Sunday, May 5, 2013

cheers to goats

I don't know how many calls, emails, facebook messages and texts a week I receive about goat care...but it is a lot and far exceeds any amount of things I am consistently asked about. These inquiries alone tell me that raising dairy goats is a lot of work and definitely has its challenges! I have actually not been an avid goat keeper for that long - you can read a little bit of my goat history and how I came about to be a goat lover in this sweet little ebook Must Love Goats. We were honored to be one of the 15 goat owners who shared their stories (ps. when you purchase this ebook you are supporting all 15 farms and helping us to continue doing what we do - plus there are lots of cute goat pics..so go buy it ;-)).
There is likely not an animal I do not love or have respect for but goats just do not come as naturally to me as sheep do. It is a known fact that I have a Shepherd's heart which inspires me to limits beyond what my dreams hold - they are what I do and so much of who I am is because of these lovely woolly girls. My goat girls on the other hand, challenge and intrigue me. Without doubt, they are also essential to our farm. So I take up the challenge of raising goats and accept the fact that for me, it may not always be done gracefully.
mom and baby
 We have a very small herd of French Alpine girls and our buck is an American Alpine. All are registered or registerable through the Amercan Dairy Goat Association. On their website you can read about the breed differences and almost all there is to know about colors, standard sizes and so on. I am not going to elaborate on that because honestly..it does not interest me. I love my little herd because of their individual personalities, their personal health, udders and ease of milking and what they put in the bucket. I have retained a few of my doe kids from several of my milkers for the future herd but as a rule, we do not keep the majority the kids and we do not bring in new goats. We raise what we milk. I have yet to figure up how much money it costs to raise a dairy goat to maturity but I can tell you, it is a lot! One can not expect to raise a dairy goat on brush or grass and expect her to mature well, kid and then actually give a fair amount of decent tasting milk or for her to remain in good health. If you have heard differently, there may be some possible reasons why and here are my guesses.
1. the girls were not a full dairy breed or
2. that particular goat was one of a kind or
3. there were miracles performed in that herd
In general, there is much more to raising a healthy milking doe than what grazing alone can offer. I believe the brush/grazing only goat theory contributes much as to why there are so many dairy goat owners out there dealing with goat health issues and also why so many people turn their noses up when you even mention goats milk. Raising dairy goats and raising meat goats are almost like raising two separate species. Dairy goats are fickle. You will get out of them, what you put into them.
Dolly lets us know her exact thoughts...daily
Our dairy girls are fed locally grown alfalfa hay - free choice. They also are fed an orchard grass hay mix and are allowed free range of their pastured paddock daily. The feed ration: We choose to supplement our girls with a dairy goat pellet made by Blue Seal. This is a high protein dry pellet that contains some of the nutritional balance they need, it also includes yeast - which is essential to a lactating doe. We actually have driven across the state in the past to get good goat grains...it is that important! I also sprout whole grains for them..which is why they will tear down the door to the barn each day to get milked, if we don't open it for them. Saying they love sprouts, is an understatement. Then there are the added black oil sunflower seeds, black walnuts and peanuts. There is a reason for each of the things we feed, they all have their place in keeping the girls balanced and their milk delicious. The feed ration is fed twice daily.
goat mineral and herbal compound
The mineral: I like Manna Pro's goat mineral when I can find it - it contains some extra vitamins and minerals the girls need to stay balanced and is fed free choice. Most minerals, even if they're labeled for goats, tend to be lacking in areas. So read the label and know what you're reading. If you can not find a good goat mineral, feeding a high quality dairy cow mineral is the next best thing. I mix an herbal compound as well as food grade diatomaceous earth into their mineral. All 3 of these things are also essential in maintaining parasite resistance in our herd. The herbal compound we choose is from Hoegger - they also carry some decent goat mineral and offer a world of info about goat keeping on their website. One of the best things we ever did for our goats was to start copper bolusing. Here is the best info I have ever come across about why to add Copper and how - if you own dairy goats this is a must read: Copper Bolusing . Then there is their water which is changed daily. We also add apple cider vinegar to their water and purchase it by the gallons! I also do what I call vitamin and mineral therapy. We give a BoSe injection which provides the extra selenium they need - even though many of the above supplements contain selenium, it is still not enough. We also give Vitamin B Complex injections. These are given on an as needed basis which is not often but are the only injectibles we give the girls here on the farm. I hate injecting them period and will keep researching and searching for ways to avoid it in the future but for now, until they get the vitamins/minerals they need through their diet intake, we will use injectibles. We have chosen not to vaccinate and make every buyer aware of our practices if they choose to purchase a kid from us. Even with the most diligent of care..there is going to be a time where someone gets sick or has an issue of some sort. When such a case arises and meds of some sort are needed, we treat with essential oils and herbs first. The vast majority of the time herbs and oils work for the girls and we rarely have to medicate with synthetic antibiotics or treatments. I can remember only a couple cases in the last 5 years, where we actually resorted to synthetic medications and only 1 case where the synthetic improved a condition. I believe that just like synthetic meds, the animals can become immune to natural treatments and remedies as well. Since we work at parasite prevention, I'm not going to elaborate on parasite treatments. And if you follow my blog posts, you already know I float fecals regularly. So when the need arises, which is rare..we do treat for whatever parasite overload the fecal float is showing me. There is a world of information out there on parasites in ruminants and the treatments but just like everything else, prevention is always the best cure.
sisters and the next milking generation
So now that we are growing healthy goats and we've bred our girls in the fall months so they will kid in the spring months and each of their udders are now full of the creamy good stuff...it is then time to take a close look at the milk. I have lots of ways of testing the milk but one of the most full proof I've found, is drinking it. And doing so as straight from the udder as possible. Sample cups are kept right beside the towels we clean udders with and are part of what is essential in the milk barn. Everything the girls eat and lack can be tasted in their milk. It takes time and consistent tasting but you can definitely become a pro at it. And you will get nothing but a straight and honest answer from all who help with the daily milking - that I am the only one who performs the milk taste tests and does so willingly. Because I know exactly what my girls are eating and drinking and also know exactly what their milk tastes like when they're balanced and healthy, I can spot a discrepancy instantly. It's almost like a wine tasting but with milk..and yes I daintly sip and swish it around my palate thoroughly and thoughtfully while also noting both the texture and smell...it's that important :-) Once I spot a discrepancy - selenium, yeast, copper or other minerals and vitamins can then be adjusted as needed. We have one doe in particular that requires much more copper than the others, she has a hard time absorbing it..adjusting her copper ration makes every difference in the taste of her milk.
milk testing
Lastly I must add how good goat milk tastes. If you have had bad tasting goat milk, there is a reason it is bad. It may be because of one or more of the reasons above or the doe is sick or maybe there has been poor handling of the milk...but in general, goat milk is some of the sweetest and most good for you milks that exist. I am a milk enthusiast! And before I plan to even start on making cheese, yogurt or anything else milk related...for me it starts with the animal. If you have a healthy and balanced animal you can expect the milk to be equal in quality.
Gidge is one lean mean milking machine
Maybe all you have read is work, work, work. And there's no denying that there is no lack of it with goat keeping...notice I did not even brush on fencing, housing, breeding, kidding, disbudding, hoof trimming..there actually seems to be an endless list of goat topics. But in every way, these girls are and have been worth it! I am by no means an expert at anything much less goats and I do sincerely believe that every single herd is different and may require different needs. All of the above is merely my theories based on what I have experienced and have come to know about my girls. Every goat keeper must find what works for their own individual herd - it takes diligent persistence, a general love for the well being of that animal and perhaps the need for her deliciously sweet milk. Cuz that's important!