My First Milking Experience (OP: 10/2013)

Ahh, I remember it so well. The goat stood, staring at me from among the tall weeds. Her name was Hope and she had an udder full of milk I was determined to get my hands on.

My husband stood nearby, watching with an amused expression. He is well used to my often random decisions to take on a new hobby or skill. Little did he know this one would stick, and stick hard!

Hope’s horns were huge and a little intimidating. The smaller wether hung behind her, peering warily around his friend. I held out my hand and tried to convince them to move closer. No luck. They were baffled by their new surroundings and very suspicious of these new people.

I walked towards them and they ran away. This repeated for some time before my husband and I cornered them and he grabbed the doe by one horn. She swung her head in an effort to free herself. “Bring her over here.” I motioned, picking up the clean pickle jar I had brought outside with us.

Hope dug her heels in and protested, but my husband got her to where I wanted. I squatted in the dirt and looked at the hairy udder between her hind legs. Hmm. Reaching out, I grabbed one of the teats. Hope kicked wildly and jumped in the air, and I fell backward, getting dirt all over the seat of my pants.

“Let’s tie her to the fence.”

Rinse and repeat.

Ten minutes later, Hope is tied to the fence with three different ropes; one around her middle, one around her neck, and one around her hind legs. My husband grabbed her horns and held her still as I fumbled with her teats, trying to figure out just how to produce the milk that I was certain existed inside.

At long last, a thin stream of warm milk arrived, missed the pickle jar I grasped in one hand, and hit the dirt. Success! Well – almost.

Thirty minutes later, a couple of inches of milk splashed around in the jar, specks of dirt and leaf floating within. I gleefully screwed the lid on and looked at it while my husband untied the annoyed looking goat from the fence. She swung her horns at him grumpily before stalking off, dignity affronted.

I showed him the hard won milk and he gave me an exasperated look I’ve come to know so well.

 

The Great Horn Debate (OP: 10/2013)

Almost from the moment you start raising goats, you will be faced with one of the largest debates in the caprine world. Horns, or no horns. The opinions differ from person to person, and even industry to industry. You’ll find that the meat goat industry is for horns, while the dairy goat industry is against horns. So if you are a pet or hobby raiser, how do you decide which is the right course for you and your farm?

I also started as a hobby raiser. My goats were Nigerian Dwarf crosses, a miniature dairy breed. I thought the horns were beautiful and decided that I would allow my goats to keep their horns. The horns are used to help disperse heat from the animal, something I thought would be very useful, living in Central Texas where it gets quite hot. I thought also, the horns would be a good deterrent against predators. Plus it was natural. While it is true that horns are a natural radiator in goats, I found out very quickly that horns will not help a goat under attack. My favorite goat was mauled badly by a dog, despite her large formidable horns. I was lucky: she survived and with much care, healed and suffered no lasting harm except for a torn ear.

With that I learned two valuable lessons: horns are not protection, and domestic dogs are one of the most common causes of livestock attacks. Still, I was determined to allow my goats to keep their horns. Until about the fifth time I untangled one goat from the fencing. Then I went online and began to research further into the matter, and found that the cons of allowing goats, especially dairy goats, to keep their horns was greater than the pros. I read about one owner who had a doe (female goat) get trapped in the fence much like mine had, but in her case, it was dogs that found her poor goat before she did.

They can also die of dehydration if trapped on a hot day when you are not home. Horns can break off during a fight, causing a painful bloody mess. Even the sweetest goat can accidentally harm you by an unfortunate movement of the head at the wrong time, as I also learned and now sport a scar from. Bucks (male goats) with intact horns, even when not aggressive, can cause some substantial damage to fencing and housing by rubbing their horns against it. Dairy goats cannot be shown with horns intact, so if you ever move from hobby goats to registered stock to improve your lineage, you will face this trouble as well. Which of course brings you to the final key point of all these discussions: disbudding. Disbudding is the act of using a very hot iron to burn the horn buds on a young kid to prevent future horn growth.

