Apple & Spyder – Part 1

The farm’s inhabitants certainly aren’t limited to goats, and one of the most notable among the non-Caprine family is Apple, my Missouri Fox Trotter pony. This chestnut mare has certainly had her time as front and center too, as those who have followed our farm for a long time would remember.

I’d seen her advertised online from time to time, and would often click on it to reread and look at the pictures. I had a much smaller black pony at the time, and I had been toying with the idea of something larger.

Finally I decided to send an email with a few questions, and I had a response soon enough. It ended up that the soonest time we would all be available was Christmas day, and the owner graciously invited us to come out and take a look despite the holiday. I remember that the directions I copied from Mapquest sent us through the strangest dirt roads we’d seen in years. However we arrived safe and sound, and I gave the horse’s owner a Pecan pie, which is rather hilarious to think about looking back.

We then proceeded to catch a little chestnut mare, called Red at the time, along with a nice grey mare. Red fussed and fidgeted when tied, but otherwise didn’t act up too much. I rode the grey and the owner rode Red as we walked along a road, so that I could see how she went. The little mare danced about, spooking in place and generally acting like a silly nitwit, while the grey I was aboard plodded along, probably with her eyes closed. I tried out the foxtrot and enjoyed it, and as we reached a good place to turn around and head back, I switched to riding Red.

Since we were heading home, she perked up her ears and picked up her pace, though she was still a bit jumpy. During the ride the owner and I chatted about her. I learned that she was so small due to being born a twin and a little stunted. She was a registered Missouri Fox Trotter, and the owner had purchased her as a brood mare. However, after being checked via a veterinarian and declared unfit for breeding, the owner needed to find her a nice trail riding home. Most folks who had inquired were turned off by her pony size, and her inability to breed. Neither of which were an issue for me, of course.

After we ended the ride, I was torn – on one hand I didn’t want a pony scared of it’s own shadow. On the other, I really liked how she felt under saddle despite the shy behavior, and for some reason, it didn’t turn me off totally. The owner, sensing my hesitation, offered to bring her out to my place for another ride. If I liked her, she’d just stay, if not, no big deal, the owner would take her back home. That sounded like a good idea, so we quickly made plans and my ever tolerant husband (who spent this time watching some type of sports with the other husband in awkward silence, bless them both) drove us home.

A week later the owner arrived with Red and Storm, (the grey mare), and this time I rode Red from start to finish. This time around, she was nearly perfect, walking along with perked ears and just a bit of looking around. I was delighted, and when the owner and horse trailer pulled away, wasn’t in it this time.

The first thing I did was change her name to Apple, which is a very old inside joke with one of my long time friends at the time, which would take entirely too long to explain and wouldn’t make sense anyhow. Her registered name is Foxy’s Prissy Princess, but as I wasn’t interested in the paperwork, that didn’t make much different and I tried to forget she had such a gag-worthy name. I rode her again that day and she was just as good, and even better, she fit the knock-off Australian saddle I’d become very fond of.

With regular riding, Apple’s spookiness lessened, and I found her to be very mild mannered otherwise. However, her expression was always rather grumpy. She was willing to listen and cooperate, but she would make an ugly face while doing so, obviously wishing she was back in the pasture sleeping away the day. It became a joking point among me and my friends, and despite her sourness, I was very pleased with my new pony. Yet – I couldn’t seem to get rid of that big grass belly she had. My suspicions were really starting to grow when I posted a picture on Facebook.

A horse friend commented, “When’s she due?”

Oh dear me – I contacted my vet and went outside to peer more closely at Apple. The vet ended up being rather redundant, as I could clearly see the foal rolling about in her belly, kicking away so hard I was able to capture it on video. I contacted the previous owner, who was furious! Not at me – at her vet! Apple had been bred, but the veterinarian declared her open and full of scar tissue, making her incapable of settling anymore.

Seems like the vet was wrong.

 

I have to admit, I was pretty excited. I’d handled a few foals before, but never had one of my own. Delighted, we set up a pen right outside the back door, and I even put up a camera and live-streamed a very foul tempered Apple every night so that people could help me keep an eye on her. I was determined to be there for the birth. I documented her progress on Facebook and on forums, posting near-obscene pictures of her teats and backside for others to analyze alongside me. The previous owner sent me a picture of the sire, and as we chatted, we started a lasting friendship.

