Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘goats’ Category

I really do love my Toggenburg goats, but, as I have mentioned before, there are a couple of major drawbacks to having a less-popular breed – primarily relating to genetics.  As one of only two registered breeders of Toggs in my whole province, I have to range pretty far to find bucks that are not related to some, or occasionally all, of my herd.  This is not really uncommon – one lady drove for more than 12 hours to come and buy a buck from us, for exactly the same reason.

 

This little fella traveled over 12 hours to his new home

This little fella traveled over 12 hours to his new home

 

We could have put off getting a new buck until 2016, as we did not have any girl babies in 2014, so there are no major issues with daughters in the herd…for now.  However, we’ve bred all of our does this year, so by 2016, we will NEED a fresh buck, and there is really no guarantee that we will have any more time (for shopping, and also to go collect the buck) or money (ha!) than we have right now, so it seems like a good idea to get going with the whole thing.  Also, with fresh blood in the herd, we could finally start offering ‘homestead packages’ of a few does and an unrelated buck…something that we have not really been able to do, to date, but that is in the long-term business plan.

 

Buck shopping is equal parts frustrating and fun.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at photos of girl goat rear ends – nobody seems to be too concerned about showing off their bucks, but *everyone* wants to send you a picture of the nicest udder in their herd.  Even shopping for a boy, you better be looking at pictures of his mom and grandma, since what they have in the udder department will tell you a lot about what the buck is going to add to (or subtract from) your herd.   Goat breeders, on the whole, are friendly and down-to-earth, and it’s been fun chatting with folks about pedigrees and breeding plans.  On the other hand, trying to find someone who has an appropriate animal *and* can ship it to us, *and* is willing to hold it until weaned is really asking a lot, and there are some really nice herds that we just couldn’t buy from this year because of circumstances.

 

Looking at all of these goats, and their pedigrees, and their show ribbons and such has really got me thinking.  We should be showing our girls, as well.  One of our does has both a mother and a twin sister who’ve gone Grand Champion in major shows, and the mother of one of our bucks is also quite decorated, as is the grandmother of another.   It would be fun to hang out with all of these folks I’ve been emailing with and talking to over the years, too.  Too bad it’s such a logistical nightmare with young children, and all of the shows are a long trek for us.  Aah, well, maybe down the road a bit.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve got some more udders to go examine…

 

Toggenburg goat doe

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Cute Goat Overload

Skye had her baby (finally!) on Wednesday.  Like all goat babies, this one is ridiculously cute.

 

Skye's 2014 buckling

 

It’s what they do!

 

Skye's 2014 buckling

Of course, these are dairy goats, which means they’re not supposed to have horns.   Being four days old, this little guy got disbudded today.  It’s a distasteful task, but necessary if you want to sell them as registered diary goats, which we do.  The alternative is that he would become a meat goat, but this guy’s genetics are good enough that I’d rather see him go to a farm where he can breed.  I won’t share any disbudding pictures today, but I will comment that the smell of burning hair and such when you’re 7 months pregnant is…not fun.  Tolerable, but on a scale of goat poo to chicken guts, it’s definitely on the chicken guts end of things.  Blech.

 

On to the cuteness:

 

Skye's 2014 buckling

 

Skye and her 2014 buckling

Read Full Post »

Spring is coming.  No, really, it is.

 

spring flowers

With the weather forecast to finally come up to around the melting point, after months of -30, the announcers on the radio were all talking about people planning their gardens.

 

I planned my garden in December, and ordered my seeds in January.

 

The rural life encourages long-term thinking and planning, I think.

 

If you want eggs in November, you need to order the chicks in February, plan and build your coop and run in April, collect your day-old chicks in May, feed and protect them through the summer, and butcher your excess roosters in October.

 

chick in the grass

 

If you want carrots in November, you need to plan the garden in winter, order seeds before May, plant in spring, weed all summer, harvest in September, and monitor the root cellar through the winter.

 

carrot harvest

If you want goat kids (or milk) in May, you have to plan your breeding the January prior, reserve a buck, get the buck in February or March, raise the buck through the summer, order enough hay in June for all your spring kids and mommas, breed in November, and feed and monitor through the winter.

 

aurora the goat kid

Every year, we’re planning next year’s kids, or chickens, or garden.  We assess what’s working, and make notes about what to do differently next year.  We budget our money and our time, and make breeding, planting, and construction plans based on when we think we’ll have enough of each to get our projects done (though we’re almost always over-ambitious with both).  We think months, seasons, even decades down the road!  We planned our work for this spring, summer, and fall, last summer and fall, knowing we’ll have less time and energy than usual with the new baby.  We made our planting and breeding plans accordingly.  While I’m sure there are folks just starting to think about their gardens now that the weather is starting to turn, we’re way past that stage…we’ve got the seeds in the basement, the garden map figured out, and the seed-starting stuff will be coming out of storage soon to sprout the early tomatoes…

 

…because spring IS coming soon, you know!

