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    Raising Goats: Looking Back on 2013

    December 30, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]Before[/dropcap] we hit early spring and I start writing about babies, I thought I’d go over what we did differently, or for the first time, this year (besides identifying and treating copper deficiency, which we’ve already covered). I write this partly because I know some of you keep goats yourselves and are curious, and partly so…I don’t forget. He he.

    :: Wethering ::

    I was always intimidated by wethering the bucks ourselves, but it ended up being simple. Here is what you need to know about wethering: when your little guys hit that stage where they are becoming annoying and/or violent with your children, you can wether them, and within 48 hours they are of the sweetest temperament. Of course, this makes them harder to part with at selling time, but the fact remains.

    We chose to use the banding method. There is a lot of controversy over how to wether a goat. Banding is by far the easiest to do at home. It just is. It was especially so for us because we had friends from whom we could borrow a bander!

    The kids are obviously in pain for a couple hours after banding. Because of this, banding is banned in some European countries. I understand that how to wether your goats is a very personal choice. We didn’t just choose banding thoughtlessly, so briefly I’ll list my own reasoning:

    • Cutting opens up kids to infection, and I wasn’t confident about our ability to care for sick kids. We have an unwritten no-vets rule around here, so I didn’t want to take a risk I couldn’t handle on my own.
    • Cutting also should be preceded by a vaccine, which not only adds cost, but makes the meat no longer “organic.” I am not 100% anti-vax, but at the same time, I like that I can just use a bander and not use a vaccine.
    • Cutting also should be done before the age of one month if you are going to do it yourself. We waited about 6 weeks to allow for a little more physical maturity as we’d read that this can prevent urinary tract issues later on.
    • Banding has testicle retention as its greatest risk. If you don’t get everything, then what is left can still work, meaning you’ll still deal with buck temperament issues, and your nursing does might get pregnant if they’re running with baby bucks. We decided to just be extra careful.
    • I had read enough about the burdizzo approach that I didn’t feel confident doing it. Doing it wrong can cause a lot of internal bleeding.
    • Banding is also standard procedure around here. It is what most goat owners do. So we were surrounded by people who could help us if something went wrong, which is always a good thing.

     

    For us, banding worked. The kids were uncomfortable for a couple hours after that, but then they were back to playing like normal. The hormones fade over a couple days, and then you just wait for everything to fall off. So simple!

    :: Once-Per-Day Milking ::

    This year, I tried milking French style. I don’t know that all the French do this, but I learned about it by reading through some articles on French goat care. The idea is that when the milk supply begins to fade in the autumn, you move to milking once per day. The milk supply will drop, of course, but not enough that it is worth milking twice per day to keep it.
    I am so. glad. I. did. this.
    Last year, by Christmas, I felt like a slave to my goats. Milking them twice per day while trying to finish well in homeschooling and do all the holiday “stuff” I wanted to do overwhelmed me. This year, sometime in mid-November, when the milk supply really began to drop, I switched to once-per-day {morning} milkings. This has been wonderful for me. We still had plenty of milk to drink, but I was able to enjoy the winter evenings more because I didn’t have to head out to milk the goats.
    A definite side-benefit has been more evening read-aloud time, whereas last year I felt like the milking ate up that time.
    My goal this year was just to try it to see what I thought, but now I think this will be my new approach as it definitely worked for me.

     

    :: On-Site Breeding ::

    My biggest decision each year is how to go about breeding the spring kids. Most buck owners want you to bring the does to the buck and leave them there — for up to four to six weeks — to be bred. There is a small fee, plus feed, etc. That is all fine and well, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how dairy goat owners do this. For meat, it makes sense. But dairy goats are being bred when they are still very much in milk. My dilemma has been what to do about that.
    Do I let the buck owner milk the goats and keep the milk, meaning we give up about a month’s worth of milk? Do I drive over twice per day to milk the goats myself? And, honestly, how do I know my goats are being cared for the way I would care for them? The answer to that last question is that they’re not. Taking care of goats is a very personal thing and we each have our own way.
    So imagine my relief when my friend said we could borrow her baby buck. He was old enough to be fertile, but not old enough to be completely annoying or dangerous around the children. He stayed at our house for about six weeks. He was so intimidated by our does that he couldn’t…perform…at first. But soon enough he was used to us and did his job.
    I think the due dates this year are about February 26 and March 25. I hope for two sets of twins, of course. If you are breeding goats this year, here is my favorite due date calculator.

    :: And on to 2014 ::

    I’m pretty excited about this coming year. It is starting to feel like we actually know what we are doing. This will be our third kidding, so the goats should be good at it, too. My only concern is that we are going to have some construction going on in the back during kidding time. I hope everyone behaves! I suppose unpredictability is part of life, no?

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    13 Comments

  • Reply Brandy Vencel January 1, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    WOW. Carrot juice and cayenne pepper? That is the sort of thing I don’t know but want to learn! And thank you for the book suggestion — I hadn’t heard of her, but I’ve been slowly adding veterinary herbal medicine books to my wish list so I appreciate it!