While it sounds grotesque, it is a valuable skill many goat raisers learn to do themselves. The skull of a goat is very thick (remember, they use their heads as battering rams) and the pain is quickly forgotten by the youngster. The other methods for horn removal in older goats are not near as quick or as easy, so it is always recommended that if you are going to remove horns, you disbud them as kids. Talk to your local goat raisers – if you do not wish to learn this skill, you can certainly find someone to help you out. In the end, it’s a rare person that will not buy a goat because it is disbudded, but you will find that quite often, people will pass on your goats because they are horned.

Horns are beautiful and I do still enjoy the look of a goat with a majestic pair, however, when it comes to my herd and not just their safety, but my own, I have changed my mind and choose to disbud.

Goat Breeding in a Nutshell (OP: 10/2013)

First off you have to realize, there is almost no scientific research done on goats. 99% of what you will be using is not marketed towards goats. And  manyvets have no earthly idea what they are talking about. Goats are not cattle!

To remain healthy, alive, and productive, a breeding doe needs a great amount of supportive care. Deworming, proper diet, supplements, minerals. The bucks put a lot of effort into breeding and need the same.

Here is a basic run down of things on my end.

Dry (open does not in milk) does are being fed grass hay and a bit of grain every day. A month before breeding season, grain begins to increase! I begin pouring it into them – this helps them to ovulate and release more eggs. A single kid birth is a troublesome birth.

ALL does come in to get their feet trimmed, supplemented with Bo-Se (prescription) for selenium, and dewormed pre-breeding twice. They’ve already received a copper bolus in June.

Breeding rolls around. I have the buck – he is stinking himself and everything else up. I hand breed everyone if I can and then he lives with the herd to catch any who might come back into estrus.

Grain feed increases slowly. Come December everyone gets copper bolused again and I begin adding alfalfa to the diet – the calcium is a MUST. They also begin to get yeast and powdered calcium in their feed.

February rolls around – time for the buck to leave if he hasn’t already. All this time between then and now you’ve been working on getting him back in shape. He’ll have lost weight and could possibly have urine scald on his legs. You’ll have been separating him to feed as he is not supposed to get an unproportionate amount of calcium vs phosphorous but still needs a good diet to get his weight back. He needs to be bolused just like the does, as well as given Bo-Se before and after breeding to keep fertility up. Dewormed before and after as well, and his feet trimmed no matter how badly he was stinking.

Everyone by now should be showing their udders and I will know who settled and who didn’t. Hopefully everyone did. They receive their CD/T booster, Bo-Se, and I now begin to pay far more attention to their moods and actions.

March! KIDDING TIME! Five months after they are bred, I now face multiple sleepless nights. Every doe is checked multiple times during the day. I pay special attention to several points – udder, hind legs, tail ligaments, behavior. All of these can tell me when they are due to kid. If I feel they are close, they go into the kidding stall and I watch them on camera.

Kidding! If all goes well, the most I need to do is wipe off noses and make sure the babies nurse. Or more likely, I’m sorting out tangled kids in utero and helping them into the world. I hold scared first fresheners until they understand what their babies are. I pray that no kid is so large I cannot pull it on my own. I pray no doe tears inside and needs to be put down.

Mama gets dewormed again, babies get umbilicals dipped and get a vit e and selenium supplement. They are kept stalled for a couple days if I don’t need the stall immediately, then out with the herd. Babies MUST have access to safe warm dry shelter. A wet and cold baby goat is a dead baby goat, period.

Kids now need to be disbudded. Nothing like the smell of burnt hair and flesh and horn bud. Kids need their CD/T booster. Kids need to be pulled from mama and taught to nurse from a bottle before going to new homes.

