Thursday, April 19, 2012

Photo by David Lygren

OMG It's SPRING Again.....

  It seems we wait all winter for the weather to break, for the goats to start to look pregnant, for the electric to stay on, for the fierce windy storms with heavy tree cracking snow to stop.  For the roads to get cleared and the landslides undermining the curves over the mountain to be fixed.  And finally for the babies to come.

THE BABIES ARE HERE!!!  It seems the moms are like girls in the fraternity house, their cycles all seem to sync because  for a few days there we had four or five does kid each day.  My husband has the barn all set up so slick for kidding season.  The pregant does are in the field by the house so we can watch them.  About six weeks ahead of when kidding is expected, we start to bring them into the milking parlor, which is still a muddy mess from winter, for a little bit of grain each day and a chance to look each doe over closely.  When things looks close, my husband begins to lay out tons of fresh straw everywhere they hang out that's under cover.  In the heart of winter, he adds straw to the muddiest pathways to help keep us and the goats out of the muck.  But in spring, he starts to layer fresh straw everywhere because we want the kids to land on fresh bedding.

When we see the kids being born, or when we find them in the loafing barn on our early morning check, we immediately dip the kids navels in iodine and then move mom and kids into a snug interior 12 X 12 stall, inside the big barn.  It has nice high, solid walls, is private and protected from the wind.  Hanging down about four feet from the ground in the middle of the stall, tied off in five directions, is  a heat lamp.  A feeder against one wall has the finest stemmed, highest quality hay we have.  Fresh water with a few drops of molasses, a pan of grain with a side of mineral salt... mama and babies have a nice, snug, private place to get acquainted with a warm island in the middle.  They stay there until we're sure the kids are doing well and being fed then David moves them to the other side of the barn where he has fixed up a 12 X 24 space with hay feeders on both ends, fresh water and more mineral salt.  Solid wood on three sides but one long side faces the inside of the barn and is open mesh stock panel.  Comes in modular 16' sections, can be cut, used for fence, for feeders, for gates.  We love it.  There's another heat lamp in here but we don't use it unless the weather is really bad because the kids huddle together in the corner.  In the heart of kidding, we might actually have two or three does at a time in the first stall and we've had up to ten with kids in the next stall.  The next step is to move mamas and frisky, healthy kids out to the back pasture.  Still plenty of shelter and snug places for kids to hide and sleep but also pasture, larger hay feeders, fresh water and lots of room to run, jump and play. 

I love to go out to the barn and look around and realize that no matter how nasty the weather and no matter how yucky the mud, all the goats are dry, have straw paths through the worst of the mud, have clean water, fresh bedding, good quality hay and an old goat who takes such good care of them.  They all have what they need, even if some of it's tied together with baling twine..... the goats are happy.

And now that the weather will keep improving, now that the kids are playing outside my window, now that the markets and our income are starting again, now that most of the births are over with no real emergencies, now that we are scrubbing off the winter mud from equipment, walls, floors, now that we are milking and making cheese again..... The Goat Lady is happy too!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Why Did My Goat Die?"

Photo by Nancy Chandler via Droid

"People say you are the Goat Lady so I thought I'd call you"..... I hear this all the time and it's never good.  By the time I get this call, usually the poor goat is past saving.... at least by the likes of me trying to make a diagnosis or suggestion based on a bit of information on the phone.

I start out by asking some basic questions:

Is the goat "down"?  Standing, laying down, eating, drinking, making noises that indicate pain?
Is she warm to the touch?  Muscle twitches?  Snotty nose or gurgly sounding breathing?  Diarrhea?
Has it been wormed regularly or recently?  Yearly vaccinations?
Is there good adequate shelter in this bad weather?
What are you feeding?  Do they have access to minerals, salt and selenium?

Many times, by the time I get the call, the goat is "down", almost comatose.  I tell the person to call the vet.  Right away.  I must not communicate well because more times than not, the person calling waits another day or so and then is surprised when the goat dies.

Many times, there's no regular worming given.  High worm load robs the animal of nutrition and as the parasites multiply and consume the feed they poop and that's the problem.  That waste is toxic in extremely high levels. Selenium deficiency is also a problem in this area since our soils are selenium deficient which produces hay and pasture that is low in selenium.  We supplement in several ways.  I detailed this in the previous blog entry.  Mineral deficiency can cause digestive problems, muscle weakness and if severe can lead to the animal ceasing to eat.... which then leads quickly to death.

