I’ve got a great one for you guys today. You all know how much I love goats, but is it just the way they look? Their affectionate qualities? Their milk?
I love goats because they are fascinating. There is a shocking lack of research and information about their deeper behaviors, and every day that I spend observing them teaches me something new. I am exceptionally lucky to be able to work with such a large herd that is allowed as natural a life style as possible.
While this video isn’t the greatest quality, as it was taken with my cell phone, it’s clear enough to show a behavior that I (and others living here) have observed multiple times. We call it the Referee behavior.
Goats have a very complex social system and hierarchy. There is a queen goat (often more than one in a large herd) and then it filters down to the young does, who are low on the totem pole. I have noticed that twice a year – breeding season and kidding season – does will get into more scuffles as they jockey to improve their position – which also means that their kids will enjoy a stronger position in the herd.
Herd rank determines when/where a doe gets to eat, drink, and even come into the milk room.
Goats challenge each other with body language and of course the famous head butting. Pawing and blubbering like a buck often accompany these disputes, usually by the more dominant doe.
I was separating the milking herd into the holding area when a pair of two year old first freshener does began to challenge each other for a better position within the herd. The tan larger doe is Butterscotch, and the smaller white doe is Marshmallow.
They were battling for some time before I noticed the older does starting to move in, and grabbed my phone and began to video the first part. You can observe right away that more goats have become interested in the dispute and they begin to push at the two battling goats, trying to discourage the fight from continuing.
At one point Blue Ceder even begins to become aggressive to the pair, butting and shoving them away until they are separated, with Sweet Pea pushing at Marshmallow.
After I had moved them both into the holding pen for milking, they took up where they left off, and I began to video again.
This time I was able to video the majority of their dispute, and once again, when it shows no sign of either doe giving way to the other, the other goats move in and begin to attempt to separate the foes. From the start, Rumble is standing with them, with Blue Cedar nearby, observing the dispute.
They start with gentle requests that the goats separate, inserting their heads and bodies between the two. You can observe that this doesn’t work – these two goats are determined to hash this out.
Watching the battle itself is interesting enough – the more dominant doe (Butterscotch) even blubbers and paws at Marshmallow on several occasions in an attempt to reassert her dominance and get Marshmallow to back down. They move from place to place, headbutting and pressing their heads together, until they begin to upset the entire herd.
At this point Blue Cedar becomes more forceful with the two, and other does like Toshi, Chattanooga, and Rumble step in once more.
Marshmallow gives way multiple times but continues to turn back. Blue Cedar again moves in and begins to become more aggressive, headbutting Marshmallow in an attempt to move her away.
At this point, Chattanooga, Zinnia, Blue Cedar, and Rumble have moved in and are standing with the combatants, separating them. Marshmallow insists on pushing the issue, until both her and Zinnia hit Butterscotch at the same time. At this point, Butterscotch becomes aware that she has been outmatched, even though Marshmallow had help.
This is the breaking point. Marshmallow has won, which she demonstrates by shoving Chattanooga and then walking away.
Interestingly, the does surround Butterscotch and rub their scent on her while Marshmallow makes her way back to her sister, where she will settle down until it’s her time to milk.
This ended up being one of the longest and most intense examples of this Referee behavior I have witnessed. I have seen, more times than I can count, a mature doe standing with two (or more) juniors or yearlings who are scuffling for position. They eventually separate the group if the conflict doesn’t resolve itself, though it goes much quicker when they’re pushing around smaller, younger does.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I do, and I do hope that I am able to document and share more behavior with you in the future.
(Unfortunately the images for this review were lost during the blog’s move)
As any goat owner will agree, any product that will make our work easier is well worth it!
About a month ago, I came upon the Electric Hoof Knife and was intrigued. While it’s not actually a knife, it’s what amounts to a hand held angle grinder. A simple enough concept; having used an angle grinder on horse hooves before, I was interested. I had to stop using a regular grinder due to the bulky weight of it – it was just too heavy and large for me to easily use, even though it made hoof trimming easier.
I showed the Electric Hoof Knife to the dairy owners, and it wasn’t long before ours arrived.
I am not affiliated with the makers of the Electric Hoof Knife at all, just a goat owner reviewing the product for everyone else!
First and foremost, I have to say the customer service is excellent. While I didn’t personally speak with them, the farm owner spent some time on the phone discussing the product before ordering. It’s always nice to know there is a real person on the other end of a product, eager to answer any questions.
