One of the things about running a food & farming business, is that you get plenty of checks & balances imposed upon you; including regular no-notice inspections from various organisations. So it was no surprise when a silver Freelander pulled up on the drive & disgorged a couple of gentlemen, who announced they’d been sent by DEFRA: the local Animal Welfare Officer, or AWO (who periodically checks our record books & that our animals are all correctly tagged), & one of their vets.
“Good afternoon” I smiled, shaking their hands. The AWO coughed uncomfortably.
“Actually, we’re here to investigate a complaint. Someone has put in a call to the RSPCA, alleging that your goats have got acute Mastitis*, on account of their purple udders….”
I was absolutely flabbergasted. My initial amazement – nay, puzzlement - was soon replaced with a sense of angry & impatient frustration, however.
“Please, come this way – as soon as you’ve changed your footwear & fully disinfected your boots, that is” I added crisply. As they dutifully scrubbed at their green standard-issue wellies I paused, considering the likely explanation. “I think I know what’s happened…” I mused. “Our goats are British Toggenburgs – the chocolate-coloured ones – & they have naturally pigmented skin. As soon as they start going out during the Summer the udder tissue – which is pinkish in Winter – gets suntanned. So, of course; they look very dark; I suppose you could say, purple.”
I invited the Vet into the pen to inspect the goats’ udders & got the feeling that the two chaps were distinctly embarrassed, as this was clearly a case of someone simply getting their facts wrong: what you might call, a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Quality, pedigree, dairy goats such as ours’ have capacious udders; someone had evidently seen them racing in for milking & had noticed their prominent bulges & dark pigmentation, mistaking it for acute mastitis; cows don’t have the same pigmentation & their udders remain pink throughout the Summer so I suppose anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of farming might have heard of the condition & jumped to the incorrect conclusion that this unfamiliar colouring could be a sign of illness.
The Vet inspected their udders & found the tissue to be soft, pliable & healthy with the goats all full of their typical bright-eyed, mischievous curiosity. (Frankly, if it had been acute mastitis, the goats would all have been dead by the time the vet got there).
I offered to show them around, starting first with the milking parlour. “Of course, the beauty of the system we have here, is that it can detect even sublinical mastitis (i.e. even before it physically manifests itself with the udder going hard or the milk starting to clot) – as this is a fully computerised, state-of-the-art parlour which continually checks the resisitivity of the milk; & as such can alert us to a potential problem before we might ever be aware of it: we get full “whistles-&-bells” at the merest hint of anything. The added advantage is that not only can we segregate potentially mastitic milk, we can also treat the goat swiftly & efficiently using minimal drug treatment.” They were fascinated: ours’ is one of the most technologically-advanced parlours in this part of Wales – for ANY species – so you don’t get to see many as good as this…!
We then went on a tour of the Dairy Complex; where I explained about how we designed the beautiful, wooden, carbon-neutral goat accommodation building, with its’ wonderful clean, unhindered airflow which ensures it is cool in Summer yet warm & cosy, in even the worst Winter weather; the free-draining, natural, earth-&-slate floor; the efficient, clean, penning system; & how every piece of equipment has been tailor-made to fit, making optimum use of the available space for the goats. I showed them the fantastic goat drinking fountains, set at a specific height to avoid soiling yet allow optimum epiglottal comfort, in terms of access to the bowls (whose piping system is also being modified to supply a continual flow of not only the fresh, clean water they currently do; but even gently warmed water, which goats prefer; & is also better for their health, as they naturally need to expend more energy warming up a bellyful of cold water – thus also aiding a more efficient rumen).
I explained that our land is managed in complete harmony with the environment as we fully embrace the concept of “low-impact” farming: whilst the majority of what we do here follows Soil Association guidelines, we were advised by an Organic Advisory Service audit that it would currently be uneconomical for us to join such a formal scheme as it would turn ours’ into a “niche-on-niche” product; not to mention that organic rules concerning goats do need fundamental revisiting owing to the essential caprine need to be warm & dry; which has not, as yet, been taken into sufficient account by organic regulation….hence if you purchase “organic” goats’ cheese here in the UK, the curd has assuredly come from Holland to meet the demand. Also, that we had our fields rebalanced with trace elements in the Autumn (highly recommended – as are the services of the encyclopaedically-informed & land-management talented, Dr Dan; please DO get in touch for his Trace Element Services’ details; as your land & livestock will thank you, for it! If you have anything from Alpaca to Zebra or anything in between, rest assured he’s dealt with it).
