Your Goats Digestive System - Important Facts
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Goats are Ruminant animals. Their digestive tracts , which are similar to those of cattle, sheep and deer, consist of the Mouth, Esophagus , Four Stomach Compartments, a Small Intestine and Large Intestine.
By learning about how each component works together and how to help maintain the healthy bacterial balance within them, you will have a much higher ability to prevent and or correct many digestive complications, including unnecessary fatalities.
Understand how your Goat Digests and Avoid Tragedies
Most health problems start within the goat digestive system. Aside from kidding complications or losses due to goat predators, many fatalities among new goat owners stem from digestive complications like Bloat, Acidosis and Enterotoxemia .
The goat is a member of a class of animals called Ruminants. These animals ruminate their food (chew their cud). Like other Ruminant animals, goats have no upper teeth. Goats depend on the dental pad in front of the hard palate, lower incisor teeth, lips and tongue to take food into their mouths.
Unlike us, they have special four-compartment stomachs especially designed to digest roughage (food high in fiber) such as grass, hay and silage.
Chewing is the first step in processing the food.
It goes down into the Rumen to be attacked and broken down or digested by the micro-organisms.
Goats and other Ruminants eat quickly, a behavior that developed in the wild where the areas containing the best food may also be in the most dangerous locations. Once safe and rested, Ruminants then regurgitate the food and chew it again as cud before it travels back into the Rumen to be broken down further.
At regular intervals the cud is brought back up to the goat’s mouth to be chewed on some more and then swallowed again. This entire process is called Rumination.
If you watch the goat’s neck carefully, you can see him swallow and later regurgitate his cud. The goat will often burp to get rid of the gas produced by all the fermentation going on in his Rumen.
Lets Follow the Digestive Tract
Food first travels from the
Mouth into the Rumen -- then to the
Reticulum -- then up to the
Omasum -- and finally the
Abomasum -- before entering the intestines.
The Rumen acts as a Big Fermentation Vat.
A goat’s Rumen is located on the left-hand side. Bacteria and protozoa in the Rumen supply enzymes to break down the fiber in the goat’s feed. This is similar to how bacteria can ferment
the sugars in grape juice to make wine in big wine barrels.
You can really smell the fermentation process on a goat’s breath. If something causes the goat to stop being able to burp up the gases, the gas will build up and bloat or swell up his rumen and he may become very sick with “Bloat”.
The tiny organisms also help to build proteins from the feed and manufacture all of the B vitamins needed by the goat.
Many nutrients that help provide the goat with energy are also absorbed here. Two primary types of rumen microbes - fiber digesting, and starch (grain) digesting
The Reticulum Once the food particles of cud become small enough, they pass to the second compartment or Reticulum. . Here any foreign objects that may have been accidentally swallowed with the feed settle out in the honeycomb structure of the Reticulum’s walls. Another name for the Reticulum is the “Hardware Stomach”.
Omasum The fermenting particles then pass on to the Omasum .The Omasum removes the water from them and also absorbs more nutrients called volatile fatty acids, as well as breaking down protiens that help supply the goat with energy.
Abomasum The particles are then forced into the Abomasum also called the "True Stomach". Here, the particles are digested by the stomach acid, hydrochloric acid (HCl). This form of digestion is the same as what occurs in our human stomachs.
The Small Intestines The remaining particles are then passed on to the small intestine where most of the nutrients are absorbed by the body and made available to the goat. The small intestine is a 100 foot-long, 1 inch-wide tube.
As partially digested feed enters the small intestine, enzymes produced and secreted by the pancreas and small intestinal mucosa further breakdown feed nutrients into simple compounds that are absorbed into the bloodstream.
The Large Intestine
Some of the Common Goat Digestive Issues
Acidosis and Enterotoxemia The goat digestive system needs specific microbes,
in a specific balance. And tragedies happen if that balance upsets. In order to keep bacteria levels high, goats need a diet high in crude fiber.
If healthy, they eat enough fiber to keep bacteria high enough to
metabolize potential toxins like tannins found in oak leaves.
That is why you will see them gnawing on bark or twigs,
which may seem otherwise inedible.
Goats often forage for enough crude fiber, or they consume it from eating hay with thick stems, but they may not receive enough of this fiber if they have high-grain diets.
Acidosis is when the rumen’s pH goes from too low, often from a lack of bacterial action. An overload of carbohydrates can cause it. Acidosis in goats, also called lactic acidosis or toxic ingestion, can be either acute (sudden, from a sudden change in feed) or chronic (from a consistent supply of the wrong feed.)
Highly lethal Enterotoxemia in goats, also called "Overeating Disease" or Pulpy Kidney disease, isn’t directly caused by overeating. It’s caused by the toxin created when bacteria Clostridium perfringens types C and D flourish, and they can only flourish under certain conditions such as elevated starch and sugar within the goat stomach.
Avoid enterotoxemia in goats by providing the CDT toxoid according to the correct goat vaccination schedule. Though the CDT vaccine protects against both Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium tetani within one shot, a Clostridium C&D antitoxin and a tetanus antitoxin for goats are two separate products and cannot be interchanged to treat other clostridial diseases in goats.
Goat Bloat (ruminal tympany), another problem when the goat digestive system is unbalanced, kills quickly. Sudden access to excess grain, or overconsumption of lush or frozen legumes such as alfalfa and clover, can cause frothy bloat while esophageal blockage that prevents belching can cause free gas bloat.
Another cause, sudden food changes, upsets the rumen’s bacterial balance so much that it cannot effectively digest. Recommended goat bloat treatment includes addressing the cause (dislodging an obstruction), massaging the rumen area, or drenching with mineral oil for frothy bloat. However, do not administer the mineral oil without a feeding tube, as this can drain oil into the lungs.
Experts at goats.extension.org recommend administering sodium bicarbonate by mouth to neutralize acute acidosis. They also recommend magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) or magnesium oxide. If a goat suffers from acidosis, they may soon suffer from polioencephalomalacia (thiamin deficiency). If treating goat acidosis, contact a veterinarian in case severe complications occur. Provide probiotics after a rumen crisis to replace those beneficial microbes as soon as possible.
Other Benefits for Ruminants Other benefits of the digestive system other than allowing goats to digest dense plant fibers are the ability to synthesize vitamins and proteins. Thanks to the bacteria that live in the rumen, these microbes can synthesize all necessary B vitamins. Goats can also synthesize protein from nitrogen gas left over from the digestive process in addition to protein that’s been ingested. Finally, goat’s digestive systems have some protective qualities such as the ability to detoxify certain levels of tannin found in browse and feed. However, high concentrations of tannins can have negative effects on goat health.
Providing adequate, fibrous hay for goats, woody browse, or feeding whole, un-hulled grains instead of finely ground grain can prevent acidosis.
Administering CDT shots for goats prevents enterotoxemia. Keeping the goat digestive system healthy is one basic step toward responsible and caring husbandry.
Ruminate on that!
Sources: https://goats.extension.org/2019/08/goat-nutrition-gi-tract/ https://goats.extension.org/2019/08/acidosis/ Enterotoxemia in Sheep and Goats https://goats.extension.org/2019/08/goat-bloat/ References: Purdue University:https://extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AS/AS-628-W.pdf Mississippi State University: http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/publications/understanding-the-ruminant-animal-digestive-system Washington State University: https://extension.wsu.edu/animalag/resources/small-ruminants/