 

honeysuckle flowers

Read Full Post »

Bottle babies are a pain in the behind. It takes a lot of extra time to mix the milk replacer, fill the bottles, feed the babies three or more times a day, and clean up all your bottles and nipples and and bowls afterward. A lot of dairy breeders pull the babies right at birth, as this can help prevent the spread of a disease called C A E, which shortens goats’ lifespans and reduces their milk production, often dramatically. Out of seven goat births here on our place, however, we’ve only managed to attend one.

 

The only bottle babies we’ve had from here were kids rejected by their moms. Between day jobs, the garden, house renos, and the human baby, it’s just not something I would willingly sign up for. Besides, all of the goats in our original herd were raised on CAE prevention, so we should be covered on the disease front.

 

However, in spring, 2013, we bought a few more goat kids, to broaden our genetic base a bit. We bought from a reputable breeder, one who raises her kids on CAE prevention. That’s good, because it means we won’t introduce anything to our clean herd, but it sucked, because it meant bottle babies again. Trekking to the barn four times a day in the cold and dark was no more fun in 2013 than in other years, and I have to admit, there was some grumbling on our part.

 

The doeling on the left is three weeks old, and the one on the right is close to three months.

The doeling on the left is three weeks old, and the one on the right is close to three months.

 

The 2013 bottle kids were born at the end of February and beginning of March, so they were a couple of months older than our farm kids. We really noticed a size difference – at three weeks, the dam-raised kids were as tall as the bottle babies, but much leaner and glossier. As well, they seem more energetic and curious.

 

Even now, almost a year later, the dam-raised goats are still somewhat bigger and sleeker; those bottle babies still haven’t caught up. Our little female bottle doeling hasn’t really put on the weight the same way our dam-raised doeling did, and seems to have entirely too many ribs, especially compared to the other yearlings, who are verging on being fat.

 

Almost a year later - dam raised on the left, bottle baby on the right.

Almost a year later – dam raised on the left, bottle baby on the right.

 

While I understand the reasoning behind CAE prevention, I do have to say I am happier with dam-raised kids overall. They seem healthier, and are considerably less work. Sure, we don’t get to milk right away, but it’s only a few weeks before you can pen the kids at night and milk in the morning. It also gives us a bit more freedom – if we can’t be here to milk, we can leave the kids with the does, and let them do our milking for us, which makes finding a farm sitter a whole lot easier. In 2012, I couldn’t milk with the birth of our baby, but we let Titan keep milking Saffron right up until the middle of September, when I felt up to taking over. It let us get a couple months’ worth of milk that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to deal with.

 

The one disadvantage to the dam-raised kids is how skittish and shy they end up being. We can catch and handle every goat on our farm, but the dam-raised does, in particular, only come for a bucket of grain, unlike the bottle does, who come for ear-scratches and attention. Interestingly, the dam-raised bucks seem to get fairly friendly once they are separated from their moms and put in the buck pen. It will also be interesting seeing how the yearlings and two year olds are for kidding and milking in 2015 – I expect those dam-raised does to be a challenge on the milking stand, but maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise. On the bright side, having been raised by their moms, those skittish yearlings should (theoretically) turn out to be pretty good moms, which will save us the hassle of bottle feeding, or even coaching a nervous first-timer about how to stay still to nurse her kids.

 

goat lineup

 

We’re hoping that, with the exception of maybe (maybe!) a buckling every couple-few years, we are done with bottle babies. We did not breed any first-timers this year, as we know our springtime will be crazy-busy, but most of our yearlings were dam-raised anyhow, so they should do okay when we do breed them in 2015. I’ll be sure to provide updates!

Read Full Post »

Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.

 

winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:

 

moustachesicles

The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.

 

Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold

 

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

 

The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.

 

One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.

 

When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.

 

If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.

 

The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.

 

If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.

 

Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.

 

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

 

We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.

 

We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.

 

Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!

 

Bundled Up

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Before we got any livestock at all, we did some research about breeds.  For chickens, because they are short-lived and relatively cheap, we have tested a number of breeds, and will probably continue doing so.  With the goats, however, we decided early on to keep purebred animals, and only one breed of them.  Knowing that we would be producing kids every year, and wanting to be able to sell them for maximum profit, we additionally decided to go with registered animals, which was pricier up-front, but we felt would pay off in the longer term.

