There are many ways to care for dairy goats naturally, without chemical intervention. Though I’ve naturally and organically cared for my own herd of top-quality Boer, Kiko, Savanna, Oberhasli, and Nubian goats for almost 19 years now, I cannot diagnose on demand for others as I am not a licensed vet. Thus the information in this article is not meant as the definitive treatment for every goat situation. This article is not intended to replace the advice of any veterinarian, but rather to help those considering alternate health treatments for their goat. It is my belief that an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure, and that is the basis for all natural health treatments, especially for goats!
Dr. Mary Waltz, Delta, Colorado, is a Naturopathic Doctor and Certified Nutritional Consultant.
The main concern of most goat owners and breeders is that of deworming and using natural medicines for other common goat illness. There are several commercial products on the market labeled as useful for natural deworming, but I do not use them. Most are actually "homeopathic" wormers, and those are quite a bit different than a pure natural medication. Homeopathic remedies are not "home remedies" and are rather the "essence" of something made through a process called "succussion." While homeopathy can be very effective in many instances, I am not convinced as a certified professional in the field of natural medicine that this would be an effective way of worming a goat. Parasites of the same type vary from location to location, whether it be size, habitat, reproduction rate or whatever, and so to be truly effective for a particular goat herd, the succussion would have to be made from parasites that are from that specific herd in its specific location. This is not something easily undertaken by a beginner without extensive training in homeopathy and making homeopathic remedies, and I just don’t believe it would be effective over the long term. Homeopathic remedies are, however, very good for replacements for vaccines and for prevention and treatment of certain diseases in livestock.
Commercial products are also more of a "one size one dose fits all" type of product. This is not ideal for worming goats in so many different climates just within the United States. Every location has its own special environmental concerns, times of parasite explosions, types of parasite concerns, etc., so trying to develop a natural worming product that is the correct strength and correct combination for every situation would be very difficult at best, and the cost of such a perfect product would be well out of reach of nearly all goat lovers!
Instead of homeopathic remedies I use plant medicines to naturally deworm my goats. They are readily available and many can be grown in home farm and ranch fields for free choice use. What can’t be grown in a particular area is easy to purchase from many available sources in bulk, which reduces costs and keeps plenty on hand for use as needed. Plant medicines are foods with natural nutrients and natural assisting constituents. Plant medicines do not create withholding times for human consumption of goat milk or meat.
Bear in mind that the proper mineral rations will also help reduce worm load. Copper deficient goats are usually wormy; increasing copper through the year many times will clear up the chronically wormy goat. Mineral deficiencies in general leaves a goat vulnerable to any number of parasites.
There are many plants that have anthelmintic and vermifugal properties (both of those words mean the plant’s active constituents can clear out parasites), enough of them that there should be a few choices that can be grown in whatever area goats are raised in. Some very popular and easy to grow items would be pumpkin seed, black walnut, garlic, wormwood, wild mustard, wild carrots, and parsley. I often also use quassia chips and pau d’ arco, also known as taheebo, as these also have other medicinal qualities I may need to employ. These aren’t grown in the United States as they are tropical, so I purchase in bulk through herb distributors.
I don’t rely on just one herb to clear out parasites unless I am dealing with something very simple. Medicinal herbs work best when combined with similar and supporting herbs, and that rule of thumb applies to worming as well. I give gentle worming herbs to pregnant does and weaned kids, stronger herbs when the need arises, such as following sudden very damp weather, or when bringing in new stock to be sure they are not dropping strange parasites and parasite eggs from another locale where they could be infesting my herd.
As an example, I may use just garlic and parsley (also a great diuretic for those edema cases!) combined for my pregnant does and weanling kids unless I note a problem through FAMACHA or fecals, when I would add something a bit stronger, or add one more item to the combination. For an incoming new purchase, or a sudden upsurge in the parasite population, I would put quassia chips in the water and allow them to stay there for at least a week, while feeding a combination of wormwood, black walnut, and pau d’ arco. Pau d’ arco is also a strong antibiotic and antiviral herb, so it would be most useful for a new arrival that may be harboring any illness. If the stress of kidding has a doe looking anemic, or she has been exposed to a goat that is not well, then she too may get some of this same herb. Natural worming and combining herbs correctly is a matter of learning what parasites are most active in the herd, when they are most likely to strike, and how to administer accordingly.
I also often use neem in my worming formulas, but, I am listing it here separately because it is not something to give bucks during breeding season(s). Neem will naturally drop semen count as a side effect—it is used in India and other countries as a contraceptive of sorts for human men, so be careful with large amounts of this with bucks! Also be aware that any estrogenic herbs given for medicinal treatments, such as red clover, soy, fenugreek, kudzu, can also lower sperm counts.
