It started with Penny.
She was a 6 year old Nigerian Dwarf that I purchased from a friend. Her registered name was Red Lotus Ni Hao Kai Lan, but she looked just like a ‘Penny’ to us, so we gave her the nickname and had high hopes for her becoming a foundation doe on our farm — given her amazing milking records.
Now that I know what I know, I can see looking back that it all started with weak pasterns (ankles) in Penny — a classic Selenium deficiency, along with some toe separation — a sign of Copper deficiency.
At the time I was trying my best to feed quality hay & grain at the stand during milking, give access to pasture, and some treats from the garden. I gave my goats a sprinkling of minerals here and there and had put a mineral block in their pen, but because we were raising sheep at the time, it was tough to offer free choice minerals 24-7, since sheep are highly sensitive to copper and can’t have the same mineral blend.
Because Penny was a great milker, had easy deliveries, and never got sick — I assumed she was in tip-top shape. But looking back I can now see there were early signs I could have caught and fixed before they became worse.
Penny started to limp soon after her first delivery on our farm. I noticed she would hold her right leg up when she rose from a laying position, but after a few limps, she would go back to a normal gait. Over time it continued to get worse until she always limped and then began to not walk at all, but for a time it was very slight. During the progression of her leg issues (known as carpal hyperextension), I gave some occasional Selenium but always associated the limping with some sort of injury. (We’d had goats in the past injure a leg and walk with a slight limp, so I assumed this was the same thing.)
Then came Willow.
Willow was a singleton baby born out of Penny on March 1st, 2018. She was adorable and sweet and we instantly fell in love. We decided to keep her and we were so excited about her future. (At this point, Penny was limping, but only occasionally, and we were still assuming it was due to a past injury.) Willow grew well and we never noticed a leg problem (see picture below). Now looking at it I can see some split toes and slight fishtailing (sign of copper deficiency)
The discovery of the genetic tendency
Fast forward to May 2020 and Willow (Penny’s daughter) had recently delivered triplets. I had Willow on the stand for milking and noticed a drastic bend in her legs. I was devastated because I knew this meant it had to be a genetic issue. Whether it was a tendency to be deficient in minerals or a true genetic body conformation issue, I wasn’t sure — but it was still so disheartening to see it develop in a such a young goat. I also thought maybe it had arose from the stress of going through labor & delivery, but still, it was frustrating to see.
I dove headfirst into research about it — tried my hand at some supplementation, and got as much advice as I could from various goat owners. Some recommended lots of Selenium, Copper, B12 shots, & Zinc, some said cull her, and some said don’t give any minerals at all and just let her be. I finally found a blog post from Pholia Farm titled “The Limping Goat” and a facebook group of other Nigerian Dwarf owners who had the same problem (carpal hyperextension). The stories I read were depressing — many had tried various things without much reversal. Everybody in the group has come to the conclusion that there can be many different causes as to why this happens.
Some have had an initial injury (fracture or sprain) then developed CH (carpal hyperextension) as they recovered. Some had the same issue show up in similar lines (much like our experience), and some had it pop up randomly and never show up in their herd again.
After all I’ve researched and experienced, it’s my opinion that some goats can have a higher tendency to suffer from mineral deficiencies than others. It’s my theory that it can often show up in high performing milkers, the “very dairy goats” as they say, since are using a lot of nutrients and their bodies put a lot of focus into milk production. I also am highly suspect that, in general, mineral deficient goats tend to be the “picky eaters”. You know the type *wink*wink* — they’re the ones who turn up their noses at anything new, and will be less likely to hang out by the mineral station you’ve set up. This is completely a theory of mine, nothing proven — just throwing my observations out there.
Treating Carpal Hyperextension
In October 2020, I was still at a loss as what to do for Willow. Here are some of the previous treatments I had tried:
- I had tried to remove alfalfa from her diet (a goat owner told me the high calcium can block the absorption of zinc)
- I had been giving her BoSe injections (selenium & Vit E), but really hadn’t noticed that much of a difference in Willow or Penny for that matter.