    I have NOT been able to 100% source organic alfalfa. There is one farm near here that does it, but it isn’t always available. I don’t serve all pellets, but I do buy the non-GMO alfalfa pellets from Azure Standard — I think the brand is called Rogue — so when I give them pellets they are not organic but also not GMO, which is my compromise.

    These are backyard goats, so a couple years ago, we took out the lawn and planted pasture grass, plus we let the weeds grow up with it. This has been huge because it shifted the alfalfa to a much smaller portion of their diet.

    So far, we have had good kidding seasons, but they DO make me nervous!

  • Reply Michele January 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Great post. We kept goats for a while and raised them pretty organically, herbal wormers and minerals and such. No antibiotics, homemade grain, etc. We even got through a bad case of milk fever using carrot juice and cayenne pepper. It did necessitate spending an entire night in the barn, but my sweet doe pulled through. Kat Drovdahls book is awesome, as well as the TNG Facebook group. Great resources.

    Are you able to source organic alfalfa? We have moved to Dexter cows, and the alfalfa being a GMO crop really bothers me. We usually buy from a farm that says they use non-gmo feed and don’t spray much, but I’d still prefer organic.

    Kidding season, my least favorite time of the year. I was called out to help with several difficult kiddings last year. So stressful, lol. Enjoy your goats! They do make life more interesting 🙂

  • Reply walking January 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    What do you do when you go on vacation? Do you have fellow goat farmers in the area?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 1, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Funny you would ask. We typically do not go on vacation. 🙁 This year, we were gone overnight three nights total {not in a row}.

      With that said, we are very blessed to live next door to a gal who was raised on a small dairy in Mexico and she loves animals. So on the rare occasions when we leave, she is kind enough to milk them for me. Milking goats is a little different from milking cows, but she does it well enough that they aren’t engorged or anything when I get home.

      But truly keeping livestock is somewhat equivalent to having children {other than that you can decide later to get rid of them sans guilt ha!} in terms of meaning that you need to be there most of the time. We already didn’t have the resources to travel much, so this has made our lives at home much more interesting. 🙂

  • Reply sara January 1, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Brandy, will goats clear brush on a slope?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Yes! You just mentioned to things goats love: hills and brush. 🙂

      With that said, certain breeds are preferred if their primary purpose is weed eating {for example, you’d want to get wethers so that you never had to deal with any of the hormonal issues} so doing a bit of research on what breeds do well in your area and love the weeds you grow would probably be helpful, even though all goat breeds like weeds.

    • Reply sara January 1, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      awesome, thanks! I’m going to start reading and asking around.

  • Reply amy in peru December 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    i’m glad you’re reflecting too…! 😉 heheh. you should totally share this with my reflection giveaway. i wonder what people would say!?

    your goats ARE cute and you are SO brave to keep them… 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 31, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Really?? This will count? Well…okay. 🙂

      The line between brave and stupid is a mysterious thing…

  • Reply Anonymous December 31, 2013 at 6:10 am

    Hi. Thanks for the goat post. I am looking at keeping a couple of small dairy goats. Do you have any books or resources that you have found helpful? How much space would you recommend as a minimum? Do you have any other helpful tips for an wannabe goat keeper?
    Thanks
    Kristen.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 31, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      The number one helpful thing is to find people who actually keep goats in your area. It is amazing to me what a resource LOCAL people are. There are just issues that come up based upon your area — mineral deficiencies in the local soil are probably the reason, and so the experienced owners have come up with solutions over the years.

      With that said, my favorite book is Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby. I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, but it is still a great resource if you are trying to raise them as organically as possible.

      The space issue really depends upon the breed. In general, though, the more they can walk around — the more exercise they get — the healthier they are. They also like to take sun baths. 🙂 Some people do raise them in cages, but goats really are made for wide ranging. Ours probably have at least a quarter acre to wander around on. It isn’t huge, but it is big enough that they can run and jump and scrounge for weeds and grasses. We’ve had times where we’ve had to keep them locked up in cages and they quickly became lethargic and overweight.

      I hope you enjoy keeping your goats! I think they are so fun to have around, especially when there are babies. 🙂

  • Reply Elizabeth December 31, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Those goats in the picture have to be the CUTEST goats ever! Informative post. We don’t raise goats (no space) but probably would if we had a farm. Best of luck to you in 2014.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 31, 2013 at 12:42 am

      Aw, thanks! This photo is extra special to me because the mama in the photo — her name is Charlotte — almost rejected this baby. He was her first, and he totally freaked her out. She couldn’t figure out where he came from or why he was there! She was so distraught and he was lying there shivering in the night. Our friend told us to hold her and let him latch on and get a drink. That moment was like magic. Everything clicked in her brain and she started cleaning him up. Ever after that, she was like she is in the photo…always checking on him, loving on him. So sweet. 🙂

      I hope you have space someday. They really are interesting animals to keep! 🙂

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