Archive for the ‘livestock’ Category

Before we settled down on the acreage with the chickens and goats, Hubby and I traveled.  We backpacked, separately before we met, then together, and tried out an all-inclusive once, too.   Between us, we’ve been to over a dozen countries on four continents.   We both love checking out other climates and cultures, preferably for at least a few weeks at a stretch.


Egyptian monument


About a year after settling the goats and chickens in, it hit us:  we were stuck.  My sister was planning a wedding, and we had no idea if we were going to be able to go.  We couldn’t just leave the critters for a two weeks while we traveled to her destination wedding, but we didn’t feel we could ask any of our neighbors to watch them, as the average age around here is approximately 75, and we haul water from the house to the barn twice a day.  Uh-oh.


We eventually found a paid farm sitter who was willing to come out to our place…for a price.  A high price.  A very high price.  In fact, our farm sitting cost almost as much as the rest of that trip put together, and the sitter was not as reliable as we would have liked…up to and including ignoring some of our instructions!   It was not at all a viable option over the long term.   So we have been limited to day trips or, at most, overnighters for quite a while – a couple of years, now – which really sucks for a couple of wannabe globe trotters.


Camels in Wadi Rum


I would guess that is why the majority of people who get into hobby goats get out again –  in about three years, if the stats are to be believed.


Not us, though.  We’ve found a stellar farm sitter (two of them, actually), who live relatively close, are physically able to take care of the critters, and who are trustworthy and reliable.  We’ve had them watch the place for a couple of days here and there, but we recently went away on a vacation for a couple of weeks, and left them in charge.  They dealt with unexpected inclement weather and a mass goat escape, and kept their good humour through it all…and the place was in great shape when we got home.  What a relief to know that we can schedule a holiday, or even go to a wedding or a funeral in another province, without having to worry about how to get the goats fed and watered while we’re away!


We have our freedom back now.  I’ve signed us up for a couple of last-minute travel discount websites, since we all have our passports, and our super-fab farm sitters are willing to come by on short notice.  Yay for us!  I just can’t emphasize enough how much freedom we suddenly have, or what a relief it is.  If you (like us) love to travel, make sure you have a realistic plan for how you’re going to take care of your critters when emergencies come up, or when the travel bug bites – it’ll save you a lot of money and heartache, and help you keep your sanity while you work on your homesteading dreams.


Sea Turtles in Hawaii

(We went to Hawaii.  Took the kids and Hubby’s parents.  Had a great time.  Would love to share some pictures, but WordPress is having a bad day, so perhaps in another post…)







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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

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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.

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Blue-Legs was a bonus chick that arrived with our 2011 chicken order.  We had no idea what sort of chicken she might be until she started laying green eggs…that was quite a cool surprise!


Blue-Legs was such a character she got a name.  She was not one to stay in the coop or the chicken run.  She was constantly letting herself out of the various chicken enclosures, and she slept by herself on a barn rafter.  She laid her eggs in a cardboard box on a shelf in one corner, cleaned up the spilled cat food, and didn’t mess up the barn too much, so we just let her roam and eat bugs.  She managed to evade raccoons, skunks, and countless foxes.


Blue-Legs 1


Except for this time, we think.


With the new chickens routinely getting loose in the barn, Blue-Legs had taken to laying her eggs outside, and not even always coming in at night.  We saw her daily, pecking around up by the apple tree, or around the goat pen, so we weren’t worried about her; we just put a bit of food and water in her new ‘range’, thinking she would return to her normal routines once we sorted out which chicks would go in what pens, and get Blue-Legs’ area cleared out.
The other day, though, Blue Legs looked…wrong.   We chased her around a bit, trying to catch her; usually not too tough a task, but she was especially evasive.  I did finally get her up on my milking stand, and picked her up.  She had a deep, smelly gash under one wing, and when I tried to get in there a bit closer to see if it was infected, I discovered it was boiling with maggots.  The injury (or something) had also caused her to have bad diarrhea, and her vent was badly swollen and bleeding in spots when I tried to clean her up a bit.