I rotate my worming combinations regularly, addressing the time of year, weather, and many other factors. The only thing that really stays a constant with my herd is diatomaceous earth (DE). I am aware of the controversy surrounding DE, and realize there are those for it and those against it. I use it because it has been quite effective in keeping predatory insects off of my organic produce, is quite effective at keeping fly populations down around the barn and pen areas, and the goats really seem to enjoy it. DE is the fossilized bodies of tiny creatures called diatoms. Livestock and produce DE is not the same stuff sold for use in swimming pool filters, as that has been treated with chemicals that are deadly to animals and plants.
It is believed that DE works by having those tiny microscopic sharp edges which cut through the exoskeleton of parasites and insects, causing them to dehydrate and die. It is safe for animals to ingest, as these sharp edges are too small to affect the intestinal lining. DE is added to common human food items such as flour and corn meal to kill off bug larvae that could hatch. Used in combination with the natural wormers, it creates an inhospitable environment in the gut for the parasites, and when they turn loose they are killed by the sharp edges of the fossilized diatoms slicing through their protective covering. That’s the theory anyway.
Those little fossils also have some trace mineral content which is going to be beneficial to goats anyway, so, I see only a win-win situation. I offer DE mixed with kelp and goat minerals free choice in feeders all the time. I don’t usually give DE alone as a little bit goes a long way, and it is quite powdery. It is also excellent for lice infestations—I simply dust the animal with the DE, sometimes mixed with a repellent-type herb. I’ve had only two cases of lice in my natural herd. Both were from animals brought in from elsewhere and were treated in quarantine. Again, a healthy goat is going to resist parasites of all types, internal and external.
These natural wormers can be offered to goats for ingestion in many different ways, making it very convenient to administer. Handfuls of the dried herbs can be dropped directly into their drinking water, thereby making a sort of medicinal tea. Handfuls of the dried or fresh herbs can be added to their grain or offered freely in feed pans. A tincture can be made using apple cider vinegar as the liquid menstrum (apple cider vinegar having its own nutritional values), which can then be used in the drinking water, as a drench, on food, etc. Measured amounts of the dried herbs can be added to their mineral mix and offered free choice. A sick goat, or one needing immediate attention, can be fed a bolus of the dried herb or herb powder mixed with molasses or honey, or a strong decoction used as a drench. The intelligent goat breeder is only limited by ability and creativity in getting these herbs into the goats. Most will readily gobble them up, recognizing what they need when they need it.
If using these items regularly, since most of these natural worming herbs also have many other medicinal qualities, there should be a noticeable decrease in illness in the herd. Kids will have fewer problems, new moms will have fewer problems, bucks will be more fertile, and the overall appearance of the goats should be pleasing. They should look livelier, have a prettier coat, and just overall look healthy as their energy is now going into meat and dairy production, rather than fending off parasites and microscopic invaders or trying to repair themselves from chemical damages.
Since I have been employing these herbs with my herd on a regular rotational as-needed basis, the incidences of illness have been greatly reduced. Only after a rough time weather wise, such as chilled newborn kids catching cold or pneumonia and the occasional bout of the same with some older adults, do I notice any real cases of illness, and even that has been greatly reduced. I live in a semi-arid, high altitude area in Colorado, so I add herbal wormers once a quarter, the combination chosen according to season, and rarely need to do it in between times. Goats instinctively know what they need for their own health, and will seek out these plants growing in their pasture areas. I’ve never had a goat refuse to eat or drink any of the medicinal herbs I have offered.
I mentioned apple cider vinegar (ACV). That again is a controversial item for goats, but, I do use it on all livestock on my place and I like the results. True apple cider vinegar is brown, not clear. It has many nutritional qualities all by itself. It is high in potassium, which aids in keeping the blood flowing properly—very important in our pregnant does, especially when she is carrying multiples. I add ACV to livestock water to assist in keeping down the algae growth, assist in preventing hatching of mosquito larvae, as well as help my bucks keep from getting urinary calculi and kidney stones. This works for humans, too, by the way.
There is also an old farmer’s tale that ACV added to the water of bucks and does can produce a kidding season of more does than bucks, and with horses can result in more fillies than stallions. Whether or not this is actually true has yet to be studied, as it probably is not something anyone is going to get a study grant for, but as a general rule I find that it works somewhat for me. In the 2004 breeding season I did not add ACV to my stallion’s water and ended up with a foal crop of nothing but colts. In previous years my stallion had only given me fillies with the ACV added to the mare’s and stallion’s water. I’ve noted the same sort of response with my goat population. But, not always, as it also depends on how much is used, how often, and of course all of the other environmental factors. Regardless of the results, I say it may be worth a try over a few kidding seasons to see what happens. Certainly I would encourage the use of ACV in a buck’s water if he is prone to urinary problems, and it certainly can’t hurt as a preventative for any bucks or wethers.
Here are some particular problems common to goats that can benefit from natural medicinal treatment.
