Right. Not something you lose sleep over, but you know it’s important to know what to do if it crops up. You think you’re doing what you need to in order to stay on top of it and keep your does healthy and your milk supply safe. Right.
I think those of us who own dairy goats or cows and supply milk for our families, and possibly customers, try to do our very best to make sure it’s safe and healthy, but that can lead to a false sense of security, too. That’s where I was until recently when, out of the blue, one of my very best does came down with a bad bug—one resistant to the usual treatment, and one that put her life in jeopardy. We still don’t know why it happened, so we’re doing what we can to get her through this and be sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Be sure your does’ environment is clean. Clean bedding is paramount, and whether you choose to bed them on hay, straw, shavings, or paper pellets, dirty bedding and manure needs to be removed on a regular basis. You don’t want to know what might be growing in that, so removal of soiled bedding is a must. Don’t go by the drop-knee test—use your eyes and your nose! Take a good sniff, and if you can smell ammonia in the air in their shed, it’s already damaging your goats’ lungs and setting you up for pneumonia problems. Get the offending bedding out of there! And, of course, your milking does are snuggling their udders right down in that stuff whenever they lie down.
What about outside their shed? The doe yard needs to be regularly scraped down, too, because they lie around there. It’s amazing how much chaff (dropped hay, leaves, etc.) and nanny berries can collect in just a short time. You’ll probably want to scrape or rake down the doe yard at least once a week or more, considering how many goats you have. All that turns into a sodden mess when it rains too. Yuck!
If your goats roam around your property to browse, they may like to dig nests in the dirt. Mine have a couple spots they love, and they excavate more dirt daily. This is probably all right (good luck trying to dissuade them), but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on it, just in case. Mine don’t like mud, but I have friends whose goats do.
The next item of consideration is your milking routine. You aren’t only trying to keep your milk clean here, you’re doing your best to stop the transmission of disease (1) from your goats to you; (2) from you to your goats; and (3) from one goat to another. You can get “bad bugs” from your goats, such as brucellosis or TB. Fortunately, these infections are rare in the United States, but they can happen. Be sure you perform annual bio-security screens on all your goats to be sure none of these diseases are present. The laws vary from State to State, so be sure to check what your state requires.
You can also give infections to your goats! True, most things don’t transmit between species, but there have been instances where people have unwittingly brought infectious agents home from work on their hands or clothes, and the goats have somehow picked them up. Most notably are a few cases of pseudomonas mastitis, where the owners worked in the hospital. The only thing they could think, even though this bacterium occurs everywhere in the environment, is they might’ve somehow transmitted it to their goats. Always be sure you change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water, or use hand sanitizer, if you think this could be the case. It doesn’t hurt to use rubber or vinyl gloves when you milk, just to be sure.
Unintentionally spreading disease between goats in your herd is very possible. If one has an outbreak, whether it’s goat acne, ringworm, or something much more serious, be certain to wear gloves while handling them and milking and always milk any affected goats last. Depending on the seriousness of the infection, you may need to house infected animals separately from the regular herd. You may also need to use separate utensils for their milk and to sterilize it before its next use. Use the utmost caution!
Examine your milking routine to see if you can improve it. Does’ udders should be clipped regularly to minimize the amount of dirt and debris that falls into the milk. Their udders and teats need to be washed with an udder wash solution and thoroughly dried with clean cloths (single-use paper towels are ideal) before milking, and possibly pre-dipped with sanitizer (there are dips made precisely for this). Always milk the first two squirts of milk into a strip cup and observe it for abnormalities. This habit will serve you well, as it will give you a heads up on any mastitis brewing. This milk needs to be discarded, because that is where dead bacteria (good and bad), shed epithelial cells, and dead white blood cells collect, due to gravity. You don’t want to drink that! IF you see any abnormalities in the stripped milk, immediately perform a CMT (California Mastitis Test). If the test shows mastitis, you need to contact your veterinarian to see what to do about it. He will most likely want to culture a sample of milk to see what’s going on before prescribing a treatment. Back in the milking parlor, you may want to discard milk from your doe if the CMT shows it’s abnormal. If it’s not, milk her out as usual. Be sure to use a good teat dip when you finish, because this protects the udder from infection. It sterilizes the teats after milking, killing any bacteria present and preventing them from gaining entry after milking. Research has shown it can take as long as an hour after milking for the teat canal to close completely. Be sure to have the feeder stuffed with hay for your does when they are milked, so they will remain standing for a while.
As with so many other things, cleanliness and attention to detail is key to maintain good udder health in your herd. It takes study, and it takes work, but it will pay off in years of healthy production by your goats and peace of mind for you and anyone you might have as a customer.