Every time I start to think I know what I’m doing, the goats remind me that I still have so much to learn.
Typically we always aim for our goats kid before they reach 2 years old. There is a lot of evidence out there that after 2 years old, goats develop certain fat deposits that make it harder to kid, and the risk of certain cancers increases. When we acquired a few older does, Leia and Trudie were going on 4 years old, and Abby was nearly 5. Trudie was only a second freshener, and we knew nothing about her first kidding.
Because of their ages and their newness to us, we kept a particularly close eye on these gals, and all three were given ultrasounds. We were surprised to learn that Leia looked to be carrying 3-4 babies. We later learned her mother had produced quite a few sets of quints. The vet advised us to make sure Leia was receiving plenty of grain to support all of those babies. As she got closer to kidding we increased her grain and keeping a careful eye on her weight to make sure her conditioning was staying level.
One night as I was going through to release the girls from their individual feeding stations, I noticed Leia’s bowl was still full of grain. This is a doe that usually licks her bowl clean. I checked the bowl carefully for a hidden poop pellet or something else that could have put her off. As soon as I let her go, she trotted right over to the hay and began eating. I told my husband she hadn’t eaten her grain, but since she appeared fine otherwise, and a temperature check turned up normal, we decided to see how things fared in the morning.
Next morning morning came and she turned her nose up at her grain once again. Now we knew it wasn’t a fluke. Her temp was still normal, poop nice healthy pellets, eyelids pink, and otherwise just fine. I wracked my brain. My first thought was ketosis – perhaps we weren’t supplying her with enough carbohydrates to support those babies after all? We collected some urine and tested for ketones. Nada. Now I was more confused. Leia’s demeanor declined a bit throughout the day despite being drenched with probiotics and Nutri Drench. I put in a call to our vet. She didn’t call back. Evening came, and her dinner went uneaten again.
My worry grew and I reached out to a goat group on Facebook to see if anyone had any ideas. Most of people said she was just being picky, or too full of babies to have room for food. I knew that wasn’t the case. Finally someone mentioned that they had a pregnant doe pass away from milk fever before they were able to catch it, and it sounded similar to my situation.
“Milk fever is a misnomer. It is not a fever, and doesn’t always have to do with milk production. It is actually low blood calcium, which is known as hypocalcaemia. The goat may have plenty of calcium in her bones and in the diet, but due to a sudden increase in calcium and phosphorus requirements (due to impending kidding or lactation) she is unable to reabsorb the calcium she needs from her bones or absorb it from her diet.
It is important to note that hypocalcaemia is not only relative in immediate pre/post kidding situations. Many people think it can happen only to heavy milkers right before or right after kidding. This is not the case. Milk fever runs in heavy milk lines, but the doe dose not have to be in heavy milk, or milking at all, to come down with milk fever”-Fiasco Farm
This made sense, especially since she had just started to build an udder. Luckily I had MFO solution on hand for the upcoming kidding season. Hoping there was little risk of overdose, I drenched her with 10cc’s of MFO and put her in a quarantine stall with her buddy Trudie, hoping to reduce any stress and entice her to eat.
The next morning there was no change and I worried the MFO wasn’t effective. I held off on giving her more because I still didn’t have a clear grasp on whether there were any risk of overdosing if she didn’t really need it. Once again she received Nutri Drench and probiotics. We called the vet again. She still didn’t return our call.
At this point I was panicking, knowing that both Leia and her babies were at risk with 4 more weeks still until she was due. So I reached out to my goat mentor, and good friend, Cheryle at Old Mountain Farm. After talking with her, I felt confident in moving forward with treating Leia with the MFO for milk fever.
After two 15cc doses of MFO, Leia was showing signs of improvement. She was chewing cud and her energy was up. When I went into the stall with a handful of cereal to entice her, she gobbled it right up. When we gave out grain, she still wasn’t really interested, but grazed a bit if she could share out of Trudie’s dish. She was enthusiastic about Chaffhaye and ate a good amount.
Two days later, we were relieved to see her finally eating her grain with gusto! She got more MFO solution, and we continued to giver her supportive care until she was out of the woods.
Spotting Milk Fever
Just goes to show that no matter how well you think you have your act together, having an experienced goat mentor will always be one of your most valuable resources. We are incredibly lucky, and we’re reminded of that often. Especially since I think the goats will continue to test us for the rest of our lives.
As we learned, milk fever can be very hard to catch. Here are the major symptoms to look for:
- Off feed. This is always a big red flag for us.
- May be mildly bloated of constipated
- Despite the name, will not present with a fever. Most often presents with a lower body temp
- Trouble getting up – general listlessness
- Similar symptoms to ketosis, but no ketones will present in urine test
Treating Milk Fever
Milk fever can progress into other more serious issues, and end up killing your doe. The key is to catch it early and treat. Luckily, treatment for milk fever is fairly simple. Giving an affected doe oral treatment with MFO solution or CMPK works great, and both are readably available at most farm stores. You can also treat more severe cases with an IV treatment of calcium borogluconate solution.