- I had also tried the Pat Coleby mix, without any noticeable difference. Penny was actually becoming worse — having a much harder time walking and spending most of her days lying around. (Around November Penny started showing less interest in eating, didn’t want to walk at all, and we made the decision to put her down. She was 10 1/2 years old and we felt it was time, though I was pretty disappointed I couldn’t help her or ease her pain)
That’s when Hannah of www.thegivinggoat.com reached out to me. She had seen this before in one of her clients and had offered to help me try to reverse it. Although the list of treatments seemed long, I decided to give it one last good try to see if I could get any sort of reversal. Here’s what we did, along with some progress pictures.
Willow’s Carpal Hyperextension treatment
Step 1: BODY ASSESSMENT
We started by ignoring the carpal hyperextension for a second and instead looked at her overall health & body structure. Stepping back, how did she look? Hannah showed me that Willow had a definite fishtail (sign of copper deficiency) and weak pasterns (ankles), which can be a sign of selenium deficiency. She also suspected she may be low in Boron as well as Vitamin A&D.
Step 2: PARASITE CHECK
While parasite loads rarely cause something like this, a slow burn (chronic issue) can contribute to many odd issues. Hannah recommended a fecal test is be performed to make sure. FAMACHA checks are helpful but not always telling the entire story, so I ran a test and thankfully, Willow’s parasite levels were good. The lab I used is www.meadowmistlabservice.com
Step 3: DIET CHECK
At the time I had Willow completely off alfalfa, in hopes that reducing the amount of calcium in her diet would help balance her zinc. She recommended the following:
? MAIN DIET:
- 95% diet of bermuda/timothy/teff/orchard grass/alfalfa
- Switch my milking does from pre-mixed grain at the stand to the following (2 part oats, 2 part alfalfa pellets, 1 part barley, 1 part field peas, 1/2 part black oil sunflower seeds, mix this half and half with alfalfa pellets & feed 1 cup at the stand)
? FREE CHOICE FEEDERS:
- Mix of 10 lbs. Kelp (supplies calcium & iodine) with 16oz. Herbamins powder and offer free choice
- Redmond Sea salt
- Sweetlix Magnum Milk mineral blend
- 1 brazil nut (good source selenium)
Step 4: HOOF TRIMMING
Her hooves looked okay, but I admit, I’m sure I’d missed some trimmings in the past. So I made a reminder to stick to it monthly for Willow and so we could make sure her foundation was strong.
Step 5: SUPPLEMENT DOSING
- Cod Liver Oil (0.1cc per 2.2 lbs.) Give twice daily for 3 days, then twice a week for 2 weeks.
Because I had given Willow a lot of Selenium over the past year, Hannah recommended we start with her Vitamin A&D as well as Boron levels first. Vitamin A&D can be given with an injection, but she noticed that cod liver oil seems to work well, so I went with that instead.
- Boron (1/2 tsp) – called sodium borate – Give weekly. (mix with applesauce & give via drench gun or dosage ball) Boron helps their bodies absorb Vitamin D. (source)
- Copper Bolus (1 gram per 22 lbs.)
Step 6: PHYSICAL THERAPY/ACUPUNCTURE
I admit, I haven’t been able to make this a priority, but I wanted to put what Hannah recommended here just in case it could help someone.
“Acupuncture/acupressure/massage and chiropractic is incredibly helpful to promote the healing. I work with acupressure, and I will get you a regimen and the points you need later today so you can begin that treatment yourself. So sorry if it’s hard to see in the photo, I can get you another diagram. Point 56 (on the outside of the rear leg behind the leg bone) and point 60 (on the rear leg behind the leg bone where it meets the hock) are the ones you want. And while they say bladder points and that may be counter-intuitive, they are specifically linked to what you are dealing with. Do the opening massage first, do some work on those points in small circular motions, and then do the closing massage. Not sure if you have any animal acupuncturists in your area but I do highly recommend them for any goats with deformities. I helped a goat a year or two back who had bending in his spine and leg deformities. Frequent acupuncture really sped up the recovery with his minerals. When the gets “stuck” it can be a catalyst to help heal. Minerals may fix her levels internally and they do fix things externally, but for Penny as an advanced case who has been suffering from this for a while, she may need extra physical-therapy like support.”
