It was just a little over a year ago that Chuck Powell, a goatpacker from California called our lab regarding his packgoats and urinary calculi. He was reaching out in a last-ditch effort to determine what was going on with his goats. To determine why they were developing urinary calculi. Mr. Powell had already lost 2 of his goats to this unfortunate disorder. He was very concerned about his goats, as they are his companions. Mr. Powell sent our lab one water sample and several hay samples. He hoped to determine the root cause of his issue through the support of our feed testing department. We did some research to determine what some causative factors for developing this condition might be. As we as, considering how the forage and water analysis might be related to the development of urinary calculi.

Why Packgoats?

Packgoats are used to carry items on long hikes or treks through backcountry. They are a backpacking companion. There are several considerations when choosing a packgoat and keeping them healthy. First, since these animals are meant to carry gear through mountainous terrain, they must have a good conformation and be strong. These packgoats are animal athletes. Due to the need for strength, most packgoats are males. Female goats are smaller and cannot bear the same load as males. Intact bucks often have a strong unpleasant odor in addition to undesirable behavioral issues. Therefore, packgoats are typically neutered goats or wethers. It is believed that wethers that are castrated at a young age may develop a smaller ureter diameter which increases the chance of blockage caused by urinary calculi.

What are Urinary Calculi?

This condition occurs when mineral deposits are formed in the urinary tract. These mineral deposits, or calculi, can block the urethra. Early warning signs of these formations include straining when urinating, slow urination, hoof stomping during attempts to urinate, and kicking at their penis. In extreme cases, the mineral deposit may completely block the urethra. If left untreated will most likely result in a condition known as “water belly”. This is when the bladder bursts and typically death is the result. Some dietary risk factors for urinary calculi are any diet with mineral imbalances, especially pertaining to calcium, phosphorous, or magnesium, lack of water, or hard water.

So, upon water and forage testing, our laboratory helped Chuck Powell interpret his results to understand that his forage, was not an issue; however, he did need to change mineral supplement. His water source was very hard, meaning very high in calcium which was likely a contributing factor for the development of urinary calculi in his goats. He has since installed a water softener and has not had any additional urinary calculi issues with his goats. When asked to rate our lab on a scale of 1-10, Chuck Powell stated,

If it wasn’t for her and the laboratory [Ward Laboratories, Inc.] there. We wouldn’t have any numbers or information as to what was causing the problems here. My feed is actually pretty good, we had to look at the salt, which [supplement] would be best. Ten I don’t think describes the level of effort that Becca reached out to help me.”

Supporting Further Research

We have since worked with several goatpackers in similar situations. One of those goatpackers is Chris Gifford, a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Packgoat Association (“NAPgA”). Chris has also had two goats with urinary calculi whose lives were saved by undergoing specialized surgical procedures at the Washington State University Veterinarian Teaching Hospital in Pullman, Washington.  Urinary Calculi is a prevalent issue and significant concern for goatpackers. NAPgA has formed a Urinary Calculi Research Committee. The committee has assembled a team of experts to further investigate what commonalities are present when packgoats develop urinary calculi. Ward Laboratories, Inc. will be supporting this study through providing a discount on forage and water analysis to this group. To learn more about this study we encourage you to visit the study page on the North American Packgoat Association’s Website!
About the author

Rebecca earned her M.S. in Animal Nutrition from the University of Wyoming with a collaborative project with the US Meat Animal Research Center. She is an active member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists. With a passion for producer education she is a regular contributor to Progressive Forage Magazine. Currently, she serves as the Immediate Past President of the NIRS Forage and Feed Testing Consortium (NIRSC).

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