The Sexy Side of Goats
Given Valentine’s Day, I was thinking about writing something love-related. However, the only thing that was coming to mind was how weird goats can be. I’m talking hermaphrodites, pseudopregnancies, and something called “cloud burst.” If you’re the curious type, read on.
Yep, goats can be anatomically confused sometimes. To be medically correct, most goat hermaphrodites are male pseudohermaphrodites because they have testes. True hermaphrodites have both testes and ovaries. These are much more rare in goats. Goat male pseudohermaphrodites are genetically female. When they are born, they appear female on the outside. But when they hit puberty, they grow larger than the other females in the herd and may act aggressively toward other goats (and people!) during the breeding season. Testes are usually located in the abdomen, although sometimes they can be partly descended and confused for an udder. Confused yet?
Keep in mind that pseudohermaphroditism is a spectrum and one case may not look like another case. Even though the testes in these animals produce testosterone, which causes the masculine behavior, they are unable to produce sperm and are therefore sterile.
Dairy goats can have false pregnancies relatively frequently. This condition is sometimes referred to as cloudburst. Due to hormonal imbalances, a doe can look, feel, and act pregnant. Her abdomen will enlarge and she will even produce milk. However, when it comes time to give birth, only cloudy discharge (hence the name) is produced.
Weird, right? If a client knows that a doe has not been bred and therefore suspects a pseudopregnancy, an ultrasound will reveal a fluid-filled uterus sans fetus. An injection of a hormone called prostaglandin will cure the problem.
Precocious udder is the delightful term for the not so delightful udder development in non-pregnant female goats. There are a few different causes for this condition. The most common cause is directly hormonally related, either because of prolonged exposure to progesterone due to the ovary’s inability to release an egg, or because we have a case of “intersex” (see above!). Other times, it is due to consumption of feeds that have a high estrogen concentration, such as moldy corn or clover.
Although tempting, these udders should not be milked because milking can perpetuate the issue. Sometimes the udder dries up on its own, but usually we have to interfere by administering exogenous hormones.
When the cervix fails to dilate properly at birth, this is called ringwomb. More common in sheep than goats, this problem is heritable. It is infuriating for clients, since it requires a C-section to deliver the babies. It also requires the clients to consult their farm’s breeding records to determine if this is a repeatable problem in their does or ewes. I often recommend a client get rid of a ewe or doe who has this issue, as it may occur again the next time they breed her. And since it appears to be genetic, they want to remove affected animals from their breeding flock.
Male goats in some heavy milk-producing breeds can develop their own udders, some even functional! Most likely a hormonal issue linked with genetics, reducing the amount of protein fed can sometimes control male lactation, but sometimes it is disruptive enough that a mastectomy needs to be performed.
Dr. Anna O'Brien
Image: WhoAreYou / Shutterstock