Apple was a textbook example of what to watch for in a pregnant mare and when she started dripping milk and pacing one evening, I knew it was going to happen soon. I made sure the camera was live and posted on Facebook, then settled in to watch.

Just like with her pregnancy, Apple’s foaling went just the way it’s supposed to, and Spyder was born – read more about him in the next blog post, Part 2 to this story.

Beyond all of that excitement, Apple has turned into one great pony. With regular riding, her foxtrot is a delight to ride, though when she’s out of tune, it’s more like a drunken camel. She’s even become a little more brave in my opinion, though windy days are still a bit scary.

I’ve put many a child and beginner on her, knowing she’ll either following me or follow their bumbling instructions with patience, only pulling an ugly face from time to time. I can let her sit in the pasture unhandled for a year and then bring her in and ride without much more than some grumpy fussing of the bit. Her favorite way to complain: a long rumbling deep snort, her trademark growl.

She even shows restraint with the goats, and has lived with them during the periods I did not have an equine companion for her. She doesn’t like them at all I’m sure, but she’s very tolerant of them. Unlike her gelding companions, who prefer to chase and play with smaller quadrupeds, she can be trusted to leave them be.

Apple turned 21 this year, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think she was an eight year old. Though I rarely have time to ride anymore, I try to make sure to visit with her and her current companion Finn whenever I can spare a moment. I know Apple’s happy to laze about every day, and I justify their otherwise freeloading status by claiming they are picking up goat parasites and killing them off as dead-end hosts. Which is true, though being very easy keepers helps out too!

I hope Apple’s around for quite a while longer – something about that sour old pony really just fits perfectly into my life.

 

 

My Experience with Toxoplasmosis in Goats

Anyone who has kept goats can tell you some years are harder than others. The year we had an outbreak of toxoplasmosis reigns supreme as the worst year in goats I’ve ever experienced, and I hope that nothing ever comes even close to how difficult it was to deal with.

It started out in late autumn – a doe aborted. With a herd this size, that’s generally not an unusual occurrence. Does can slip their pregnancies for a number of reasons, and I tend to expect at least a couple a year.

She wasn’t the only one to abort though – several others did as well, but they were weeks apart and we decided on a round of antibiotics to clear up any potential issues. That seemed to put an end to the issue, but it was really just beginning.

With kidding season less than a month away, another doe aborted her twins in the field. Two does kidded a couple weeks early, and all of the kids were born weak and small, and soon died. One thing that I noticed was that the afterbirth smelled absolutely horrible. A rank rotten smell that filled the air around it. Obviously by now I was incredibly concerned, and we sent off blood to start looking for a reason. I sent a warning to our volunteer barn watchers, concerned that this could possibly be a zoonotic issue, and I cannot put anyone at risk.

We were able to rule out the big-bad diseases every goat keeper lives in fear of, including Q-fever and Johnes, fairly quickly, which was a relief at the time. At this point I assumed our issue was chlamydiosis, and we decided on another round of antibiotics for all the does and kids. More does kidded, and more weak kids were born. The entire farm spent several days and nights pulling all the stops to save them, to no avail.

Finally after testing of dead kids, a set of fetuses, and blood-work, we had our answer: Toxoplasmosis. Not a virus or bacterial infection at all – a common parasite than can infect many species, and reproduces in cats. Cats! We do have cats, but they are almost always indoor and the goats had been exposed to these cats for their lifetime. We’d not added any new cats, and no feral cats are ever in our barn, thanks to the farm dogs. It turned out that the cause of contamination had been a hay shipment – round bales kept in a barn that obviously must have had barn or feral cats within.

The infected birthings were obvious – it affected mostly the Nigerian Dwarf, though many of the La Mancha were also infected. The babies were born dead in varying stages of decomposition, or very weak. Some babies would appear normal at first, but quickly decline and die within one to two days. The placenta and amniotic sacks had a terrible smell and were sometimes decomposed themselves. Particularly interesting were many placenta that had quarter sized red lesions upon them. Most of the does showed no signs of illness, even with infected births, but several did become ill, and one young La Mancha doe died shortly after giving birth to weak kids and an afterbirth that smelled like death.

