The Role Of Probiotics In Caprine Health
A goat is a ruminant who digests its feed using live bacteria that resides in its stomachs and intestines. These bacteria must constantly replenish themselves for the goat's digestive system to be able to function properly. Events which decrease or kill off these live bacteria threaten the health and sometimes the life of the goat.
Overeating disease (enterotoxemia) is only one of many rumen-related diseases which can kill a goat. In this illness, the goat consumes so much feedstuffs that the bacteria are used up and the remaining undigested material cannot be processed, turns toxic, and kills the goat by poisoning the animal from within. Hence, the name "entero" (from within) "toxemia" (toxicity/poisoning).
The usage of antibiotics and anti-scour (diarrhea) medications kills live bacteria. The stress of weaning , of transporting the goat from location to location, and of de-worming/vaccinating also negatively affects live bacteria. In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to state that probably 99% of all common goat illnesses involve changes in the rumen. So it is vital to keep that rumen healthy and functioning at its optimum level.
The term probiotics describes a class of nonprescription oral medications which works to boost the population of live bacteria in the gut of the goat. Probiotic means "for life." They are naturally-occurring beneficial organisms that aid in digestion and inhibit the production of disease-producing bacteria in the intestines. Probiotics are used to supplement and/or replace used up natural bacteria which flourish inside the goat's digestive system. More producers are beginning to use these products as a form of preventative medicine. In a sick goat, pathogens (disease-causing bacteria) take the place of the "good" bacteria; probiotic therapy seeks to fill the intestinal sites with "good" bacteria so that the "bad" bacteria cannot attach and cause illness.
Probiotics are used with newborn goats because the bacterial count in their intestines is low to nil and begins to be populated as the rumen develops. Because a byproduct of both antibiotics and scour medications is the killing off of essential live bacteria, probiotics should be used when treatment is completed. Some producers choose to use a probiotic daily during treatment.
Ohio State University's Veterinary Preventative Medicine department is researching this under-appreciated area of ruminant health. The effects of using probiotics on such pathogens as E. coli, camplyobacter, and salmonella are being studied. For example, lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the bacteria found in the intestines of goats that emits a substance that makes the intestines and stomachs more acidic, therefore less susceptible to pathogens. It is always better to prevent disease before it occurs, because with illness comes economic loss, reduced feed efficiency, and sometimes death of the animal.
While probiotics are no "wonder" drug, they can be a good preventative medicine tool. A major limiting factor in the use of probiotics has been resolved . . . finding the particular bacteria that are specific to goats so that they can be utilized. Keeping the products stable so that they don't degrade inside the packaging has improved tremendously, too. Probiotics come in gel form in pre-measured plunger tubes (Probios and Goat Gard are two brand names) and in freeze-dried powder form for mixing with feed or in water (FASTRACK is an example).
Probiotics cost about as much as antibiotics as a general rule, so the expense should not deter most producers. Just as overeating/tetanus vaccinations are encouraged, so should the use of probiotics.