Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting into Goats : A First-Timer Questionnaire

 Here is a questionnaire that I think is important for all people to go through who are interested in getting into goats but don't have any experience with them or other livestock:

What type do I want – meat/dairy/fiber? 

What breeds do I want?

Is there a buck of that breed available locally that I can borrow/buy/use? A very important question considering the fact that most people choose not to keep bucks permanently at their farms. Extremely important when considering miniature breeds because the buck must always be smaller than the doe in order to avoid birthing complications.

Am I willing to crossbreed?

How much milk/meat/fiber do I need per year?

How many does do I need to breed per year to meet my production goals?

What will I do with the extra kids? Is there a market for them (pet/breeding/meat)? Goats must have kids each year in order to produce milk so having a consistent outlet for extra kids is essential.

Will I register my goats? Do I want purebred?

How much am I willing to pay for a goat? What defects am I willing to tolerate for a less expensive goat? Non-registered, non-purebred goats are generally cheaper. CAE positive goats and less healthy goats are also cheaper.

Do I want to show my goats? They have to be registered in order to show.

How many goats can my property sustain?

Where will I house the goats?

Do I have room for kidding pens and milk stands in the barn?

Where is my milk stand/dairy area in regards to where the goats are and where the house is? Is it conveniently located near both areas? Very important, especially in bad weather. You don’t want to be milking outside in the rain or having to hike your fresh milk all the way across the property to get it in the house.

Does the barn have water? What about in winter? If it gets below freezing in your area, then a garden hose won’t work.

Does the barn have electricity and lights? It gets dark early in winter and a headlamp/flashlight is a drag to use to do chores.

Is there enough room for hay storage? Goats eat lots of hay, especially in winter. Hay must be kept dry and ventilated in order not to mold or rot.

Where will I get hay? How will I transport it? How often will I need to get it? Do I have money for it? Hay isn’t always easy to find and if you don’t have enough storage to get you through the winter then you have to be prepared to haul and put away hay when there may be lots of snow on the ground. 

Where will I get feed? How will I transport it? How often will I need to get it? Do I have money for it? Feed prices fluctuate greatly between feed stores. 

Do I have a place for feed storage that is dry, cool, and rodent-proof?

What type of fencing do I want? Will it work all year round or do I need an alternative during winter? Some fencing doesn’t work well in deep snow. Electric fencing doesn’t always work if it is very dry out during the summer.

How many pastures/outdoor pens do I need? Remember you have to have somewhere to keep your adult does, your young kids, and your bucks.

How many indoor pens/stalls do I need? If you breed your goats then you will need kidding pens. 

Is there a vet in the area who will do house-calls for goats? Not all vets are willing to look at a goat. Some charge a lot just to show up on your farm.

Am I willing to learn to do veterinary basics (vaccinations, blood draws, disbudding, tattooing, castrations, hoof trimming, fecal sampling)? 

Do I have money to buy veterinary supplies (dewormers, vaccines, disbudding equipment, etc)? This stuff is expensive but important to keep on hand in case of emergencies.

Is there someone local who is willing to lend supplies and support to do veterinary basics? Look into your local goat clubs and livestock organizations. There may be people willing to help.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Know your due dates!

For some reason, no matter how much I tell myself and then expound to other people the benefits of knowing exactly when your doe goat got bred, I always seem to find myself with a pregnant goat with no known due date. Sometimes it is not me, personally, who has the goat version of the "Immaculate Conception" but a close friend. Even if the goat isn't on my farm, I wind up fretting and worrying along with my friends as much as I would if that goat were mine.

The reason it is not good to have no idea when your pregnant goat is due to kid is because goats are notoriously bad at giving good signals as to when the impending date is coming. Even a seasoned goat farmer may only notice the signs of labor a few hours (or minutes) before the kids start popping out. Some people say, "But Rose, goats have been having kids for millennia in nature without any help, why should I worry about when my goat is going to give birth?". My short answer is "Nature is a bitch".

In nature when a goat gives birth, there's a large chance that if something goes wrong then both the mother and the kids will die. On a farm, that chance is much decreased if someone can be there to help out in the case of an emergency. Most goat births happen without any problems but sometimes there is an issue that can be very easily remedied if someone is around to help.

Another reason to be present at delivery is that if you only have three goats on your farm and one of them dies in an easily prevented birthing emergency, then you have just culled your herd by 1/3 (not to mention the loss of production that the dead kids would have added if they had lived too). It's cheaper to correctly calculate a due date and be present at the birth than to walk into the barn to a pile of dead moms and kids. It's also a real buzz-kill to wait expectantly for 5 months for kids to be born, only to have them die at the last possible moment when you know you could have done something.

