Precocious Udders in Goats

Episode 122
For the Love of Goats

Precocious Udders in Goats

Have you ever had a goat get an udder even though you are 100% sure she has not been anywhere close to a buck so could not possibly be pregnant? Normally, goats have to go through pregnancy and have a baby before they produce milk, but it’s not impossible for a doe to start making milk without getting pregnant.

A precocious udder is one that fills up with milk even though the doe has not been bred. Most of these will just go away as mysteriously as they appeared with no intervention needed. However, that is not always the case.

In this episode, we are talking to Dr. Jamie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Production Management Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, about what causes a precocious udder and what we should and should not do in managing it.

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Transcript

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be really interesting, especially for those of you who have had does that got an udder, and you know they were not anywhere close to a buck. The term for that is ‘precocious udder’, and we are joined today by a ruminant reproductive specialist, Dr. Jamie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Production Management Medicine at the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, who has been with us multiple times before, and it’s always great fun to have her here. Welcome back to the show, Dr. Stewart.

Jamie Stewart 0:54
As always, thanks for having me back.

Deborah Niemann 0:56
So. It’s really interesting, most of the people who contact me about this start out by saying that they don’t have a buck, or there’s no way that a buck got anywhere close to this doe, but she’s got an udder, and they don’t understand what’s going on. So, they’re usually happy to at least know there’s a name for it, they’re not the first person to have this, and that some buck did not sneak in in the middle of the night hopefully. So, can you tell us a little bit about the basics of a precocious udder, and why it happens?

Jamie Stewart 1:28
Yeah, so a precocious udder, just like you said, is just an udder that develops unrelated to being bred. Several different causes of it. A lot of it, we don’t actually know necessarily what causes it, but some of the pathologies that can be associated with it can also be associated with things like a pseudopregnancy or a false pregnancy. I know we’ve talked a little bit about that in some of our previous episodes. So, if you have a doe that ovulates, and then her body thinks she’s pregnant, and she retains all the hormones that makes her think that she’s pregnant, sometimes those same hormones will start triggering her to start lactating. So, it’s just different hormones that are produced from parts of the brain. So sometimes they can be associated with the pseudopregnancy, and sometimes they just happen because- And we see it mostly in our breeds that are considered milking breeds- and it’s associated a lot of times with over conditioning. So they just have too much energy and their body doesn’t know what to do with all the energy. And instead of just continuing to deposit fat, they use some of that energy towards making milk because that’s what the body has been, you know, kind of bred to do in some of these breeds.

Deborah Niemann 2:50
Okay. And so I know most of the time when this happens, it comes and goes sometimes very quickly. Like I’ve only had this happen once and it was a Lamancha doe who actually, when she did finally get pregnant, milked it two gallons a day initially. So she was an amazing milker and I was really disappointed when she got that udder because I thought she was pregnant and then it went away before she was even due to kid. And that does happen a lot of times. So usually people just ignore it and it’s a great example of ‘ignore the problem and it’ll go away’. But unfortunately that does not always happen. So what can be the other outcome?

Jamie Stewart 3:34
So sometimes if it doesn’t go away, we worry about they continuously, the udders, just keep getting bigger and bigger and it causes problems with the doe being uncomfortable. You’ll notice that, you know, it might actually, some of our shorter breeds, start kind of rubbing on the ground, which put them at an increased risk for getting infections. And then they’re also at a risk, especially, you know, if someone tries milking for a little bit and then stops milking to see if they can get them to stop. And then they just get so uncomfortable. So they start milking them again. Sometimes just kind of that inconsistency will predispose them to getting things like mastitis, even if the udder is not necessarily touching the ground, but just from the inconsistent milking, they can get blockages and clots and whatnot in the udder, just again, from all that milk being in there, or if a little bit of bacteria gets introduced and then they get those clots and they can have some infections. And sometimes the infections will be pretty mild and self-limiting and sometimes they can become pretty severe and they can actually become septic and toxic from those. So it’s really, you know, it’s sometimes ignore the problem goes away if it’s mild, but the ones that, you know, just persist and persist, you really want to definitely watch out for them to develop some of these signs of infection because they can be quite severe.

Deborah Niemann 4:55
So every now and then somebody is excited about this because they didn’t want to breed goats, but they’re excited about the prospect of having milk. And I have heard of people starting to milk goats like this and even milking them for years. Is there anything wrong with that? Any downsides?

Jamie Stewart 5:12
There’s nothing wrong with milking for people who, you know, know the process of milking. So, you know, when I say that there could be issues with you just trying to milk here and there, the problem is you tend to do it and not really follow appropriate procedures for dipping the teats and things like that, that we would routinely do during milking to prevent them from getting an infection. But if you’re doing it routinely every day, because you just want to get the goat milk and you’re doing your proper disinfectant of the teats and either if you’re hand milking, that’s fine. Or if you’re using machinery, making sure that the machinery has appropriate suction and that it’s functioning correctly and that you’re disinfecting it appropriately between animals. So as long as you’re following proper milking procedures, there’s nothing wrong with milking these animals. And again, some people will be excited about that because, “oh, I’ve wanted some, you know- I’ve wanted to try goat milk for this or that” and then they don’t have to go through the process of breeding. So, for those people, it can be an advantage.