In the end, we decided Blue-Legs was suffering, and that there was only one realistic quick fix for her.  We feel badly, and wish we’d have found her injuries earlier; we’ve successfully nursed another hen back from a fox attack, and Blue-Legs was tough; she would probably have pulled through.  A major down-side to free-range chickens…


Blue-Legs 2

Poor Blue-Legs.



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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.

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Our last kid this year was a good-looking doeling out of my favorite milker.  Because the milker is a proven good mom, I looked the doeling over for obvious conformation problems, checked gender and sucking reflex, and left her and mama to do their thing.  It was extremely cold and windy for several days after the doeling was born, so they stayed in the (dark) barn.

The day I let the mamas out, I noticed the doeling squinting a bit.  I made a note of it, but didn’t have a chance to go catch her to see if something was wrong.  The next day, we decided to disbud her, and I finally got a good look at her in the sun.

Her one eye was milky, but not infected, crusted, or oozing.  I thought, ‘oh, damn, she’s blind in one eye’, but did not worry too much about it, as we planned on keeping her anyhow.  We had a disbudding iron malfunction, so she did not get disbudded that day.


healthy goat kid eye

healthy goat kid eye

Coincidentally, I read an article about a minor deformity in goats, where the eyelid turns under, causing the eyelashes to scratch the cornea, that very night.  Sure enough, when I checked her the next day, this was exactly the problem.  It really wasn’t obvious until I went looking for it, though, so I thought I should post up here about it, in case anyone else runs across it.


A goat kid with lower eyelid turned under, causing the eyelashes to damage the eye

A goat kid with lower eyelid turned under, causing the eyelashes to damage the eye

One solution is to take the goat in to the vet, who will put in a couple of stitches to turn the eyelid out properly, but with all the other vet emergencies we’ve had here this year, our vet budget is kind of gone.  I searched the internet for another option.  I actually found something that looked viable:  superglue.

We held the doe down, and gently pulled the lower eyelid (the one causing the problems) until the lashes turned out and became visible.  Then we put a bead of superglue a little further down her cheek, and touched the now-revealed eyelashes to the superglue (shockingly, I got very little on my own fingers, though I had worried about gluing myself to the goat).  This leaves an uncomfortable-looking bit of inner-eyelid skin showing, but I am certain it is much better than having her eyeball scratched any more.  We’re monitoring the situation, and so far, the glue is holding.  Theoretically, by the time it wears off, the eyelid should be re-shaped, with no tendency to turn under.  In practice, we’ll see what happens, but at least those eyelashes aren’t doing any further damage, and we now have a bit of breathing room to save up for a trip to the vet, if that turns out to be necessary.


Andromeda portrait 2013

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Operator Error.

Well, I’m long since back from Alberta, but having the odd struggle with getting back into the routine.


Yesterday, I went out to do the evening goat chores, and the girls managed to bust out of their yard while I was over feeding the boys.  The hook-and-fencing-staple system which had been a ‘good enough’ gate latch for almost two years…suddenly wasn’t.  We have known for ages that the staple had been slowly working its way out of the post, and had even pounded it back in a few times.  We even had an eye bolt that we could have installed weeks (or more) ago, but we got lazy.  Operator error.


Tonight, again doing evening chores, there was another goat escape.   We tie the girls up to feed them their grain, as everyone is on a different feeding program, depending on age and pregnancy/lactation status.  We’ve rigged up a system of leashes on the posts in the girls’ yard, where each doe can be tied out of reach of the others, and I can put down individual buckets for them.  The girls are used to the routine, and it takes about a minute to tie them all up, as long as you do it in the right order.


Well, tonight, I had tied up the girls as usual, and served up their grain.  While they were eating, I filled their water bucket as I always do, and was just going through the stall door to put hay in their stall when they all started kicking up a huge fuss.  Missy and Saffron, in particular, were lunging about so violently that they were choking themselves.  I dropped the hay and ran out into the yard, thinking that huge coyote was back.  Looking in the direction that all the goats were facing, I saw…


…two white bunnies, running back and forth.  Frolicking, even.


“But they could have had teeth, Mom”, six sets of wide goaty eyes said to me.  “Big, sharp, pointy teeth…”


Bleh.  I checked the buckets, and everyone was already finished their grain, so I unhooked them all to chase them into the stall for the night.  Of course, being flighty creatures, nobody would go into the stall – when I chased them, they shied away from the barn door, and looped back around to the far end of their yard, where they stopped dead and stared, quivering, at the last point where the rabbits had been spotted.  Stupid goats.