Barring the malpresented kid, if the doe has been fed adequate nutrition through her gestation, she delivers a healthy kid or two or four. We can make kidding a bit easier by providing items that help her uterus, such as raspberry leaf and nettle. Fresh or dried, these herbs help to tone the uterus a couple of weeks before and after parturition, and can help strengthen her contractions, shortening labor time. These are also well known herbs for helping increase milk supply. Shortly after kidding would be a good time to offer her some worming herbs and to be certain that she has plenty of access to minerals and fresh water. There is no substitute for good nutrition and adequate exercise during gestation, that alone will prevent most kidding problems, including ketosis, or milk fever.
For those kids that are born weak, or whose mother abandons them on a very cold day and must be handfed to get started, I use colostrum, preferably from the mother, mixed with a wee bit of natural molasses and a bit of kelp and/or spirulina. If the kid was particularly cold or lethargic, I may give a small syringe full of coffee by mouth, or add it to the colostrum mix, to help the blood get pumping and warm the kid a bit faster. The seaweeds and algaes have a concentrated content of minerals and nutrients that can get the kid up and running faster than plain colostrum in many of these situations.
Garlic, echinacea, and ginger given frequently is the best treatment. Hot compresses can help when applied directly to the udder, afterwards rub in some peppermint oil to stimulate the blood vessels within. Again, good nutrition prior to freshening will prevent this from occurring. To avoid the painful swollen udder that might occur when trying to dry off or wean the does, sage given dry or fresh, free choice or added to the water, will help a great deal to dry up the milk. When weaning kids, it would be wise to add sage to the water for those mothers a few days in advance of that date.
Best choices for this include: Pau d’ arco (taheebo), echinacea, peppermint, horehound. I use equal parts of each, combined and given frequently. Garlic and ginger are also useful in this combination, again, equal parts.
Dr. Waltz has been raising goats for over 18 years. The dairy breeds in her herd, Waltz’s Ark, include Nubians and Oberhasli.
Usually I let this go for a day or two if it has no accompanying symptoms, as it generally means the goat has eaten something it shouldn’t have, or way too much of something. If it is accompanied by lethargy, fever, chills, etc., or if in young kids then I intervene immediately with slippery elm bark, blackberry leaf, and dill for a day, followed by garlic and pau d’ arco and/or echinacea for several days. If it is coccidiosis, then I treat for a week with a mixture of antibiotic and antiviral herbs to both clear up the coccidiosis and prevent any other illness from taking hold while the goat is weakened from the diarrhea. Once the diarrhea has passed, some good natural yogurt will help get the rumen running well again. Yogurt is also good to give during and after chemical antibiotic and worming treatments, as those will kill beneficial bacteria in the digestive system where natural herbal antibiotics and antivirals will not.
Bear in mind that many does come into their first heat cycle a few weeks after birthing, and the hormonal changes within them can cause scours in the kids as well, so be sure of what you are treating. Remember also that sometimes a quick change in feed will cause diarrhea in varying numbers within the herd—so if a hay source has changed or pastures rotated, for example, that may cause diarrhea, so don’t panic if it happens. Just watch and it will pass usually within the first 24 to 36 hours as the rumen adjusts to digesting the new feed.
I generally mix together apple cider vinegar, aloe vera juice, tea tree oil, and a strong tea made from calendula and echinacea, put it in a spray bottle, and spray the affected area several times a day. If the wound already looks infected by the time it is noted, such as the goat has been out to pasture for a while and escaped close inspection, I will give echinacea and garlic and probably pau d’ arco, in equal parts, directly to the goat for internal immune system support.
Natural treatments for goats should not be confusing or frustrating. Most are very simple yet very effective. Most are also very cost effective when purchased in bulk and mixed according to needs. There are plenty of books out there for the beginner in natural goat medicine, including my own, The Herbal Encyclopedia – A Practical Guide to the Many Uses of Herbs.
I also recommend the book The Complete Herbal Handbook For Farm And Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Rodale Press. It is a wonderful reference, as the author has gleaned tidbits of the "old ways" from around the world. Her treatments mainly come from farmers in Britain and France, but most of the herbs are available in the United States, and the treatments do work.
The key to having naturally healthy and happy goats is not to over-treat, and not to give up too soon. Certainly in crisis situations there is reason to resort to emergency medicines and the assistance of a traditionally schooled veterinarian. It is also very important to remember that more is not better, so giving herbal type wormers on a daily basis is a bad idea, as is giving preventative treatments on a daily basis. In order to be effective, the natural goat breeder must establish a schedule that reflects and works with environmental and climate concerns. A truly healthy goat herd is a blessing in itself and to all who partake of the wonderful goat milk and goat milk products from that herd!
For more information about Dr. Waltz’ book, The Herbal Encyclopedia—A Practical Guide to the Many Uses of Herbs, visit her website at www.naturalark.com. Dr. Waltz is available for clinics, lectures, field days, demonstrations, etc. and there are hands-on workshops at the Ark every year.