Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My goats look good this year!

I think I have finally hit on the proper diet for my dairy goats. After years of struggling with poor coat quality, internal and external parasite problems, and lack of conditioning in my herd; I no longer have those problems. I feel that there are a couple of things that have contributed to this improvement.

The first thing I started doing differently was coupling herbal parasite prevention with traditional chemical dewormers. I began using Hoegger’s Herbal Dewormer and Tonic after I learned how to do fecal sample testing. I had been hesitant to rely on an herbal dewormer without being able to test its efficacy for myself. Plus it was time that I stepped up my parasite control to tailor it to what the goats actually were carrying and not what I guessed might be the problem. My first fecal samples a year ago showed barberpole worm, brown stomach worms, liver flukes and coccidia. My goats showed symptoms of pinworms by rubbing their tails on their stall walls and they had some lice that I could see. One goat had an intermittent cough from suspected lungworm infestation. I used Cydectin Sheep Drench and Sulmet 12.5% Drinking Water Solution to kill the intestinal worms and the coccidia. The whole herd was put on weekly doses of the herbal dewormer and tonic. I rotated out the Cydectin and used some Valbazen for the liver flukes and residual internal parasites. My next round of fecal samples two months later showed barberpole worm and some coccidia. The tail rubbing and lungworm cough had stopped. The lice were also gone. I gave a dose of Safeguard and didn’t treat the coccidia. All the while I continued with the herbs. Two months later, the fecal samples showed very small amounts of barberpole worm. The amounts were so small that I chose not to treat at all, but continue with the herbal dewormer. Last month, the goats’ fecal samples were completely free of all parasite eggs! The goats also have no external symptoms of parasites. Their tails have grown back, they don’t cough, they have no lice (the first spring I have ever had that was free of lice!), and their eyelids are nice and dark pink which shows they are not anemic from bloodsucking parasites.

The second thing I changed in my management this year was I started mixing my own grain. I was tired of buying commercial grain blends that were expensive. I had read that you could easily mix your own grain by using some basic ingredients. I had been using a sweet molasses grain blend but had read that molasses is a filler that can throw off a goat’s mineral balance. I wanted to get away from grain with molasses in it. I started mixing grain by using oats, chicken scratch grains which contain corn, wheat, and oats, and wheat bran. I mixed the grain in a big tote using 50% oats, 35% scratch grains, and 15% wheat bran. The big tote would hold about 60 lbs of mixed grain and that would last my herd of 5 goats for 5 weeks. The unused grain was stored in another tote in the barn to keep rodents out of it until I needed to mix more grain. I could get about two and a half totes worth of grain out of 3 bags of ingredients. Unfortunately the feed store stopped carrying wheat bran. I switched to Calf Manna grain supplement to take up the 15% that the wheat bran had added. The Calf Manna has lots of added vitamins and minerals so a little can go a long way.

When I started mixing my own grain I adjusted the feed ration my goats were getting. They had been getting 2 cups of grain and 2 cups of alfalfa pellets each day. In researching grain mixes, I learned that all grains contain lots of phosphorus and alfalfa contains lots of calcium. It is very important that goats get a diet of 1:3 phosphorus containing grain to calcium containing alfalfa. I adjusted my goat ration to 1 cup of grain and 3 cups of alfalfa pellets per goat per day. If a goat gets too much phosphorus rich grain in their diet and not enough calcium rich alfalfa, the phosphorus can block the absorption of the calcium and make the goat not able to supply calcium to its milk or its kids. A pregnant goat or a lactating goat have very high calcium demands so if dietary calcium is not available, they will pull calcium out of their bones until they are very weak and sick. This could be fatal to the goat. Phosphorus is necessary to balance the calcium absorption but too much phosphorus and not enough calcium is dangerous.

On top of the grain and alfalfa pellets, I added 1/3 cup of black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) to each feeding. The BOSS has lots of protein and healthy oils to maintain weight and make a goat’s coat nice and shiny.

Another change in my feeding program was to get proper mineral feeders installed in each goat pen. Previously I had used a small feed pan or a bowl on the floor of the pen for minerals. Lots of times the mineral pans would be stepped in and dumped or pooped in or the goats just wouldn’t eat the minerals from the pans. When I mounted small mineral feeders in each goat pen I noticed the goats ate the minerals more consistently. The feeders were often licked clean and needing refill. Also less contamination of the minerals by dirt or animal waste occurred due to the feeders being off of the floor.

Supplemental minerals are very important for goats. I use a loose mineral blend made specifically for goats. This blend has the right amount of copper, iron, selenium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and other minerals to keep goats healthy. I use hay, grain, alfalfa pellets, BOSS and forage to maintain weight and condition in my goats. I use the minerals to keep everything in balance and maintain health. Mineral blocks and salt licks are not adequate mineral supplements for goats. They are too hard for goats to get enough from and are not formulated correctly for most goats.

With a good parasite control program, proper grain feeding, and mineral supplementation my goats are looking great this year. Currently 3 out of five are due to kid in a few weeks. Those three look healthy and shiny right now. Usually by this time in the spring they are looking shaggy and gaunt, but not this year. My other two goats are young yearlings. They are both in good condition and carrying a proper amount of weight for their size. I am looking forward to a productive spring with lots of healthy kids and tons of fresh milk!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Perfect Goat

This is Gloria. She is my herd matriarch. She is nine years old this spring. In this picture (taken yesterday) she is 4 months pregnant. Let's talk about her.

