Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To Register or Not To Register?

I have never registered my goats. They are all dairy goats (no Boer, Pygmy, or Angora crosses here) and they could qualify for registration, but I have never bothered to do it. I haven't registered them for a variety of reasons: 1) Expense - it costs money to register a goat and stay a member of the ADGA. 2) Showing - I don't show my goats and don't sell to people who do. 3) Market - I can't get more money for a goat just because it is registered.

I am currently thinking about registering my goats. If my daughter were to get interested in showing goats, she would need registered animals to do that. I wouldn't want to have to buy a new registered animal specifically just for showing since I already have a lot of nice animals to choose from. The two newest does are very nice and would probably win a few ribbons in the show rings. So I may get my butt in gear and get the papers filled out.

I can register my oldest Alpine doe as a purebred American Alpine. I still have her original registration papers from when I bought her as a kid. She might even have a tattoo already. Her daughter, Lucy, could be a grade since her sire was never registered. Her other daughter, Prim, would be an experimental since her sire was a registered Oberhasli. My new goat, Daisy, is another grade doe since her dam is a registered Saanen and her sire is an unknown fence-jumper. He is a dairy goat but the lady I got her from doesn't know which of her many purebred Oberhasli, Saanen, or Toggenburg bucks did the deed.

Being a grade or an experimental isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means that you can't qualify as a purebred and you can't be shown in a purebred show. You can compete in grade shows with any grade or experimental goats. The offspring of a grade can become registered purebreds after 3 generations of being bred to the same breed. If I bred my Saanen grade doe to a Saanen purebred buck, then bred those kids to a purebred Saanen, and then bred those kids to a purebred Saanen, the result of that third cross would be considered purebred Saanen. Recorded grades and registered experimentals hold about the same monetary value as most registered purebred goats in the eyes of most small-time breeders. The only breeders who get worked up about pedigrees and purebred-ness are the big timers who are doing it for showing or dairying.

If I were to register my goats I could also get into the world of milk testing. The DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Test) is set up by the ADGA to accurately track and record production levels of individual goats. You apply to be a tested herd and then set up test days with someone from the ADGA to verify the milk levels. If you goat produces a certain amount of milk per year they will get a * added to their names in the registry. The *s help to notify someone looking at a goat's pedigree of large milk production levels. The DHIA also looks at butterfat percentages and other things to assess a goat's production levels. This seems like a lot of work so I will probably forgo the milk test for now.

I am working on improving my goat herd through CAE prevention and breeding the best genetics, so I might as well improve the herd through official registration.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Armchair Farmers and Wannabees

I get a little miffed when people who have been raising animals for less than 2 years feel fit to tell me how to do what I am doing and all the ways that they are doing it better. I have been raising animals for 10 years on my own so I hope that I have at least a little farm-cred from this length of experience. It bothers me when someone has raised chickens for one season goes on about what they did and how well it worked. They say they did it right. I say they got lucky!

With the ease of finding information on the internet, there seems to be plethora of "armchair farmers". These are people who did a lot of internet research, read a couple of books, and raised a few animals for a few years. After a season or two they feel ready to expound to the world their ideas on farming. They never hesitate to tell someone what they did and how well it worked. I don't want to discourage anyone from helping out a fellow farmer by lending advice, but please make sure your advice is tested with real-life experience and not just a jumble of Google searches mixed with 6 months of a good growing season.

What irks me right to the bone is someone who doesn't even have a farm or raise animals trying to tell me how I can improve my system! There's all sorts of "wannabe farmers" who never hesitate to tell me how if they were doing it, they would be milking 75 does a year and selling 150 gallons of milk a day to such-and-such cheese factory, and they would be clearing XX-thousands of dollars in profit each year. If this was at all doable, I would be the FIRST one to be doing it. I always tell those people after their 30 minute lecture on proper farming techniques that any day of the week they want to show me how it is done, please do so. I will never hesitate to step aside and let someone else show me the light and the correct way to take care of my animals... That being said I have yet to wake up at 6:30am on Saturday morning with any of these wannabe's knocking at my door ready to milk the goats.

One thing that sends armchair farmers and wannabees onto a slippery slope of bad advice are internet forums. I have been involved in several different goat forums over the years. I love internet forums because you can learn all sorts of new things that people have tried, you can find new friends from all over the world who love goats as much as you do, and you can hear the latest ideas in goat care advancements. I hate internet forums because you don't really know who any of these people are and if their advice is actually been tested on any living animals. The advice on forums can snowball if one person gives bad advice to someone and that person then passes on the bad advice to someone else. Eventually everyone thinks the bad advice is actually good advice because they've heard it so much!

