Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Big Problem With Miniature Animals

I am not a big fan of miniature animals. While I am afraid of a 1600 lb. cow running towards me, I would hesitate to trade that full-sized cow in for a “lowline” or miniature version. The same goes for any miniaturized animals. Small is cute, I get it. But small isn’t always the best. Miniaturizing full-sized animals comes with major costs. 

One problem I have with miniaturizing animals is that small-size can come with big health problems. Miniature horses are prone to have dwarf foals. Dwarfism in horses is just as detrimental to the animal’s health and longevity as dwarfism in humans. There are also other genetic defects seen in miniatures that aren’t seen in full-sized animals. I am not sure if this is a result of the miniaturization or because many smaller sized animals are bred specifically for the pet market where good production genetics can get thrown out the window. 

 Another health problem seen in miniature animals is the inability to produce viable offspring without huge pregnancy complications. Sometimes the females are so small that they aren’t physiologically capable of having babies. Sure, they can get pregnant, but those babies may not be able to get out of mom. This is especially a problem when the miniature female is bred to a larger or full-sized male. The babies can be too big to be born successfully. Some people know that you should never, ever breed a larger male to a smaller female, but some people do not know this (again, this is a rampant issue in the pet market). 

A big problem I personally have with miniaturizing full-sized livestock is that you tend to trade in production ability for small size. To me, this is not a fair trade-off. Why would I raise and feed a mini-cow for two years and get half of the meat off of it than I would a full-sized one? I don’t see the benefit. Either way, it’s still a cow. Either way, you still have to feed it and care for it as if it were a regular cow. It may eat a little less, but it still shits just as much! 

The worst problem in my mind with miniature livestock is the tendency people have to cross breed them with full-sized animals. They think by crossing a Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat with a Nubian dairy goat they are going to get a smaller goat that produces lots of milk. Actually the opposite usually holds true – they get a large-ish goat that produces a crappy amount of milk. And if you cross a Nubian with a lovely roman nose and long ears to a Nigerian with a straight nose and straight ears, you wind up with a really ugly goat with a big nose and stupid looking ears. I really have no love in my heart for so called “mini-Nubians”, can’t you tell?! The same problem works with mini-cows mixed with full-sized. You don’t get a ¾ sized cow, you just get a big cow with teeny, short legs. Yuck. And don’t give me that BS that it is an “F1 hybrid” and that is why it’s as fugly as a port-o-potty. I am not buying it! 

What I really don’t get is that mini-animals are usually more expensive than their full-sized counterparts. Why would I pay twice as much for half as much animal?? It doesn’t make sense. A correlation to this price swap is that some people sell their stunted animals as “minis”. If a goat is underweight and stunted, it’s not a mini, no matter how small it is. IT’S A RUNT! Unless you actually bred one of its parents to an actual mini, it is never going to be a real mini. Sometimes I even see people sell immature full-sized animals as adult minis. They say that the rabbit is a Netherland Dwarf adult when it is actually a baby Californian. Boy, won’t the new owners be surprised when their “Dwarf” grows up to be 20 lbs! 

I do believe that miniature animals that are an actual breed are okay. If they evolved naturally over millions of years to be smaller in size, that’s fine. Shetland ponies and purebred Nigerian Dwarf goats are okay. They evolved to be that size and no humans purposefully bred them to be small. It’s when humans get their hands in the mix that miniaturization becomes a problem. Some animals are meant to be full-size. Some are meant to be smaller. Let’s just leave them be the size they evolved to be.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Challenge From My Sister

My sister over at unbrave girl has issued a challenge to everyone to stop being self-hating and snarky about their bodies. She's sick and tired of being sick and tired of her own body. I can totally sympathize with her. You see, since she and I share the same parents, we also share the same genes for body problems. While she amazingly dodged the "Kimble-family-endocrine-disorder" gene (I did not, I have Grave's disease), we both have the "Thelen-family-overweight" gene. This gene is a dominant one and very strong in its expression. It's not the typical fat gene where you get fat if you sit on your butt and eat a lot, but get thin if you exercise and eat less. Nope. It's not like that. It's the gene where you get fat and stay fat regardless of eating nothing but salads and air, and you stay fat even though you run 5K marathons for fun and can carry 75 lbs. of goat feed on one shoulder. It's that kind of fat gene. The stubborn kind.
Yay... Fat genes....