I’ve never had to pay more attention to a goat’s legs in my life haha, and in doing so I noticed that Willow is very hard to catch in her “natural position”. Every time I tried to snap a picture she’d lean back and stretch into that hyperextension position that it would drive me crazy! But I think it’s safe to say that from the pictures she is slowly improving. I still feel she has more room for improvement — I’d really like to see that knee “pop” out like it should.
What a normal goat should look like:
I thought it’d be good to share what we’re going for in terms of normal, strong legs. Here is a pic of a junior doeling from Amy of Tua Farms. Notice the straight pasterns (ankles) and slight knee pop.
The future of Willow in our herd
I decided to retain one doeling & one buckling, in an effort to keep a close eye on their legs as they develop and so nobody else would keep breeding this line if it truly was genetic and not just a genetic tendency to need more minerals.
So far I’m happy to report they (as of 8 month old) are doing great and I’ll keep watching to see if carpal hyperextension develops in them.
While I’m excited to breed Winston & Winnie, I’m a little more hesitant to breed Willow again. I’d really like to see if she fully improves as well as see how her two kids, Winnie & Winston, develop fully into adulthood. So for now, I’m holding off breeding Willow again until (and only if) I see a full reversal in her legs that shows me it truly is a mineral deficiency and something that can be fixed.
Signs of Mineral Deficiencies
Currently, I’m assessing Willow monthly to watch for deficiencies or improvement. We’re looking at signs of copper, selenium, zinc, & boron deficiencies — and we’ll dose as we see problems pop up. Hannah has noticed that goats who are on the free choice minerals listed above tend to not need any additional dosing of minerals, so we’re watching Willow closely to see if it’ll work the same for her.
I’ll definitely keep you all updated!
Here are some common signs of mineral deficiencies:
- Fishtail (tail hair tip balding, making a “V” shape)
- Black color turning red/rusty colored
- Dull coat color
- Rough or wiry coat
- Hair curling up at tips or becoming curly and rough
- Balding around the eyes or bridge of nose
- Susceptibility to parasites & general unthriftiness
- Anemia (in severe cases)
- Turned out toes (either trimming or copper)
- Flaky/Dry Skin
- Poor coat condition
- Poor hoof health
- Low libido/infertility
- Balding around eyes or face
- Increased susceptibility to external parasites
- Turned down/crooked/weak tails
- Leg/joint weaknesses
- Weak pasterns/slipper feet
- Weak/Floppy kids
- Retained Placenta
- Still Births
Putting Penny down
Unfortunately, about a month after I started this treatment plan, Penny was actually becoming worse — having a much harder time walking and spending most of her days lying around. She finally stopped eating, didn’t want to walk at all, and we made the decision to put her down. She was 10 1/2 years old and we felt it was time, though I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t help her. She was a great milker and an even better mother. I’m hoping I can improve her line through Willow, Winnie, & Winston — and that we can finally put this leg problem behind us for good:)
Hannah at The Giving Goat
I want to give a shoutout to Hannah since she has helped my goats so much! Hannah runs a blog, Instagram, and Facebook all dedicated to Natural Goat Care. She offers private consulting with goat owners – anything from brand new goats (she has a Natural Goat Care Academy for new owners) to someone with an emergency on a Sunday when they can’t get ahold of a vet. She’s incredibly detailed and knowledgable about all things goats. Reach out to her for help if you are dealing with this problem:)
Unfortunately, this morning we noticed a slight bend in Winston’s left front leg. This confirms that despite giving him plenty of minerals & supplements since & having a sire who scored high on his LA for his legs — he developed it. I am SO glad I kept him so I could keep a close eye. Winnie looks great as of now, but I have decided to completely stop this line. Willow & Winnie will no longer be bred and Winston will be castrated surgically by our vet soon.
After all my research and experience in this has taught me that if a trait shows up just once (as in Willow displaying the same legs as Penny), it’s definitely genetic and unstoppable. Sure, it may just be a genetic tendency, but even if that were the case, it’s best to stop the line because a goat with so many mineral issues shouldn’t be bred either. Hopefully you can all learn from my journey and know that as tough as it is to stop breeding a line that you’ve invested so much time and money into — it’s important to do that so the breed can be improved and you don’t affect other owners in the future with problems like these:)