Now mamas need to be milked. Their grain and alfalfa ration is huge. They eat it all and demand more. They lick up every bit of the expensive minerals and demand more. The newbie moms have to be hobbled and taught what milking is all about. The pros kick the bucket over from time to time to remind you who is really in charge.

Any kids you kept are either nursing mama and need to be separated at night once they are old enough so you can milk in the morning, or you are bottle feeding up to 3-4 times a day. They need to be carefully managed – coccidosis and worms are a massive killer of baby goats, and what they don’t kill, they stunt.

So kids are on some kind of preventive program. If you can get Baycox, you can get away with one dose at 21 days. If not, you are using Corid or Albon or Sulmet and treating orally every 21 days for five days in a row. You are also carefully deworming with the proper dosages and dewormer every 21 days. Prevention in kids is key if you want them to grow robust. They also eat an amazing amount of high protein for their size.

Now you are milking every day, usually twice a day. No excuse – you must get up and milk. You must be home to milk. Each udder must be wiped down, the teats stripped of that first squirt and checked for mastitis. Then you milk. You dip the teats and shoo the doe back out. Then the milk must be quickly strained and chilled and you bring in the next doe to milk.

So forth until you decide to dry the doe up which means careful watching that she doesn’t become too full in her udder which is painful and could cause issues. Finally, she’s dry!

And breeding season looms ahead of you again. Time to decide who is ready to be bred, who to breed to, and start all over again.

And remember…these are just the basics of breeding goats, and based on things going properly. There is so much that can go wrong, which I will touch on in later blog posts.

Falsely Accused? (OP: 9/2013)

Who here hasn’t seen a picture or video of animal neglect? I’m willing to bet a great number of my readers have seen multiple, and not just ones reposted by someone else. I’m sure many of you have come across a questionable Facebook post, or forum thread, or Craigslist ad. You’ve seen an animal who looks neglected or abused.

Many of us will do what we can to rectify the situation. Some of us try to educate the owner. Some try calling local law enforcement and animal control. Some even gather personal information about the owner and use it against them.

So what happens when it’s *you* being accused of animal neglect or abuse?

For the purpose of this blog, we’re going to say that you are innocent of what you are being accused of. Perhaps the animal has a medical condition. Perhaps you just recently procured the animal, which came from a bad situation.

So what do you do when the internet begins calling for blood?

First and foremost: Stay calm!

I simply cannot stress this enough. Your innocence doesn’t matter worth a shit if you immediately jump to the defensive. If you hit your capslock and begin “screaming” at people, you have lost any and all credibility right away. When you begin to insult people, they begin to automatically assume your guilt.

Stay calm. Step away if you must, until you have full control over your mouth/fingers.

Next, believe it or not, you need to *thank* the people who are questioning your animal. Thank them for their concern. After all, they wouldn’t bother doing so if they weren’t actually worried about the animal. (With a few exceptions, of course)

Tell them your appreciate their feedback. Thank them for caring enough to say something.

Explain yourself, calmly. If you are innocent of what you are being accused of, no doubt you have a damn good reason for having an animal that appears neglected/abused. Outline the situation. There’s no need to go into a great deal of detail as long as you lay down the factual foundation.

To those threatening to call the Sheriff or Animal Control, tell them they are welcome to it. Whether or not they actually do so, this shows that you are unconcerned about what these agencies will find. Now, make note, Animal Control has had it’s share of epic screw-ups, but for the most part, if you are doing things correctly, they will find no reason to bring charges against you.

You will of course, need to provide some sort of proof to back up your reasons for the animal’s condition, but you need only present this to an agency of the law. The people on the internet do not *need* this information. Posting it can help, but take care to remove *any* and *all* personal information posted on said documentation.

Staying safe is paramount. There are people out there who truly only care about the animal(s) and will not bring harm to you or yours.

But there are a great deal of insane lunatics out there who will not think twice about spreading your name, personal information, and even going further and beyond.

Just remember – we are all in this together. Take a moment to *ask* about a situation you may see online. Not every neglected or abused animal being posted became that way via the person posting it.

