Monday, April 29, 2013

Over"Boer"d With Planning

 A couple of months ago, I got the great idea that I should plan to mate my dairy does to a Boer buck next fall. I need to breed my dairy girls in order to get milk but I don't have a need for the kids. I have had some bad experiences with kids (especially buck kids) ending up in bad places after I sold them or gave them away. (I have had lots of really, really good experiences with selling kids too -- don't get me wrong). So I wanted to avoid the mad scramble to find homes for kids by crossing them with meat genetics to get a meaty kid that I could butcher for home consumption. Ideally I wanted to buy a Boer buck to use, but a pregnant Boer female landed in my lap at exactly the same time I was lamenting only having one pregnant goat on the farm this spring. "Ruby" came to stay on my farm in January. She was pregnant. My plan was that she would have at least one buck kid that I could raise until the fall and then use for breeding before turning him into goat-burgers. My plan was also that she would be able to raise her own kids so I wouldn't have to bottle feed them. That part of the plan didn't work out because she came back CAE positive. Time for a new plan...

Well, I got my one buckling out of her when she finally kidded with TRIPLETS (two does, one buck). But the whole situation hasn't worked out quite like I planned. My plan was to bottle feed all three kids and use the buck for breeding. A local dairy had contacted me wanting a buck for their breeding too. My plan (there's that word again!) was to use the buck for my breeding and then sell him to the dairy in the fall. The two does would be sold as breeders or made into sandwiches.

 The first doe born was Vindaloo. She's a beast who loves to eat. She ate so much yesterday that she is very sick today. I am hoping she is okay by the time I get home from work.

 The next doe is Curry. I tried and tried to get her to take a bottle the first day she was born and she wouldn't have anything to do with it. She would root around like she was hungry but as soon as I put the bottle in she would spit it out. After three hours on my hands and knees making grunting and "baaing" sounds with her stuffed under my belly to try to get her to nurse, I hauled her outside and dumped her back in with her mom. She immediately ran to her mom's udder and began to nurse. She'll be CAE positive and have to become BBQ.

 Finally, the buck was born. Ruby left him in his birth sack and he got very chilled. My husband found him and thought he was dead until he went to pick him up and he moved. The buck was brought in the house and given a bath and then wrapped up in front of the woodstove. It took about 4 hours to revive him and get his temperature up to where he could eat. He was born a runt and had lots of extra skin. I think the other two kids took all his calories and nutrients while in the womb so he wasn't able to grow as big as his skin. He stayed in the house for a few extra days. I took him out to the barn but he got chilled again. I brought him back in the house and nursed him back to health. He's out in the barn now. He's still very small. I am worried that he won't be a good breeder because of his runt status. Unless he really starts growing, he will become sandwiches too.

With two does and one buck, my new plan was to keep one of the does for breeding as part of the herd. That plan faded when I flipped over each kid and counted their teats. The buck has four teats. Vindaloo has two teats but one is a bad fishtail. Curry has FIVE teats (see picture) - two small teats, two big teats, one fishtail on a big teat! Her udder looks like a tree branch! Both does having fishtail teats means that they are unusable for breeding. Fishtails are double orifice teats that are very difficult (often impossible) to nurse on or milk out which leads to issues with feeding kids and huge potential for mastitis. Any does with fishtails should never be bred. The buck having four teats isn't that bad. According to Boer goat websites, four normal looking teats on a buck is not considered a disqualification for showing or considered a major fault. Since he doesn't have to produce milk, his multiple teats do not exclude him from breeding. Unfortunately his multiple teats does increase the chance that his daughters may have teat issues so any kids from him should be slated for butchering and not expected to be used for breeding.

In conclusion, as usual my "plans" have become a shambles. This pretty much happens all the time so I can't say that I am surprised. I can say that I am awfully tired of my plans never working out. Of course, this hasn't stopped me from planning. My new plan is to eat my entire stupid Boer herd this fall. Ruby and her three kids will be butchered once the kids are market weight or as soon as I get tired of feeding them. I can't say what my plan for breeding this year will be yet, there's still too many months for things to go wrong to start planning on next breeding season. All I want to do is get through the spring and summer without accidentally killing any goats. THAT is my plan!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

BlamO! Kidding Season Starts and Stops in Under 24 hours!

