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Raising goats and CAE

CAE can be a very touchy subject amongst "goat people". There are many different sides to the "CAE story" and different people have different opinions on this matter. The following is my stance (and it is not the most popular one). It is my strong recommendation that you research this subject thoroughly from a few different, reliable sources and draw my own conclusions about how you feel on this matter and how you wish to handle it for my particular situation.

Here at Fias Co Farm I try to raise my animals as "naturally" as I possibly can in this day and age. I believe stress is a great contributor to dis-ease. Much of the time, if you can eliminate stress, the body can ward off illness just fine on it's own. One way stress happens is when you alter the way the animal would have naturally lived before man. Of course, you can not raise your animals completely "naturally", but you can look at how they would have lived before my interference and work from there. The more I "mess around" with the animals, the more prone to illness they are (and also the more work it is to raise them).

This is not to say I never come in contact with my animals. I spend a lot of time with them and they are all very friendly. I do not give them food treats to "buy" their affections; I give them love and compassion. In turn they love us back and want us to touch them and be with them. I raise and treat all my animals with the love and respect they deserve.

If any of my animals do get sick, I treat them in natural ways, if possible, but also take advantage of living in the 21st century and use whatever medical treatments are needed to best help my animals live happy, healthy lives.

Goats are loving, caring, intelligent creatures. I do not believe that you must bottle raise a goat to have it be friendly toward people. I do not bottle raise my kids (unless absolutely necessary) and they are as friendly as can be (see raising friendly kids). What I do is spend time with them everyday from the moment they are born. They accept me as a member of the herd and enjoy my attentions.

This brings us to CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis), a nervous disease in goats, first reported in 1974. It was originally named Viral Leukoencephalomyelitis of Goats (VLG) but when it became apparent that arthritis could also result from the same virus infection, the name of the disease was changed to Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Syndrome (CAE). It has been found that this virus also produces changes in the lung and/or udder but the name CAE is still the name used to refer to this virus.

It is believed that the most direct infection route for CAE is from mother, to kid, through infected colostrum, body fluids, and milk. Because of this method of transmission, many goat breeders practice "CAE prevention". This practice entails removing the kid from it's mother the moment it is born and bottle raising it on pasteurized milk. This is so that the CAE virus can not be passed from the mother to the kid through the milk. It is this part of the practice, of taking the kids from their mothers, which conflict with my personal and religious beliefs. Yes, I agree that CAE can be a very bad and painful disease, and I are not pro-CAE, I just cannot ethically "pull" the kids from their mothers. Goat mothers love their kids, just as you would love your own children. To take the kids away, not only breaks their heart, it causes stress, which causes diseases to surface due to stress.

I also feel that raising the kid in an unnatural way (bottle feeding) causes stress. Kids need their mothers to love them and teach them. Without their mothers they become stressed, thus causing disease. Pasteurizing milk kills bacteria, and yes, it will kill the CAE virus, but it also kills the beneficial bacteria in the milk. Without this beneficial bacteria, the kids immune systems do not become as strong as it would on raw milk. Pasteurizing "cooks" the milk. I believe that kids especially need "uncooked" colostrum to get a proper start in life. This cooking destroys much of the nutrients and vitamins in the milk (please read: raw milk info). Also, I have found that kids that have access to their own mother's milk as they are growing up, grow bigger and stronger, and are hardier and more disease resistant as adults.

A drawback in trying to eliminate CAE from my herd is that there are just a few blood tests to find out if a goat has CAE, all with varying degrees of accuracy. These tests, test for antibodies to CAE. If the test comes back positive, it does not necessarily mean that the goat has CAE, it means she possess antibodies to the disease. This only means that at some point in her life she was exposed to CAE, it does not mean she has it. CAE is like HIV; some people can have it and live a long normal live, and some people can have it and develop AIDS. The goat can have the CAE virus, but they may never actually develop the CAE disease. There may even be a possibility that this goat has a resistance to the disease and could pass that resistance on to her kids. Also, not all CAE-infected goats produce antibodies, thus "false negatives" in testing is possible.

Even with tests, and practicing CAE prevention (pulling kids, separating CAE positive animals, etc.), there is no way of guaranteeing that a herd is totally "free" of CAE. You can only know if a herd has recently tested negative to the antibodies. Goats have been known to be raised in a totally "free" herd for many years and all of a sudden, as many as seven years later, "revert". Any goat can "revert" at any time.

