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How to Assess Your Goat's Health by Observing Rumination

If you're new to raising goats in your effort to live sustainably, you may not know that rumination is a good indicator of your goat's health. Because rumination is an essential part of how goats digest food, you can use cud-chewing habits as an indicator of goat health. A ruminating goat is eating and generating heat and energy. You can determine whether a goat is ruminating in two ways: by looking for cud-chewing and by listening to the goat's body.

Goats are ruminants, which means that they have four stomach compartments and part of their digestive process includes regurgitating partially digested food and chewing it, called ruminating. This kind of digestive system needs a plant-based diet.

The goat stomach consists of three forestomachs — the rumen, reticulum, and omasum — and a true stomach, the abomasum. The forestomachs are responsible for grinding and digesting hay, with the help of bacteria. The last compartment, the abomasum, is similar to the human stomach and digests most proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

A goat's rumen is located on the left side of the abdomen. You can watch this area or feel the side of the abdomen for movement.

The rumen is the largest of the forestomachs, with a 1- to 2-gallon capacity.
The rumen is the largest of the forestomachs, with a 1- to 2-gallon capacity.

The best way to determine whether a goat is ruminating and the strength and frequency of rumination is to listen. Often, ruminations are loud enough that you can hear them by just sitting next to the goat. If you can't hear them, put your head up to the left side of your goat's abdomen. If you still have trouble hearing ruminations, use a stethoscope. You can purchase an inexpensive stethoscope from a livestock supply catalog.

Healthy ruminations are loud, sound kind of like a growling stomach, and occur about two or three times a minute. If they are weak or infrequent, give your goat some roughage and probiotics ("good" microbes given orally that protect against disease) to stimulate the rumen and to add to the rumen bacteria.

Look around your herd to see whether each goat is chewing its cud. A good time for this is the early afternoon, when the goats are resting before their last go at the pasture for the day. Usually at least two thirds of them will be ruminating at the same time. Take a closer look at any goats that aren't chewing cud. If they don't look well in some other way, go up to them and listen for rumination sounds.

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