I have been having trouble with my weight since... birth. I don't ever remember being under 180 lbs. at all until college. I was that big kid in grade school who looked like she was held back a few grades because I towered over the boys and had to buy my clothes in the women's department starting in 5th grade. I did lose a few pounds during college by being poor and living off of Triscuits and grape soda while working at a job that was a 1 mile walk uphill to get to. Even then my lowest weight was 172 lbs.
This is me.

For the last four years I have been stalled at 210 lbs. I recently resurrected the good ol' food journal and saw that while I hadn't gained any weight since 2010 (F--- yeah!), I also haven't lost any (WTF?!). I even had a baby between then and now. I only gained 10 lbs. during pregnancy and pretty much dumped that out on the day the kid was born. That's how stubborn my fat gene is. My weight didn't even move during pregnancy -- how many people can say that!? My body is apparently VERY comfortable at 210.
This is me at 210 lbs.

And so in conclusion, I accept my sister's challenge to stop being mean to my body by thinking ill of it. But I raise a challenge of my own -- GET OFF THE 210 MARK! (And not in the heavier way!). The time is now. I need to work with what I have and who I am to be healthier and lose some weight. I don't want to be over 200 lbs. any more. It's not good for me. I don't care if I still have bags under my eyes or if I still have giant flabby upper arms or if I still can't wear shorts because of my "thees" (like cankles, but where you thigh ends below your knee) -----that is all body-snark and it ends TODAY!--- I really just want to get that scale to move. It's my personal challenge to myself*. I am going to stop bashing my body and I am also going to try to improve it. I am going to work with it, not against it.

*Well, not so personal since I am currently in the "Biggest Loser" contest being held where I work. It started on May 31st and runs through August 31st.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing the Perfect Craigslist Ad

I have always had pretty good luck with selling goats on Craigslist. There are a couple of things that help when writing an ad to post:

1. Be descriptive - I am always leary of an ad that simply says "purebread nanny goat for sale". I kind of get the feeling that maybe the seller isn't very up to date on their goat information. I worry about the quality of animal that comes from an ad with such a lack of description. If the seller didn't have time to write a little bit more about the animal in order to sell it, did they have time at all to care for it? I find it always makes a goat more appealing if the ad has a good description of the animal. Things like age, exact breed, registration, disease status, general health, and any breeding/kidding info are always helpful.

2. Don't be too descriptive - While I like to get a good snapshot of the animal from the information in the ad, I get a little weirded out if the ad is too descriptive. A Craigslist ad is not the place for a thesis on proper goat management. A super long ad makes me feel that perhaps the seller will be very picky about who they are selling to and give you the third degree if you call.

3. Use good pictures - Nothing hurts an ad more than a blurry, dark cellphone picture. If you don't have a good, in focus picture of the animal to post, don't post a picture! Take a good picture with proper lighting of the whole animal. Also be sure to crop it so it only shows the animal for sale. Try to never take a picture in the barn because the barn usually has poor lighting and a dirty barn is a terrible background to use. Take the picture outside during the day with someone holding the animal or at least the animal looking at the camera (no butt shots please!).

4. Tell the truth - Be sure to give a reason why you are selling the animal. It helps to give a small hint of why you are not keeping it.

5. Don't tell the whole truth - You can omit some stuff and save it for after the buyer contacts you. If the goat is a jerk and doesn't like to be milked then maybe it's best to just say in the ad that it "would make a good companion animal".

6. Don't harass the buyers - It's not necessary to put in the ad that it needs to go to a "good home only". That is pretty much implied, duh. Also never say "Be sure to put "blah blah blah" in the subject so I know it isn't spam". You are going to get spam anyways so just freaking get over it!