I started my herd with just a few does and bucks have "bred up" with these animals. After years of breeding and holistic husbandry, I now maintain a "closed" herd. Meaning, I no longer bring in animals from the outside and I also do not let my goats leave my property (I do not show). I do this because I have no signs of illness in my herd and do not wish to bring in any. I do not test for CAE, but are aware of the symptoms (see below). If any of my goats were to start showing signs, meaning they actually had the disease, and not just the antibodies, I would act according to what was necessary. There is no known cure in Western Medicine for CAE and I would treat the goat in Natural and Alternative ways to try to cure her illness (see below). If that did not work and if the goat were in pain and was suffering, I would humanly relieve that goat from his/her suffering. If I had a doe that showed symptoms of CAE, I would never breed them because I would not want to risk them infecting their kids.

There are those who would disagree with what I have said here. I have not written this in order to convince you that I am "right". I am just sharing with you my own personal belief. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. With information gathered here, and also from various other sources, it is up to you to make up your own mind.

Also see:


Clinical Signs of CAE

Two separate distinct syndromes are caused by the CAE virus, a neurological disease in the spinal cord and brain of young kids and a joint infection of older goats resulting in arthritis. The clinical signs of the two syndromes are as follows:

The Nervous Form of CAE
All breeds of goats can be affected as can both sexes, and most individuals first show signs between one and four months of age. The problem is one of progressive weakness (paresis) of the hind limbs leading to eventual paralysis. The early paresis may be perceived as lameness, incoordination or weakness in one or both rear legs. Knuckling over of the feet and difficulty in rising may follow until such time that the animal is unable to rise at all. The course of the disease is from several days to several weeks. Despite the progressive paralysis, the kid will usually remain bright and alert and continue to eat and drink. Mild pneumonia may be present. The development of these signs results from inflammation in the spinal cord induced by the virus. Nerves which control motor function of the hind limbs are progressively destroyed.

In older goats, a clinical variation of the nervous form of CAE has been observed which is clinically indistinguishable from Listeriosis. Signs include circling, head tilt and facial nerve paralysis.


The Arthritic Form of CAE
The joint form of CAE most often appears clinically between one and two years of age. There can be great variability in the progression and severity of signs. Some goats can be severely crippled within a few months while others may show only intermittent lameness or stiffness for years without ever becoming completely debilitated. A ''typical'' case would fall somewhere in between. The disease is usually first recognized as a gradually developing lameness accompanied or followed by swelling of the joints. Swelling is most often noted in the front knees (carpi) and can also be seen in the hock and stifle joints. As the condition progresses, joint pain and stiffness become more apparent. The goat may spend a good deal of time lying down, will begin to lose weight and develop a rough hair coat. In severely affected joints, the range of motion may become limited and goats are forced to walk around on their carpi. Hard udders, sometimes without any milk at all, and fatal pneumonia can also be symptomatic of CAE. No specific cure is known for CAE arthritis. The well-being of affected goats may be improved by proper foot trimming, extra bedding and administration of anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin.

Please note that not all swollen joints or stiff limbs in goats is CAE arthritis.

How CAE is transmitted
The most direct infection route is from mother to kid through infected colostrum, body fluids, and milk. The virus is directly connected to the production of white blood cells, so any body secretions which contain these cells are potential sources of infection for other members of the herd. Blood (e.g., contaminated instruments, open wounds, etc.) is regarded as the second most common way of spread. Contact transmission between adult goats is considered to be rare except during lactation.


Is it okay for humans to drink raw milk containing the CAE virus?
Yes, there is no evidence that the CAE virus is transmissible to humans.

Herbal Treatments for CAE

Though I have absolutely no guarantees that this will do any good at all, if I personally, were to treat a goat with CAE here is what I would try:

  • Provide the goat with as stress free a place to live as possible. Make certain that they have clean living conditions, a comfortable shelter, healthy food, fresh water, good browse, and access to sun and shade.
  • To help boost their immune system so that their bodies can fight the against the virus I would give:
  • To help combat the CAE virus I would give:
  • To help with the pain and swelling of the knees, I'd use Comfrey, either as a poultice of the dry herb, herbal oil, or as part of Molly's Marvelous Herbal Salve or Aches N' Painz Salve.
  • To help relieve pain and inflammation I'd give:
  • To help with the arthritis, I'd give:

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