Calculating a correct due date requires that you know exactly when your goat was bred. The easiest way to do this is to only put the does in with the bucks long enough to WATCH them breed with your own eyes. Female goats in heat and male goats in rut are usually not shy about their amorous activities so it is easy enough to physically witness copulation. This strategy does absolutely require that you have a separate space for the buck, away from the does, so breeding doesn't happen while you aren't watching. Bucks can smell a doe in heat from miles away and they will do almost anything to "get some" from said doe, so it is imperative that your buck pen be heavily fortified and your farm helpers be warned that Mr. Bucky needs to behave himself and not be allowed to wander about the farm unsupervised.

Keep in mind that it is basically impossible to calculate a due date if you put your bucks and does together from September until December. A lot of people subscribe to this idea but I think it is a good way to get burned. On the one hand, it does guarantee that your does will most likely get bred at some point. But on the other hand it guarantees that you will have babies dropping from January to May, with no clue as to when the next ones will come. Most people justify this method because it is easier than waiting for a doe to come into heat and then taking her to the buck for him to do his job. I say it is harder because the time you spend during the breeding season will be saved during kidding season because you won't have to spend every day watching and palpating 50 does to guess which one is going to kid next. I have a much easier time with determining when my goats come into heat versus when they are going into labor.

The amorousness of bucks must not be underestimated. If it is four legs and a tail, they are going to try to breed it. Sometimes it can have two legs and be yelling "GET OFF YOU SONNOFABITCH!" and they will still try to breed with it. Bucks are very non-discriminating when it comes to having a good time. Here is the reason why if you have does who you do not want to get bred, it is very, very important that they stay as far away from a buck as possible. If you have very young does or very old does who are not capable of handling pregnancy well, then you need to be extra diligent. A female goat can become impregnated as early as 10-12 weeks old. They can also continue to be bred well past the age of 10. Neither of these ages is ideal for pregnancy because producing kids places a lot of demands on the doe's body.

A very young doe will most likely stop growing in order to provide energy and nutrients to the kids. She will become permanently stunted and will never reach her full production potential. Not to mention she may be too small to carry the kids to term or she may get all the way into labor and then not be mature enough physically for the kids to pass through the birth canal. The kids will get stuck and both mom and kids could die.

A very old doe will have a hard time producing kids because her body won't be able to absorb and allocate nutrients efficiently in order to keep her and the kids alive. Old goats are prone to pregnancy hypocalcemia due to lack of bone density (yep, goats can have osteoporosis too) and the decrease in blood calcium levels. It's hard to nutritionally supplement an older pregnant goat enough to keep them going all the way to term.

I have to argue against breeding very young goats or very old goats with the same justification I have for the importance of knowing exact due dates. If your herd is small and you love your goats, why would you take the risk of something bad happening? Your goats depend on you to take care of them. That's why it's called "farming" and not "throwing some animals on your property to fend for themselves and hoping they do alright". It's up to you to manage them properly.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Recipe for Pineapple Cranberry Muffins

Here's my recipe for yummy pineapple-cranberry muffins:

1. Start out trying to make pineapple-carrot bundt cake. Get out bundt pan, can of crushed pineapple, and carrots. Find only 2 scummy looking carrots in the fridge. Dig through the freezer looking for the bag of shredded carrots you thought was still in there from 2011. Find no carrots, but do find a bag of cranberries from when you had hopes of making cranberry relish for Thanksgiving 2010. Taste test a cranberry and decide that they don't really get freezer burn, right?

2. Get out cookbooks and look for a recipe for cranberry muffins. Upon finding no suitable recipes, start looking for one that calls for crushed pineapple. Find a recipe for "Pineapple Wedding Cake" with cream cheese frosting.

3. Start making recipe according to book. Add 1 1/2 cups of chopped cranberries because they go with pineapple, right? Add orange juice and orange zest because you can't have cranberries in something without adding oranges.

4. Realize that the added orange juice has made the batter too watery. Add 1/2 cup of extra flour. Contemplate adding walnuts but then remember that husband doesn't like walnuts very much.

5. Decide to make muffins instead of bundt cake. Put away bundt pan and start looking for paper muffin liners. Find only 3 full-sized ones and a whole package of mini-liners. Put full-sized liners back on shelf, and write a note to buy more. Bust out the new mini muffin tins from Christmas.

6. Turn on oven and read two chapters of new library book while waiting for it to heat up.

7. Fill both mini muffin tins with liners and batter. Put in oven. See that there is enough batter to make another round of mini muffins. Contemplate saying "screw it" and just pour the rest of the batter in a loaf pan. Decide not to.

8. Read a few more chapters while muffins bake.

9. Take muffins out and dump on counter. Refill muffin tins with liners and batter and stick back in the oven.

10. Read a few more chapters. Taste test a few muffins. Find that the paper liners are very hard to get off of muffins. Decide to nix the cream cheese frosting because of this and because you don't have any cream cheese anyway.

11. Pull remaining muffins from oven. Dump on counter. Throw dirty muffin tins and dirty dishes in sink to be cleaned in the morning. Taste test a few more muffins.

12. Taste test enough muffins that you aren't hungry for dinner anymore and go sit to read book and drink a beer while husband asks when dinner will be ready. Point to muffins and grunt.