Our Electric Hoof Knife arrived, along with a carrying bag, instructions, eye protection, a medium disc (the course disc was backordered and will be arriving shortly), and a tool for the item.
The grinder is very lightweight (about 1.2lbs) and easy to hold, even with my very small hands.
I installed the grinding disc and began trimming feet. With around 150 goats to trim, it gets hard to keep up, even when keeping them on a constant rotating schedule. Even using sharp quality pruner type trimmers, the strain on our hands is immense. Especially for us, who also use our hands to milk, “speak” in ASL, and heaven knows I use a keyboard more than anything else in this world.
So hand/wrist strain is always on our minds.
I found the grinder to absolutely have a learning curve – I recommend practicing on a bit of wood at first to get a feel for how it works. It doesn’t cut – it grinds down the hoof. It takes a layer at a time, which I find to be much safer than traditional trimmers, which can easily take a chunk out of the hoof on accident. It is still possible to draw blood if you grind down too far, but if you’re using caution, you can see when to stop long before you would cause injury to the animal.
Wear gloves and the eye protectors! Do not use this product in an area that is not very well ventilated and a face mask is recommended. I absolutely do not recommend you use the Electric Hoof Knife without gloves and eye protection. It throws a great amount of dust and hoof particles around, and it’s quite easy to slip, especially when just starting out, and have the grinder brush against your hands.
I wasn’t able to take a video (although the website has several accurate videos), but here are two examples of before and after.
I have to say, I really liked the results. It can be difficult, using traditional trimmers, to get a very smooth sole of the hoof. The Electric Hoof Knife makes it easy. No more crevices or anything of the sort where dirt, feces, or stones can lodge. Trimming back the toes and the heel are quite easy.
I found once I got the hang of the product, the best way to hold it, the trimming went quickly. About the same time it takes me to use pruning shears. I have no doubt that it will eventually end up being a much quicker method as I become more habituated to using it.
The Electric Hoof Knife isn’t overly loud – none of the goats showed any concern when it was switched on. The vibration is minimal and none of the goats behaved any differently than when I trim with traditional tools. I did experience some hand fatigue from holding it, but that disappeared shortly after taking a break, unlike the lingering pain in the wrist that comes from using pruning shears.
It is recommended that you clean it after every couple of trims. I found that tapping it against the side of the stand gently knocked free a lot of dust, and the rest could be brushed off with my hoof pick brush. And when they say it creates dust, it certainly dust!
On the whole, I really like it. While expensive, the tool appears very well made – although we’ll see if it holds up to near constant use! If I desire, I can purchase the horse discs from their store and use the same tool to trim my horses’ hooves. It does a great job and does it quickly, with minimal strain to my hands and wrists.
I can easily see myself purchasing one of these for my personal use when the time comes, both for my goats and for my ponies.
UPDATE September 4th 2014:
We’ve now had the EHK for many months now, and I have no major complaints. It has enabled me to correct improperly growing hooves in several goats. It’s easier to get in between their hooves and on the edges than it would be with traditional trimmers. We’ve used it quite heavily – with almost two hundred goats, hoof trimming is a constant chore.
I continue to recommend this tool and have shown it off during our Dairy Day events and spent much time answering questions about it. One of the biggest questions is about the amount of heat it puts on the hoof. So far I’ve not noticed anything more than a little warmth on the hoof, even on long sessions when I am working to correct a poorly grown and shaped hoof.
We have also used the EHK to cut through and remove scurs that were growing dangerously near the goats’ heads, as well as notch horns for the banding process. We almost exclusively use the “coarse” disc at this point.
UPDATE August 20th 2015:
I have now been using this tool for a long time and continue to recommend it to my friends and fellow goat keepers. I have had no issues with it, and it has enabled me to improve a lot of the feet around here.
Here lately, I’ve had to stop myself and reevaluate my plans so many times.
As I get more and more involved with the goat world, I find myself second guessing, and sometimes I have to remind myself why I have goats, and what my goals are.
As my herd of registered goats grows, I often start to think that I should cull and sell off most of my unregistered goats. I tell myself I should purchase goats from awesome show lines and breed for show goats.
Then I stop and realize: this is not what I want to do.