So all the lovely, organically-managed hay we have just harvested will have even more beneficial feed value, this year. And we went through our feeding regime: that all the animals’ concentrate feed is organic where possible & if not, is strictly GM-free; that we feed as a breakfast supplement, a “tea” of warmed British sugar beet shreds; the fact that when the goats have to be housed if it’s too wet or cold for them to go out, they’re given green browse in the form of willow, bramble, etc; & have ad-lib access to three different types of mineral licks; that they are fed the marvellous Seaquim (a dried seaweed derivative, jam-packed with wonderful vitamins & minerals) as an additional supplement; & that they get plenty of protein-rich dried lucerne, which they adore. And that we never feed silage or haylage; owing to our concerns regarding susceptibility of the goats’ sensitive rumens, to the dreaded Listeriosis.
We also discussed a frustrating ‘mystery’ virus some of the goats had borne earlier in the year, which caused many of them to suffer loss of coat & condition; yet the exhaustive tests our Vet carried out had frustratingly reached no conclusion. Others we know, have had goats suffer similarly; yet there seems to be no obvious common cause nor – worse still – any “fix-it” cure. It has no adverse affect on the goats; other than it causes them to lose coat & condition, which we & others have worked to alleviate via extra rations of feed, minerals & probiotics.
I took them through my veterinary records, & demonstrated the dedicated computer system; & we discussed the way we manage our kidding regime (complete with an explanation of the strategically-placed Baby Monitors; which replaced the Goat CCTV after we discovered the goats had an uncanny ability to avoid the cameras; yet the monitors pick up the slightest sound). This was followed by a tour of the Middle Yard to cuddle this year’s kids, frisking in their Playpen.
We also wandered out into the fields to visit our two groups of Hooligans (the Goatlings, who vary between one & two years of age); and Merson & Niggles, our handsome Stud Males. The Vet was full of praise for the wonderful condition of these cheeky goats; delighted at how clearly healthy, happy & well adjusted they are – especially Canu, our gorgeous Armeria’s stunning daughter – who tartiliciously wrapped herself around him like a big black, sleek cat; & with whom it was evidently love at first sight…!
So after a very interesting visit the Vet & the AWO shook my hand & thanked me for my assisitance; apologised for wasting my time, & assured me that we are completely vindicated: it’s obvious to anyone who knows about animals, that we are working very hard regarding the health & welfare of all our charges.
As I observed, we wouldn’t have gone to all the time, trouble & expense that we have, if we didn’t care. And of course, mastitic goats don’t produce viable (let alone, delicious) milk….which subsequently doesn’t produce any ice cream!
In fact I had to chuckle; as this whole “tanned udder” thingy has made us the laughing stock, of the local chemist: I buy so much Factor 30 Suntan Lotion & Aftersun (as the girls get a twice-daily udder massage when they’re out on pasture – not to mention their weekly “extra” Sunday massage with Japanese Peppermint Oil, whilst milking) that I get loads of “money-off” vouchers for makeup – & as the pigmentation lines the goats’ lips & eyes as well – giving the appearance of lipstick & mascara – the staff just think it’s hilarious. Mind you whenever we do a photo shoot & I can’t find my eyeliner, I’m sure the girls have been raiding my makeup bag as they inevitably manage to look more glamorous than I do! (See the photo of me, Tony & caprine chums in the Blog post, “All Caprines Great & Small” & you’ll see what I mean). When I explained the aforementioned regime to the Vet I suspect even he concluded we’re slightly unhinged; however: happy, healthy, udders are one of the crucial keys to good goat welfare.
However unfortunately of course, you have to consider that those guys could’ve been out dealing with a genuine welfare case rather than wasting time investigating a spurious accusation. Whilst it’s useful for us as we actually welcomed the impromptu professional (& free – wahay!) “health check” of our systems & animals; at the same time it’s upsetting to think that other creatures may well have inadvertently suffered, as a result of this.
And of course we cannot rule out that this may even be a malicious attempt to consciously undermine our business. The alleged complaint against us was considered either spurious, ignorant or (more worrying & upsetting) purely malicious – of which sadly, they get all-too-many & for all sorts of reasons, apparently. And when you talk to people it’s amazing how many (esp in food-producing/livestock businesses) that this sort of thing, has happened to: unfortunately, we’re easy targets for anyone who wants to cause trouble. As we conduct our business in an honourable, ethical manner it is unpleasant to think that someone else may wish to use underhand means to undermine our efforts; whether in terms of one-upmanship; or through simple jealousy.