Just a couple weeks into kidding season and I was totally trashed – running day and night doing what I could to save any kid I could. So many kids died as we held them, and I felt every loss very deeply. Added to the horror of the situation was the fact that many – most – of the kids who died were sired by a very promising young buck that had died young. These were his only kids, and every one that died remains in my memory to this day. To make matters even worse, my best friend from across the country visited for the first time ever, only to find me in zombie mode surrounded by death and devastation. The entire farm had a sad grey pallor over it, and I remember that the weather matched – long days of dreary rain and thick mud. Some of the does would cry piteously after their kids died and were taken away; I’ll never forget Catnip’s confused cries as I milked her out the day after her first kids, a beautiful set of triplets, died shortly after being born.

Not all of the kids from infected birthings died right away, but many were terribly effected. Blindness was very common, as well as failure to thrive. One little black buckling lived for almost two months, and never gained more than a couple pounds. He had only partial sight, and would run along the walls of the kidding pen if he heard me. Other blind ones would just run into corners and wail non-stop, even injuring their faces as they bounced off the walls. Stargazing was common, and some could not stand or walk. There was also several cases of contracted tendons, the worst I’d ever seen.

Only three obviously infected kids survived longer than three months. The first was a little Nigerian doeling, born alongside two rotted siblings. The second Nigerian doeling lived when her two siblings died and after a short time, flourished. The final was a Mini Mancha that developed a terrible infection in the eyes, but with round the clock in house care, survived, though she lost the majority of her sight. Unfortunately, the first was lost to pneumonia and the second to uterine rupture. The blind goat, Pinky, is doing great and lives a very fulfilling life.

She’s the only Toxoplasmosis kid left alive now.

The entire event feels very surreal now, but I only need to look at my paper kidding records to be reminded – an orange highlight slashed through each dead kid is chilling, especially as you turn each page and count just how many there were. I regret not taking more videos and pictures, but I was so depressed at the time it didn’t even begin to register in my head. I do have one video showing a kid stargazing that I will post at the end of this blog. At the time, I talked very little about the specifics of what was going on to the online public, and I closed down even more after a couple of people decided to take that information and run with it, spreading rumor.

The silver lining is that goats are not good hosts for toxoplasmosis. It affects them for about forty days, and is spread through fluids, most commonly birthing fluids. It causes abortions during early pregnancy, and in latter pregnancies, starves the unborn kids in utero, causing them to be stillborn or weak at birth. Once they’ve acquired it and been affected, does develop some immunity to the parasite. Kids that were born among the chaos but not infected had no troubles at all, and most have grown into lovely young does. We deep cleaned the barn, hauling the dirty bedding out to the back of the property to compost, and precautions were taken between handling goats in labor and birthing. I developed a great dislike for the idea of a barn cat – cats belong inside your home, and I’ll not be budged from the thought.

As you can imagine, we were on pins and needles awaiting the following kidding season. I’m happy to report that there were no illness or infections among the kids or births, and it was an all-around successful kidding season.

I’ll never forget that horrible season though – if there has ever been a time I seriously considered calling it quits, this was it.

 

 

 

Father of the Herd

Early on in my herd, I made a buck decision that would influence not only my own herd, but the dairy’s Nigerian Dwarf herd for years to come. From the moment I saw his picture along with his sale ad, I knew I wanted him – I just had no idea that he would become, effectively, the father of my herd.

His name was Blizzard, he was well bred and beautiful, and listed at what seems like an insanely low price now. My only obstacle was how far he was – six hours!

Thankfully, my good goat friend was making a goat buying trip, and I tagged along. We picked up a great many exciting goats that day, including both Blizzard and his sire, Pride of Texas John. I was smitten of course – my new buck was everything I would come to covet in my herd, and he was sweet and gentle as well. At the time I only had a few does, but I put him right away with a sweet chocolate girl named Bunny. The results were a beautiful little blue eyed girl, and a black buckling covered in moonspots. That buckling is still around – our wether Commando with his ever changing coat of colors, Blizzard’s first son.

As I had few does for him these days, I traded him back and forth often with my goat friend I’d gone with to get him. She had some beautiful kids as well from him, and he sure saw no lack of action in his youthful years. The funny thing about Blizzard is I never actually saw him breed a doe – he was a night breeder, preferring the cooler air, and terribly lazy about flirting with his does. Several times I figured nothing happened at all, only to get evidence to the contrary five months later.

(Pictured below, Blizzard’s sire & Minx)

  

Even with his small size, he was able to settle the two big Mini Nubians I have, producing flashy beautiful kids, though most were bucklings. At that time I was on quite the buckling streak – JuneRose was the first doeling I produced along with her sister, and it was her who would produce Blizzard’s most recognized daughter, the very doe who is in my logo.

