Acclimating to Pasture

Sudden, full access to fresh forage can cause serious and even fatal results, so when we are moving goats from a dry lot to pasture, we want to slowly acclimate them to allow their digestive tracts time to adjust in a safe, controlled manner.  While I always say that well fed goats know what to eat, they don’t have inbuilt knowledge of going from dried, human produced food to their natural feeding habitat and they will always overeat when first given access to growing forage unless we control the access.  Let’s look at how to safely acclimate goats to fresh pasture.

When Do I Need to Worry about Acclimating?

Goats who winter on their summer pasture will naturally acclimate themselves as the pasture begins to grow in.  You should still be feeding hay full time until the pasture is coming on strong, so they will be filling up primarily on hay and the gradual increase in greens due to growth will give them the time they need to adjust.  In this case, you don’t need to do anything but enjoy the spare time you have because they’re doing the work for you. 🙂

If your goats have been in a winter pasture area, a dry lot, or you’ve just purchased goats from another location, you will need to help them gradually adjust.  This is done incrementally from day to day.

Risks of Going Too Fast

The two main concerns when goats get access to too much pasture too soon are enterotoxemia and bloat.  Both of these have the potential to be fatal; enterotoxemia more so, so it is important to take this period of acclimation very seriously, going slowly and being willing to back off a little if digestive upset occurs.

Supplies You Should Have on Hand

Digestion supporting herbs should be in your medicine chest as a general rule, but especially when you anticipate the potential for issues, such as when moving out to new pasture.  I recommend Fir Meadow GI Soother as an easy, ready to use blend you can keep on hand and administer for any digestive issue.  You can look at the ingredients list there to determine what you might already have on hand to blend up if you like to make your own blends.  In general, I like to use what I call “the spicies”: cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, turmeric and clove, along with slippery elm, nettle and mullein.  Slippery elm is one I would consider essential because it soothes and lines inflamed intestines and helps stabilize in cases of diarrhea.

As I write this, I have experienced two cases of enterotoxemia.  I have not had success treating them herbally.  The only remedy I know that works is the CD antitoxin and it is not something you can get in an emergency.  You may want to purchase this to have on hand, stored in your refrigerator.  It is very difficult to find in local stores, but you can find it online at any vet supply store.

I have never had a case of severe digestive upset or enterotoxemia from moving animals out to pasture, however, so these would be acquired as a precaution that you’d very likely never need for this scenario.

The Process

We will work in days, starting with the first day they have access to pasture and gradually increasing based on how the animals are responding.  It can be helpful to include a hay feeder in the pasture area as well so they can continue to bulk up on hay in between bites of greens.

Observing the Stool

We determine how the goats are acclimating by observing changes in stool.  “Dog logs,” or stool that is formed in a shape rather than individual droppings, are totally normal and acceptable during the transition.  Stool that plops like a cow patty or is runny indicates the need to slow down.  If any goat has stool that is soft and ploppy, everyone goes out for the same amount of time as they did the day before.  If any goat has developed diarrhea, everyone stays at the dry lot until stool is at least in cow pie form, then they go back out at the time of the day before the amount of time that caused diarrhea.

Example: On day 2 they were on pasture for 2 hours.  Prior to moving to pasture the following day, you notice diarrhea in a goat.  The herd stays in and, assuming diarrhea is cleared up on the following day, they would only go out for 60 minutes, or the time they were out prior to the day that caused diarrhea.

Each day you make a new assessment, so if stool is normal, continue the progression and only stay in place or step back a day if stool changes on the day you are observing indicate the need.

Day 1

Be sure your goats have had their morning hay and are well fed today and every other day in the process.  Move them out to pasture and set a time for 30-60 minutes.  I usually start at an hour, but if you’re nervous, be as conservative as you need to feel safe about this.  After the time is up, move them back to their dry lot.  If you’re really anxious (you have no reason to be, this is a very conservative and safe method I’ve used for years with no ill effects), you can dose them each with GI Soother.

Day 2

Take your well fed goats out to pasture and set a timer for double the time you gave yesterday, so today it will be 60 or 120 minutes.  Before or during the move, observe the tail of every goat to be sure there is no indication of diarrhea.  Also observe the droppings on the ground around you.

Days 3+

Each day, double the time they stay out on pasture until they are there for the full time you intend them to be, so day three would be 2-4 hours.  I usually only do this process for 3-4 days unless someone had an issue that required me to slow down.  It is really rare that this conservative process results in any need to backtrack.  Usually they are out and fine within a few days.  Always rely on your intuition and the goats you are observing – they are more reliable than any information gleaned on the Internet.

Join the discussion and talk about pasture acclimation in the Goat Management Forum.





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