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One of things that I overlooked when getting goats, is that a big part of their health care involves needles. I am not a fan of needles and never have been. Administering injections intimidates me, and my stomach drops at the thought of it.
Even more daunting than injections, is drawing blood. This is an essential skill that is needed in order to test for a variety of diseases, including CL, CAE, and Johnes which should be done yearly, especially if you plan to sell kids. Biosecurity is incredibly important to conscientious goat keepers, and most won’t run the risk of adding a new goat to their herd without proof that the new goat is guaranteed to be free of certain diseases. It is very expensive to find a vet who will come out to draw the blood for you, and so most owners learn to draw blood themselves.
After spending a good amount of time and money to have our does bred, I was eager to confirm their pregnancies so that I could ensure I was feeding them and caring for them properly. The most effective way (besides ultrasound) to confirm pregnancy is with a blood test.
Finding the Goat’s Jugular Vein
In order to draw a goat’s blood, the most important aspect is being able to locate the goat’s jugular vein.
I watched countless YouTube videos of blood draws, and even got a live demo from a good friend at Denbow Acres Farm. The BioTracking site that I was utilizing for the tests also gave a good descriptor of how to locate the jugular:
“The easiest way to locate the vein is to draw an imaginary line from the middle of the doe’s eye down the side of her neck. The vein can be located by applying pressure with the thumb or fingers in the groove on either side of the trachea and below the half-way point of the shaved area. The pressure will cause the vein to pop up and be easy to see.”
Once you locate the general area, you should shave it clean to be able to pinpoint the vein. You will want an assistant for that, as most goats don’t care for the sound of electric clippers. Once the area is bare, you should be able to apply slight pressure and see the vein pop up – voila!
My First Attempt
For me? Not so much. Flinder was my fist blood draw patient. She endured the shaving well, and I thought I knew the general area of the jugular. Wrong. I shaved a large swath down the side of her neck, and found nothing. I applied pressure. And more pressure. Flinder squirmed. Frustrated, I consulted a YouTube video to check the location. I was too far to the side, so I resumed shaving more towards the front. Half of her neck was mostly bare and I cringed.
Finally I had the right area and after some squeezing around, I felt confident I had located the jugular. I scrubbed the area well with rubbing alcohol to disinfect it. As three of my friends restrained the tiny doe, I went into the vein. No blood came into the needle. Appalled, I withdrew the needle and re-swabbed the area. This time, I reduced the angle, going straighter up and down. Success! The blood slowly filled my syringe to the desired 3ml and I withdrew it triumphantly. I plunged the needle into the red rubber top of the blood collection vial, filled it with the blood and tried to calm my coursing adrenaline.
After that, I figured the next goat, Sadie, would be a dream, as I now clearly knew what I was doing. This time I located the jugular easier, although Sadie’s vein wasn’t as prominent as Flinder’s had been. I shaved and scrubbed the area as before. I touched Sadie with the very tip of the needle, preparing to enter. She screamed like she was dying. I was shocked and completely unnerved and pulled back, uncertain. When I went back in, I tried to ignore the ear piecing death shrieks, determined to get it done quickly. I went in with needle, and the blood began to flow in. And then, my poor nervous Sadie went nuts, and three of my friends couldn’t keep her still. I had to pull out the needle with only half the blood I needed for fear in injuring her. I went back into the same general area several times and couldn’t get the blood to flow again. Finally, seeing the bruising and the holes I had made, I gave up – I just couldn’t keep doing it.
I went into the house and had a good cry. Then I went back out and sat with goats, handing out treats and trying to convince Sadie and Flinder not to hate me. They quickly forgot their woes after a few mouthfuls of granola.
It took about a week before I could take the blood I had collected out of the refrigerator and send it off to be tested. Even though I had only been able to collect 1 ml from Sadie, I sent it anyways, hoping they could manage to test the smaller sample.
After sending off the blood I received a prompt response from the lab – both of girls were indeed pregnant! I was elated, and felt much better about the whole experience.
So, I hope my experience can highlight a few things for novice goat owners when they consider their first blood draw.
Blood Drawing – Essential Points
- No matter how inept you are, there is very little risk or doing your goat any true harm, even though you are trying to enter a major vein. However, I have managed to stab myself a bit in my nervousness – I have not contracted any scary goat viruses.
- Keep calm, and keep trying. Do not let yourself get overwrought. It will not help you or your goat. If you start to get overwhelmed, walk away, take a break, and regroup.
- Make sure you have help restraining your goat. I know that some goat owners are able to draw their blood with their goat in the milk stand, but we’ve found it allows for a lot of movement with the more finicky goats. Make sure your helped practices the best ways to hold your goat in a manner that is comfortable for everyone involved.
- Be sure to clean the area you’re working with thoroughly before and after you enter the vein to prevent infection and abscesses.
- Get comfortable with finding the jugular. I can’t emphasize this enough! Take your time – poke, squeeze and prod until you can easily identify it. This is the key to drawing blood.
- Your goat will still love you in the end – promise!