When I met Honey Doe Farm and became friends with them, I saw a wonderful opportunity. Their herd was full of beautiful solid does, but was lacking one thing – color. It wasn’t long before I loaded him into the truck and brought him over to stay at the dairy and visit their does. I didn’t realize at the time that I would be at the dairy to witness the birth of all those kids, but I was.

That first kidding season at the dairy was a challenge – I’d gone from handling four or five does in a season to almost a hundred! The reward however, far outweighed the work, as the Nigerians offered up the most beautiful kids I’d seen yet, in all colors, some covered in spots, many with their sire’s bright blue eyes. There wasn’t a single blue eyed goat on the farm before I came with Blizzard if you can believe that!

Oh I can’t lie, I greedily kept so many kids that year! Tempest, Windstorm, Moony –  along with many others. And when we repeated Blizzard’s lordship over the does next season, we kept even more – Catnip, Saffron, Anise – just to name a couple.

It ended up being his last season – if dear Blizzard had one fault, it was a predisposition to delicate health, and when the drought ended and the wetness brought the parasites with it, he struggled. At the end of his final breeding season, I found him curled up as if he’d gone to sleep, gone from us. A loss I felt keenly, and I’m grateful we kept so many of his daughters – and even a couple sons.

To this day his progeny stand out in the herd, and not only does he have many daughters here, we now have even more granddaughters and even great granddaughters. I have absolutely no doubt that his lines will continue to dominate our herd for as long as possible. They just have the whole package – color, beauty, friendliness, and a good producing udder between the hind legs. His does freshen with nicely shaped udders that explode into production as second fresheners, and it carries through to their own offspring. Their teats are plump and easy to milk, and all of them have been much hardier than he, thanks to their dams.

Blizzard will always be what I consider the father of my herd.

It’s amazing to think that a $150 buck could change the entire course of our breeding program, and influence it for generations to come. He walked into the dairy herd and turned what was a pot of gold into a shimmering rainbow. To this day his descendants turn heads and catch the eye – they are my real stars. What I wouldn’t give for just one more season with him!

So thank you Blizzard, for all you did for us. Thank you to the polite young lady who sold him for a song. Thank you to the great goat friend who drove six hours one way to pick him up. Thank you to the does who produced his offspring and made him into our farm’s legend.

The Luckiest Unlucky Goat

When it comes to hard luck stories, you’d be hardpressed to find a goat on our farm that has faced more challenges than little Alibi.

Yet for all the troubles she’s found herself in, things always work out in her favor.

It started immediately after birth – her mother was Mia, a very gentle and sweet doe that everyone loved. Unfortunately, the birth was a difficult one and Mia, who was on the older side, did not recover, leaving Alibi as an orphaned bottle baby.

Around the same time, Mia’s oldest daughter Jojo also gave birth. Jojo had triplets, and all three went to new homes fairly early. These were supposed to be Jojo’s last kids, signaling her entry into retirement. (They turned out not to be, and Jojo later manage to sneak a pregnancy past me and have one last son, but that’s another story.) Jojo however is not a fan of being kid-free, so she continued to insist on being allowed into the kid pens, even after hers were gone.

And before we knew it, she had taken tiny Alibi as her own. I personally was very pleased – one less bottle baby! And it was absolutely adorable, the older sister stepping up to care for her sibling after the mother has passed. Sure, a ton of anthropomorphising, but it was a nice thought and still is.

They were joined at the hip instantly, the long bearded lady and the incredibly naughty kid. We always have a “teenager gang” made up of weanlings that make a great deal of trouble instead of staying in their pasture, and I’m sure you can guess who was the leader the year Alibi was born.

She made no end of trouble, from breaking into the garage to tap dancing atop any car parked in front. The fencing was just a suggestion and more than once the gate was opened by someone – so much so that we started tying it closed.

Yet for all her naughtiness, she was also the sweetest most gentle kid of the year, always wanting to crawl into your lap and be cuddled,

Yet I wasn’t the only one who would get annoyed with her – she was so incredibly pesky that even the other goats grew tired of her shenanigans. After harassing one grouchy doe a moment too long, Alibi lost a chunk of one ear. Thankfully it healed without issue, but it remains a long lasting symbol of her ability to drive a soul to near cannibalism.