Kidding season for me was a whole lot of crazy the past two days. I only had two pregnant goats this year so I assumed this would be a piece of cake kidding season. One goat was bought pregnant with no known due date. I normally have a rule about always knowing the due date so I don’t spend 3 weeks in the barn staring at a goat’s butt, but I thought that since I have been breeding goats for 10 years that I know the signs of impending labor by now so I can accurately predict when this goat should kid. Umm…. well, that’s not how it worked. Three weeks ago her ligaments softened and her udder started to develop. Those two things usually signal to the seasoned goat owner that birth is going to occur soon. Every day I would stakeout her pen and watch her butt for the slightest tail twitch or tiniest discharge. I would then announce to my family* that she looked closer than yesterday and could go at any minute. *My husband gets great joy out of harassing me about my prediction skills. 

The other pregnant goat was my senior Alpine doe. She was on her fifth set of kids and always likes to kid at the very end of her gestation – 155 days. For some reason I forgot this fact when I scheduled a meeting at Dartmouth three months ago. I remember thinking “Let’s have the meeting on April 17 because my goat will have kidded DAYS before that. She’ll be at day 150 on the 11th”. Suffice to say, I did not go to Dartmouth on the 17th

Lucy had her kids right on time for her – day 155. At noon she was nesting a lot and looking very restless. She went into labor at 5pm. She would push two times and then stop for 30 minutes or so. By 8pm she was pushing two times every 10 minutes. I got worried then because things seemed to be going very slow. She was pushing only a few times and there was no discharge at all. I got my hand in her and could not feel a kid. I waited another hour and tried to feel again, with no luck. Finally at 11pm she was pushing a couple of times every 5 minutes. At that point I could feel that something was coming into the birth canal. I could feel a hoof and maybe a nose. Finally some discharge started and we got down to business. As soon as the bubble appeared, I popped it and grabbed the hoof. The kid was jammed in tight because it was big and there was one hoof forward and one back. Luckily Lucy is a big doe so passing a large, compact kid was not impossible. I helped pull the kid as she pushed. The kid came out and was a big brown and black buck. 

Lucy immediately stood up and started to clean him off. About three minutes after the buck was born, while Lucy was still cleaning him, she squatted down and quickly pushed out a smaller brown and black doe. I grabbed the doe and got her cleaned off. 

Well, all while this was going on in one stall, the pregnant goat in the next stall decided to get in on the action. Ruby started to make a nest and lie down and grunt. I kept looking over the fence to check on her while Lucy was in labor. At one point I told Lucy that if Ruby kidded first, Lucy was FIRED! It kind of felt like a race between the two goats. 

Luckily Ruby did not have her kids that night. By the morning she was still nesting but had no discharge. I decided to head to work since she could give birth in one hour or five. I was pretty worn out from waiting on Lucy most of the day before and just didn’t want to sit in the barn for another 5 hours. My husband was going to be in and out of the farm for the day so I left him strict instructions to call me at work as soon as he saw anything happening. 

At 10am I got the call that there were three new babies in the barn. Two were up and getting cleaned off by mom but the third was not moving and not cleaned off. I rushed home. My husband took the third kid into the house and washed it off with warm water then stuck it next to the woodstove. When I got home the kid was very week and breathing heavy. It was a buck. I grabbed the other two kids from the barn and brought them in to dry them and warm them. They were does. One was chilled and needed to warm up. The other was up and started to nurse on a bottle within one hour. Finally the second doe warmed up enough to try to look for food. She would root around but whenever I put the bottle in her mouth she would not suck. I knew she wanted to eat but she didn’t want anything to do with that bottle. I worked on her for 3 hours before I gave up and took her back out to the barn. She immediately nursed on mom and mom was very happy to have her kid back. 

The buckling took a long time to get warm but he eventually started to eat from the bottle and move around. I kept him in the house until he was able to stand on his own. He got to go out to the barn after screaming his head off while I tried to make dinner. I don’t have much tolerance for noisy baby goats while I am eating! 

It was a whirlwind kidding season that took less than 24 hours from start to finish. All kids and moms are doing well!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


It’s time for my annual vent-fest about dumb people who let their dairy goats grow horns. I hate horns on goats. I think all goats should be disbudded at the first sign of horn growth. This rule applies to all goats in my herd, even if they aren’t dairy. I disbud meat goats, fiber goats, ALL goats on my farm. If the horns are small enough to fit in the disbudding iron, I am going to cauterize them. 