I grabbed them one by one, and shoved them into the stall, latching the barn door behind me each time.  However, seconds after I shoved the last goat into the stall, a couple of goat faces popped out the other barn door.  The one that their inside stall door should have prevented them from getting to.  Oh, yeah.  That stall door that was hanging open when I dropped the hay to rescue the stupid goats who were trying to hang themselves over a couple of frolicking bunnies.


Operator error, again.


Maybe tomorrow night will go a little more smoothly…



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Eighty Eight Pounds

…give or take a few.


We don’t have electricity in the barns, nor to we have running water to either of them.  Instead, we haul water in buckets.  Five and six gallon buckets, to be precise – two of them.  Twice a day.  Right now, we’re also hauling half-full (but partially or completely frozen) buckets back to the house, too, to allow them to thaw.  In the summer, when it’s hot, we haul full buckets out, and empty ones back, which is rather easier, though that’s sometimes a three-trip-per-day job in the hottest weather.


I worked out how much they weigh, and it came to about forty-four pounds per (full) five-gallon bucket.   Eighty-eight pounds out to the barn, and probably about fifty pounds back to the house.   It’s a few hundred yards from the house to the barn when you’re not carrying buckets (or carrying empty buckets), but it’s about seven miles, uphill both ways, when those buckets are full.


At least I get to save on gym memberships…

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Last Saturday, Hubby went out to do chores, and found our buck laying dead in the barn.  Just…dead.  There was no sign of illness or injury; no blood, pus, mucous, cud, diarrhea, lumps, bumps, bruises…nothing.  He was found laying on his side in the straw, but there was no sign that he’d had convulsions or anything.  No indication at all of what might have happened.  The buck was a little on the skinny side, but had been eating and drinking normally as of the night before, perky and being a nuisance when the boys were being fed.


I immediately called our breeder to ask if he had any ideas.  He asked us about our worming program.  I had postponed worming, because I picked up the dewormer after the does had been bred; the directions on the package indicated it wasn’t to be used in pregnant cattle (there are never instructions for goats, alas), and I couldn’t find any information about whether or not it might be safe in goats.  He also asked about supplementation.  We give a bit of fortified goat ration, and a blue cobalt salt block, but the breeder informed me that this probably isn’t sufficient – our area is deficient in selenium, and the goats probably also need more copper and maybe calcium than the ration would contain.  Between those things and the extreme cold (it was -35 that night), the breeder indicated he might have just died due to poor condition.  Of course, he could be fine on all counts and just have dropped dead of a heart attack or aneurysm, too, and there’s no way to know for sure, short of a post-mortem, which I’m not willing to pay for at this point – we’ll need that money to buy a new buck.


I have this nagging feeling like we might have killed our awesome boy through ignorance and neglect, though, and we’re both pretty cut up about it.   He was such a docile and friendly buck, and we’re breeding for attitude, so he was perfect in that regard.  He’d really become a pet, as we knew we planned to keep him more or less forever.   We’d gotten completely attached.


On Saturday, I finally sucked it up and tried eating goat cheese.  With Baby M having such a violent and extended allergic reaction when I eat any cow products, I had been too chicken to try any alternatives.  I have been working up my courage since before Christmas.  So I made up a pizza on a gluten-free crust with home-made goat ricotta, mushrooms, onions, pineapple, and peppers.  It was absolutely divine, after six months without a bite of cheese.


Baby M did not react at all.  I would have been dancing a happy dance if not for the black cloud hanging over our heads with the loss of the buck.


I’ve been finding a way to work cheese into pretty much every meal since…


Tuesday, while I was out doing chores in the girls’ yard, I got this creepy feeling like I was being watched.  I glanced around at the girls, who should have all had their heads in their grain buckets; the three older does were all looking to the north, ignoring their grain entirely.  I looked around, too, and didn’t see anything…until it moved.  A huge coyote, slinking out of a derelict building that is not at all far from the girls’ pen.   I’m certain it was a coyote and not a wolf, but it was a seriously large coyote.  And bold!  It sat down in front of the building and just watched us.  I charged that general direction, yelling and flapping my arms; the coyote moved a few steps and sat down again.  I grabbed a chunk of snow and threw it…if my aim had been better, I might have had better effect – but the coyote just moved a few more steps before sitting down again.   Eventually, it wandered off, but the girls and I were all spooked.