A Reddit Response (OP: 9/26/2013)

I wrote this in response to a picture posted on a social media forum called Reddit.

No big deal – it’s normal for newborn ruminant offspring to present in that fashion – feet first. The doe might be a first timer and decided to take a little jog mid-birth. Again, pretty normal. It appears these deer are almost tame and are probably used to being in the area around houses and whatnot.

While this is not an unusual presentation during birth, it’s not the OPTIMAL one. The optimum presentation is forelegs with the nose upon them, one shoulder/leg slightly back. Like this: LINK 

However, many other presentations, while not as optimal, still generally work. When I looked at this image, I thought these were the back legs. As I am visually impaired, it’s hard for me to tell, so I just went with what I thought it was, which is THIS  presentation.

To get to the point: I have seen several does present with kids the way I perceived the picture to be. If the fawn is actually forelegs out, (Like this  ) head back, this is a far more serious issue. But what I most hate seeing and what I treat as a serious concern is a breech like this  .

We had a good variety of positions presented this year, especially in the smaller goats who often carry multiples (we had one girl birth five kids. Several others kidded four and most kidded three) and the things can become tangled up.

I help sort out tangled babies and ease them into the world, and I also know when a situation will likely solve itself on it’s own. To me personally, a backwards baby like I thought this was, is “no big deal.” Hence my comment! You would be surprised how resilient animals are – they will push their hardest and deliver their babies even when their babies are delivered in the oddest fashion. And many times the babies live. It can be surprising!

Goat Myths – True or False? (OP: 9/18/2013)

To this day, some myths about goats continue to persist. Even I, the Goat Whisperer, find myself having to time and time again refute these myths.

It gets a little frustrating at times! Ignorance is never a fun thing to come up against. But ignorance can be remedied, if people are willing.

So let’s take a look at a few of those myths and I’ll give my . . . unique point of view on them. Won’t that be fun?

1. Goats stink.

Now here’s a fun one! It’s both true and false. My does (female goats) and any wethers (neutered male goats) I keep absolutely do not stink. They have a pleasant subtle smell if you stick your nose in their fur. However, bucks (intact male goats) absolutely do stink for part of the year. They go into rut, a state of heightened sexuality, where they urinate on themselves and their faces. They emit a powerful odor to make themselves sexy to female goats. It works.

To someone not used to the smell, it can just about knock you over. It sticks to you and is difficult to remove. So yes, buck goats stink. Don’t want smelly goats? Don’t keep a buck.

And of course, if a person locks any animal in a small enclosure and don’t clean it, it’ll stink.

2. Goats eat anything.

Man I hate this one. Very false. For some reason, every moron out there thinks goats can eat anything and everything and will be just fine with some shitty moldy hay they wouldn’t give cattle.

Goats have stomachs far more delicate than cattle. They are more on the level of horses, despite having a chambered stomach and rumen. They cannot eat poor forage and absolutely do not eat trash or tin cans. And most won’t.

My goats and many others won’t even touch something that fell on the ground. If I give them the best hay available, they pick out the best and anything that falls out of the feeder is stomped into the ground and laid on. Wasteful creatures. If I give them slices of apple, any that are dropped are left to the chickens. Goodness forbid these prima donnas eat something with dirt on it!

Feeding goats insufficient and even moldy feed has cost them their lives, when they eat it out of hunger.

3. Goats will mow your lawn.

True and false I suppose. Goats are browsers, not grazers. They prefer to eat from high up, like trees and bushes. They will clear that out first before they touch grass, and even then they’ll be picky. You won’t get a nice smooth lawn, that’s for sure! If you can keep them in your pasture anyways.

4. Goats are impossible to keep penned up.

*cough*true!*cough. Ahem. Well, true and false again. Goats are clever creatures who are quite certain that the trees are always greener on the other side. To keep goats in, you need fencing made for Fort Knox, and even then, you’ll need to watch, if there’s any weakness, they’ll find it.

