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Blood Draws

Lorelei Hallock, Coyote Kidz

For me, raising goats started out as a fun project to be different from my big sisters in 4-H but quickly became a life passion. I was fortunate to have some wonderful leaders in my 4-H group that gave me hands-on experience and taught me how to be independent and successful in animal husbandry. One of my goals now as an adult is to pay it forward. Workshops for 4-H, FFA, and other community youth organizations are a great way to be helpful and connect our love of goats with educational programs. I recently hosted the students from my local 4-H veterinary science project to talk about biosecurity and teach some basics for blood draws.

One of the best things we can do as breeders is set up a health plan for our herds and practice some form of biosecurity management. This can be challenging for new goat owners who may not have access to a veterinarian that is familiar with goats or a mentor that can teach them basic veterinary practices. Many goat owners are forced to be more self-sufficient with our knowledge of medicine and procedures when goat-specific vets are few and far in between. Being able to draw blood for disease testing is one of the best tools a goat owner can have for managing herd health. It’s something that a veterinarian can do easily, but for larger herds might not be economic and again a veterinarian may not be available.

We started this workshop by talking about common diseases and why it is important to test for them. Most notably CAE and CL. We discussed how diseases are transmitted, what types of things could put a herd at risk, and why testing is important. In my herd, for example, we test every goat for CAE but for things like CL, Johnes, and Q fever we test only a few representatives from the herd. This is more economical and the nature of how each disease is spread influences this decision. If a prospective buyer of a goat wishes for the full panel, that is something we can easily do on individuals and is often necessary for transport across state lines or in some cases exportation. We also use blood testing to confirm pregnancy in does which is very helpful in planning for kidding season.

The main event of this workshop was to give the kids a chance to actually do something. While watching is helpful, it is very different when the needle is in your hands. The basic steps for keeping equipment sanitized and eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination were discussed as we prepped the first few does for a draw.

Equipment needed:

  • Sterile needles 18 gauge preferably 1 inch in length (this can vary based on preference but that is the size I use), one for each animal plus a few extras.

  • Sterile syringes 12 mil. You only need 2-6 mil of blood but the larger size in the syringe means shorter space your hands need to pull the plunger. That is helpful when you have little hands and short fingers.

  • Red Top test tubes

  • Permanent marker for labeling samples

  • Paper towels and or cotton swabs

  • Isopropyl alcohol

  • Clippers with #10 blade (optional)

  • Safe disposal container for spent needles.

  • Stand with a grooming head catch or some way to hold the animal with their head slightly raised.

We start by bringing up our first doe to prep. We shave with our clippers a small strip along the neck slightly to the left as you face the goat. This step technically is optional, but important for learning purposes because it allows someone new to more clearly see where they will be putting a needle. Next prep the area with a wipe and alcohol. Attach a needle to a syringe and make sure the cap is loose enough to easily remove. With one hand apply pressure on the neck of the goat just below the draw sight to help push out the vein. You can use a finger on the other hand to gently tap to feel the soft bounce that distinguishes the vein from the muscle around it. Place the needle almost parallel (very slight angle) to the neck and go UP into the vein. Do not stab “in” as you’ll go through the vein. Then slowly draw the plunger. If you are in the right spot blood will flow easily, if not gently pull the needle back and tap the vein to try again. Once you have enough blood in the syringe, pierce the red top tube with the needle and empty the syringe. Make sure to label the tube with the name or number of the goat!

The first two goats I demonstrated for the 4-Hers, then let them get right in to try for themselves. We drew blood on 25 goats and they took turns practicing. By the end, they were all able to make a clean insertion directly into the vein and draw blood on the first try. It was a small group so it was easy to keep the goats calm and relaxed even when they needed to try a few times. This was a great way to get practice on multiple animals and a huge chore out of the way for me! The parents that attended were really pleased that their kids got the hands-on experience instead of just the usual lectures that can be somewhat boring to many teenagers. I had kids tell me that they wanted to do more! It is truly a rewarding experience to see the excitement in youth after learning what we may take for granted as basic farming tasks. This is what keeps youth interested in agriculture.

I was able to send the samples to UBRL to confirm all negative for unwanted diseases and all but 4 does settled, including 2 very exciting AI’s.

For anyone who wants a more detailed article on how to draw blood with more pictures, a personal favorite of mine is a blog post from a friend and vet tech who happens to raise Lamanchas. Her pictures are great and her blog is a real hoot!

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