After chores, I got the dogs, and went exploring around the area.  The coyote had been into the compost pile; Hubby knew something had been digging in there, but had blamed Poppy, or thought maybe it was a skunk.  There were pretty well-established trails in and out of the bush, suggesting this critter has been hanging around for a while.  I am not sure what our next course of action should be.  We could try to trap or shoot the coyote, but I don’t know if it’s worth the hassle.  There are still all the foxes, plus plenty of other coyotes, waiting to take this one’s place.  I am not so worried about the goats, especially since they go in the barn at night, but the cats are at risk, and the chickens are pretty vulnerable.  The snow has effectively reduced my five foot fences to about three feet – even the non-drifted areas are up well past my knees, and the snow around the goat and chicken yards is packed fairly solidly from us and the critters walking on it.  My biggest worry is when the goat kids come.  The goat yard is easily approached from the bush, and a kid would be pretty tempting for a hungry coyote.  I haven’t seen the coyote since that day, but we know it’s still hanging around.


There has been so much piling up that it’s almost hard to tackle writing a blog post about it.  However, in short, it’s been a rollercoaster of a week – we’ve been down (way down) about the loss of our buck, up about the possibility of me being able to eat cheese again, and worried about that stupid coyote.  Bleh.  I’d rather things were boring…


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Goat Buck Horns

Goats, in general, have horns.  However, particularly in dairy goats, horns are often considered undesirable, and are normally prevented from growing, a procedure called ‘disbudding’.  Disbudding is done while the goat is very young, either by burning the horn area with a hot iron, or by using a very caustic paste.  The point in either procedure, is to destroy the horn ‘bud’, so that it does not grow into a proper horn.  Toggenburgs, our breed, are traditionally sold either disbudded or de-horned, and any serious buyer, willing to pay registered Toggenurg prices, expects hornless goats.


As with everything else goat-related on this farm, there have been…issues.


Since we knew that we did not have a clue how to properly disbud a goat, we took all of our goat kids to the vet last year to have the procedure done.  It turns out, the vet was a little shaky on the procedure, himself, and additionally neglected to mention that he did not have the right tools for the job.  We ended up paying a pretty penny for local anesthetic, painkillers, consultation fees, and a half-assed ‘procedure’ that was ultimately useless on our bucks (the girls were okay), leaving us with one buck kid with full horns, and another who had one horn and one scur (though he has currently broken that off, so he has one horn and one matted blood clot):


Boris horn and scur (clot)


Now, from my understanding, horn scurs are pretty common with buck goats.  A scur is where a true horn does not grow, but portion of the horn tissue does continue to grow, producing something that is sort of like a horn, but not nearly as strong or dangerous.  Something about the testosterone makes those buck horns defy disbudding attempts; girl goats rarely have this problem.  Even our foundation buck, Tuscan, who was properly disbudded, has horn scurs:


Tuscan horn scurs


The scurs are something of a pain in the rear.  Tuscan periodically catches his on the fence, and breaks one partially or completely off.  There tends to be a lot of blood involved, though it doesn’t seem to bother the goat very much.   However those remnant horn bits tend to curl pretty tightly to the goat’s head, rather than pointing up or out, where they can get properly stuck in, say, a fence, or hurt an innocent bystander, like, say, me.   Titan, who still has full horns, frequently pokes me with them when he is getting over-eager to get at the hay I am carrying…and he is a friendly and very docile boy.  I wouldn’t want to tangle with a scared or aggressive buck who had horns like that, I can assure you.


I am still quite frustrated that the vet charged us for a procedure that did not work…twice.  We took both boys back in when it became apparent that the horn buds were growing, despite the treatment.  We were quite shocked when we got mailed the bill.  This year, we are considering disbudding paste, as it is a real hit to pay the vet big bucks to end up with horned bucks anyhow, and not being able to sell them as a result.


Or, in a perfect world, we will end up with all girls…

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