The key to maintaining a happy, healthy goat herd is prevention. With the proper diet and environment, goats are low-maintenance animals and will need little intervention. That said, even the most vigilant goat farmer finds that there are times when their goats need help to stay healthy and strong. The good news is that the old-time remedies still work. With a bit of understanding about how and when to use herbs and other natural products, you can keep your herd healthy using items you may already have in your house, garden or barn.
How Herbs Work Differently
The first step in your journey should be no different than your first step toward using herbs for you and your family. If you’ve already taken that step, you’re halfway there. For humans and animals, herbal care is the antithesis to modern Western medicine. Western medical intervention and pharmaceuticals are often designed with a sole purpose: to address a specific problem and resolve that problem quickly. Where there are sometimes emergencies when these treatments can save lives, this approach can quickly become a pricey cat-and-mouse game and is good for neither our health or the environment.
Holistic, preventative treatments, on the other hand, are slow-working and seek to balance the health of the entire organism, making emergency interventions less necessary. Even when they are needed, if you’ve taken the steps to strengthen the immune systems of your goats, an extra dose of herbal care can often bring their systems back into balance when problems arise.
Don’t just administer herbal treatments willy-nilly, though. Ancient cultures (and indigenous cultures today) saw plants as our allies but also respected that each plant speaks to us and lets us know when it should or shouldn’t be used. Not every herb is safe or appropriate in every situation. For instance, some herbs are perfectly safe at all times except during pregnancy, while others are safe when used minimally but can be harmful or even deadly if overused. Consult a certified herbalist or naturopath before jumping into herbal care. Or, simply talk to an experienced goat farmer who is versed in natural care. Above all, educate yourself on the magnificent array of healing plants that surround us. You’ll be in for a lifetime of learning and will be a better person for it.
Basic Natural Goat Care
Knowing the vitamins, minerals, and proper forage and living conditions for goats is the first step in holistic care. Keep them out of moist environments and provide plenty of off-the-ground forage, and you shouldn’t have parasite issues. Provide them with mineral supplements when necessary, and know the symptoms for mineral depletion. Once you have the husbandry basics down, you’ve set the groundwork for herbs to do what they do best.
1. Essential Oil Teat Wash
It’s important to keep goats’ udders clean and healthy. The common way to do this is with a bleach-water solution. Because the primary reason for using bleach is to remove bacteria, a less harsh method is to create an essential-oil teat wash from lavender oil (anti-bacterial) and tea tree oil (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral).
In a quart-size spray bottle, combine 20 drops lavender oil, 10 drops tea tree oil and 2 tablespoons liquid castile soap (such as Dr. Bronners), fill with warm water, and shake well. Spray the teats and udders before and after milking and wipe thoroughly with a clean cloth. This will not only help prevent mastitis but will also ensure your milk doesn’t become contaminated.
If you notice udders becoming engorged or just want to take an extra step, rub some peppermint oil on them on occasion.
2. Cayenne Tincture For Parasite Prevention
Cayenne tinctures can be used to prevent parasites and to stop bleeding (for both you and your goats). Mix 3 cups cider vinegar with 1 cup cayenne. Let cure for three to four weeks, and then strain and store in a cool place.
3. Baking Soda For Gut Health
Some herbs and natural products can be given to your herd regularly with little concern. Keep a pile of baking soda within easy reach and your goats will eat it as-needed to keep their guts healthy. If you suspect a gut problem, mix 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup of water and “help” them drink it if they won’t on their own—a needle-less syringe will do the trick.
4. Natural Forage Supplements
With the proper forage, goats will naturally maintain a healthy gut but always have alternative treatments on hand for when forage isn’t available:
- Comfrey: Feed three to four mature leaves (young leaves are toxic) daily to each goat.
- Black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS): These are full of minerals and help increase butterfat. Give a handful to your goats with their daily feed once a day in the summer and twice in the winter.
5. Natural Dewormers
Inevitably you will need to address a problem directly and, inevitably, this problem will often be worms. When you are hit with a parasite problem, don’t panic and run to the vet for a quick pharmaceutical fix. Save that for a last resort. Don’t feel the need to give regular doses of dewormer “just in case” either. This can be hard on your wallet and potentially harmful to the animal. Many of the natural dewormers on the market today contain wormwood.
Wormwood is an herb that has been long known for its anti-parasitic qualities. However, it’s not safe for pregnant and lactating animals. Long-term use can also negatively affect the kidneys, liver and nervous system. Some herbal animal care providers, such as Molly’s Herbals offer two formulas for deworming and worm prevention, one with wormwood and one without.
Administering Herbal Remedies
When administering herbal care products, be sure to provide your goats the proper dosage at the appropriate time increments. Purchased products will provide detailed information.
If you choose to use your own blends, be sure you understand the herbs well. Start with small doses and increase to approximately two and a half times the recommended dosage for an adult human. If there is no effect, up the dosage by 10 percent but no higher than a total of 50 percent of the original dosage. If the animal experiences negative effects, such as vomiting, decrease the dosage by half. Opinion varies as to how often to dose, but once a day is a good start. Increase to up to three times a day as needed. There is no hard and fast rule. Know your herbs and know your goats, and soon you’ll find a routine that works for you and your animals.
When administering any kind of medicine to an animal, don’t surprise it. Be firm but don’t be rough. Look the goat in the eye and speak to it in full sentences. Each time you do this, it will begin to understand what is about to happen. It may not like it, but soon your tone of voice will help it to understand that this is necessary and there is no way out of it. Goats can be stubborn, though. Sometimes you’ll just need to grab them firmly and get the job done.
Get To Know Your Vet
Natural care has its place and has worked for generations of goat farmers, but don’t forget about your vet. There may be times when the care you are administering just doesn’t seem to be working. If your vet is averse to natural care or expresses little knowledge or interest, just take what he or she has to say with a grain of salt and go with his or her recommended treatment if your natural treatments aren’t working. A good vet is a good friend to have.
While the FDA has done some research into herbal treatments, it does not officially approve of any. This doesn’t mean they don’t work, though. Studies have been done that show that herbal wormers work as well as, if not better than, chemical wormers. Do your research, trust your intuition and know your animals. Before you know it, you’ll have a happy, healthy herd without having to resort to pharmaceutical treatments (save for emergencies).