I love goats of all shapes, colors, and sizes, but my true passion is for goats who are visually pleasing to me. I love colorful flashy goats with bright blue eyes. Small and friendly, affectionate and beloved. And it doesn’t take a piece of registration paper or a best in show to accomplish that.
That isn’t to say that I don’t breed for quality as well. I want my goats to be hardy, healthy, and to live long lives. To accomplish this, they need proper conformation. To raise health happy babies, they need good udders with strong attachments and good teats.
So you can see, there is no reason that one can’t have the best of both worlds. While it costs as much to feed an unregistered doe as it does a registered, I don’t love my unregistered girls any less. I have to remind myself, my unregistered goats are not worth less to me. And it doesn’t matter how much they’re worth to other people – in the end, I have them and I breed them to produce goats that I love.
Thankfully, other people *do* love them, and I never have to fear finding offspring excellent homes, where they become beloved pets, milkers, companions, and yes occasionally, show goats.
While I’ll continue to register my does that are from registered stock, and breed them with registered bucks, I won’t discount my sweet grade girls as well. They are what started me on their journey, and when I walk through the fields in the evening, both registered and unregistered alike make my heart happy with their beauty.
If you’ve done any research into goats at all, you’ll learn very quickly that there are some important blood tests that should be done in your herd, to ensure long productivity. Blood tests can be used to test for CAE, Johnes, CL, and even pregnancy.
But with vet prices through the roof in some areas, it can become cost prohibitive to pay for a veterinarian to come out and draw blood on your entire herd. Never fear – drawing blood on a goat is actually very simple and I would even venture to say, easy.
What you will need:
A helper to hold the goat
Trimmers to shave the neck if need be
22 gauge needles
“Red top” or Vacutainer tubes
We start by shaving a patch in the neck. It’s not completely necessary but it makes it far easier to locate the vein. You can see in this picture below the location of the jugular vein. There is one on each side.
Picture courtesy of luresext.edu
Have your helper hold the goat and tilt the animal’s head back. Using your fingers, press in the area to locate the vein – it will be large, and when you press a finger down on it, will pop out and become even more visible.
While pressing on the vein, insert the needle at an angle firmly. If you go straight in, you will go right through the vein. If you are too gentle, the vein will roll to the side. Do not panic if you need to poke more than once, although after a couple of tries, switch to a fresh needle, as they become more dull with each use.
Once you believe to be within the vein, draw the plunger, looking for blood. If you get no blood, take care to not allow any air to enter the goat’s body, and try again.
If you lose the vein during drawing, simply shift the needle and attempt to locate it once more.
Once you have your blood, immediately put the needle through the soft top of your vacutainer tube. It will draw the blood into the tube for you. If you wait too long, the blood will begin to clot and be a little more difficult to get into the tube.
I made a short video for you guys, so you can see just how easy it really is!
I use the following lab for all of my testing needs:
Wethering is the process of neutering a male goat. There are several methods of wethering, which I will touch upon in this post.
Many many breeders still believe that wethering at a young age will cause urinary calci later in life. If this was true, then intact bucks would not get urinary calci, and they most certainly can.
Urinary calci is caused by an imbalance of phosphorous and calcium – in essence, it’s a diet caused issue. Grain + grass hay is a lot of phosphorous, which is what causes the stones. Alfalfa is needed to balance this issue, or simply preventing the animal from eating grain if they do not need it.
The most common form of wethering that keepers use is the banding method. It’s efficient and very rarely has side effects.
I prefer to band at about 10-12 weeks but have done it earlier (and later) with no issues. The urinary tract is going to shrink no matter what age you do it, and it shrinks by a very miniscule amount.
You use a lamb band and the tool (procured at nearly any feed store). I get my husband to hold the male in his lap, and the band is passed over the testicles and settled above them, making sure to not capture the teats or bits of stomach skin in the band.
From there, the testicles will dry up and fall off.
An older buck can be done by placing them on a milk stand, hobbling their legs, and passing one testicle at a time through the band.
Spraying the area with an antiseptic or iodine is recommended.
Wethering using a scalpel and the removal of the testicles is not for the faint of heart, but it is quick and rather easy, once you get the hang of it. This is best done with young kids, as they heal quickly and the cords are not large.
Here is a great link to learn more about this method:
Everyone pet and stock owner’s worst nightmare. Coming home and finding some of your beloved animals gone.
Did they run away? Were they stolen? Did predators get to them? All valid questions that sometimes never go answered.