There's one forum where there's this one person who always writes long and strong opinions to every question that is posted. This person is on the forum for hours and hours each day writing responses to almost every post. The forum is quite popular and has a lot of posts, so writing back on all of them is a big time-kill. What she writes seems like somewhat decent information from my experiences with my animals but I get a little suspicious of her when she professes to have lots and lots of goats and does all sorts of shows and things with them, yet she is on this one forum for hours and hours each day. How is she able to care for all her animals and still be on the internet about 23 hours a day?? I have a theory that this particular person has no goats at all. I think she is an entirely fictional farmer who writes long and drawn-out posts because she has nothing better to do all day. This theory is scary when considering the fact that this particular forum has lots of unsuspecting people on it trying to get good answers to their most important goat raising questions. Can you really trust what those forum posters have to say??

Now, I don't profess to know everything when it comes to raising my species of choice (goats and chickens). I have definitely made some super huge mistakes recently in regards to how I raise my animals, so I know there will never be a time when I can sit back and say, "Now I have it right and I don't ever have to change what I am doing because I have perfected my farming system". Unfortunately some new farmers have one good season and they start telling everyone how great they are at farming and how wonderful their systems worked. I know that some systems are better than the others and most of those better systems can be found at the click of a button on the internet. This is fine. I don't want to discourage anyone from getting into farming or trying new systems with their existing animals. But I do want to discourage new farmers from sending potential farmers down a dangerous road of unproven advice.

So all you new farmers and wannabees listen up: Be careful what you say unless you've proven it works on your own animals. It's okay to experiment but don't pass on advice based on someone's suggestions if you haven't tried it yourself.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It All Came Crashing Down

When you stack things on top of each other in a precarious way, it’s only a matter of time before they all come crashing down on you. That’s what’s happened to me this year. 

It all started with the great kid management plan that I came up with. I changed a bunch of things from the way I normally do them to try to enhance my goat kid rearing. The first thing I did was to put all the kids this year on cow colostrum and then pasteurized milk to prevent CAE. My adult goats have CAE and I knew that I wanted to raise some kids for breeding this year so I didn’t want them to get CAE. The next thing I did was to put all the kids on Noble Goat medicated goat feed to try to prevent coccidiosis. I have a lot of coccidia on the place and most of my kids go through some bouts of diarrhea at 3 – 4 weeks old. I wanted to avoid that by feeding medicated goat feed to the kids. This plan sounded like a good one and other people have had luck with using pasteurized milk and medicated goat feed. 

The problem with pasteurized milk is that it does not contain any naturally occurring good bacteria or antibodies. All the good bacteria and the good antibodies that come from the mother goat are killed in the pasteurization process. This is great if you are trying to kill the CAE virus but it is not good if you want your kids to have healthy immune systems that are fortified by good bacteria and antibodies. Kids on pasteurized milk are slightly less protected against some diseases.

Even though I was using the medicated goat feed, the younger kids weren’t eating it in large enough quantities to help stop coccidiosis. All the kids got diarrhea from coccidiosis when they turned 3 weeks old. Three weeks is the life cycle of the parasite. It infects at birth but takes three weeks to cause enough damage to give the kids diarrhea. I started to treat all the kids with Sulmet 12.5% drinking water solution given orally. This is a harsh general antibiotic that kills the coccidiosis parasite and kills any other bacteria in the goat’s system (good or bad). 

Then I overfed some of my kids. I had three different age groups in the same pen, feeding on the same bucket feeder. I wanted to give my bigger kids more milk and my littler kids less milk but when you dump all the milk in a big bucket and have all the kids nurse at once, there is no way to regulate that. Some of the kids got too much milk and wound up sick. Baby goats get upset stomachs when they have too much milk. It’s not good for them. 

So now the kids’ stomachs are upset from too much milk and all the good bacteria in their systems is dead. Their bodies are having a hard time digesting food and some of them are getting run down. Pile on top of this access to the medicated grain. Grain is acidic and if eaten in large quantities can cause the rumen to become too acidic for the good bacteria to reproduce. Unfortunately bad bacteria, like Clostridium perfingens Type D, proliferate in an acidic rumen. 

The result of all this is two kids died suddenly of enterotoxemia and a third is still at risk. Enterotoxemia occurs when the good bacteria in a goat’s rumen die and don’t get reestablished, and the rumen pH remains acidic for a long period of time. Enterotoxemia is caused by the naturally occurring Clostridium perfingens bacteria. They love an acidic rumen with no other bacteria in it and can proliferate quickly. They kill a goat by producing a toxic sludge as a byproduct of their reproduction that poisons the goat. Usually there are not enough bad bacteria in a healthy goat to produce a high amount of toxins. But if a goat gets indigestion and their rumen gets thrown out of whack, the bad bacteria will go nuts and kill the goat very quickly. The only signs that my goat kids where very sick was that they got very weak and cried like their stomachs hurt. At this point, there was nothing I could do to stop the damage. 

