There are many forms of mastitis in goats, and not all are caused by bacteria. Probably the commonest cause is pressure and the resultant bruising. When the udder is holding more milk than it has ever done before, the outer skin becomes stretched and painful. Unless the pressure is relieved the stretched skin will become tight and inflamed and the milk inside overheated so that it comes out in lumps. This can happen to maiden milkers who aren’t milked, to does who have bagged up long before kidding and haven’t been pre-milked, and to heavily-producing does who have missed a milking.
Bruising is more common in pendulous udders but can happen as a result of a fall or a fight especially if the udder is full at the time. Some kids are rough feeders and therefore cause severe bruising by bunting the udder. Bruised tissue produces less milk so the kid bunts harder, increasing the bruises and compounding the problem.
Wounds to the udder cause inflammation due to trauma or foreign bodies (from sitting in hawthorn, gorse, or thistles, for instance) or bacteria entering the wound. Bacteria may enter the udder through scraped skin or the teat orifice – the cause of ‘summer mastitis’ is usually a combination of warmth, humidity and dirty-footed flies.
A careful goatkeeper can usually detect the start of mastitis by a slight thickening of the skin of the teat or udder. If you are well acquainted with the feel of each goat’s udder in a healthy state the change in texture will just about jump up and shout at you. Not all udders get hot at this early stage and some may just have patches of thickening no bigger than a ten cent piece.
If you treat the udder at this early stage, in most cases it will be normal again by the next milking. The treatment I have found most effective is to drench the goat with some of her own fresh milk – 20 mls will do – as soon as I detect an abnormality in the udder. This challenges the goat to produce antibodies against whatever caused the mastitis and is very effective. It is cheap, with no withdrawal period unlike drugs.
We discovered this treatment for mastitis in 1972, when two of our first kidders had post-partum mastitis (usually caused by over-stretching). One of them had rickets so we fed some of her milk back to her to help the rickets and the mastitis cleared up. The other doe was treated with conventional cow drugs and lost the use of that half of her udder. Part of that, in hindsight, was because we did not manage to strip all the gunk out properly each time she was milked; we were too kind to persevere when she was obviously in pain being milked. Later cases of mastitis, including those caused by wounds, have also responded rapidly to the milk drench.
In 1975, I told a visiting Australian breeder about this treatment, and I could see he was doubtful. In 1978 he came to visit us again and the first thing he said was that my mastitis treatment was marvellous. When he had got home from his previous trip he was greeted at the airport with the news that his best milker had cut her udder badly and although stitched up was in a bad way with mastitis in spite of the drugs she’d been given. Her milk yield had dropped dramatically. With nothing to lose, the breeder decided to try giving her back her own milk, the mastitis cleared up, and all she had to do was heal. He was thrilled that her milk yield returned to its previous level and she had no udder problems in subsequent lactations.
The only type of mastitis the milk drench will not treat successfully is black mastitis because it is a form of blood poisoning (septicaemia). For this you do need to resort to antibiotics and antitoxin. It is important to milk all the gunk (blood, serum, pus, bad milk and dead tissue) out of the udder at frequent intervals, using massage with some form of lubricant. The old remedy was to use goose grease (you will find a case history in one of the James Heriot books about a cow with black mastitis; after sulpha drugs were given the owner massaged and milked the udder for 24-hours and she recovered). Nowadays most of us would use aromatherapy oil or cooking oil for the same job. The drugs alone will not cure the udder, you have to use the natural methods as well.
