Alternatively: The Story of Elizabeth, the Saanen Maiden Milker

Well, it took us by surprise too! Having decided that we would keep goats specifically for fleece (mohair) and meat provision, we had focussed all our learning on these perspectives. So we were very curious when we found ourselves with a goat with a peculiar condition named Precocious Udder Syndrome.

We decided to step our efforts to one side and include dairy goats purely for selfish reasons. HEALTH. If you came to this section of our website by search engine, you won’t be aware that I (Melody, the author) have ME/CFS and a bundle of other conditions which have arisen out of living on high adrenalin throughout life due to childhood trauma. Recent conversation with our new doctor in France (October 2019) brought forth the steps to work on improving my digestive symptoms. The Doc was talking about how the recommendation to switch to soy products instead of dairy (in this case automatically meaning cow based). Its now 2019, and recently, science argues that there are far more dangers than benefits of soy for the human body function, so the doctor was at a loss of what to recommend. Having recently obtained our Angora Goat starter herd for fleece production, I carefully mooted an idea to her about whether changing to goat milk would have any benefits. The doctor sat up straight and asked whether we would be comfortable with going that route as she thinks it is an excellent idea hence, a few days later, we were picking up our first dairy girls – two 3yr old Saanen maiden goats who had been kept as pets up till now.

Left to Right: June & Elizabeth – our Starter Kit Saanen Dairy Goats

It was at the point of collection that specific news was sprung on us. One of the girls, though never put to buck for reproduction was prone to producing milk regardless. We had purchased a girl with “Precocious Udder Syndrome”, formerly known as a “Maiden Milker”. Okay, we figured this wasn’t an issue as she had dried for the end of this season, and we planned to put her to a buck for reproduction anyhow. Nothing more was thought about it, other than this might be a potential advantage in some way, alongside how much work we need to do this winter to prepare a milking stand and other facilities.

It wasn’t until seven days later, when she presented us with a hot and painful half udder at 6pm on Sunday evening that we thought to look into this nuance further. Information available online was found to be limited regarding precocious udder on the whole. What was available, appeared to be very negative as to their long term wellbeing and sustainability. I searched, long into the morning hours, through books and websites, hoping for some insight on how to relieve and support this lady of ours quickly, perhaps even before the vet opened in the morning.

We now feel that it may be of benefit to others if we created a section on our website to give information on how we proceed with this girl, the downsides and the upsides, in the hope of providing whatever enlightenment we can on owning, breeding and everything else in between, of a goat with precocious udder.

Well, thats the introduction to the what and why covered. What happens next?

GOAT JARGON: Did you know that the udders of a goat are referred to as the Quarters? Bizarre as the udder is actually divided into halves.

As new dairy goat keepers, yet several weeks into keeping Angora Goats, plus a few months into keeping Alpaca for fleece, we thought we had a little time to work a few things out. Mostly because we were entering into full Autumn, and the goats would need general care until Spring, when we would hopefully have babies due. WRONG!

Mastitis in Goats

Exactly one week after arriving, we discovered poor Elizabeth lying down, and clearly unhappy. She only got up at our request, and we saw that one side of her udder was enlarged, hot and hard to touch, whilst the other side was flacid and empty. We immediately thought mastitis, but being new to dairy, didn’t wish to presume too much. So, we set about checking her out on a very physical and observation level:

  • Overall appearance, movement, etc.
  • Eyes – looking at pupils, colour inside eyelid
  • Temperature – is she running a fever
  • Is it possible to milk her (without distress)
  • Is the milk normal – does it have odour, change in colour, blood in it, clots in it
  • Is the whole udder affected or just one half/teat
  • Does milking relieve or make things worse
  • Photographs of the problem
  • Is she eating/drinking
  • When did she first display the symptoms/when was the last time she was observed as well
  • Is she still interacting with the remainder of the herd
  • Is there any bruising or injury from her recent and first ever experience of tupping with the buck

With all the information we gathered, we still thought mastitis. Now, my only experience of this was having the condition myself about 18 months after my own pregnancy. I certainly had sympathy for how she would be feeling.

We kept a close view, whilst daylight would allow. I spent the night hours researching. Advice in books and online was varied from:

  • Leave it alone, it will sort itself out
  • Vet treatment urgently, otherwise you could lose your goat or, at minimum, ruin her udders
  • Homeopathic remedies

I opted for standing on the doorstep of the vets so I was there as soon as they opened on Monday morning, armed with my photographs and checklist of observation details to give him for a diagnosis. He was very impressed with my attention to detail (or was just being very nice to the English woman with a bad case of Goat Keeper Anxiety). Five minutes later, I was armed with antibiotics and syringes to inject twice per day for three days.

Before we departed the UK for good, I went on a course at Cockerham Boers to learn Basic Goat Keeping/Husbandry and participate in the Kidding Weekend delivering babies. So I was quite well prepared for giving the injection, thanks to Sharon Peacock and her thorough teaching. I do recommend that you do what you can to obtain some hands on experience before getting your first goats, even if it is simply going to spend a day with people who already keep them. It will alleviate a lot of early concerns that may occur, and you get to ask lots of questions that are important to you and the welfare of the animals.

The next part was also a contradiction of information in books and online. The matter of whether to let the antibiotics just do the job, or to milk throughout the treatment. We went with our vet advice to milk every few hours: first of all to relieve pressure, secondly to remove the bacteria that may be in the milk causing the mastitis in the first place. We feel this was good advice. The second day, lumpy cottage cheese sections were coming from the teat during milking. We were carefully massaging the udder to break it down into smaller, passable elements, as it occasionally blocked the teat and looked like long maggots being squeezed out. On day 3, the milk was much more readily flowing and very little lumpy cheesy components needing to come through. Day 4 saw Elizabeth wandering around the field, tail high over her back, with lots of squatting to pee, much to the delight of Shuggy, the Saanen Buck whose lip was curling up, and he postured magnificently to show her his prowess. It is, after all, still rutting season.