I could have prevented this by giving the goat kids Probios probiotic paste frequently and continuously during their treatment with Sulmet. Probios contains good rumen bacteria and helps to establish new colonies in the goat. I should have pulled all grain from the kids or given them very, very little grain. I was giving them a lot because they were eating it and I wanted them to eat enough to prevent coccidiosis. I also should have not increased their milk quantities and only fed just the amount of milk to suit the youngest kids. 

I am very sad that two of my kids died. One was a buck that I had no special attachment to. I was going to sell him when he got older. Anytime a kid dies, it is sad. The other one that died was my Crystal. She was a Saanan/Alpine doeling out of one of my favorite Alpine does. She was a total surprise because I thought her mom had been bred by an Oberhasli and her mom always has bucks. I was not expecting a pure white doeling when she popped out! She was beautiful and gentle and oh so sweet. I am devastated that she died and I wish I didn’t have to learn these lessons in a very hard and painful way. Luckily now I know what I need to in order to keep my kids alive. I will spread this to other people so they don’t have to learn the hard way either.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Single-Celled Monsters!!

I have a problem with coccidiosis on my property. For some reason those little single-celled parasites have a party in my soil and love to infect my animals. I am not sure why I am so lucky to receive such an honor of infected land but I wish I could give that honor back.

The problem with coccidiosis is that it kills goat kids quickly and sometimes before you see definite symptoms. It compounds any problems kids commonly have, including malnutrition, dehydration, and worms. Kids between 3 weeks and 6 months old are the most susceptible to massive infection. The main symptom that they are infested with the parasite is loose stool. Once they have that, their intestines have been compromised and you are fighting an up hill battle to keep them alive. Three weeks old is the golden age for coccidiosis symptoms because the parasite has a three week life-cycle. They infect the kids at birth but then it takes 3 weeks for the parasites to mature and cause damage in the intestines. Any kids that hit three weeks old and have smelly, brown diarrhea are infested with coccidia and need to be treated immediately.

This year has been a particularly bad year for coccidiosis on my farm. The warm, wet winter did not kill the endemic soil populations. There weren't any good stretches of weeks of -20F that normally help to kill all the soil parasites. Couple that with my kid ages being spread out over a month and a half. I have older kids and younger kids together. This causes problems because the older kids need more milk and the younger kids need less milk. I have been feeding them all on a lambar bucket feeder. In order to give enough milk to all of them, I wound up over-feeding some and under-feeding others. Also add to these problems the fact that I am very busy and stressed out this year, which leaves me not always thinking straight when it comes to kid care. I let a few things slip through the cracks that I should have known better. As a result, one kid died, another is still on the verge of death, and another has loose stools that won't go away.

The kid that died had started not to suck on the bucket at feeding time as much as the other kids. I didn't think very much of it for a few days. Then one evening he was lethargic, stumbling, and cold. I quickly gave him a little electrolytes to help rehydrate him. He was very thin and very dehydrated. He perked up for a little while and I continued to give him more electrolytes. The next morning he was dead. I think he died as a result of a combination of coccidiosis and dehydration. The kid that is on the verge of death has had very watery scours for days. I gave him electrolytes and coccidiosis treatment. He had good energy but continued to have bad diarrhea. I finally gave him to my neighbor to take care of because she can keep him in her house and spend more time on trying to rehab him. So far he is still alive. The kid with loose stool is doing fine. I am going to leave her alone for a few days and see how she reacts. She's been drinking her milk fine and eating hay.

To treat for coccidiosis you must you a sulfa-based antibiotic. I normally use Sulmet 12.5% drinking water solution. This is easy to find at any farm store and it is convenient to use. The dosage is 1cc orally, undiluted per 5 lbs of body weight for two days and then 1cc per 10 lbs of weight for 5 days. Treatment must be given for at least 7 days in order to kill all the parasites in their different life cycles. Sulmet tastes terrible and is best when mixed with something that tastes good, like milk or molasses. I taste-tested some Sulmet the other day because I was wondering why the goats always gag when I give it to them. I don't wonder about the gagging anymore! It is awful stuff! I will always mix it with something to make it taste better from now on.

I am planning on switching to using Corid powder to try to mix up the antibiotics I use. The Sulmet doesn't seem as effective as it used to be for me. Corid has a slightly different mode of action for killing coccidia so it might help knock the populations back for me. I am also using a medicated goat feed this year for the kids. This will help to keep populations of the parasite in check as the kids grow. It will not treat an infestation of coccidia but it will help to slow the infection. Once the kids get past 6 months old, they are usually immune to the parasite. Coccidia will always be present in an adult goat but it usually does not cause any problems unless the adult is compromised by another issue. Hopefully I can get my remaining kids to the 6 month mark and I won't have to worry about this again.