5. Goat milk tastes “goaty”.

Absolutely false. “Goaty” or musky tasting milk is the result of poor handling, not the milk itself. Goat milk is naturally homogenized and more delicate than cow’s milk. It needs to be strained and cooled as soon as possible and not overly shaken about. Which is why goat milk in stores tastes so poor, it’s been pasteurized to death and then shipped, which breaks it down. Goat milk I get from my own animals tastes just fine, like whole milk, perhaps a little sweeter, and definitely way better for us.

6. Goat meat is a poor man’s meat.

Are you aware that over seventy percent of the world’s population eats goat meat? It’s a wonderfully lean meat, very healthy. It’s molecular structure makes it easier to digest than most meats. Goat meat is so popular that our country cannot keep up with the demand and imports much of it for those of us who eat goat meat.

Did you know that the goat was one of the first domesticated animals, if not the first? They are amazingly diverse creatures. They can be used for milk, meat, fiber, packing, carting, weed control, pets . . . the list is nearly endless. Goats are intelligent, as intelligent as most dogs. And people wonder why I’m so fascinated with them.

I’ll leave off there for now. Have you any myths you’ve heard? Have you discovered that they are true, or false?

Hermaphrodites in Goats (OP: 9/13/2013)

Now here’s an interesting subject for you!

That’s a pretty masculine looking goat right there, isn’t it? That’s certainly what I thought when I walked up to it.But the owners claimed it was a doe, or female.

Baffled, I took a closer look and examined the goat’s teats and vulva area.

My suspicions were correct. This was no female goat! Of course, niether was it a male goat.
It was a hermaphrodite.

Hermaphrodites aren’t very uncommon in goats, believe it or not. It occurs when a goat has both male and female reproductive organs. In this case, the goat has a female vulva, but inside was a nodule, which is actually a penis. If we were to examine the internal structure of this goat, we might find testicles in the abdominal cavity.

 

 

You can see the visually evident penis within the vulva of this goat above. Fascinating, isn’t it? The goat also exhibits immature looking teats much like a buck or wether would and masculine attributes instead of a more feminine look.

There is some debate about the genetic link between the polled (hornless) gene and what causes intersex goats. While it has not been proven, there are many cases of two polled goats being bred together and creating a hermophrodite kid. There are also plenty of cases where it did not.

When breeding polled goats, it would be worth your time to take a closer look at both studies done and anecdotal information to decide for yourself if the risk of breeding a polled goat with a polled goat is worth it to you.

The Basics of Deworming (OP: 9/19/2013)

One of, if not THE, biggest issue that faces goat keepers is the issue of internal parasites.

In a species like the caprine, that comes from a much different climate than we now keep them in, it’s a constant struggle to stay ahead of parasites and keep your herd healthy.

An internal parasite infestation will prevent your goats from growing to their potential. They cause disease and anemia. Your goat will exhibit a rough coat, lethargy, even symptoms such as coughing and fever. Internal parasites kill.

So what can you do?

Let’s start with the most basics – checking your goat for worms. A very useful tool is using the Famacha chart to check eyelid color. A goat with a worm load will show it with anemia.

You check the color against the color of the inner eyelid.

 

Another useful tool that every serious goat keeper should look into learning for themselves is fecal sampling. You can learn how to do it here.

Prevention is also a huge key. Some folks swear by dry lots. I have personally had a lot of success in this as well, but you also have to take care that your dry lot does not become crowded and dirty.

Keep feeders off the ground – keep your goat’s feet out of it. Parasite eggs are transferred through fecal matter most of the time. Keep hay up high – don’t just dump it on the ground. Try your hardest to keep your goats out of their feed.

Water should be higher than the goats can poop in it whenever possible.

Copper bolusing (I’ll do a blog post on this as well in the future) can really help. Good diet and minerals can assist in boosting your animal’s immune system against parasites.

