The Rumen Rumors: How Goat Stomachs Work (Troubleshooting and Treating Digestive Issues)

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Have you ever been told, “goats can eat anything”? No, no they cannot. 

The rumors of goats being able to consume almost anything come from the fact that the four-chambered stomachs of ruminants allow them to digest very differently than humans, and easily digest certain things that sound odd to us. But there are many things, however, that goats cannot digest.

For starters, do not feed your goats trash. No cans, no plastic, and so on. While goats are able to digest plastic more easily than they can certain lawn plants, it is still not something you want to feed your goats (if you can avoid it).

There are many poisonous foods for goats. But there are also simple “poisons” when it comes to actions in a diet. By “poison” I don’t mean instant death, but I do mean something that can cause a major digestive upset. This could be something as simple as switching the kind of grain you feed. 

ANY changes made to a goat’s diet (or life), should be accompanied by a rumen’s best friend: probiotics. 

  • Going to switch hay or feed? PROBIOTICS!
  • Moving your goats or causing them stress? PROBIOTICS! 
  • Overate some grain? PROBIOTICS!
  • Too big of a pasture belly? I’ll say it again—PROBIOTICS!

In case you haven’t caught on, I’m a big fan of probiotics, and so are my goats!

While goats are meant to forage and eat new things, some goats that are accustomed to a more domesticated diet of lots of hay and grain, may have issues adjusting to new foods such as lush pasture or forage. 

The most commonly observed digestive issue is bloat. Bloat is the buildup of gasses in a goat’s rumen that causes the appearance of “bloating” particularly on the left side of a goat’s stomach. The goat will show signs of discomfort as the gas inside the goat is unable to be passed. Goats burp thousands of times daily, so imagine if one is unable to do this due to bloat. That would make them exceptionally uncomfortable, and can become a life threatening issue if not remedied. Bloat can be alleviated differently based on the situation. Sometimes a simple massage, probiotics, and baking soda, will do the trick. Often times a baking soda and olive oil drench is necessary. Extensive emergency efforts can also be done by a veterinary professional. Once a goat starts to pass gas (by burping or farting) you know what you are doing is helping. 

Now that you understand how complex the rumen is, by learning that if goats don’t burp it can actually kill them, I am going to begin explaining long term support to have a healthy rumen/gut flora.

Make sure to introduce new things slowly:

When switching hay, grains, or adding a new food or treat to your goat’s diet, make sure to do it gradually.

Don’t overfeed grain products or protein:

While protein is necessity in a goat’s diet, extensive overfeeding of something like alfalfa or grain can often cause rumen upsets. Ever had goats break into their grain bins? That can cause some nasty tummy difficulties, so make sure that your goats are kept on a steady ration of protein and feed, ensuring that they do well with the amount and the form.

Well-cured hay:


Hay should cure for approximately 3 months after being baled before being fed to goats. Overly rich and not-fully-dried hay can also upset the rumen, especially in very sensitive goats. One of my young wethers has shown to be more sensitive to dietary factors. With him, I take extra care to ensure any hay is VERY cured, and feed in general is monitored carefully. 

This brings us to my next topic, preventative and treatment measures for the rumen:

Raw Apple Cider Vinegar:

Adding raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) to your goats’ water is a wonderful way of getting good probiotics in, helping with digestion, balancing PH, and even aids in the absorption of minerals.

Probiotics (Probios):

As mentioned before, every goat owner should have some probios on hand. (I like THIS oral gel brand!) I don’t like to give probiotics regularly; I know some goat owners who are tempted to feed it every day. I prefer to keep probiotics waiting as a tool for when I suspect there could be a problem, so my goats don’t become reliant on having it every day. It is surely a useful supplement, and is my “go-to” for digestive issues.

Baking Soda:

I am not a fan of feeding “free choice” baking soda. This is mainly because I focus on male goat health, and sodium bicarbonate is not safe for them to eat on a regular basis. It de-acidifies their urine, thus causing the formation of stones (Urinary Calculi). With that being said, baking soda is a useful tool when there is a rumen issue, such as bloat. Goats produce their own bicarbonate, so baking soda provided free choice is in no way a necessity. But for those of you who do not have males to be concerned about, there is no immediate harm caused by feeding female goats free choice baking soda. For any gender of goat, though, during a time of a rumen issue, baking soda should be offered to them or given in a forceful way depending on the severity of the situation. 

