wound, scratch, or sore as an antibacterial coating to help the wound heal and stay clean. We’ve even used them on Constable Do-Right, our red rooster, after a nasty predator encounter. He’s still around today, after an ample dowsing with this purple liquid and some recovery time.
Iodine solution is valuable for treating not only scrapes and cuts, but also other skin issues. One day, I became aware of a few bumps on my doe’s normally beautiful udder. This can sometimes occur, so I wasn’t too alarmed. But when the bumps started to multiply and spread across her udder, I began to get concerned. I tried to treat the condition myself, but it only seemed to worsen. Having struggled with skin issues for some time in our herd, I called the local vet who did farm calls, and I hoped the problem wasn’t too serious. The vet suggested I wash her udder with iodine soap. Simply using iodine could have prevented that vet call, and her udder healed beautifully. You can also add an occasional splash of iodine to your wash water at milking time to keep everything clean.
A salve, such as the classic green metal tin of Bag Balm, is great for treating chapped udders. It’s also helpful for treating small scratches acquired during normal grazing activities. The salve will help keep the doe’s skin hydrated and supple so the scratch can heal.
First Aid for Illness
Probiotics are invaluable for treating a doe with digestive issues. I get the kind that comes as a blue paste, which most dairy critters love. Just put the afflicted doe on probiotics, and she’ll probably get well without a vet visit. Digestive issues in small goat kids can be of a more critical nature. I recommend giving them probiotics, but also being ready to take them to the vet if that doesn’t help quickly. Nutri-Drench, or your favorite mineral supplement, can be also helpful to have on hand for times of stress, especially after kidding.
You might never have heard of NuStock, a yellow, sulphur-scented paste, but if you have animals, you should get some. You may find, as I have, that skin issues are some of the most frustrating ills that your animals suffer. NuStock corrects a lot of skin problems and helps regrow hair.
As I mentioned earlier, mastitis is not a minor sickness, but if you catch it in its earliest stages, it can be treated at home. You’ll want to have some type of mastitis treatment in your kit and ready at all times, because you can’t wait if you’re dealing with a case of mastitis. Years ago, when my sister’s doe kidded with twins, we didn’t realize she had contracted mastitis shortly after or even before kidding. When we first milked her, she had clumpy milk. We didn’t pay correct attention to this, partly because we thought she was still giving colostrum. By the time we realized our mistake and treated her, the udder had already been damaged, and that side never milked properly again.
It’s vitally important to learn the signs of mastitis and to keep a test kit, such as the Dr. Naylor mastitis indicator cards, on hand, and I also highly recommend having a mastitis treatment in your first-aid bag. We’ve had excellent success with a product called ToDAY. This antibiotic is administered directly into the udder through intermammary infusion. Though the process isn’t exactly for the faint of heart, it does work, and can save your milkers’ udders and a lot of grief for farmer and animal.
You’ll figure out which other items you might need, but this is a good start to a well-rounded kit. Dedicate a clean plastic storage tub in your barn or home to storing your first-aid supplies, so you know where they are and can find them quickly. As much as we goatherds would like to hope that we won’t encounter illness or injury around the dairy barn, both are eventually inevitable. However, with these essential tools, you’ll be much more prepared for the challenges that arise. Happy milking!
Maggie Bullington lives on her family’s homestead in rural Alabama. She loves country walks complete with heart-to-heart talks, and is partial to Nubian goats.