Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Great Johnes Scare of 2016

What're we going to do tonight, Sundae?  Same thing we do every night.  Find new ways to drive our human out of her ever loving mind...
One thing that is really, really scary, is when your goat suddenly has goopy sloppy poop like a cow.  This is both because a key reason why I got goats instead of cows is because cow poop is several orders of magnitude grosser than goat poop and because it is a sign that something has gone very, very wrong in Goat Digestion Land.

The first thing you always suspect is parasites.  Some vets will tell you that stomach worms don't really cause scours, and some will tell you what are you talking about of course stomach worms cause scours.  I don't really know which it is, but Sundae also had moderately pale eyelids (read: moderate anemia), which is definitely a sign of stomach worms, so I gave her medicine.  Which did nothing, so I gave her different medicine.  Which also did nothing.  Noting that her eyelids were actually starting to pink up by this point (which wouldn't happen if she were still fighting stomach worms), I called the vet.

Our vets are really very good.  We use the Virginia Tech veterinary school and have nothing but good things to say about them.  They are nice and calm and extremely knowledgeable about goats, and understand that "calm" is not something I'm capable of a lot of the time because I'm super high strung and have an anxiety disorder.  The first thing in a situation like this (assuming the goat is eating well, which she was, and reasonably energetic, which she was) is run a fecal float test.  Which revealed zero coccidia and very few worm eggs.  Sundae was about as parasite free as goats come.  Which means that the next most likely scenario was that she had somehow gotten Johnes.

Johnes is usually a disease of cattle, but sheep and goats can get it to.  It is bacterial, and infection is transmitted via the fecal-oral route.  The bacteria can live in the soil for up to a year, and it generally takes two years from the point of infection for animals to become symptomatic, during which time they have been shedding bacteria in their feces, contaminating the pasture and infecting their herd mates.  The symptoms of Johnes are scours due to mechanical damage to the intestines, rapid weight loss, and death.  There is no treatment except a bullet.

Needless to say there was much panicking.  Much, MUCH panicking.  Fortunately I had already sent blood to the lab for our annual testing, and had decided to add Johnes to the usual CAE testing this year.  While the blood test isn't great, it is a screening tool, and people ask about it from time to time.  The vet agreed that the blood test isn't the most accurate of tests, but in clinical cases it should turn up positive.

If you follow me on Facebook you know that the tests all came back negative, and in fact I had locked Sundae in the barn with a wether (I don't care as much if the wethers get sick) and her poop had gone completely back to normal by then.  Turns out she had in fact developed a taste for horse nettles, which are super poisonous, the chief symptom of which is scours.  But I have put together a list of things you can do to keep Johnes out of your herd, because once you have it, it's kind of an end of the world scenario.

  1. Do not run your goats with cows of unknown Johnes status.  This is apparently the main way goats get Johnes.
  2. Do not feed your goat kids unpasteurized cow's milk from cows of unknown status.  Transmission via milk is fairly well documented.
  3. Quarantine all new arrivals (goats, cows, sheep, everything!) until you have negative Johnes tests in hand and it's been at least a month.  Three months is better.  I personally know a farm that narrowly avoided a new cow infecting their whole herd with Johnes because they had her in quarantine.  SAFETY FIRST!  This will also protect your herd from nasties like infectious hoof rot, CL, and sore mouth.
  4. Consider annual or semi-annual testing.  Many dairy herds are already testing for CAE - if you do your testing through WADDL, they can do a Johnes test too, from the same 5 ml red top tube of blood even.  It's only $6.50 per test as of this writing, the same as a CAE test.  Our current plan (which our vet agrees is reasonable) is to test for CAE yearly (using BioTracking for non-Johnes-test years, since it's cheaper there) and Johnes every other year.  Since Johnes is a slow-developing infection, and the blood test will not detect it in its early stages, every year might be a bit over kill.  Put if you're paranoid it's a small price to pay for peace of mind, and testing new stock is always a good idea.
  5. Do not let people walk around in your pasture.  Poo on their shoe becomes poo on your pasture becomes germs in your goats.  If you need to show an animal bring it out to the people.  The people will understand.  Or if they don't, screw them, because your animals, your rules!
  6. Do not wear your barn shoes off your property.  I am really bad about this, but the same principles as above apply - you don't know what germs you are walking through, especially at places like the feed store.  I actually have a special pair of feed store shoes that NEVER EVER EVER go in the barn.  Because feed stores are fun but their floors are kinda icky.
So in closing, BIOSECURITY.  It's important.  Also GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR VET.  We are very fortunate that this escapade in paranoia only cost us one fecal float (which are cheap) and one set of blood tests (which we were going to do anyway).  After Murphy and his meningitis of doom there is not a lot of money left over for the vet.  Or rather, not a lot of money that the vet hasn't already taken.

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