When the udder is hard and/or inflamed bathing it with a soothing liquid helps to cool and draw it. As an emergency measure (when first discovered), you can use epsom salts – one tablespoon to 600 mls warm water. A kitchen sponge is a good way to apply it. The herbal remedy is one good handful each of dock leaves and elderberry leaves in 600 mls of water. Bring slowly to the boil in a stainless steel or enamel pot and simmer for five minutes. Cover and leave to stand for a minimum of four hours. Drain off the liquid into a bottle or jar for storage and keep it in the fridge. This amount will bathe the udder for three or four days, and by that time the udder should be better. The brew starts to go off by this time and should be discarded. When our elder was cut back one year, I gathered all the leaves, and raided the neighbours’ gardens for dock leaves and made up a huge brew which I froze in 250 ml lots and stored in the freezer ready for emergencies. Let’s face it, Murphy’s Law causes inflamed udders in direct proportion to the unavailability of the deciduous elder!
However long it takes and however many kicks you suffer, you must milk off all the milk, cheesy lumps, blood, gunk and little lumps of decomposing flesh which emerge from the teat orifice, if you are to have any chance of returning the udder to normal milk yield. If you don’t get rid of all the bad stuff at every milking, including lengthy massage
to release more secretion, it will do irreparable damage to the milk producing tissue, thereby giving the goat a one-way ticket to the dog-tucker freezer, as she will no longer be profitable to milk.
After the udder has recovered and the milk is back to normal, it is usual (so don’t panic) for some damaged internal tissue to slough off and come out of the orifice as irregular lumps which may be blood spotted. This is part of the healing process, just like when a doe sheds the uterine lining after kidding, so has a bloody tail for a few weeks. As a precaution, dose the doe with her milk while this is happening as the sphincter of the orifice is stretched letting hese
lumps through and may pick up bacteria because it will take a little longer to close than normal.
It is also usual for the outer skin to peel off if the udder has been inflamed. Some goats get touchy while this is happening as the new skin is tender. It is also susceptible to sunburn whatever the skin colour. You may be wise to use a soothing sunscreen on the udder until the skin is normal.
Sub-clinical mastitis shows up as white grit in the strainer when you are putting the milk to cool. The most likely cause is cobalt deficiency. To find out, give the goat a teaspoonful of Marmite or Vegemite or dried yeast. You can use ‘unimproved’ baking yeast or brewer’s yeast, 1 teaspoon daily, just as with the Marmite or Vegemite. This is only an interim test to check for cobalt deficiency, as prolonged use of yeast/yeast extract will cause phosphorus poisoning – guess how I discovered that????
You can spread it on a sandwich or make it into a drench if you like. Within 24-hours the grit in the strainer should have disappeared or lessened considerably. Dose the goat with cobalt, whichever method you prefer, so that she can make her own vitamin Bl2. It is cheaper than using any form of B12 supplement.
If this doesn’t work, the goat is probably under some kind of stress. Parasites, other mineral problems, poor milking techniques (hand or machine), or difficulty in getting on to the bail are all possibilities. Eliminate the cause and the sub-clinical mastitis will disappear.
A treatment I will have to add, is the use of Bryonia for long-standing abscesses and scar tissue. The form I used was the liquid given to nursing human mothers, and the goat was given 5 mls twice daily. The abscess had been hanging round for months, so deep inside the udder tissue it was undetectable. It ripened in 5 days and I lanced and
cleaned with peroxide. For the week the doe was with me I had ‘milked’ pus out of her twice a day and was hopeful of finally getting past this back to milk, but her owners did not persevere with the treatment and that half of the udder packed up completely. They had already had this happen to their other milker, and neither the vet nor I could detect the original cause. I am of the opinion that marginal cobalt deficiency (common in this area) was a factor in prolonging the problem, as the doe had the typical acetone smell when she arrived (not when she left, I’d
dosed her with cobalt).
– Irene Ramsay.
Updated 7 April 2000.
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I am acquainted with Irene Ramsay through the Holistic Goats list on Yahoo Groups. I read all of her posts as they are always full of wisdom and natural remedies for healing. I am honored that Irene Ramsay has agreed to allow me to publish some of her articles on my website. I hope they will be as helpful to you as they have been to me. Thanks, Irene! Please note that Irene lives in New Zealand and sometimes the items she recommends won’t be available in the US under the same name.