But the toughest of Alibi’s troubles was still to come. As a weanling, she was up to her old tricks, this time playing in the driveway with the other kids. It was nearly time for milking so time for all of the goats to go back to the barn and pasture. When I came back to shoo the kids along with the rest, I found poor Alibi in the most wretched state and in need of immediate rescue.

She had been jumping onto the truck’s bumper then leaping off – but this time, she caught her back hoof between the bumper and license plate, and was now hanging by one leg. She didn’t even make a sound!

I hurried over and extracted her, heart sinking. It was very obvious that her leg was broken, and her hock turned completely the wrong direction. Thankfully it was a closed break – there was no injury to the skin. We headed straight to the vet to see what could be done. The whole trip there, Alibi sat very quietly in my lap, and when I put her on the table at the office, she laid on her side and did not struggle. When the vet and I worked together to put the leg back into place, she only made a soft noise.

Several weeks of crate rest followed, but Alibi recovered very well. Today you would never know she’d busted her leg so badly, and there’s only a small hard lump to be felt, if one knows where to look for it.

She and Jojo remained close all the way until Jojo’s passing, and now Alibi herself is a mother, producing a big single doeling that looks a lot like her for her first kidding. She is also fast becoming one of the dominant does in the herd, though she’s still young and has a lot of growing and fighting to do to get there. Yet she probably has the highest number of recorded fights on our Youtube channel, challenging everyone from larger La Manchas to month old kids.

As much as I would like to say that her penchant for trouble has ended – alas – she is definitely one of my worst behaved first fresheners on the milking stand!

Bumble’s Beginning

This year brought a lot of kids, and a lot of adventures, but there is no doubt that one doeling sticks out of the bunch. A little darling that was born dead, and once revived, reminded me that the bad can always be balanced by the good.

The day the insane buck JP (reminds me I need to write about him sometime too) left, I bred him to two does – Orchid and Crown Royal. Orchid unfortunately passed away from a sudden heart related event, but Crown Royal, one of the dairy’s top milking does and favorite La Manchas, carried her pregnancy without issue, and went into labor late one night.

Crown Royal has always kidded without assistance, so I left her to herself while I worked on other necessary chores during my overnight barn shift. However, as time passed and no kids arrived, I became concerned.

I checked internally to see what was going on, and unhappily, all I found were legs. Too many legs! At this point it was nearing 3:00AM in the morning and no more time could be wasted. As poor Crown Royal groaned in discomfort, I began the arduous task of sorting out what these legs belonged to. It was quite a tangle in there – all I could find was legs legs and more legs. It certainly felt like even more legs than eventually came out, but with time, I was able to shift everything around, and trace a pair of front legs up to a chest, neck, and finally head. Triumphant, I helped Crown Royal deliver the first kid, a massive buckling that looked just like his father.

He was alive and alert as I dumped him into the bedding, still steaming in the cooler barn air. Right away he began to try and jump to his feet and Crown Royal knocked him back down in her eagerness to lick and clean her new son. We didn’t have much time to appreciate the scene, as there was still at least one kid in there that needed to come out. So I went fishing again, and found some hind legs and a front leg. Two kids? No, just one I discovered, but it took time – too much time – to get it readjusted so that it could come through the birth canal easily.

That night was a strange one – I was already bone tired, even though we were just a couple weeks into kidding. I was dealing with some frustrated feelings, having just been through the Toggenburg troubles, which had been an immense amount of work that left the entire dairy with no reward in exchange. The time of year that was normally my favorite had become just another tiresome chore that I wanted to be done with. Time had no meaning, and I just closed my eyes and felt my way to bringing this goat kid out of one world and into mine.

Finally, things aligned and with a final grunt from Crown Royal, out the kid came. I was filled with disappointment and anger – the kid was limp and didn’t take a breath. I’d taken too long. This was our last JP doeling, from a great doe, and I blamed myself for losing her. I rained admonishments upon my own head in those brief seconds the dead doeling lay on the straw – why hadn’t I checked sooner. Why hadn’t I worked harder. Why had I failed? Failure is something I often don’t handle as well as I should.

I wasn’t ready to give up on her just yet though – I snatched the slimy kid off the ground by the hind legs and swung her back and forth in an effort to clean the fluid from her lungs. I massaged her little chest, and blew a couple of breaths through her warm wet nostrils, trying to get her to breath on her own. Finally, I thumped her sides, and my eyes filled with boiling hot tears that spilled over as I continued to blame myself.

