Here at HFFG, I've written about vaccinations, circumcision, and other extremely controversial topics. But this may be the most controversial post I have ever written; or just a different crowd.
I've never been one to shy away from controversy (haha anyone who has followed HFFG for awhile knows that's an understatement!) but I want to approach this topic carefully, respectfully, and with the disclaimer that these are my thoughts and my research on the topic, to which I am entitled.
In this post, I am going to detail some very crucial facts that seem to be completely missing on the topic of CAE in goats that do many farmers a great disservice.
First off, for those who are new to goats, CAE is Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis. From Merck Vet Manual:
CAE is manifested clinically as polysynovitis-arthritis in adult goats and less commonly as progressive paresis (leukoencephalomyelitis) in kids. Subclinical or clinical interstitial pneumonia, indurative mastitis ("hard udder”), and chronic wasting have also been attributed to infection with this virus.
In the goat world, CAE is one of the most dreaded illnesses. Because it is passed through milk, kids (baby goats) are pulled from birth to never nurse off of their dam (mother) but to be bottle fed on pasteurized milk in order to hopefully prevent the kid(s) from being CAE positive.
But there are so many problems with all of this. And that's what this article is going to cover. I encourage my goat-owning readers to set aside everything they've ever been told about CAE and consider the information I share below from veterinarians and documented research.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. While this may limit my credibility on this topic, I believe it also offers the advantage of not being biased with the current train of thought on this topic.
Problem #1: Shortcomings of the CAE Test
The first problem with CAE is that a positive blood test does not test for active disease; it simply tests for antibodies. A positive test means simply that a goat was exposed to CAE and developed antibodies to it.
Now those who are all for vaccinations or those who are for natural immunity to disease know that developing antibodies to something is a good thing!
The concern with a positive CAE test is that a goat is actually testing positive for an active form of this disease, resulting in the possibility of the above-listed health issues. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the positive test result indicates simply antibodies to the disease or an active infection with the virus.
Another issue with the CAE test is that it does not test for the specific CAE strain. What? Well according to a research veterinarian at Washington State University (who had to remain anonymous so as not to cause problems with his research on CAE), there are about 12 major strains with the total number of CAE strains totaling over 20. Some of those strains are believed to be the ones that lead to disease; others are very much less pathogenic. Current ELISA CAE testing does not test for specific strains, so a positive result not only could simply mean antibodies have been developed but could also indicate the presence of a completely non-infectious strain of CAE.
And here's another problem with the test: Many people find that their goats, after many years of CAE prevention, will suddenly find a negative goat test positive. Or a positive dam have dam-raised kids who test negative. I'm in all of the goat groups. I see this happening all the time. For instance, just recently:
We have a herd of [goats] and have tested the last two years with negative results. But this fall was surprised by a CAE positive result on a yearling that is out of a doe that has tested negative (for 3 years, is 5 years old) with no elevated levels and all of the animals she has been in contact with have always been negative. Of course she freshened with a gorgeous udder and I am... questioning the testing and how she could possibly be infected if she has never been in contact with a positive animal?
Or this one:
I am the only breeder of [breed of goats] in this corner of the state... All of my foundation stock came from "CAE free" herds and some very reputable breeders. I've never had any symptoms or problems in my herd, and they are all fat, shiny, gleaming happy goats. This year, I entered into a contract... who wanted to buy my entire 2016 kid crop, but required that I test my herd before transferring ownership of the kids. So, I tested, and was STUNNED when my entire herd came back positive for CAE. NOW WHAT?! I'm hearing that I should have my entire herd euthanized, despite the fact that we have no symptoms and everybody appears to be completely healthy. I have 8-10 year old high producing does that are the loves of my life, and I'm supposed to kill them??
Now I know those of you who are new to goats have your jaw on the floor thinking that a simple blood test could cause someone to consider (and possibly carry out) euthanizing an entire herd of beautiful healthy goats. But this is how it is in the goat world.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone posted this type of thing in goat groups on the topic of CAE tests going from positive to negative or negative to positive without exposure or people considering killing healthy goats based on a blood test that doesn't even always indicate an active disease.
Even popular goat website Tennessee Meat Goats cites:
A goat infected with CAE but who has not produced antibodies will test negative but still can shed the virus and infect other goats.
Complicating the matter even more, it is also possible to have negative kids out of a positive dam. Further, a dam who has given birth to twins can produce one offspring which tests positive and another that tests negative. . . out of the same litter.
You see, a negative test can mean a sick goat! And a positive test can mean a healthy goat!
Unfortunately, it is extremely common for goat breeders nowadays to cull stock, pull kids from birth, etc., all based off of the results of this fallacious testing. That's a lot of lives at stake simply for a test that the goat world has been taught to put so much stock in. So that's our first major problem.
Problem #2: Positive Results Do Not Mean Symptomatic Disease
Every single "respectable" source detailing CAE always disclaims:
Most CAE virus infections, however, are subclinical.