Herbs and Supplements:

I like to keep Slippery Elm Bark on hand at all times. It is a good digestive aid and provides soothing effect on the stomach and throat. I also love the herb mix GI Soother, from FirMeadow LLC. These two are wonderful for continuous digestive support. Another great formula for digestive issues is GI Back on Tract from Land of Havilah Herbals. This is a truly wonderful formula and I will talk more about it below. If you do not have an herb mix, a good substitute for an immediate situation is my “tummy trouble paste” which is a combination of garlic, ginger, cayenne, slippery elm, apple cider vinegar, and molasses. (1 clove raw fresh garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger powder [or fresh ginger: one round, quarter/coin sized, slice about 1/2 cm thick], 1 teaspoon slippery elm bark powder, 1 teaspoon olive oil [in cases of bloat/other digestive upsets — not necessary for all situations]. Molasses, apple cider vinegar, and water to liquify. Best given as drench, but can be cut into multiple small doses and mixed with flaxseed meal to form balls, or fed in small amounts using 3-5cc/ml syringes or a spoon.) 

When it comes to “emergency” supplements … activated charcoal is a must. If there is a case of poisoning, from a plant or food (or pesticide, etc.), activated charcoal cleanses the goat. There is also Milk of Magnesia, a helpful laxative which can and be given alone to move a substance quickly out of a goat’s body, or along with charcoal to do the same. Land of Havilah Herbals has a formula which was mentioned above, called GI Back on Tract, which contains wonderful and cleansing herbs for any severe digestive upset. In the case of rumen failure, drastic measures can be taken to “jumpstart” the rumen to save the life of a goat. A rumen transfaunation or rumen transfer, which is the transferring of one goat’s cud to another, and other forms of strong probiotics and microbes, can get the rumen functioning again. When probiotics are unavailable, many people suggest fermentation products like yogurt or kefir, dark beer (lightly carbonated/flat [room temp]), and raw apple cider vinegar. 

I also want to talk a bit about scours. Scours is a term for diarrhea in goats. Scours can have many causes, worms, overeating, poisonings (as mentioned above) and just about anything else. If the cause of scours is undetermined, or points towards parasites, it is important to do a fecal test on your goats to check for parasites. But there are numerous causes for diarrhea, some that may not even have occurred to you…

Recently, we moved our goats to a new barn across property, right outside our backyard. The move caused stress and confusion. Due to the new surroundings, the goats did not care for their hay, water, or hanging out in their new barn — they just wanted grass! It is a goat’s instinct to want to “eat eat eat” when they feel unsure of a new place; they eat as much as they can in case it is gone the next day. That is their instinct. Our goats were not as familiar with lush pasture, and spending all day and all night on it, caused some problems. The morning after the move, one of my boys was experiencing some tummy troubles. I won’t get too detailed, but the grass and stress combined made for some very loose bowel movements. Of course, our other boy was completely fine. Eddie, the one who was experiencing this, often grazes more and that can sometimes result in a “clumpy poop” or “pinecone poop” as we like to call it. He is notoriously sensitive to too much grass. We don’t experience bowel problems often, so I pulled out all the stops. 

How we treated this “diarrheal incident”:

Probiotics 1 or 2x daily (supports the rumen)

Fir Meadow LLC’s GI Soother given 3x throughout the day (digestive support, + dewormer)

Slippery elm powder given multiple times throughout the day/hourly (digestive support, specifically for diarrhea)

Land of Havilah Herbals’ GI Back on Tract given 2x (cleansing, liver support, supports the body in removal of waste and toxins)

DoTerra’s DigestZen essential oil blend (1 drop) (helps with any digestive issues)

Lemongrass essential oil (1 drop) (helps with scours and parasites)

Cayenne single herb (stimulates appetite — by providing b vitamins, raises energy level)

So with all of this, and a very long day of mixing up different applesauce formulas to get these supplements in, the entire family was ready to throw a party when he finally passed a nice poop with some separate berries (term for the average, round, goat pellets). It took about 2-3 days for him to steadily go from diarrhea, to cow pie poop, to dog poop, to pinecone coop, to normal berries. I cannot say which of all these things really “did it” and helped him, but I believe that all of them worked synergistically together to help him through this rough transition.

Maintaining the healthy function of a goat’s rumen is extremely important. Balanced diets, good nutrition, and thoughtful changes to a goat’s life are some of the best ways to prevent issues. While treatment is almost always successful when caught early enough, digestive issues — and any other issues in goats — are best prevented, not treated. If you would like to converse further on balancing individual diets, you can contact me via email or by messaging me on social media. Please check out my post describing a baseline balanced diet, What to Feed Your Goats: A Detailed Diet Explanation.

Overall, it is important to have a diet that makes for a stable rumen environment, and a plan of action in case of a rumen mishap, to ensure your goats live long, happy, healthy lives.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner. 

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