7. The Price Is Right! - Research what the going price is for a similar animal in your area. Ask around, look at similar ads, keep your ear to the ground. It does no good to ask $400 if the going rate is $100. You aren't going to be able to sell the animal for $400 EVER. Get. Over. It. And lower your price.

8. Don't repost or renew the ad without changing it - I surf Craigslist often so I know when I have seen the same ad 5 weeks in a row. If you haven't had any bites on an ad in 3 weeks, change something and try posting again. Don't repost every day! Also if you animal isn't selling you may need to look closely at the main deciding factor in your ad ---- THE PRICE! Lots of times I see the same ad over and over and think to myself, "Should I email them and let them know that the reason they haven't sold the goat is because they are asking a ridiculous amount for that animal?".

9. Know your audience - Craigslist is a great place to dump an animal quickly and cheaply. It's not the place for a fancy animal that would only be in the price range of very high-end buyers. It's fine to post a high quality (AKA: high price) animal once to see if anyone bites. But don't be shocked if no one goes for it. If you have a really fancy animal for sale then you will need to branch out from Craigslist and go to the place where more expensive buyers will be looking. There's lots of special groups on Facebook and other place on the internet for selling specialty animals.

10. Be picky about your buyers - You don't have to sell your goat to anyone. Create a relationship with the buyer and make sure they are someone you feel comfortable with. Ask them questions and give them lots of information on the animal they are looking to buy. Don't be afraid to turn someone down. They will get over it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

CAE is a real disease!

I am always shocked when I hear people talk about how Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE) isn't a big deal. Even though they have never tested, they claim that their goats "look healthy" and have never had a problem and that they must be "CAE-free". I'm sorry, but as soon as I hear "CAE-free" I tend to shudder with horror. I really don't believe there is such a thing. Your goats are either CAE negative or they are positive. They can never be truly "free" of it. If you have never tested your herd or you don't do CAE prevention, then you have no right to claim that your herd is "CAE-free".

One of the current estimates on prevalence of CAE infection in the goat world is that up to 80% of goats carry and transmit the virus to others. I have argued with people before about how they don't believe this number because they feel it is too high. They insist that since they test or use prevention and since they know others who do too, that the general population is also aware of the disease and takes action against it. I don't believe that at all. Just talk to any random goat owner and about half of them will go "Huh?" when you mention CAE. They don't know what it is and have never heard of it. You can bet hard cash that their goats are positive. The other half of goat owners will give you the "my goats look healthy so they don't have CAE" line when you question them about it. You can also bet hard cash that all their animals are positive. Don't even bother asking a meat goat breeder about CAE. I have yet to find anyone with Boers or Kikos who regularly tests. Yep, get your wallet out again -- all of their goats are positive too. So if you add the uninformed, the noobs, and the meat goat producers into the equation, you are probably approaching the 80% mark pretty quickly. 

CAE is a highly subclinical disease which means that only 10% of the animals who carry and transmit the virus will actually show the "classical" symptoms -- ie: swollen knees, hard udders at freshening, or encephalitis. Unfortunately these symptoms often get confused with other common goat ailments so the actual percentage of goats who express direct CAE-related problems may be much higher than 10%. Hard udders at freshening often go undocumented in the meat breeds or get confused with other udder related maladies in the dairy breeds. The same is true for encephalitis. There are several goat diseases that cause sudden paralysis and death, so usually when presented with those symptoms, CAE is at the bottom of the diagnostic list.

Do keep in mind that CAE doesn't only cause those classic symptoms. CAE is an immunodeficient virus that suppresses the goat's immune system and leaves them open to serious complications due to other infections and deficiencies. CAE is often called "Goat AIDS" for good reason. Rarely to people with HIV/AIDS actually die directly from that virus. It's the other diseases, like TB, that ultimately kill a person with the HIV virus because their immune system was compromised by HIV before they got TB. A normal, healthy adult can fight off a TB infection, but someone with HIV is at a huge disadvantage. The same is true for a goat with CAE. Most goats that are CAE negative will be healthier in general than their immunocompromised CAE positive counterparts.

