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Alchemy Acres
Tip of the Month

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Sometimes we forget that our goatie cherubs are constructed somewhat differently from us - specifically when it comes to our respective digestive systems. This can be of some importance, for example, when we are administering medications. To put it bluntly, 4 stomachs need more medicine than does one. So this month, I'm going to filch an article that I got from Trish McKee when she operated the Homesteader's Connection. She has kindly given her blessing, so here goes.

Goats are ruminants. That means they are cud chewing animals having a specialized four-compartment stomach that is specially adapted to digest roughages such as grasses, hay, and silages. The extra chambers in the ruminants digestive area are for delaying, mixing, and fermenting a fibrous diet. Other examples of ruminants are cows and sheep.

The full workings of the ruminant stomach cannot be explained in an article so short as this one. The goat breeder who has an interest in good herd management does, however, need to take the time to understand the basics of ruminant digestion. Their needs are certainly different from those of any simple-stomached animal. A healthy, well-functioning rumen should be the cornerstone of goat nutrition.

Goats consume their food hurriedly with little chewing. Once swallowed, the food passes through the esophagus into the forward part of the rumen. Because the food is dry, it does not mix into the fluid contents of the rumen immediately. The dry foods are carried by regular movements of the muscular walls to the back of the rumen and, as the food moves, it is absorbing fluid and mixing with the other contents. The normal muscular contractions of the rumen can be easily heard on the left side of the abdomen.

When the goat satisfies its appetite, it finds a place to rest and ruminate. To ruminate, the goat brings a solid mass of food from the rumen up into the mouth and thoroughly chews and mixes it with saliva (commonly referred to as the goat chewing its cud). It is swallowed and goes back to the rumen where it will then pass into the reticulum. The rumen capacity in the goat is large, holding three to five gallons. Goats spend as much time ruminating as satisfying their appetites. This process is very important because it prepares the food for digestion by the micro-oganisms of the rumen.

The forestomach is often called the "fermentation vat" because of the microbes that attack the plant material eaten by the goat. No enzyme produced in the digestive tract is able to digest the cellulose which form the cell walls of the plants. However, the microbes here actually digest these cell walls and and release the nutrients in the plant. Gases, carbon dioxide and methane, are produced by the fermentation process. These collect and the goat periodically eliminates them by "belching". Should the esophagus be blocked and the gases not allowed to freely escape, a condition of severe bloat could result.

Because of the microbes in the ruminant's stomach, it can live chiefly on a roughage diet that a simple-stomached animal could not survive on. However, the rumen microflora have specific nutrient and environmental needs for best development. Goat breeders need to be careful to provide proper nutrients because a decrease in microbial growth diminishes digestion in the rumen and will decrease nutrients for use by the goat. Lack of protein and essential minerals decrease numbers of bacteria and digestion of cellulose. These microbes must have materials to reproduce themselves in large numbers.

When the feed ration of a goat is changed suddenly to larger than normal amounts of carbohydrate (such as grain or molasses) the normal fermentation patterns change as well. Positive bacteria begin to predominate and produce lactic acid which decreases rumen needs. This can cause a fatal condition called rumen acidosis. Even without diet change, any illness in the goat can cause a rumen upset. The normal microflora of the forestomach must be a big concern when changing feed rations or treatment of goats with antibiotics. Some of the antibiotics attack the gram-negative organisms needed in the healthy rumen. That is the reason we must reinnoculate the goats rumen after medication with either live culture yoghurt or with some other microbe containing substance. We want to maintain those cellulose chomping microbes.

Hopefully, this article has illuminated in some small way the needs of your cherubs. A fully functional rumen is vital to the good health and well-being of your goats. So make a habit of looking at your animals to verify that you see them chewing their cuds. Make certain you can see the rumen actively moving the food along (movement on the left side of the animal). If you see these things, all is most likely well. If you do not, you must act quickly to restore good health.

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Welcome PageDescription of Dairy HerdWhat's New at the Site?Crafts and Nifty StuffAlchemy's MenagerieTip of the MonthPrevious Tips of the MonthOther Resources of Interest