Deborah Niemann 6:12
Okay. I’m glad that you mentioned the thing about off and on milking or definitely that you don’t want to have somebody to just say, “Oh, is there really milk in there?” and squeeze it a few times, because there’s a keratin plug in there that keeps it sealed up and keeps bacteria out. And so we don’t want people to just, you know, squeeze a few times and get that keratin plug out, which then could mean that bacteria could get in there. So what if somebody has been milking, somebody contacted me once, I think they’ve been milking this goat like for three years and every time they tried to quit her udder just got enormous and they were concerned- I know it sounds dramatic to say that they were worried that the udder was going to explode, but I also kind of know that’s how I feel sometimes when my does are about to kid, you know, like, oh my gosh, I hope she kids soon because that udder is so big. That has got to be so uncomfortable. Is there anything somebody can do if they have been milking for quite some time and this doe just wants to keep milking?

Jamie Stewart 7:16
Yeah, there’s several different treatment options, and I’ll tell you the one that everybody talks about that never works is giving a prostaglandin shot. So Lutalyse or Estrumate would be the common ones that you hear. And certainly if it’s something that’s associated with a pseudopregnancy that could help, but most of the time it’s, again, it’s just more of a, the animal tends to be over conditioned because we love our goats and we want to feed them and they’re cute and we want to give them snacks. And so a lot of times when they’re over conditioned like that, their bodies just- ‘I got to put up this energy towards something’. And so it’s going to go towards milking. So the first step I usually give people is start taking energy away. So if you’re feeding that goat grain, you want to start cutting down that energy because if you put her- and you don’t want to do it drastically, but you want to kind of gradually start decreasing it. Cause if you do that, her body’s going to start realizing ‘I’m not taking in as much energy as I used to. What do I stop doing? Do I stop laying down fat? Do I stop, you know, doing all this other stuff?’ It’s going to go towards lactation first. So especially if your doe is a little bit on the heftier side, that’s always the first step is to start decreasing the food intake. And that should help to at least facilitate drying them off. Cause yeah, they can become quite big. And again, I’ve seen some that are dragging on the ground and they get wounds and they become infected.

Jamie Stewart 8:44
And really for the ones that become severe, those are the ones that we have the discussion about doing a mastectomy or removal of the gland. And you can do that of either just one side or both sides. So the problem with that is it’s quite an invasive surgery. The animal ends up- they can lose quite a bit of blood because that udder, it takes a lot of blood flow to maintain all that milk. So when we talk about trying to remove the gland, it takes a lot of time to go through. And the animal has to be under inhalant anesthesia so that we can maintain it for- It could take an hour. It could take three hours depending on how big that udder is. And just making sure that you’re controlling the blood loss as you go. And sometimes the animals need a blood transfusion during it. So we always try to be prepared that there’s another animal- So for us, if people are bringing it to the hospital, that they bring another animal in that has a good FAMACHA score in case we do need some to give a little bit of boost of blood. And then, you know, certainly if this is an animal that also is a little pale herself, we worry about that part a little bit more, but it can be a quite invasive procedure. So that’s kind of always our last step for that. And certainly if there’s issues with infection, it’s usually where we go to. And then obviously the other downside is if you were hoping to breed this animal again in the future, she’s not going to have the udder because most of the time we do have to take all of it. So she won’t be able to raise any kids anymore after that.

Deborah Niemann 10:18
So if a goat does have a precocious udder and you haven’t, or even if you have started milking. Maybe the answer is different if you have or haven’t started milking. She has a precocious udder, and then you have the ability and the desire to breed her. Once she goes through the pregnancy process, does that usually kind of take care of it too?

Jamie Stewart 10:41
That part can take care of it. Again, it just comes to an energy shift requirement that when you breed her, it might not be early in the pregnancy. It’ll probably be more towards the middle of pregnancy that you might see that udder actually start to go down before it starts preparing again, just because as those babies get bigger, they’re going to start requiring more energy and sharing energy with the mom. So those are situations where you might find that you can at least get it to stop for a little bit until until she is ready to kid again.

Deborah Niemann 11:15
And then once- cause I noticed I was looking at one of the vet textbooks before we did this and they said, usually it’s goats that have never kidded before that wind up with a precocious udder. So once they’ve been bred, do they- like say you just breed this goat one time. You’re like “okay, I’m just going to breed her one time. We’re going to get a couple of babies, keep them as pets. That’s it.” Um, is it unlikely that the doe will get another precocious udder down the road if she’s not bred again?