Late one January, I got a call from a neighbor who said her goat was depressed and had stopped eating.  It had rained for 29 days in a row.... not just a sprinkle but driving rain, every day with flooding and mud everywhere.  When I questioned her about the goat's shelter I found that it was a miniature goat that lived alone in a chain link dog run with a dogloo for shelter.  The dogloo was in the open, in the rain..... so that was the goats shelter.... for 29 days.... inside what basically became a little plastic drum. The poor thing had nowhere to get out of the rain except inside the drum and nowhere to get relief from the noise of the rain pelting nonstop.... for 29 days.  Of course the goat got depressed and stopped eating.  It went crazy waiting patiently for someone to figure out it was in distress.  I told her to call the vet.  She waited another day and by that time, the goat was dehydrated and beyond help.  The goat died.  A few months later she left a message about getting another kid and we avoided returning her call.

Goats are such sweet things.  The point of keeping goats is to have happy goats.  Any large herd will experience losses, particularly in the fall when the weather turns, during kidding season, and in the spring, usually just after the weather breaks.  But there are things to do to keep that number down.  Regular worming.  Yearly vaccinations.  Good nutrition including minerals.  Shelter to get them out of the rain, the wind, the sun.  Dry hay.  Good hoof care.  Diligent observation to find problems early.  Trips to the vet or a "ranch call" if the problems seem serious.....

We'll be having a whole new crop of kids beginning in March.  We'll be providing some free animals to a newly rejuvenated 4H dairy goat project here in Alsea and David has offered to train the leader and provide hands on experience to any of the kids who want to put in time to learn.  We'll have some other animals for sale.  We often have a waiting list of people who are interested in our kids, having heard that they are very healthy and have a high survival rate once in the hands of buyers.  Send us an email if you are interested in getting some kids.  We post on craigslist too, under the heading "GOATS! GOATS! GOATS!"

By the way, in response to the "Goat Lady" label, I usually tell people that I prefer Goat Goddess.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Offseason Activities

Well, due to the economy, we don't really have an "offseason" this year.  Three years ago we went to Hawaii for seven weeks and sold goat cheese at the Hilo Farmers Market in January and February.  We rented an actual MIL apt., cooked meals, earned a little money and learned to live off the land, buying fish at the docks and bread from the rack behind the bakery at midnight.  Fruit was cheap and life was good.  We came home to kidding, milking chores, cheesemaking and then markets.

This year, we aren't going anywhere.  Maybe to Seattle for a few days to see the folks.  But, all the markets are expanding into late fall and very early spring, and several more are going all winter.  We have four markets to do this weekend:  Oregon City, Portland Park Blocks, Montavilla and Corvallis.  Lane County will start in another month too. 

Even though we are not vacationing and we are still marketing, we are not actually milking or cheesemaking.  What we are selling now is cheese made earlier in the season.  The goats like a rest while they are pregnant so that all they have to do is grow babies.... not grow babies AND make milk.  Milking in the rain?  Muddy goats?  Yuck!  It's basically a part of being such a small operation.  Our setup is fairly modest.  It's clean and efficient but nothing is clean on a farm in the rain in winter..... and I don't think that makes for the best quality cheese. 

However, we continue to bring the goats in for much smaller portions of grain to supplement their forage and hay.  Grain is limited in the early part of gestation so that you don't end up with overly large kids, especially in multiples.  But we increase their grain and it's frequency as the gestation proceeds.  Bringing them in from the barns and onto the milkstand gives us a chance to check and trim hooves, observe their eyes and condition, replace collars.  Every January we give yearly vaccinations, booster shots, to every goat.  CD &T vaccine.  CD helps prevent Enterotoxemia or overeating disease by helping to control harmful bacteria in their gut and keep it in balance with the good bacteria.  T stands for tetanus which is just like for humans, in case there was a skin break where the tetanus bacteria, which lives in the soil, could enter.  We'll also worm them all mid-gestation and again right before kidding to make sure all the nutrition is going to the kids instead of to parasites.  Finally, the newly pregnant does will get BoSe supplements and then will get them again right before kidding.  BoSe is Selenium in a suspension that is injected.  Selenium is essential for muscle development.  It's normally in the soil and therefore in the hay but not out here in the Northwest.  We are very very selenium deficient here so we give them Selenium in several forms:  a loose granular salt with trace minerals and selenium.  They love it.  David set up a little "salt bar" where they can stick their heads thru a fence to get to the round pans of red salt.  We also have salt blocks with trace minerals and SE that they like to lick.  And four times a year, before being with the buck, after breeding, before kidding, and several weeks after kidding... they get a bigger dose of BoSe.  The OSU vet who specialized in ruminant nutrition gave us this schedule and told us that most cases of weak newborn kids are due to Selenium deficiency.  Most spontaneous abortions also.  When goats just go down unexpectedly, it's often Selenium deficiency.  He said it's worse to give too little than too much.  If they get too much, they just pee it out. 

Anyway, spending time watching movies, progressive political shows, great documentaries and silly stuff just cause we actually have the time to do it.... sleeping in and taking naps, keeping the stove going and the house warm.  Baking lots of bread.  Watching football.  Markets and orders.  And herd health and maintenance.  That's our offseason!