I hear this often:
“I want to get a pet goat! I want it to be easy. I’ll get a wether.”
I hate to be the one to break this to you, but nothing about owning wethers (or any male goat) is easy. Wethers (castrated males) and bucks have different needs than female goats. They can’t eat anything and everything, and you can’t just raise them on “kibble” like dogs, or in this case, grain. Everything in a male goat’s diet can effect their urinary health. You have to carefully calculate their diets to ensure that they stay healthy. It’s not terribly hard once you get the hang of it—but it is not simple either; hence the need for this blog post. I work with people one-on-one to formulate safe diets for male goats, but the basics should be available to those who may just be surfing the ‘net’ and aren’t ready to reach out for a consultation yet!
What is Urinary Calculi?
Urinary Calculi (UC) is the formation of stones in the bladder and urethra. It is especially common in wethered males, because of their narrow and oddly-shaped urethras which are not able to develop fully due to castration before maturity. Bucks can suffer from UC as well. Does are less likely to have an issue with UC due to the shape of their urethras, which allows stones to easily pass. The younger the age at which goats are castrated, the more at-risk they are. It is recommended by experienced goat owners and scientific studies to castrate goats no earlier than 3-4 months of age.
A case of Urinary Calculi can be brought on by an imbalance in the calcium to phosphorus ratio. For optimal health, numerous studies have shown it is safest to keep male goats on a diet of 2:1 calcium to phosphorus. As high as 2.5:1 or 3:1 has also been reported to be safe. Thus, goats can tolerate more calcium than phosphorus. Too much phosphorus is often the cause of UC due to the overfeeding of grain, however, calcium stones can happen as well. Calcium stones will be more present in diets of high alfalfa, or with water sources that contain hard minerals.
Symptoms of Urinary Calculi may include, but are not limited to:
Straining to urinate, yelling, grinding teeth, kicking at stomach, dribbles of urine coming out during attempted urination, prolonged stance in an extended position with no urination, bloat (due to the inability to release waters, the bladder will begin to fill up), and other signs of pain, distress, and discomfort.
Prevention is much better than treatment. Standard medical treatment includes ammonium chloride (if caused by too much phosphorus), warm compress and massage to release stones in the urethra, anti-inflammatories, and if the situation has progressed, a veterinarian may perform a specific cut to the tip of the goat’s genitalia to remove stones blocking the path of urine. If none of this is successful, a surgery to re-route the goat’s urinary pathway (this will make a male goat pee as if a female goat would), may be undertaken. Treatment is not always successful, and prevention is always best.
See alternative treatments, complex analysis of magnesium ammonium phosphate and calcium oxalate stones, and common myths by clicking HERE.
So, how can you prevent UC?
One word: DIET!
Make sure your male goat(s) has the proper diet. One of the leading causes of UC is grain, which is a large source of phosphorus. But grain/feed can also be helpful for growing or underweight goats. So if it’s needed, we just have to balance it!
When I say “grain” in this blog post, I am talking about what you typically get at the feed store—a bag that says “goat grain” that you feed a scoop of to your goats. There are homemade “feeds” and there are whole grains as well—all of which will be discussed.
Calcium and Phosphorus Content of Feeds & Supplements Mentioned in this Post:
Common Sources of Phosphorus:
Pelleted Grains/Goat Feeds/Textured/Sweet Feed/Commercial Grain
Whole Grains/Oats/Corn/Barley, etc
Flax, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
*Leaning more neutral
Common Sources of calcium:
Hard Well Water with High Calcium
Other Legumes (lespedeza, peanut)
*Safer, milder forms
Preventing Urinary Calculi is all about maintaining proper balance. There are some things that should be avoided as leading causes and concerning foods. These include:
- Sweet Feed
- Cereal grains fed out of a balanced mix (oats, barley, etc.)
While these are some common “red flag feeds” to stay away from, there is a wide variety of feedstuffs that may or may not be safe depending on the situation. Grain, which is high in phosphorus (any grain, really–even the balanced ones labeled as 2:1 can still cause UC), is probably the most popular cause of UC.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “If too much grain is a leading cause for UC, why don’t I just not feed grain?” You are correct to think this, as grain/feed really isn’t necessary for most male goats. They don’t lactate, they don’t grow kids inside of them, and they really don’t have too much work to do (unless they are pack wethers, which should be treated the same as the growing/underweight category). The only time that I may recommend a grain or a feed of some sort is if a goat is young and growing, or if they are underweight (sometimes a rough rut for a buck can lead to weight loss). But not everyone has to feed pelleted grains, there are options for homemade balanced feeds which can be used as well.
Another common concern of UC is high-calcium feeds such as alfalfa. Alfalfa is a heavily-debated feed product, especially in the topic of male goat diets. Interestingly, alfalfa can cause cause UC, but it can also be the thing that protects your goat from developing UC. In a high phosphorus diet, adequate calcium is needed to balance the ratio. The amount of calcium your goat can tolerate, however, depends on other independent variables in your goat’s diet. One very important one is your water source. Hard, high calcium water can impact your goat’s calcium to phosphorus ratio more than you may think! A difference in water sources is often why one person may be able to feed a high-grain diet with no problems, and another may suffer consequences from it. Many feed products do not mix well with hard water, one of which being beet pulp, which should really only be fed in severe weight loss cases for those who have hard water. Much of beet pulp’s calcium is tied up in oxalates, which leads it to creating stones much more easily than the calcium in alfalfa or other high calcium forage products with more available and absorbable calcium. That does not mean it should not be fed–just use it with caution and under the advice of a professional/mentor. Many other feed products, supplements, etc. have similar concerns. Alfalfa may not be suitable for most goats on a hard water diet. There is no one-size-fits-all diet.
I have created a “flow chart” which uses certain independent variables (ones that can easily change the course of a diet) to guide you to the best paths of feeding for your male goats:
Formulating a balanced diet is the foundation of UC prevention. You also should watch your male goats very closely, as treatment prognoses are better when UC is caught earlier. Lastly, make sure you know the different kinds of UC (two separate causes, phosphorus-caused and calcium-caused) so you know how to treat it.
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.