Pasture rotation is often heralded as a great way to keep parasites down, and it can be when done properly. You graze your goats in one field, then move them to a new one and follow them with another species like horses or hogs. (Rotating with sheep is ineffective as they can pass the same species of parasites to each other.) However, simply leaving a field fallow for a cycle will not kill the worms – it can take up to a year to clean an empty field of parasites.

Culling too, can assist you in building a strong resistant herd. Remove animals from your farm that are unable to stay healthy.

So how do you treat a worm load?

We have many options, but you’ll soon find that almost all of them are off-label use of chemical dewormers. Even now, there is a startling lack of research done by anyone except goat raisers themselves.

The biggest chemical dewormers include Ivomec, Cydectin, Dectomax, Safeguard, and Valbazen among others. I won’t go into specific dosages of each one as that can vary by where you are – what works for someone in Michigan or Montana does not work for me in Texas.

Some specifics notes: Valbazen is not safe for pregnant does. Safeguard has become largely ineffective almost everywhere, but still makes an excellent dog dewormer.

The most effective method of deworming is to use one dewormer and stick with it for a year. Switching back and forth from dewormer to dewormer can build resistance. Don’t ever underdose – always overdose! All of these dewormers are safe to overdose by some degree. Don’t deworm just once – deworm, then again in ten days, and in extreme cases, again in another ten days. Every time you get a really good rain, it’s a good idea to deworm again.

Dewormers carry an expiration date but generally do not expire.

I’ll touch base briefly on “natural” goat dewormers. I’ve been known to give the goats pumpkin and pumpkin seeds to this effect, but on the whole, “natural” dewormers are simply inefficient. Many people swear by Diatomaceous earth but there is absolutely no scientific evidence that eating or feeding this will have any effect at all on internal parasites, and indeed, much evidence that it does nothing at all.

Staying on top of parasites is the biggest key to being successful in goats.

Dominant Traits in Goats (OP: 9/17/2013)

A lot of people know some goats are born polled (hornless) and some are born with blue eyes. But SO many people don’t quite understand how this works!

I’m going to use “X” to denote both polled and blue eyes, because they are both a dominant trait, and interchangeable for the sake of this bit of a genetics lesson.

Let’s say you have a doe who exhibits X and a buck who doesn’t. You breed them.

Xx stands for the doe. This means she exhibits the trait (ie blue eyes). xx stands for the buck. He does not exhibit the trait.

If you breed Xx with xx, because it is a DOMINANT trait, and not recessive, you stand to get:

50% Xx
50% xx

In clearer terms, each kid has half a chance of exhibiting the blue eyes. Each kid also has half a chance of having plain eyes.

Now, you breed a Xx with a Xx. Two blue eyed goats.

This means you get 100% blue eyes right?

Wrong.

Because this is a dominant trait, both goats most LIKELY carry the brown eyed/horned gene as well. This means you get:

50% Xx
25% XX
25% xx

But wait, what does this mean? There’s three results.

Xx is obviously a blue eyed kid. xx is a brown eyed kid. So what is XX?

XX is a homozygous blue eyed kid. The homozygous means that it carries two copies of the blue eyed gene. This means if you breed a homozygous goat, all of its offspring will have blue eyes.

Now, I am not 100% certain homozygous blue eyed/polled goats exist. They should. Doesn’t mean they do.

Confused yet? It’s okay, it just takes some practice.

But let me get some things straight.

Your goat cannot CARRY the polled or blue eyed gene without exhibiting it. There is NO non-visual heterozygous for these traits, because they are dominant.

If you breed a blue eyed/polled goat to a blue eyed goat/polled goat, you can STILL get brown eyed/horned kids. You’re more likely to get what you’re seeking, but each kid still has that chance of the draw.

Hope this helps. I’ve seen one too many comments about “carrying” such and such gene or “guaranteed to have such and such gene kids.”