Good points: I love her wedge shape and large barrel belly. She has a very "dairy" look because of this. This shape points to her amazing ability to produce about 2 gallons of milk per day in the middle of her lactations. She's very efficient at turning feed into milk. Her large udder is well-attached in the rear and front. I like her straight topline and the slope of her rump. It's not to steep or too flat for my taste. Her back legs are well-positioned under her hip. Her neck is straight and smooth.

Bad points: Her front and back feet are low in the pasterns. I know from trimming her hooves that her back hooves are a mess. They are very thin across and tend to curl under one another. This trait is highly genetic because all of her kids have the same problem. Her front hooves are good-sized and very wide. Her front legs are straight. Her back legs are a little hock-kneed. I would love to push her front legs forward and get them under her front shoulder more. She has a lot of brisket sticking out. She could be a little less U-necked for me. Due to her large milk production her udder is not very pretty. Her teats are large and not well defined from the udder cavity. They hang down very low to the ground and get lower every year. Her teat orifices are small and hard to milk. I suppose this is a good thing because with this large an udder, loose teat orifices could mean lots of leakage.

Even though I can point out things I would change on her, I love her the most! She makes up for her physical deficiencies with a calm personality that passes to each of her kids. Not much makes her upset and she never has a bad day or is grumpy.

She is the perfect goat for me!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Update: March 2012

Time to update everyone on what is going on at the farm. This winter has been very mild. The most snow we've received all winter came in the last two weeks. There was almost no snow on the ground and I was thinking seriously about bringing out the portable net goat fencing already. That all changed when we got 2.5 feet of snow over a couple of days. Luckily the net fencing stayed safe in the shed and I didn't put it up, only to have it smashed by all the snow.

The forecasters are promising temperatures over 50F the next few days. That will make the new snow melt fast. Hopefully that doesn't bring with it my favorite part of spring -- barn flooding! Last year, Tom helped dig out the barn floor and put some gravel down with a trench running along the wet side of the barn. So far the trench and stone have held up with the melting we have gotten already. I am a little worried because the trench is already frozen over, hopefully that won't mean flooding in the barn when the warm weather hits.

I've got three dairy goats getting ready to kid in another month or so. Gloria, my nine year-old Alpine, is humongous already and still has a full month to go. I hope to get a nice doe out of her to keep for replacement. Gloria has been pumping right along and every year I swear I will retire her from breeding, but every year when breeding season comes she looks in such great condition that I can't help myself. She produces a ton of milk and is such a sweet goat to work with that I can't imagine not breeding her again.

Cookie, the three year-old Nubian, is looking large as well. She's bred to her tri-color half-brother. He was a flashy guy with big white and gray spots on a black background. I already have one of her doe kids reserved for a buyer, so hopefully she will give me at least one doe to fill that order.

Lucy, the six year-old Alpine and daughter of Gloria, fooled me this year. She gave me a hard time during breeding season and required the romantic advances of three different bucks. Even after all that she made me wonder if she got bred at all because she is 4 months pregnant and still not showing much. Compared to Gloria and Cookie, she looks like she may only have one kid in there. I finally got tired of guessing and sent a blood sample in to get a definitive answer.

Lucy has been dependable at giving me twin bucks every time. She's done that three years in a row now. This year I am wonder if she will follow suit. Between her small size and her bad attitude, she may surprise me greatly. Usually when a doe gets very grumpy during pregnancy it means they are carrying only male kids. The testosterone from the male kids messes with the hormones of the doe and makes them very nasty and ready to fight everyone in their path. Even though Lucy has had twin bucks the last three years, she has never gotten as nasty as she is now. She wants to kill both of the younger goats and she fights everyone. I am wondering if perhaps she is finally carrying a female kid and for some reason the added estrogen has her in a fit. We shall see.

Figaro, the Angora wether, is getting ready to be sheared. His fur is quite long and he can barely see out from under his fluffy bangs. I am hoping to shear him on St. Patrick's Day. Unfortunately his fur is pretty dirty and full of hay so hopefully I will be able to clean it enough to send it to get processed into yarn. I am liking having an Angora around. He's just a pet and doesn't have much purpose for me but he is lots of fun to play with and has a very calm attitude.

Blue, the yearling Nubian doe, is doing well. She's developed a bad habit of jumping up on me when I am in her pen so I have to train her out of that. I considered selling her due to this habit but she's so pretty that I am going to delay that decision until later.

I am already thinking ahead until next breeding season. I am toying with the idea of getting a Boer buckling to use in the fall. I want to start butchering my extra kids so they don't wind up as unwanted pets. If I get the kids I am expecting this year, I don't plan on keeping any kids from next year's matings so some Boer cross kids might be a good idea. We'll see...

The chickens are doing well. I have 14 hens and one rooster now. I got more Polish hens last fall. They are lots of fun and so silly to look at. I am planning on trying to raise some meat chickens this summer. I have three friends that want to split the cost of raising them and help with the butchering in return for the meat. If I get 50 chicks in the spring and raise them in the cow shed, everyone will get 15 or so chickens to eat by the fall. The breed I am looking to get are called "Freedom Rangers". They're a mix of 3 different French meat birds that are supposed to be fast growing, meaty, but hardier than the Cornish X's. I want to stay away from the Cornish X's due to their lack of mobility and mess-making abilities. Hopefully the Freedom Rangers will be somewhat pasture raised since they will be in the cow shed but able to go out into the goat pasture during the day.

Everything else on the farm is going well. Emily is getting big and isn't a baby much anymore. She helps with the chores and will be ecstatic when the goat kids and chicks arrive. The hard part will be getting her to come in from the barn after chores are done!