However, I’m sure there’s a far simpler explanation: no more than just someone who had a snippet of perceived knowledge/gossip/second-hand ‘info’; & with whom said ‘knowledge etc’ + lack of actual caprine/dairy experience, has ultimately led to this misinformed accusation. I only wish whoever sought to complain had just discussed it with me first: I’m not an ogre; and I AM a consummate professional, when it comes to Dairy Goat Management. As now confirmed by DEFRA’s official Vet – thank goodness.
So; rather than assuming that we’ve got it wrong I wish that people would simply ensure they got their own facts absolutely right, first – before pointing the finger where it is neither deserved nor warranted.
*Mastitis: inflammation of the udder tissue – this can be caused by a number of issues. Lactation mastitis commonly affects only one “quarter” of the udder (i.e. goats only have two quarters..!) & symptoms can develop extremely quickly.
Symptoms: tenderness/heat in the affected quarter; thickening/clotting of the milk & in more extreme circumstances, water-like, bloody fluid; general malaise. In more extreme cases, swelling &/or skin discolouration; possible fever; prone animals.
Discussion: Experts are still unsure as to exactly why milk can cause the udder tissue to become inflamed. One theory is that it may be due to the presence of cytokines in lactation milk. Cytokines are special proteins that are used by the immune system & are passed on to an infant in order to help them resist infection. It may be the case that the immune system mistakes these cytokines for a bacterial or viral infection and responds by inflaming the udder tissue in an attempt to stop the spread of what the body perceives as an infection.
Antibiotic treatment is preferable for infection which is usually caused by bacteria from the kid’s mouth that enters the milk ducts through skin lesions of the teat or through the opening of the teat (kids’ teeth are extremely sharp, & being inquisitive creatures they use their mouths to explore the world around them – which inevitably means the odd “peck of dirt”). Infection is commonly caused by staphyloccus aureus & can also be caused by animals lying on soiled bedding with opened teats (typically shortly after milking). Chances of infection can be greatly reduced by using an iodine-based teat dip immediately after milking; also, keeping the goats on their feet for as long as possible, post parlour: we do this by providing a selection of different foods at height, including lucerne (their favourite!); natural browse (such as willow & bramble); & good quality “goat friendly” forage hay.
Treatment: In extreme circumstances or if you have not dealt with mastits before, CALL YOUR VET. If you are milking for human consumption ensure any potentially mastitic milk is isolated & discarded. If potentially mastitic milk has been mixed with uncontaminated milk, DISCARD IT.
Immediately ‘hot cloth’ the udder (i.e. gently press heated, damp cloths, on the affected quarter); then ‘strip’ the affected quarter (i.e. competely empty it of milk/milk product). Inject a broad-spectrum intramammary suspension into the the affected quarter (typically a three-day treatment) as recommended by your Vet; meanwhile send a raw milk sample ASAP to your local Veterinary Investigation Centre to determine the precise source of the infection.
Worsening/prolonged symptoms might require additional intramuscular penicillin injections to reach the seat of the infection – again; your Vet will advise & provide you with the necessary medications you require.
MAKE SURE THAT IF YOU EVEN SUSPECT YOUR GOAT HAS MASTITS - DO NOT USE THE MILK FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. Also you MUST adhere to medicine withdrawal periods: here, we go for the ‘belt-&-braces’ approach, & add an extra 24 hours onto any withdrawal periods. Don’t just write down the date that milk withdrawal ends; make sure you also know the day of the week – it will stand out in your memory.
Post-Mastits Treatment: We were told we must be relentlessly harsh: in cattle, it’s a case of “three ‘strikes’, & she’s out”. Call us softies, but we prefer a more gentle approach: for us, it all depends on the severity & the reason for the mastitis. If we can identify the cause, work with it, & fully cure it; then of course, we do – everything, we can.
Our Lady Morganna is a case in point: others would have culled her long ago; yet understanding the individual & working with her has given us a fine, productive member of the Milkforce who has borne us some truly lovely kids; not to mention loads of lovely, quality milk. We refused to give up on her – which has reaped rich rewards (not to mention the satisfaction of saving a beautiful, wonderful, very fine goat).
…..And for those of you dedicated/curious/interested enough to have read all the way to the end: well, you deserve a little song….please; I do hope you enjoy the talented Newton Faulkner’s amusing-but-poignant song & video about a breakdown in communication & the “oh-if-only-we’d talked” scenario; it’s called “Over & Out”, if it won’t download from here (apologies if not).