I don’t know how long I worked on that doeling – longer than I normally would. But finally I dropped her onto the bedding and admitted defeat.

Then she kicked her hind legs and took a breath.

In that moment, it was like the world shifted – the tears were still coming, but now with relief as I returned to rubbing and encouraging the little doeling to keep breathing. When she let out a soft wobbly cry, my heart wobbled right along with it. Crown Royal was busy with her buckling, who by now was on his feet and thrusting his muzzle at her swollen teats, so I picked up the little doeling and took her to where I had a heater set up for just these instances. I worked on her until she was dry and breathing well, but I could not get her to latch onto her mother’s teats. So I fetched the syringe and tube and filled her little belly with Crown Royal’s rich colostrum.

I realized then that it was almost 5:00AM and my shift was ending. The doeling was weak and Crown Royal had paid very little attention to her, but I had done everything I could do. I warned the next shift that she would need help, and I honestly admitted that I was not sure she would survive – it had been a struggle, one that was only starting for the weak baby. I went to bed, certain that the morning report would include her passing away.

She did not, and in fact, by the time I returned to the barn in early afternoon, she had a suck reflex. I helped her nurse from Crown Royal, but it became pretty clear that her mother was not interested in her. By removing the doeling and drying her myself, I had broken the bond that’s created when a dam licks off her doeling. However, Crown Royal being the patient good doe she is, she would allow the doeling to nurse if I asked. Otherwise, the poor dear was butted away and ignored.

So now we had a bottle baby – just what I didn’t want! Although I admit, she rarely got a bottle – most of the time I just held Crown Royal and the little doeling would fill her belly until Crown Royal kicked her away and let me know that lunch time was over. This situation would continue until her weaning, and I thank Crown Royal for her patience and willingness to please.

The doeling came to recognize my voice very quickly, and her long legs made her terribly clumsy and endearing as she ran over to me anytime I came out. As she grew stronger, so did my affection for her, and as she bumbled about the barn attempting to play with the other newborns, I knew I had a good name for her already. Bumble!

As she grew, I wanted to ensure she got enough nutrition to live up to her large heritage, so we began to allow her into the dairy during milking. It was often easier to just put her on the stand and let her have her milk that way. Soon enough, she discovered a taste for grain as well – and the Bumble invasion of the dairy really started.

Not only did the little bugger decide that she was allowed to run into the dairy parlor anytime the door was open, nothing was off limits to her. The grain became a sandbox to play in when she was finished picking out what she wanted – she’d dig her front hooves in and send it flying across the floor. The floor that I would need to clean afterward, I might add!

Too, she realized very quickly that the really good stuff was on the milking stanchion. One milking she slipped into the holding pen with the other milking does, and all by herself, galloped onto the stand and stuck her head through to get her share, imitating her older working relatives. I couldn’t even begin to control my amusement at the sight of her little face poking out one end.

It became a habit to take pictures and post them on Facebook to “complain” about my little dairy pest. Spoiled brat! I would shout at her as she scrambled out of my reach after dumping a scoop of grain all over the floor. Pesky pain in my tail! I lamented as I shoved her butt out the door for the third time in one milking. Annoying little urchin! I grumbled when I needed to extract her from the stand so that legitimate milkers could take that spot.

I was relieved I tell you, when weaning time finally came and I unceremoniously dumped Bumble into the pen with the rest of the distressed kids her age.

Yet, milking time just wasn’t the same. A bit dull, to be honest So Bumble spent just a short time with her agemates, and now she’s back to her usual antics, brightening each and every day for all of us here on the farm.

 

Grand Theft Goat (Kid)

For Mother’s Day, I have quite got a funny little tale about a funny little goat to share with you. Hemlock the La Mancha is actually a newcomer to our herd, purchased from a friend to join the dairy’s line up of milkers. Everyone knows how much we fancy black and white goats, and an unusual amount of pigmentation in one eye made Hemlock even more unique, and she was very much welcomed on the farm.

Once she arrived and went into quarantine, we were able to see what a lovely personality she had – if a bit needy. I was told she kidded in secret overnight and hoarded her doeling until morning, when it was removed to be raised by hand, as is very typical for many farms.

