The role of probiotics for goats is an aspect of caprine health that is largely overlooked and underutilized. The digestive system of a goat relies on a balance of microbes for it to function properly. Without this proper microbial balance, the digestive system will not function smoothly which in turn will cause other health problems (i.e. Enterotoxaemia, Clostridium, Acidosis ). In order to completely understand the importance of probiotics to caprine health, it is helpful to first understand how a goat’s digestive system works, especially the rumen (the first of their four stomachs).
Ruminant animals, such as goats and cows, have four stomachs. The first and largest stomach is called the rumen; the second is the reticulum; the third is the omasum; the fourth is the abomasum. The rumen is especially fascinating because it contains a host of microbes that are able to digest cellulose fiber. In fact, each mL of ruminal contains billions of bacteria, protozoa, yeasts, and fungi. These microbes are delicately balanced in the rumen and must be maintained in that balance in order for proper digestion to occur. Sudden changes in diet or the use of antibiotics for treatment of an infection can disturb this delicate balance of microbes.
Probiotics can be an important and effective tool in developing and maintaining healthy levels of flora in the rumen. Young goats can benefit from the use of probiotics, particularly at the time of weaning. For the 6-8 weeks of its life, the kid goat is fed a milk diet, with no significant intake of forages or grains. As a result, the microbial levels in the rumen are not properly balanced for the digestion of forages/grains, which will make up its diet after weaning is completed. It is wise to start introducing small amounts of grain and clean straw into the diet two weeks prior to weaning. This is done in order to begin building up the levels of microbes in the rumen. The use of probiotics in this time will aid in establishing the fine balance of microbes in the rumen. This will ease the transition from a milk-fed diet to a forage and grain fed diet.
The use of probiotics for goats is also recommended after antibiotics are used for the treatment of infections. Antibiotics such as penicillin or tetracycline can be necessary for the treatment of infections like mastitis and pneumonia, but they can also negatively affect the populations of microbes in the rumen. This is because antibiotics are indiscriminate in their effect. All bacteria that are sensitive to the active ingredient are killed, including bacteria that are beneficial to the health of the goat. Administering oral probiotics a few hours after the use of antibiotics will help to replenish the beneficial bacteria in the rumen.
We have personally used and would recommend Boviglo from Bio-Ag, but they are not everywhere, nor are they available online (yet).
For online shopping, Valley Vet has several types of probiotics available for goats, such as Probios Dispersible Powder for Ruminants and Other Animals.
Do you live somewhere in the USA? TSC carries something available in-store and online called Goats Prefer Probiotic Plus Paste.
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