So what do you do when you discover your stock is missing? I’ll share what I did when I had the same thing happen, although in my case, I knew that mine had run away, and were not stolen nor killed.
I brought home two new does, put them in the quarantine pen, and made a vital mistake – the housing was entirely too close to the fencing. Over it the does went, and frightened and lost, disappeared. I was terribly disappointed in myself, but set about looking for them. I searched nearby properties, both on foot and horseback. I shook a feed pail and called them, but these goats were unfamiliar with me and did not respond.
I called the local feed stores and let them know I was missing goats. I put up signs at the Post Office and on street corners. I contacted all of my neighbors who owned stock and let them know. We continued to look for days and finally we got a call from a neighbor a mile away – one doe was found and captured after being trapped in a shed by their dog.
We didn’t hear anything about the other for two weeks, and I gave her up for lost. Imagine my surprise when a sweet old farmer called and let me know he had my second doe. She had been found over *ten* miles away, two weeks after she went missing.
My story turned out well, but so often it does not. Do not underestimate humans – goats are often prime targets for thieves. They are easy to run through an auction and make a little money off of, or slaughtered for consumption or black market sale of the meat.
Predators too, take their toll. However in this case, there is almost always evidence of the predator, unless by chance it was a large cat like a Mountain Lion, which is more than capable of dragging away a goat after killing it and leaving very little trace.
If your stock goes missing, don’t waste any time. Go looking. Call – shake a feed pail. Call your local feed stores, veterinarians, and anyone else you think would possibly hear about a goat (or other animal) being found.
Print out and put up flyers in places people will easily see them. Don’t ignore the internet community either – find your local Facebook and Craigslist groups and post. Offer a reward, no questions asked. The more people that see your flyers and posts, the better.
Don’t forget to take a second look at your fencing, your gates, your barn. Think about investing in intruder deterrents. Livestock Guardian Dogs, motion-activated lighting, locks for your gates if needed.
Even if your stock is not registered, consider micro-chipping or tattooing as a permanent way to identify an animal as belonging to you, in the case that you find it and have to prove ownership.
Watch your local ads as well – you never know when your animal might come up for sale by someone else who has procured it one way or another.
And try not to give up hope.
The goats pictured at the top of this blog went missing not too long ago in South Texas. If you see either of them or know of their location, please contact me using my email or phone number on my website.
There are plenty of things goat keepers debate about, and one of the biggest? How to raise your kids!
The main two ways kids are raised are bottle feeding (removing the kid from the mother and feeding by a bottle or bucket/lambar system) The second is dam raising (allowing the mother to raise the kid naturally).
Both ways are fragmented into a hundred more ways to do them, and both have their benefits.
You’ll find that most large breeders and dairies will bottle feed their kids. The babies are removed at birth, fed colostrum and milk through the bottle from day one. This is especially prevalent in herds that practice CAE prevention by pasteurizing all milk and colostrum. It also enables the handlers to check each kid individually and the kids learn that humans = food, making them easier to handle as they grow.
Small breeders often dam raise, allowing the mothers to clean and nurse their kids. This is only recommended in herds with CAE negative test results that span years. It only takes one doe to cause a contamination of a herd, as kids are not particular about who they will nurse from. Dam raising often results in hard to handle kids unless the handlers take the time to associate themselves with the kids on a daily basis.
When I started, I dam raised. I had the time to play with and socialize the kids every day, and I often wondered why people would claim “All dam raised kids are wild” when it obviously was not true. However, I learned very quickly that when you have a job and a large herd, it becomes almost impossible to ensure the offspring become socialized and you have an uphill battle.
There are, of course, other ways to combine the two. I learned about a technique another farm uses, where the babies are placed in a communal pen directly after birth and receive all sustenance from the owners, but the dams can still see and “speak” with the offspring. After a couple weeks, the kids are let loose, and will return and follow their dams, but continue to be fed by their handlers.
Other farms allow the dams to keep the kids a week or more, allowing colostrum to clear the system, before removing the kids and training them to take the bottle, keeping them separated until the bond between dam/nursing and the kid is broken.
Some farms dam raise and allow the youngsters to run wild, until it comes time to be bred and then broken to the milk stand.
In the meat production world, almost all kids are dam raised.
So which is better? This is entirely up to you. Find out what works best for you and your farm. When properly done, both bottle raising and dam raising can produce strong, healthy, friendly kids.
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.
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.