One of the big problems with people and understanding CAE is that the current test for CAE only looks for the antibodies to the virus. This is not a fool-proof test by any means because many times a goat can carry the CAE virus and transmit it but she may not carry the antibodies to it. She may test negative but actually be infected with the virus. Some goats do not produce antibodies normally due to a preexisting immune system dysfunction and some goats have delayed antibody production for one reason or the other. There can also be false positives if the goat was exposed to the antibodies. They can carry the antibodies but not the virus, so technically they are not infected but they will test positive. Do keep in mind though, that false negatives and false positives are extremely rare!  Unfortunately this kind of confusion about the accuracy of the testing causes people to proclaim that the test is completely invalid and a waste of time. They will swear up and down that since the test isn't fool-proof that it must be totally wrong, thus they stopped testing and worrying about CAE.

Another big problem that people have with CAE is that prevention and testing is a huge pain in the ass. If you never test and you assume that your goats are healthy, then you never have to work very hard to claim they are "CAE free". You can just sit in the dark and let your infected goats spread the virus all around to their kids and their kids' kids, and sell those kids to people who also don't have a clue, and everything is just peachy. You can skip the annual testing, you can skip the bottle feeding of pasteurized milk, and you can skip having to change your herd management to eradicate the virus. Being ignorant is so much easier than being informed!

So what is the goat owner to do? TEST, TEST, TEST! It's cheap and it's easy -- about $4 per goat through the mail. Just take a blood sample (which is super easy to do -- no veterinary needed!), and pop it in the mail with payment. Then in about 5 days you will get an email with the test results. If your goats are positive then the hard work begins. You will have to evaluate your herd management and make changes so any new goats you produce are negative. Some goats can live a long time with the infection and continue to produce kids so it isn't necessary to eradicate your positive animals. BUT it is necessary that you take the appropriate steps to be responsible and not spread the virus to new goats.

If all goat owners work together to test their goats and then manage them properly, it is possible to bring that 80% number down to 50% or 20% or even 0%!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Well, I should've known better....

I should've known better when my friend asked if I wanted to buy some fancy breed chickens from a friend of hers. It was a pair -- a rooster and a hen. That right there should have stopped me. I don't need a rooster. I have a rooster. A good rooster. Then she said the rooster has a big straight comb. There's another tip-off that this was a bad idea. I can't keep roosters with big combs because they get frostbite in the winter. My first rooster had a big comb and it froze off every winter, no matter what I did to try to keep it warm. Short of knitting him a little hat, there wasn't anything I could do. I swore I wasn't going to get another big combed chicken again.

In spite of these two big problems, I picked up the chickens on Saturday. I paid a good deal of money for them which really should have stopped me right there. I am not much of a chicken farmer so spending money on chickens for me is kind of a waste. It doesn't really matter what kind of fancy breed they are, I am not up to the caliber of chicken person to really be spending anything on a bird. Well, against my reservations, I paid the lady and took the birds home.

Once home, I should have known to clip their wings. Both of them looked very game-bird-ish and from my experience any light breed, game type birds won't stay in my fencing. They tend to be flighty and fly right over my 5' chicken fence. I decided to wait and see if they would be like that, rather than taking my own advice and just clipping them. I also should have known that they would need a few days of acclimation being locked up with my chickens before being allowed to free-range it in the coop. They just moved here and don't know the neighborhood so a few days in confinement would be ideal. Well, yesterday I got lazy and rather than cleaning their cage, I let them out with the rest of the birds.

Well, you can probably guess what happened next.... When I did chores this morning the new hen was gone and the rooster was sitting forlornly at the back of the chicken run. I looked around and didn't find her anywhere. I am hoping she is just in the woods and will come back before being eaten by a fox. Of course, if she does come back, I have no idea how to catch her. Short of getting lucky and surprising her, I can't imagine being able to get a hold of her.

Well, I should've known better.....