Most does forget about their offspring rather quickly, transferring that affection to their owners who are milking them, but Hemlock wasn’t ready to give up her dreams of being a mother – not by far. After milking one evening within days after Hemlock arrived, I watched her shove her nose through the fencing and call after a group of our own goat kids who were running by. They paused to look at her, then ran on, and I swear I saw her expression fall in disappointment. She repeated this process over the next week, even encouraging several kids to come closer and talk back. I noticed with interest it was exclusively the dark chocolate and black colored kids she was interested in, paying the lighter colored and patterned kids no mind at all. Curious, I sent her previous owner a message and asked what color her kid had been. Black of course.

Now I was incredibly interested in what would happen next – would she continue to show interest in the kids after being released from quarantine, or would she realize they were not their own after being able to sniff their little bums. By now I had no doubt that goat mothers recognized their kids visually, and kid theft was not an unusual thing among the herd – especially the Nigerian Dwarf. I imagine the herd itself carries its own scent, and the raising of kids has become an almost community project among them. Every year a few does would end up as baby snatchers, and some of those relationships still stand to this day. The young kids quite frankly don’t care who feeds them – any spigot will do. But for a stranger to walk into the herd and take a kid? Unheard of. I figured once she had taken her ritual beatings from the top does of our own herd, her mothering ideas would take a backseat to just figuring out this new home and her place within it.

Well – I was wrong. Two days after passing all of her health clearances and entering the herd, Hemlock came into the dairy with an empty udder. I followed her around that day, and watched her go from kid to kid, as if trying them on like new pairs of socks. Every single one was dark in color, and thanks to the buck we used on the La Mancha the year before, a beautiful chocolate fellow, we had a lot of them running around!

At one point she attempted to make off with Strawberry’s young daughter, who followed her willingly enough until Strawberry chased after them and gave Hemlock a bashing I don’t think she’ll forget quickly. Hemlock left that particular kid alone afterward, and it wasn’t long before she finally settled on her favorite – a little chocolate girl belonging to first freshener Cupcake.

In no time at all she took complete control of the doeling and Cupcake no longer had any say in the matter. Hemlock came proudly into the dairy every milking sporting a mostly empty udder, and even learned to kick and stomp in an attempt to protect her milk for her adopted offspring. We’re used to such behavior, since we do dam raise, and soon enough she realized it’s polite to share.

I did however, have to send a funny message to her previous owner – Excuse me, I ordered a milking goat, not a nanny goat!

She found it as funny as I did.

I found Hemlock’s escapades to be incredibly interesting. How strong must her mothering instinct be! She was separated from her own kid almost immediately, and it was several weeks until she had contact with new kids, kids that had to smell drastically different than her own. She was in a completely foreign place, confronted with a mass of strangers, and it still didn’t stop her. The first time she went out with the herd to browse, she hung back and refused to allow her new kid to stay with the others who preferred to play in front of the house. They slowly followed the herd, Hemlock talking and fussing over the baby every step of the way.

So now Hemlock is a mother again, despite all odds, and I feel happy for her. I do not consider the methods of hand rearing goat kids to be wrong in any fashion and could see myself doing it even in a different situation, but the bonds between dams and doelings is one of my favorite things, and it brings me a great deal of happiness to see the complexity of it, and even better, something new happened on the farm thanks to this funny doe who just would not stand to be “kid-free.”

What about Cupcake, the victim of such an absolute baby-snatching? She didn’t seem to care at all. In fact, her second doeling was stolen by a herdmate named Lime and Cupcake was able to continue the kid-free life that Hemlock was not interested in. Different strokes for different goats, as they say!

Our theme for naming this year is cars, trucks, motor vehicles, etc.

So I named her kid Grand Theft Auto.

The Toggenburg Tragedy

Some stories are harder than others – and this is one of them. This story exposes a very large painful mistake that I made, and it would be easier to just bury this tale the past and ignore as if it never happened.

But that just isn’t something I have ever been good at doing. Wrong decisions are made every day, and we have all made them. If I can show just one person very clearly how easily this mistake is made, even by those of us who know better, then that person may not repeat it. That alone makes sharing this story worth writing and sharing.

As many of you know, I manage the stock at a dairy. With the business growing, we have been in need of good (but affordable) milking does. Not always an easy thing to find! So when I was tipped off that there was a large herd of Toggenburg goats that needed a new home, I immediately looked into it.