The only goat who is allowed to have horns right now is Ruby, my Boer doe who I bought pregnant and horned. The main reason I bought her is because she is pregnant and I fully intend on keeping her kids, disbudding them, and eating her at the first chance I get in order to rid my farm of her horns. 

I see so many ads on Craigslist and Facebook this time of year with perfectly good goats for sale but with perfectly awful horns. There have been so many good goats that I have been interested in buying that I won’t touch with a 10 foot pole because they are not disbudded. I think it is a disservice to the entire goat community to unleash horned goats on the unsuspecting public.

This week I was shocked to open my new parenting magazine and see an article on “10 Great Places To Take Kids” with the huge first page picture of a cute child holding a baby goat while a very large, VERY HORNED goat loomed in the background in a very ominous pose. The picture was taken at some fancy petting zoo / agro-tourism place. I couldn’t believe that a place like that would allow random children to play openly in a pen full of horned goats! There was another picture with the article of a toddler playing with some horned younger goats. She was petting one but the other goat was up on its hind legs in full “I am going to butt you in the belly with my sharp little horns” mode. Both goats horns’ were short (because they looked to be young goats), but pointy enough and sticking up enough to be a very serious hazard for a toddler. I can’t imagine the tourist place’s insurance company would be very happy to learn about the dangers of keeping goats with horns, especially in a situation where the random public are allowed in close contact with the animals. 

I have no love in my heart for goats with horns. You can give me every excuse in the book for why you would allow a goat to keep its horns, but I don’t buy it. People will say, “Oh, but horns are natural!” To that I say, nothing we do in farming is “natural”. We take goats out of their natural environments in the hills and valleys of Europe and plunk them in a stall in a barn. We limit their normal territories from acres and acres of free space to a 20’X50’ paddock. We take their kids and milk them twice a day for 10 months a year. Nothing about this is what a goat has evolved to do “naturally”! 

Then people will say, “Horns are for protection from predators”. Well, if you think about it the most common predator of a goat is usually your dog or your neighbor’s dog. I have heard very few stories of goats being eaten by coyotes, wolves or mountain lions, but I have heard thousands of stories of goats being torn apart by Lassie and Rover. I have NEVER heard of a story where a goat was able to fend off an attacking dog by using its horns. If a dog is hell-bent on killing a goat, it will not be deterred by horns. Dogs prefer to chase their prey to exhaustion and then strike the belly or neck area, basically eviscerating the animal alive. Horns don’t help much in this situation because unless the goat is willing to attack the dog head-on until it is dead, the dog is not going to give up the potential for a kill. And in the wild (nature), most of the herd defense is done by the dominant buck goat. He is in charge of fending off predators and protecting the herd. He is prepared to fight a predator head-on and kill to protect his herd. In farming, where do we put our buck goats? They are usually sequestered far from the female herd in a small space of their own.  I have never heard of a dairy goat owner running a mature buck goat with his does all the time, year round. 

After this I hear “Horns are used for temperature regulation so a goat doesn’t overheat”. WTF? If this was true then all horned goats would have froze to death in the Swiss Alps a long time ago. If horns are so full of blood vessels that they dissipate enough heat in the summer to keep a goat cool, then wouldn’t horns be an extreme heat loss problem in colder climates during the winter? Wouldn’t you hear northern farmers expounding on the necessity for disbudding in order to keep your goats warm in winter? I have yet to hear that.

Oh, then comes the “But I don’t want to hurt my baby goats by burning their horn buds with a red hot iron”. I say “GROW A SET!” Disbudding a baby goat is a 20 second procedure that does not result in long term pain. Every baby goat I have disbudded has returned to normal activity and energy levels within minutes of disbudding. I have seen long term pain and even death result from horned goats being injured by their horns or by other goat’s horns. I have seen goats gore each other with their horns. This was a fatal situation where one of the goats had to be put down. I have seen horned goats beat each other bloody with their horns. I have heard of multiple stories of goats getting their horns stuck in fences and either dying from exposure or dying from the stress of struggling to get free. Goats have hung themselves from feeders and fences with their horns. These problems from allowing a goat to grow horns sound like a hell of a lot more pain and distress than a 20 second round of disbudding. 

So please everyone take the time to disbud your baby goats this year. If you do not have the equipment or cajones to do it, find someone who does. Everyone in my area knows that I have a disbudding iron and I travel to disbud for other people. I have no problems with making a trip to someone’s farm to disbud their kids at any time. I get so mad when I see perfectly good goat kids for sale this time of year who have been ruined by keeping them horned.