As mentioned above, many of the goats who test positive for CAE likely have one of the non-infectious strains or another strain that will not go on to exhibit problems.
The research veterinarian mentioned above was asked: "If so few goats show symptoms, why is this such a dreaded disease?"
His answer was: "Good Question. Many goat owners do not feel that the control of an infection that only causes ~10% disease is not regarded as a serious disease."
Anyone who has not been in the goat world for very long will understandably look at this and wonder why the goat world makes such a big deal of CAE. They may think that effort would be better spent focusing on avoiding CL and Johne's (which is the bacterium linked to Crohn's disease in humans). And I agree.
A question on this note was posed to Washington State University research veterinarian and his answer follows:
Question: I have seen herds that have tested positive for YEARS and they look and act as healthy as my negatives. What is so absolutely horrible or threatening about the disease that people fear it so much as though it is like rabies? Am I being naive in my thinking? Why should these goats be euthanized so quickly? Are veterinarians who are not learned in the disease giving poor advice? Answer: The differences here are what were learned in school versus what is reality...The reasons for controlling CAE depend on the economic consequences (sales) of infection, not the disease consequences.
Changing the way the entire goat world views CAE based on these truths is not likely to happen.
For now, we must at least accept the shortcomings of the ELISA test results and its fallacious tendency to indicate disease.
Problem #3: Not Seeing Value in Antibodies
The fact that this one is not completely obvious, especially to those who vaccinate, blows my mind. The premise behind vaccines (exposing the body to a virus in order to stimulate an antibody reaction) is what is naturally taking place for many goats who test positive for CAE. Many of these goats have been naturally exposed to CAE and have developed antibodies to it. Natural antibodies to disease is far better than any chemically-induced antibody response (which may not actually happen the way it is shown to in lab experiments) that weakens the immune system with harmful chemicals.
Lately, Hollywood explored the value of receiving natural antibodies to improve human lentiviruses through goats' milk from CAE-positive goats when Charlie Sheen's doctor prescribed this for his HIV. Dr. Sam Chachoua explored the world and various cultures who highly-valued milk from CAE-positive goats to ward off severe diseases with supporting research. Of course, the goat world was in an uproar!
Now I'm not going to go along with Dr. Chachoua and claim that goats' milk from CAE-positive goats can cure HIV, because quite honestly from my research, it appears that HIV is not even an objective disease or solid diagnosis anyway. (As if this post wasn't controversial enough! But I dare you to watch the documentary House of Numbers and decide for yourself. Testimonies from top-notch CDC employees from the 1980's expose the lies surrounding HIV. In a nutshell, HIV is a completely subjective diagnosis; and it is an all-encompassing term used to "diagnose" any illness that is representative of a weakened immune system so that expensive antiviral drugs can be sold.)
I do believe that there should be some serious consideration given to the potential benefits of fresh, unpasteurized milk full of antibodies for both animals and humans. There are numerous antibodies passed to babies through unheated colostrum. Heat-treating the milk to eliminate one virus (or more likely its antibodies) at the sake of losing many other antibodies could be devastating to the health of the newborn.
For (human and animal) babies to receive natural antibodies through their mother's milk is the perfect vaccine. In fact, before the widespread use of vaccines, babies received immunity to diseases through the placental and milk transfer of antibodies. Once vaccines were in widespread use, mothers lost their naturally-derived immunity to things and became unable to offer their newborns this protection, which is coincidentally why so many babies are at risk nowadays. But I digress. My point is that everyone is looking for the perfect vaccines, and naturally-transferred antibodies is often exactly that.
(For those who are interested in pursuing the HIV/CAE link, here is a link to the patent for an HIV vaccine using a CAE virus: http://www.google.com/patents/WO1997033615A2?cl=en )
Furthermore, as indicated above, pulling kids at birth is not guarantee that they will test negative for CAE. From 2011 research published in Experimental Immunology:
Similar method of CAE control based on weaning kids immediately after birth and rearing them in isolation on virus-free milk was unable to prevent spreading the disease...1
Which really makes one think twice about all of these breeders selling kids as "Raised on CAE-prevention..." which brings me to the next problem:
Problem #4: Not Prioritizing the Importance of A Healthy Immune System
The current practice of pulling kids from birth (which stresses them out, thereby weakening the immune system) and feeding them pasteurized milk (which also does not support a healthy immune system) is a recipe for chronic disease. One of the most thorough goat information websites, Fiasco Farm, points out:
We 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. We 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, we 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.
As a (human) natural health practitioner, I cannot believe this detriment to young goat kids' immune systems from pasteurized colostrum/milk and increased risk of poor health is not more obvious to modern-day goat farmers.
Some may say that the risk of a goat having CAE is worth this risk. However, the risk of a weakened immune system is much more likely than the 10% risk of a CAE-positive goat exhibiting any manifestation of the CAE virus.