 

We decided on Toggenburgs.  They are a breed from Switzerland, and a mountain breed, so we felt they would probably do better in our harsh climate than the desert breeds like Nubians.  As well, Toggs are a moderate producer, and we felt that might make them a bit hardier on questionable feed than the high-producing types that need a lot of supplementation.  Finally, this breed is noted to be calmer and less flighty than most of the other goat breeds, which we considered a bonus.

 

As far as breed traits go, the Toggs have been great.  Our winters don’t seem to phase them, despite the lack of heat in our barn.  They get nice and shaggy, and while they clearly aren’t thrilled about the cold and snow, they don’t seem to be suffering.  They produce sufficiently, and have done fine on hay that was lower quality than I would have liked to have given them.  They are somewhat flighty (they are still goats, after all), but not too bad, and they are quick to pick up on a routine.  We do like the breed.

 

Toggenburg goat

 

Unfortunately, while they are fairly popular worldwide, Toggenburgs are not a common breed in our area.  When I say that, I mean that there are only four other breeders of registered Toggenburgs within an 10-hour drive of us.    Because the breed is not very common here, there is a lot of traffic between the few farms that raise these goats.  Unfortunately, that means there is limited genetic diversity.

 

Now, with breeding goats, you can really only use the same buck for a year or two, before you run into the problem of who to breed all of his daughters to.  For instance, we started out with four does and one buck.  By this spring, we had our four original does, three does from our original buck, and four bucks from the original buck that were also related to most of the does.  We needed new blood if we were going to keep from getting into some significant inbreeding.

 

Toggenburg goat kids

 

We contacted the closest breeder, but their primary buck was the twin of our buck.  The next-nearest place didn’t have any animals for sale this year.  The two other breeders were the ones we had gotten our original stock from, and everything they had for sale shared at least one grandparent with almost every goat we currently have.   Even if we go two provinces over, the few reputable breeders have lines that converge with ours, genetically.  In order to find a buck that is completely and truly unrelated to our does, we are looking at going to the Maritimes…we’re talking thousands of kilometers away, and transportation suddenly becomes an expensive logistical problem.

 

Ultimately, other issues have limited our breeding program for this year, and we decided not to breed the yearling does, which meant we could use a buck we already had.  However, the hunt will be on for next year’s herd sire, and we’ll have the same problem every year or two after that.

 

So, a little word of warning:  if you plan to go with purebred livestock, especially registered stock, check into the popularity of your chosen breed in your immediate area, or be prepared for a lengthy and expensive hunt for your males every year or two.  While this isn’t enough to turn us off Toggenburgs, it is certainly a headache we hadn’t anticipated.

Read Full Post »

Back in early May, I posted about our doeling, Andy, having a turned under lower eyelid. This is a minor birth defect, but it can cause blindness, as the eyelashes scratch the cornea, and eventually, the damage turns the eye milky and the goat goes blind.

 

Goat kid eye with turned under eyelid.  The eyelashes have scratched the eye, causing a milky patch.

Goat kid eye with turned under eyelid. The eyelashes have scratched the eye, causing a milky patch.

 

We did not want to take Andy to the vet if we could avoid it, so we tried pulling the eyelid into proper position and glueing it in place with superglue. The idea was that by the time the glue wore off, the muscles around the eyelid would be stretched so that it wouldn’t turn under anymore. The glued eyelid looked a bit uncomfortable, but I’m sure it was much better than having the eyeball damaged further.

 

Goat kid eyelid glued with superglue to keep it from turning under

Goat kid eyelid glued with superglue to keep it from turning under

 

Andy had not been a very playful kid up until this point, and seemed to spend a lot of time lying down. Immediately after having the eyelid glued, however, she started running around a lot more. I don’t know if it was because she was no longer in pain, or if she could see better, but within a couple of days, she was bouncing on the old tire and playing king of the castle with the other kids.

 

I had thought that the damage to the eye would make Andy blind, as we did not catch this right away, and her eye had a large milky patch by the time we did the repair. However, it the cloudy part seems to have healed completely, and is now clear. There is a dark spot on the iris where the milky patch was, but I don’t believe it affects Andy’s vision at all, and I don’t know if it was caused by the damage to her eye. The superglue did its job very well, so the eyelid no longer turns under, and Andy now looks completely normal.

 

After treatment with superglue.  The glue has worn off, and the eyelid is permanently reshaped.  The eyeball also appears to have healed.

After treatment with superglue. The glue has worn off, and the eyelid is permanently reshaped. The eyeball also appears to have healed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »