Buck Camp

One of the most important parts of your herd is your buck. But what happens when your buck doesn’t “buck?”

We all know a buck’s usual behaviors, especially during rut. They urinate on their beard, legs, and face, exuding a musk so strong it makes your eyes water from yards away. They stick their tongues out and blubber a delightful love song to the girls.

But why would a buck not exhibit any of these behaviors? What would cause an intact buck to act placid and uninterested in a doe?

Simply put – socialization.

The first time I ran across this particular issue was an article by Fias Co Farms, who talked about a buck they raised that saw his owners as his companions and does, and ignored any actual caprine females put with him. Years later, a friend of mine raised a sweet little Nigerian Dwarf buck on the bottle, and when it came time to breed, he simply had no interest. He never rutted, and eventually she wethered him and sold him as a pet.

I kept this in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until just a couple years ago when I encountered yet another young buck who “wouldn’t buck” and took a shot at trying to get him back on board.

Before we moved to the dairy, we had some fabulous neighbors who were just starting to get into Nubian milkers before we left the area. They raised a very handsome little buck along with two doe companions, who got along great. They were well cared for, well loved. However, when autumn came close and the girls were supposed to be going into estrus and the buck into rut – nothing was happening. They reached out to me for advice, and after mulling it over a bit, I told them to bring him here. Bring him to Buck Camp!

My thought was that this was a mixture of issues – Pinky, the buck in question, had been raised with his little friends and only ever exposed to them. I felt as if they too might need a jumpstart – if you’ve ever heard about the “Buck Effect” (which I should write a post on someday too, thinking of it) you know what introducing a strange buck in rut to a herd can do. Here at the dairy, we had an entire pen full of bucks in raging rut, urinating on everything that came near and bellowing their beautiful amorous noises at the does peering through the gate at them. If these guys couldn’t help teach Pinky how the world works, then nothing would. It was definitely worth a shot.

Pinky arrived looking very confused, and after a short quarantine period, in with the bucks he went. They immediately fell upon him as if he was a doe, bashing him about and mounting him. Poor Pinky! He had quite a shock coming to Buck Camp, a place filled with more testosterone than Super Bowl Sunday at the local bar. Within days however, he had settled in, and I could almost see his brain working as he watched the other bucks go through their wooing behaviors.

Several times I pulled him out and put him with a doe in heat, letting him smell and explore all the wonderful things a female goat might have in store for him. Slowly, he began to show interest, curling his lip back over his nose in the classic Flehmen to smell their pheromones, and he even started to paw at them. He did not gain enough confidence to mount one of our bossy standard does, but after two weeks, I felt he was ready to go home. I was hoping that his little girlfriends at home would be stimulated into strong heat cycles at his return, which would hopefully kickstart his brain at long last.

So Pinky was loaded into the backseat of a truck, missing his scurs that the other bucks had knocked off for him, smelling much more ripe, and I swear he had a big smile on his face. I wished my friends luck, and told them to let me know how Buck Camp worked out for them!

Well, it worked pretty darn good. Just five months later, kids hit the ground. Buck Camp was a roaring success.

Socializing your young bucklings, especially bottle raised bucklings, is important. Bring them in with your does – let them chase and blubber and do all the things they’ll need to know as an adult. Don’t let mature aggressive does beat on them excessively, possibly frightening them away from others. It’s a real shame to raise a young buck for months, only to find it was wasted effort when he cannot produce kids for you.

And if all else fails – consider Buck Camp if you can! Pinky’s proud smile speaks for itself.

 

 

Minx & Mocha


There are at times, goats who pair up with an unrelated goat, appearing to become best friends. I have come to call these special pairings “close-companions” and can name several great ones, but one pair rightfully stands out in my mind – Minx and Mocha!

Most folks know who Minx is – the “face” of our farm and my favorite goat by far. Full of personality, she is descended from our first Nigerian doe and sired by our most influential buck. She was still a junior when we moved to the dairy, and it wasn’t long before she met Mocha.

Mocha is a doe close in age to Minx, exhibiting all the best quality of the dairy farm’s lines. I fell in love with her and it wasn’t long before she joined my personal herd. It took even less time for the pair of them to become joined at the hip.

Though Minx’s mother had rejoined my herd, I bottle raised Minx and so her closest friends were the other goats her own age, and suddenly she’d gone from a farm with just a couple of age-mates, to one with many! They formed the first ever “teenager gang” here at the dairy, with Minx at it’s head of course, backed up by Mocha. They broke fencing, unlatched gates, and made holes to wriggle through. The entire lot of junior does were bouncing atop cars and banging on the doors before we knew what had happened.

Thankfully, after several of their gangster friends moved to new farms, they settled down somewhat, and we turned to the thought of breeding them, along with a group of similarly aged La Mancha juniors. We wanted to try having the young does kid out a month before everyone else, to have a little extra milk in our down time. To accomplish this, we decided to use CIDRs.

CIDRs (Controlled Internal Drug Release) are an intravaginal progesterone insert used in ruminants to control the estrus of the animal, and when used with the proper protocols, can help you more carefully plan your time of breeding.

Inserting the devices was an exercise in hilarity between my employer and I. The lubrication we brought came as a powder and had to be mixed. It turns out, if you don’t add enough water, it turns into a disgusting clinging slime that set us off into peals of laughter. Then came the actual insertion of the T-shaped device into the vagina of the goats, who were displeased to say the least. It was a tight fit on most of them – until we got to Minx. Minx had more than enough wriggle room, leading my sweet unassuming employer to exclaim, “Minx! What have you been doing out there?”

The results of our adventure with CIDRs was less than successful – not one La Mancha settled after breeding.

Minx and Mocha however had quite an exciting day with our new very fine young buck Khan, and five months later they were round and ready to burst – a month earlier than the rest of the herd.

I locked them in the pen nearest my house, and kept a close eye on them. Minx started labor first in the evening, and went all night long before finally kidding around 7am with two very handsome bucklings. Mocha assisted her friend in cleaning them off and helping them to stand and nurse. Satisfied with their health, I went back inside – only to pop back out a few hours later as Mocha gave birth to a huge single doeling.

  

Just as Mocha was alongside Minx with all the help one could ask for, Minx was there for her friend. They cleaned off Mocha’s little girl, and had her up and nursing in no time. Even without anthropomorphising this type of herd bonding behavior, it was a touching and wonderful moment in time to be a part of.

For the several months up until the three kids left for their new homes, Minx and Mocha shared them, nursing all three without discrimination, cleaning their bottoms, answering their cries when they became separated. And all three of the kids were close, especially when they could gang up to bully the much smaller kids who began to arrive a month later.

Now, a few years and freshenings later, the two remain amicable friends, though they’re not quite as close as they were as youngsters. A parallel to our own world, really, where our relationships with others grow and change over time. Yet in my mind, they’ll always remain the best of friends – Minx and Mocha, the first of many terrible teenager gangs.

 

My Experience with Meningeal Worm in Goats

Although we love dearly our ability to browse our goats over such a varied bit of land, this style of keeping brings it’s own issues. Meningeal Worm is something I’ve unfortunately become very familiar with.

Meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongulus tenuis) is a parasite that live in the brain and spine of whitetail deer. When the eggs are shed, they are often picked up by snails and slugs, which are then ingested by ruminants such as goats, llamas, and sheep.

This can cause some serious issues, as the parasite gets “lost,” potentially causing hind end lameness and even paralyzation.

My first experiences with Meningeal worm (henceforth referred to as MW) were confusing, because there was almost no information on the parasites, nor the strange symptoms we were experiencing. In the beginning, I actually thought I was looking at two diseases – one that caused hind end lameness, and one that caused skin lesions.

It started that very first year the rains really returned. We had been in a drought for so long, I think a lot of us forget just how green and wet it can get. As slugs and snails thrive in the wet, and whitetail deer are everywhere, it’s simply the perfect environment to pick up MW infection – though I didn’t know it at the time.

The skin lesions were the true start of my quest. Some of the goats – almost exclusively La Manchas – began to present with awful raw patches of skin. They started as small bare spots, but within a day would be bloody and raw, as if the goat had scraped it ferociously against something. Sometimes the lesions would grow larger, sometimes they would remain small. The vast majority were located on the upper parts of the body, most commonly on the neck. There have been instances of the lesions appearing on the head, shoulders, spine, rump, but rarely below the middle of the goat. After a few days, the lesions healed, and the hair grows back eventually, leaving no trace.

  

I assumed it was a fungal infection to start with – perhaps rain rot or ringworm, though it didn’t exactly fit any of those ailments. When treatments had no effect, I did a skin scraping to look for mites and found nothing. I was left scratching my head in puzzlement over the issue, and the problem was left unsolved.

As the season progressed, the skin issues continued, but appeared to have no long term effect on the goats. They’d rub themselves raw, then it would heal with no issues. No one lost their appetite, ran a fever, or became lethargic. I sent the pictures to several fellow goat owners, and even posted them on a couple forums, with no solid diagnosis.

However, at the same time, I began to have issues with hind end lameness. Several La Mancha does started to drag a hind leg or have trouble standing. A promising young Nigerian Doe had trouble getting up one day, and by the next, was completely paralyzed in the hind end, and could only drag herself about. This I could diagnose – surely MW. While researching MW I never once came across a description of the skin lesions, until Onion Creek Tennessee Meat Goats updated their own MW article, which included the following:

“You should suspect Meningeal Worm disease if the goat displays bare patches of hide from quarter to palm size (generally on the flank or near the front leg), a bloody hole chewed in the hide, neurologic signs or any problem involving the spinal cord, from hind leg dragging to inability to get up.”

It suddenly all made more sense, and I immediately launched into treatment not just for the lame goats, but the ones exhibiting skin. We use extremely high doses of fenbenzadole – 10x the normal dose at least, over several days (minimum five) depending on severity. If the animal is showing neurological symptoms, I include a dose of banamine to act as an anti-inflammatory.

Closer inspection of the lesions made it painfully clear it was MW causing these issues – the parasite exits the skin once it becomes lost, and underneath the hair, one can often find “track marks” and holes where it has done so.

  

No one else had described these lesions anywhere, and even a parasite specialist from Texas A&M during a small ruminants veterinary conference had no idea about them, asking us to bring some examples this year if possible. When I tried to bring it up during a goat meeting (that I no longer attend) I was promptly shut down (the rude way in which I was dismissed is one of the reasons I no longer attend, actually). I admit to feeling some vindication when Caroline Lawson wrote an article for the Dairy Goat Journal recently that also described the lesions – the first time since the Onion Creek article that I have seen someone other than myself report these issues in conjunction with MW.

Many claim that monthly doses of Ivermectin injectable will act as a preventative, but after trying this method for a season, I was forced to conclude it was not effective for our herd. It’s interesting to note that while both breeds we run can exhibit the hind end lameness, it’s almost exclusively the La Mancha that develop the skin lesions, while the Nigerian Dwarf have only two recorded cases of minor sores. Yet the Nigerian Dwarf are much more likely to go completely down in the hind end and become paralyzed, and also do not respond as well to treatment.

Most of the goats treated recovered, though not always 100%. One Nigerian Dwarf doe who had a minor case continues to show some permanent lameness, but it has not inhibited her ability to produce kids or keep up with the herd. Several La Mancha who have had varying degrees of infestation have recovered completely with no sign. A Nigerian Dwarf buck that lost complete control over his hind end recovered through intense treatment and therapy, but can no longer breed due to the weakness of his hind leg still.

And unfortunately, three goats – two Nigerian Dwarf does and a La Mancha buck – never recovered the use of their hind legs and were humanely euthanized.

Thankfully, this issue is rarely seen among penned goats, but unfortunately it’s one of the risks we personally run here with our style of keeping. There are positives and negatives to any way of keeping, and Meningeal worm remains our largest enemy running our goats the way we do. It’s a risk that, in the end, we have chosen to accept in order to continue to reap the immense benefits of free browsing. The life of a goat owner is never easy, and we all must decide what is best for ourselves and our own animals. Thankfully, the past few years have made me nearly an expert on this parasite, and I hope that this post will help someone else understand what they’re dealing with some day.

The Goat That Floats

There’s one thing that goat owners learn very quickly: goats hate water. We’ve all seen our goats race for shelter when the rain begins, laughed as they jumped over puddles, and a few of us have even used a squirt gun to discourage inappropriate behavior.

And yet, another thing we’ve all learned is that there are always exceptions to the rule. And here at the dairy, we have one extremely notable exception, though our entire herd has become rather more tolerant of water than the average dairy goat.

Lime, a young La Mancha goat, has proven herself to be quite the swimmer.

I’ll never forget the first time I caught the goats in these antics. As many of you know, our herd browses on a mixture of forest and pasture during most of the year. There are a few ponds, and a rather large creek runs through the property as well. More than once I have had the fortune of catching the herd crossing the creek at a low point, jumping, swimming, and walking through the water rather nonchalantly. So when a couple of goats had turned up recently with hair that showed evidence of being wet, I thought nothing of it.

One of my favorite things to do is to take the camera and go out and walk with the goats. I take pictures, shoot video, and just hang out with the girls. It was quite a hot afternoon when I decided to go out – I checked the GPS location of the goats (two of the herd members wear trackers on their collars), finding them relatively close, near a group of ponds. They often rested in this location and I figured I had plenty of time to catch up to them.

When I approached, I immediately became concerned – there was a goat in the water! A storm had blown over several trees into the water; the goat must have climbed out for leaves and slipped. I hurried towards the scene, worried that the goat was caught up in branches and unable to get out. As I got closer, I stopped in surprise, realizing that the goat was swimming.

I turned the camera on right away, knowing no one would believe it unless I had proof! I hardly believed it myself. What kind of goats are we raising around here? Lime was just a head bobbing about in the water, and she wasn’t alone either – several other goats had joined her in an effort to reach what had to be some really delicious leaves.

I moved closer to get a better look, the goats ignoring me as they usually did in these instances, and was just blown away by the antics of these La Mancha. And it’s interesting to note too that it’s only the La Mancha (and primarily Lime) that I catch swimming or wading voluntarily. While the Nigerian Dwarf will cross water if they must, I’ve yet to catch one swimming or wading just to browse.

Over that summer and fall, I caught them in the ponds several more times. It still surprises me to see them indulge in this behavior, but I have to say it makes for some great video! As for health concerns, we’ve yet to have any issues stemming directly from the swimming (or drinking of pond water) but precautions should always be taken when it comes to animals around open water.