In fact, it is easy to see that CAE symptoms as listed above are a clear indicator of a weakened immune system. It is my belief that promoting a strong immune system and avoiding nutritional deficiencies will ward off manifestation of CAE disease in goats.
Anything that stands to weaken the immune system, such as stress, poor diet (including pasteurized milk), antibiotics, and nutritional deficiencies (especially copper and other minerals for goats) knowingly triggers any disease symptoms--whether it's CAE, CL, or other caprine illnesses. This leads me to the next problem:
#Problem #5: CAE Blamed for Every Illness in Positive (and Sometimes Even Negative) Goats
And so the result of goat owners/farmers/breeders not recognizing the inadequacies of the testing, the low incidence of disease manifestation in CAE-positive goats, etc. is that CAE is blamed every time a goat has issues.
Not getting bred? Must be CAE! Nevermind that the goat is likely deficient in the minerals crucial to breeding or is overweight or is fed soy-based feed that contains hormone-altering phytoestrogens...
Recurring mastitis? Must be CAE! Nevermind that there are dozens of reasons a goat can get mastitis and that antibiotics have been proven to increase the likelihood of making mastitis recur. (REF: http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/12/1551.full )
Not putting on weight? Must be CAE! Nevermind that it could be Johne's, mineral deficiencies, poor rumen health and thus weakened immune system, parasite overload, or a dozen other things.
A positive CAE test often prevents a farmer/breeder from actually considering the real, underlying root cause of a potential health issue that can and should be addressed that is often not active CAE infection.
On my farm, I've had CAE-positive goats and CAE-negative goats. I had CAE-negative goats who were wrought with health problems. Had they tested positive for CAE, I likely would have fallen into the crowd and blamed it on that. They were wasting away or having problems with a congested udder. And now that I know the truth about the testing and CAE strains, maybe they had an active CAE case that tests negative as we discussed above! Or maybe it was because they were ones that were neglected for years before they came into my possession and had serious mineral deficiencies.
And on my farm, I had (and continue to have) CAE-positive goats who are the healthiest goats I've ever owned. The have fabulous pregnancies, birth very, healthy strong kids, produce lots of milk, are very resilient to parasites, and never get lice (due to getting sufficient sulfur).
When we reduced our herd to a more manageable size, I chose to keep many of our CAE-positive goats for many reasons, the first being their incredibly good health. Also, I know there's something to consider in the health benefits of fresh milk a goat who successfully develops natural antibodies to various viruses. There is ongoing research into this for not only the CAE antibodies but many other virus antibodies as well.
And as a natural health practitioner, I strongly believe it's worth considering the benefits for humans of drinking fresh, unpasteurized milk from these kinds of goats as well.
Of course, because of the biases towards CAE based on the problems listed above, it can be difficult to sell kids from a CAE-positive dam. And there is a chance that some goats may go on to develop clinical symptoms of CAE (although I have not personally had that happen yet).
So let me be clear and say that I am not saying that a positive CAE test means nothing at all. As the evidence states, there is a small percentage of CAE-positive goats that will go on to exhibit chronic health issues such as arthritis, congested, udder, etc. Just like there is with anything.
And I am not saying that the pathogenic strains of CAE and active infection with such strain(s) is not horrendously tragic. In the small percentage of situations that really do experience kids with seizures and adults with chronic and life-altering arthritis, it is horrible.
But there is a lot wrong with the weight we put on CAE tests and with the current train of thought on a CAE-positive result. Washington State University research vet confirms it in his answer:
Question: Is the disease so dreaded or is it blown out of proportion by miss-informed breeders on both sides of the fence? Answer: It is being blown out of proportion - the disease.
For large-scale goat farmers, it is of course good practice (economically) to strive for CAE-negative herds.
For homesteaders like myself, we have the freedom to weigh the evidence and not put the life of healthy animals at stake based on the results of a simply imperfect blood test. And to reap the benefits of fresh, unpasteurized milk from healthy animals.
(Be sure to check out my post Milk: Helpful or Harmfulfor the vast differences in nutritional content of pasteurized vs. unprocessed milk.)
I encourage everyone to read the full interview from the Washington State University research veterinarian quoted above here: http://www.cornerstonefarm.net/gtcareof.html#caeq&a
And Fiasco Farm's great article on CAE: https://fiascofarm.com/goats/cae.htm
Despite the varying opinions and positions on CAE, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read mine and for respecting everyone's right to their own belief on this subject.
Blessings of good health to your human and animal loved ones,
~Sara Jo Poff
Natural Health Practitioner & Natural Farmer
- Centr Eur J Immunol 2011; 36 (3): 170-173. http://www.academia.edu/1120259/Long-term_study_on_the_spread_of_caprine_arthritis-encephalitis_in_a_goat_herd