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    Oh, the Things I Think I Know

    February 16, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I am still reading through Pat Coleby’s Natural Goat Care. I am also trying not to become a goat blogger, because I know you will never forgive me. But surely even animal husbandry gives us access to Permanent Things, right? I mean, Wendell Berry seems to think so.

    What I’ve really been struck by in all of this reading I’m doing is my own ignorance. Not only that, but opinions I didn’t fully realize I had founded upon said ignorance.

    Let me explain.

    I had it in my head that goat keeping would be a certain way. We all do this before going into something new, right? We make assumptions about that new job, about being a mother, whatever. I had my own goat expectations, which were more like opinions than anything else.

    For instance, I thought that goats could be raised on alfalfa hay alone because someone had told me so. And people do this, of course. But in reading Coleby I’ve decided that I need to do more than that if I’m going to be a good steward if my animals.

    A more important assumption, though, was that goats ought not be milked through pregnancy. Now, this opinion of mine was based upon my observation of cows, specifically the cows over at Organic Pastures Dairy. When we took the tour years ago, it was explained to our group that OP’s cows live–and milk–a lot longer than cows at conventional dairies. In discussing why this was so, the reason hypothesized was twofold: {1} the cows are being fed on hay and pasture, which is their natural feed {as opposed to grain feeding, which causes health problems}, and {2} the cows are not milked while pregnant {this was called a “rest”}.

    I have no idea what Coleby would think about this for cows, but my point here is that I took that and applied it to goats in my mind, even though goats are a completely different species. I assumed that it would be better for a goat’s health to not be milked during pregnancy.

    Frankly, I assumed a lot of things.

    Now, in general things are going as I expected. I have no buyer’s remorse–these gals are great. But it is interesting to learn about them and their needs.

    Coleby writes:

    For years there was a prejudice against milking a mature doe up to kidding. Older does from good milking lines often do not dry up at all, or do so only for a week or two. Once the udder is full it must be milked normally, otherwise it becomes engorged…with the sad result that the doe may never milk properly again. All too often one hears of does with huge udders which no one has milked coming up to kidding and having no milk when they do–the lack of milking is the reason.

    So whereas I thought I’d be doing these girls a favor by drying them up {which is done by not milking them as often, if I understand correctly}, here is Coleby telling me that I am obligated to milk a doe who needs milking, and that I may jeopardize her ability to milk in the future if I don’t {and I realize here that there is more than one opinion on this}. Coleby goes on,

    Even when the does are feeding the kids, the udder must be checked morning and night and if there is any surplus she must be milked out.

    In my reading, I finally came to the realization that these goats are milking animals. This is what defines them as a breed, and their care must take this into account. Therefore, they must get the vitamins and minerals needed to produce milk. And I must make sure that the milk comes out, for that is what it is designed by God to do. Goodness! I even learned that some goats do not need to have babies to begin milk production; they are called maiden milkers.

    I also always assumed that the most “natural” thing is for kids to get their milk directly from their mothers. Well, I suppose it is “natural,” as long as we note that it is also natural for one of the babies to die if there are multiples {and there usually are}. So I had it in my head that when our goats kidded, I’d let them be hippie mamas, raising their own young as they saw fit {at least for a short period of time before the kids sold}. That would probably work fine for twins, but Coleby notes:

    Whether the kid is to suckle its mother or not, it is a good idea to teach it to drink first. As each kid is born, take it from its mother and put it behind a wire door in the stall so the dam can see it. Milk out some of the colostrum…Give all of the kids a drink…to make sure each one receives its colostrum and learns to drink from a bucket. They can then be allowed back on mother if she is to suckle them. This should be done in multiple births or the last kid may not get much colostrum.

    It is easy to look on in our ignorance and privately criticize the goat farmer who “steals” kids away from their mamas, but the fact remains that these practices have been developed by generations of farmers who have come before us who might actually know what they are doing.

    I guess I’m musing on this also because I see this a lot in the Real Food movement. There is a tendency to romanticize the perfect upbringing for an animal, but it is often long on idealism and short on facts. For instance, even though hay and pasture are the ideal diet for cows, the fact remains that Holsteins will most likely die without any grain at all, and dead animals don’t do anyone any good. Or it comes to my mind the time someone was waxing eloquent over the double-yolks in her pastured eggs. Normal, grocery store eggs don’t have double-yolks, she declared triumphantly.

    Obviously, she never bought jumbo grocery store eggs.

    All of our birds laid double-yolks when they first began laying. Their bodies were just getting into the swing of things and all sorts of surprised come out: empty shells, eggs without shells, eggs with no white, eggs with no yolk, and double-yolkers. We have seen it all. But this wasn’t because of our superior eggs {even though I am prejudiced in favor of our eggs}, but because this is what young layers do.

    I think if I’ve learned anything by trying our hand at this, it is that I shouldn’t get too attached to my uninformed opinions.

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 18, 2012 at 4:48 am

    I’m sorry this has nothing to do with your post, but I just had to tell you I kept thinking of you as I read this book – Our Home on the Range: Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    See? I knew if we reached hard enough for a universal we would find one. 🙂

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... February 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Hmm…maybe I should try your goat lessons on marriage! 😉

  • Reply Mystie February 17, 2012 at 12:03 am

    That is a good lesson and principle

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