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“Goats and Calcium Stones”

A lot of farmers are aware that many ungulates are prone to urinary calculi.  These are stones, kidney and bladder stones, that can potentially clog the urinary tract.  The risk is greater in male animals due to their more petite urinary tract, compared to the females’.  It’s said that intact males fair better than males castrated young, as they are able to develop larger tracts, but it seems like most of the horror stories I’ve seen and heard happened with intact males, so I’m not convinced.

I learned about the dreaded stones before I got goats, so I never made a point to feed grain to my boy goats with any kind of regularity.  Maybe as a treat during hoof trimming, or as a reward for loading into a car or trailer.  But they were not fed grain.  Many times throughout the years, someone has left a gate open on the farm, and when the goats inevitably discover an easy exit, they make a break and run for the nearest grain bin.   It only takes a few minutes before the goats are three-goats-wide, stuffed to the brim with grain, smiling from ear to ear without a care in the world.  As far as they’re concerned, their ultimate mission has been accomplished.  At least for today.

Long ago, my young packing wethers had a few scary moments with stones.    On one particular incident, a gate was left ajar several times throughout the week.  My young wethers repeatedly snuck out and gorged themselves on cracked corn.  Not good!  At the time I was offering a mineral supplement that contained ammonia chloride, which is said to be a ‘preventative’ for calcium stones, as it allegedly helps prevent them from forming.  I don’t know if it was working as such, but my boys went through a few days where they strained to pee, their urine was blood-tinged, and they didn’t feel well.  Their symptoms were fairly mild and passed within a few days.  Phew!  A lesson early on about goat-proofing the grain bins!

I also once had some acquaintances who raised pack goats.  They had heard it was best to grain the goats from a young age, regardless of gender, to encourage maximum growth.  I offered my $.02 about graining boys, but they were unconcerned.  Months later, they came to me with concerns about the health of their wethers.  The wethers had begun peeing dark orange and brown colors, sometimes red, as was evident in the snow.  When asked about what could be going on, I ventured  to guess that it could be blood in the urine from calcium stones passing through their system.  Though I never did hear the end result of this particular issue, in my mind I have no doubt that’s what was happening.

But what  of any actual “close calls”?  Well, very recently, I had another rash of someone leaving gates open.  For 3 consecutive days Roy, my buck, got out and gorged on chicken feed.  Within a week or so he was looking rough.  Roy became increasingly lethargic.  He lost his appetite.  I kept and eye on him.  A day came when he just wanted to stand in one spot and not move.  He responded to almost nothing, ate nothing, drank nothing, peed nothing.  He was going to be a “down goat” if I didn’t do something quickly.  If a goat is still standing on all 4’s, it’s doin’ okay, but once it goes down it might be a battle to get it back up again!

So, suspecting a urinary tract  blockage, I did what farming requires One to do.  That is, doing things that are strange, uncomfortable, and kinda gross.  I held Roy still by the collar with one hand, and with the other I felt around his urinary tract.  This basically involves pinching and massaging his sheathed penis from front to back.  Mmhm.   Farming.  Good stuff.  The point and purpose is to hopefully move, dislodge, or break up any stones that may be stuck along that portion of the urinary tract.   Roy was clearly not peeing, so his situation was urgent.

I recently met someone whose grain-fed ram had a blockage along his urinary tract.  Having gone undiagnosed, the blockage resulted in his bladder rupturing.  A pretty penny and a reconstructive bladder surgery saved the ram’s life.  But few farmers are willing to go that far!

If the stone cannot be passed, the only hope of avoiding a ruptured bladder, as far as I’ve been made aware, is to have a vet sedate the animal and do surgery.  They have to cut the urinary tract open and remove the blockage.  While arguably cheaper and easier than reconstructive bladder surgery, again, few farmers are willing or able to go that far or spend that kind of money.

I’m one of those farmers.  I cannot afford surgery on my goats.  Nor would I chance doing that surgery myself!  So my approach with Roy was massage to hopefully move or break up the offending stone (which I couldn’t feel or locate, but I did my due diligence ), and to drench him with horsetail tea to relax the tissues in his urinary tract and renal system.    I used horsetail on myself a few years ago when passing a particularly nasty kidney stone.  The tea provided a speedy resolution to a very painful situation.

Roy wasn’t drinking water, but he took the horsetail tea without fuss!  I’ve found that goats are prone to drinking a strong herbal tea even when they’re refusing regular water.  This is quite helpful when you treat ailments herbally!  I drenched Roy with strong horsetail tea.  He half-heartedly nibbled some dried horsetail as well.  I left him standing, as I had found him, and watched him throughout the day.  I drenched him again the next day.  He dribbled a tiny amount of blood-tinged urine as I massaged his urinary tract.  Good, at least  SOMETHING was moving down the line!  He was walking around slowly and nibbling things more, occasionally dribbling dark urine, but was still more or less listless.  On the third day, however, I woke to find him out grazing enthusiastically alongside the does.  His appetite had returned, as had his mobility.  He finally passed the stone. By the end of the day you couldn’t tell anything had been wrong.  Good job, Roy!

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