Overfed and Underexercised

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It really comes as no surprise to me that the majority of goats that I lay hands on on other folks’ farms are overfed and under exercised. Most goats, especially in the dairy and pet communities, are confined to a pasture or pen and fed free choice hay, often accompanied by grains and alfalfa.

Depending on the breed and state (pregnant, in milk, etc) many goats are grossly overfed. A dairy goat should not carry excess weight on the body – goats are naturally lean creatures, build to be pure wiry muscle to cling to clifftops and leap from edge to precipice. They can ill afford to be weighed down by what I call, “chicken cutlets.”

Granted, they’ve come a long way since we domesticated them, and many goats (especially those little fatties among the Miniature breeds) carry excess weight through out their lives with little issue. It’s important to know, however, that an overweight goat is an unhealthy animal, just as an overweight dog, horse, or person is as well. Once you are seeing subcutaneous fat on your goat, know as well that his or her internal organs are being encased in fat, as that is the first place it shows up in our caprine pals.

Overweight goats will suffer problems with their joints as they age, and may suffer arthritis. Does will have more trouble conceiving when bred, and problems with kidding. The rate of cesarean section risk rises and you can even experience horrible problems like rectal prolapse.

Poor little Mandarin, pictured below with her mother Panda, suffered a rectal prolapse due to being overweight. As a kid she was so heavy that her rectum began to protrude when she lay down – sometimes up to five inches in length! We had to put a stitch in her anus to hold it in place and allow her muscles to gain some strength. A miserable time for her – thankfully it worked and she has suffered no more problems!

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With some goats, it seems like they grow fat on thin air, as our Miniatures often do. Here, we do not grain heavily, and during most of the year, our does’ primary diet is browse, accompanied by their complete morning and evening milking rations. This along with the large amount of pasture and wooded area they roam to browse means the majority of are goats carry little excess weight and are in excellent physical health.

This translates to better overall health, and I am confident that this is the reason for the almost non-existent cesarean rate on this farm. With on average one hundred does kidding out every year, both Nigerian Dwarf and La Mancha, there has literally been only one cesarean – an underaged doeling who was carrying a massive single buckling.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true of our kids – they tend to run quite heavy, as we do dam raise the majority of our kids. When left with unlimited access to their dams plus free choice hay and browse, they often gain entirely too much weight for my tastes. Thankfully, the majority never become extreme like poor Mandarin did, and the unlimited food plays a massive part in the strength of our kids and their excellent growth, which I take a lot of pride in. By the time they become yearlings, the majority have been weaned and have returned to a proper weight, or close to it.

So how do you tell if your goat is fat? There are score sheets one can follow, that are the same basic guidelines among every animal species we keep.

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Another quick method is to grab the skin and fat behind your goat’s elbow – the “chicken cutlet!”

If you have a chicken breast instead, then you may have an overweight goat.

I know that some folks will disagree with me, but I prefer to see my girls a little on the lean side – perhaps not quite a 2, but a slightly lighter 3. I simply find that they are healthier. But of course, these are only my own opinions, my own findings, just as everything on this blog is. Living down in the Texas heat, there’s little need for animals to carry excess weight, while further north, I’m sure stock appreciate a thicker layer when winter comes!

What works for one person may not work for another, but we all must share what we learn so that we have all the options to discover the best way to care for our animals.