The story was a sad one – the elderly owner had kept and bred these goats for many, many years. They used to be show stock, and then dairy animals. Now she was facing eviction from her farm, had serious health problems, and her herd was facing the auction house. We have very little time to make a decision, and the goats were several hours away, making this a pressing issue right away.

When we visually inspected the animals, the decision ultimately lay on my shoulders. There were health records going back generations, and the herd had been closed to outside animals for over ten years. I found no abscesses – or scars from abscesses – that would indicate a Caseous Lymphadenitis issue. Not one doe I put my hands on had the classic swollen knees of Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis. Each one peered up at me with bright eyes, their delightful shaggy fur glowing in health. The kids were tagged, disbudded, and bounding around the area in picture perfect form. The facility was clean, and even the bucks in the next pasture over were everything one could want in  quality Toggenburg stock. Despite the fact the owner was well into her eighties, hobbling along a pace at a time with a walker, she had used every resource she had, including hired help, to keep the animals healthy. I enjoyed speaking with her – this was a woman who had seen more years of dairy goats than I could ever hope to. She told me baldly that she could no longer care for the herd, and wanted them to find a new home before it actually became an issue of declining health for the animals, but circumstances had come crashing down. Now it was surely the auction house, because how can one sell over sixty Toggenburgs to quality homes in just days?

We knew it was a risk. We knew we were gambling. But we felt the odds were in our favor – and if it worked out, it would be an incredible opportunity for the dairy. A treasure just waiting for us, to help us continue to grow and thrive. The breed is growing in popularity in our area, and it could mean a much needed increase in revenue with the sales from the kids, not to mention the boost in milk we could expect. So we decided to do it.

We were able to arrange transport right away, as the current owner of the Toggenburgs had a friend willing to help out. They showed up on an awful rainy day in two trailers, and I supervised the unloading into the quarantine pens, bucks separate from the does and kids. I had planned to refrain from mentioning our new additions until after the cleared all their health testing, but I didn’t think to share that plan with others, and it leaked on Facebook pretty much immediately. Of course, everyone was very excited for us, and it was contagious!

We were able to clear the animals for the really scary stuff right away, which put our minds at ease somewhat. The herd was settling in, and I was growing very fond of them. They were wonderfully calm animals – I almost never saw them engage in disputes, and they took the move in stride. The kids were big and sturdy, and we were able to get everyone on track with vaccinations, copper, and hoof trimming. With our next free day, we drew blood for the final test, Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis, commonly shortened to CAE.

To our absolute horror, all but two of the does came back positive. It was incredibly crushing, and I in particular was incredibly disappointed – mostly in myself. Announcing the results to those following the herd’s progress was difficult, and quite frankly, embarrassing. The support was amazing for the most part – I couldn’t ask for better friends.

There was no choice but to break apart the Toggenburg herd and remove them from the farm. Several private breeders approached me, and many of the friendly and attractive does went to homes that were set up to appropriately care and keep CAE positive animals. Even some of the bucks were able to find good homes where they should live well. The rest were lucky enough to find a job as a pasture herd. I hope their future treats them well.

As for the two does who tested negative, one unfortunately died from pneumonia, but the second was placed on a regular testing schedule, and as of today, has continued to test negative for all disease. I came up with the name “A Pretty Penny” – because in the end, that’s what this entire ordeal cost us.

I knew better than to purchase untested animals – the idea of doing it with so many was ludicrous. But I was over confident, and I wanted to have these beautiful animals for myself. I wanted what they represented for the dairy’s future. I was willing it to succeed with every ounce of my being. So when it turned into tragedy, I put a lot of the blame on myself. I refused to take any commission for the rehoming of the animals, and worked endlessly to place them in appropriate homes. The hardest one to let go of was the oldest buck, a massive wise looking boy I had dubbed The Old Guy. He would stand quietly with me while I scratched his thick neck. I was truly heartbroken for them – they were beautiful gentle loved animals.

So often we hear a breeder say something along the lines of, “I’ve never tested, but my goats have always been healthy.”

It’s just not good enough. A great number of infected animals will be asymptomatic. With how accessible testing is, there just really isn’t any good excuse. A responsible breeder should do everything in their power to control and prevent disease.

Learn more about Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis at the links below:

http://www.biotracking.com/goats/cae/faqs

http://waddl.vetmed.wsu.edu/animal-disease-faq/cae

https://www.vdl.umn.edu/services-fees/serology/caprine/caprine-arthritis-encephalitis-faq

 

 

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.