Jamie Stewart 11:41
Uh, I would say less likely, but not unlikely. And again, it’s going to come down to management. If you keep her at a good body condition and not letting her get to that over conditioned state, she’s less likely to develop it, but certainly, yeah, the kid aspect helps. And again, that’s probably just her body’s hormonal signaling so that it now knows what an actual pregnancy is so the body’s able to respond a little bit better. But there’s still always a risk, especially if you’re keeping them on the heftier side.

Deborah Niemann 12:14
Okay. That makes sense. So if a goat has a precocious udder- obviously if the goat goes off feed or starts acting sick, that is a bad sign, but otherwise, should you just kind of like feel the udder, you know, once a week or something to see if it’s starting to feel hot or what?

Jamie Stewart 12:34
Yeah. So definitely looking at the udder- especially again, if it’s getting to the point where it’s kind of getting close to the ground or if it’s been muddy out or, you know, especially dirty out, and you worry that they’re laying out in it. So watching it and, I would say at least once a week, maybe even twice a week getting your hands on it to feel. And we want to feel for either hot or cold because both of those can be indicate bad things. You know, cold’s sometimes a little bit worse than hot. Hot means there’s an active infection, but probably not the worst. Cold means it’s probably dying off. So that’s when we really start to worry and in those situations sometimes you can go ahead and just take one of the teats off if it’s a situation and you’ll start to that side become discolored too. So there’s more indication besides just a cold. So at least looking at them, I would say once a day and seeing how it looks. If you are milking her, obviously checking for things like the formation of clots especially again, if you’re milking her for a long time, because she just continuously is milking. So if the milk starts to look a little bit clumpy, things like that, then you definitely want to get that addressed sooner rather than later.

Deborah Niemann 13:52
Okay. Is there anything else that people need to know about precocious udders?

Jamie Stewart 13:57
I think the big part is, is just picking a plan and sticking with it because again, like I said, if you decide you’re going to roll with it and start milking, then you need to commit to that for the reasons that you said with the keratin plug. But if you decide, “I definitely don’t want to worry about managing this” then don’t milk it. And some of them will take care of themselves. Some of them won’t, but definitely at least start doing the diet restriction. Unfortunately, there’s really not a lot of other drugs that we can give for it. There’s things that- different drugs that people have talked about that they can use, that they’ve used in small animals, but none of those seem to work for these situations. There’s stuff that we will use in cows to dry them off, like the teat sealants and stuff. So if you do start milking and then decide, “I really want to dry her off, but she’s just leaking everywhere.” You can always use a teat sealant, but I would definitely just check with a veterinarian and making sure that you know the process of how to clean that teat really well before you infuse the teat sealant in. Cause then basically you’re committing to not milking her again.

Jamie Stewart 15:07
And if she does need antibiotics for getting an infection, always making sure again, that you’re consulting with the veterinarian because any antibiotics we give is going to make that milk not safe to drink for human consumption. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re following appropriate milk withdrawal times. And a lot of times, everything that we use in goat is extra label. So that means the withdrawal times that we use on them become extended. You know, we want to make sure that we’re not- I know a lot of goat people just drink the milk themselves or use it for soaps and things like that. But, you know, even if you’re drinking it for yourself, we don’t want humans to drink those antibiotics because it can cause resistance for you. So if you get something and need that class of antibiotics, we want to make sure that you’re being safe too, and not consuming that type of residue.

Deborah Niemann 15:54
Yeah. So you mentioned a teat sealant and I assume you’re not talking about teat tape. Can you explain a teat sealant a little more? And I assume people would get that from their vet.

Jamie Stewart 16:06
You can get that from the vet. I think they sell it at most farm stores too. And it’s just kind of a thick substance that you- just like an intramammary antibiotic that you would infuse into the teat end. You would put the sealant into the end and it just, it just takes a little part of that end and kind of puts this little sticky substance. So if you do use a teat sealant like that, the big thing to know is it stays there. It doesn’t go anywhere. So then if you decide, if you breed her again and decide you’re going to need to have her lactating for the kids, you do need to milk that teat sealant out before she lets the kids start suckling again. So that’s the important thing to know about using that.

Deborah Niemann 16:49
Yeah, definitely important to know that. Thank you. And thank you for that great summary there too, that you had just before that last question I had. Well, this has been really informative and I think it’s going to help a lot of people who have does that suddenly have an udder that they were not expecting. So thanks for joining us today.

Jamie Stewart 17:08
Absolutely.

Deborah Niemann
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

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3 thoughts on “Precocious Udders in Goats”

  1. Well shoot. I have a Nigerian that has had a precocious udder for around one year. I do not milk her and I don’t feed grain. I really want kids from her. Is there anything I can do?

    Reply
    • Assuming she is not too old, you can breed her. If she has never kidded before, she should not be bred if she is three years old or older. The chances of complications goes up if they are a first freshener older than that.

      Reply
    • Hi Kaye
      Actually, breeding her may be the answer to correcting her precocious udder 🙂 Many times that takes care of the problem all together.
      ~Tammy

      Reply

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