Monday, December 8, 2008

Tricks of the Trade to Care For Your Herd

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In a way goats resemble human teenagers – behaviorally, that is. They eat, they sleep, and they sometimes get into trouble. Goats definitely have brains and they know how to use them, evidence by their penchant for clever escapes. But they also seem less intelligent at times, such as when they sample the toxic rhododendron in your yard after making the great escape. Goats can be incredibly sweet and impossibly insolent. But no matter how independent and hardy they appear, goats – like teens – need care and attention. You can’t buy a single goat, tether it in a weedy pasture, ignore it and expect her to flourish. At the same time a small goat herd doesn’t require extremely specialized management or fancy accommodations in order to prosper. So if ‘Gotta get some goats’ has become your new mantra, and you have the time and enthusiasm to care for these personable animals, then by all means, go for the goats, but read this website carefully and the information on goat care and handling first.

Food For Goats: We have researched in detail information on goat care, what they eat, and how to prevent and treat health problems. Some points to remember: nutritional requirements are highest for young, growing animals and lactating does or those in the later stages of pregnancy. Does need additional nutrients in the last month of pregnancy because 70 percent of fetal growth occurs during this time. Newborn goat kids need milk provide by their mother (we don’t recommend a goat milk substitute. The mother’s milk provides all the nutrients for strong kids). One can remove the kid from the mother and bottle feed the newborn – this makes for a very loving goat. However, kids are just as friendly if you just spend time with them.

When feeding your goats, avoid sudden diet changes and don’t dump their hay on the ground. Not only can ground feeding promote parasite problems, but goats despise dirty hay. (see our goat manger design to prevent your greedy herd from pulling out hay and trampling it under hoof). Ensure you give your goats the most critical nutrient: clean water. Goats appreciate warm, almost hot water in winter. They can drink a lot, and it won’t chill them the way cold water may. This helps keep milk production up. To keep water from freezing in buckets, try using a water bucket warmer (see supply references).

Home Sweet Home: As far as lodging go, goats are flexible creatures; their fairly small size means you won’t have to break the bank to provide them with adequate housing. Whether you build a palatial goat barn or modify an existing shed (or use our easy-to-build shelter) goats mainly care about one thing – where am I going to go when it rains or snows. The biggest difference between goats and other livestock is that goats don’t like to get wet. Goats are more vulnerable to cold, wet weather because they have less fat covering their body and a thinner hair coat than sheep and cattle. As long as their homes offer ventilated but draft-free shelter from the elements, goats make do with simple accommodations like three-sided shelters, port-a-huts, and calf hutches. However, you’ll need more elaborate housing if your does deliver their kids during poor weather. You don’t want the kids born in a damp environment. Straw, pine shavings, or ground corncobs make a clean and absorbent bedding material.

Fencing: A good fence is essential for containing goats and offers the best protection against predators. Unfortunately, as consummate escape artists, goats don’t always take kindly to confinement. I like to say that you’ll either love or hate goats depending on your fencing. Goats live by the rule that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. They also like to find their people. Traditional, two fencing types have been recommended for goats: multi-strand, high-tensile electric fence and woven or net wire fencing. With electric fencing, its effectiveness depends on an adequate charge, proper grounding and a fence line kept free of tall weeds. With woven wire fencing, I favor panel fencing that consists of no-climb welded rods. Although initially more expensive than other options, this fencing is virtually indestructible and maintenance free, thus cheaper in the long run. Goats like to climb on things and they typically step up on fence sections. A regular field fence will be mashed within a couple of weeks.

Climbing: Like the mountainside-hugging wild goats they descend from, our domesticated goats love to climb. If your pen lacks natural climbing features such as big stumps, rocks, or logs, you can make your herd happier and have more fun by installing safe climbing toys.

Attitude: Goats are exceedingly strong for their size and often defend themselves vigorously when confronted with an enemy (or an owner trying to catch them when they don’t feel like being caught!). Handle with care, respect, and common sense. You’ll find catching and handling your goats easier if you take the time to win them over with yummy treats and friendly scratches. From birth our kids are handled daily so they can go to new homes as acclimated as possible toward people and so they can have relaxed handling in all situations. Our goats are used to collars. They’re rewarded with a treat in the form of bananas, some raisins, or grain when finished, so they quickly learn to cooperate. An essential piece of handling equipment for any goat keeper is a stand or stanchion to help restrict your headstrong goat’s movements for routine hands-on care. (Please see our quick and easy instructions to build your own stanchion).

To Your Goat’s Health: We’ve highlighted excellent goat health concerns, requirements, and techniques in our special goat health link. Goats thrive on routine. Try to feed both kids and adult goats at the same time every day. Also, try to milk and schedule other activities for the same time every day. Your goats will love you for it, and be healthy too. Two additional goat herd management practices that one should understand and be ready for are preventing foot rot and dehorning.

Foot rot, also known as hoof rot, is caused by anaerobic bacteria. Bacteria infect the foot and the goat becomes lame. The organisms that cause foot rot grow well in wet, soiled environments and are highly contagious. Cleanliness and dry shelters/barns are the most effective method of prevention along with regular hoof trimming.

Horned goats can get their heads stuck in fences and feeders, and can cause serious injuries to people and each other. You cannot show goats in any fairs or exhibits that have horns. All of our goats are disbudded – this is not a fun job, but if done right it is humane and best for both goat and owner. Eliminating horn cells is called disbudding, and must be done at the right time or scurs (small horns) may result. The most common method of disbudding is with an electric disbudding iron that is applied to the horn buds when they are just beginning to break through the skin. when the goat is very young; for Nigerian Dwarfs this is within 5 to 10 days and for other dairy goats within 1 to 3 weeks. The sooner disbudding is done after birth, the less pain it will cause. To disbud, place the circular ring of the disbudding iron over the horn buds for 10 to 20 seconds until you see a copper-colored ring appear. This will destroy the horn cells and prevent the horn from growing. If you trim the hair around the horn, disbudding will go faster and cause less smoke. If horns are allowed to grow on the goat, you must dehorn it rather than disbud it. Dehorning is more involved and must be done by a veterinarian.

Identification: When you have a registered, breeding herd, each goat must have an identification tattooed in their ear. The most important point of tattooing is to make sure you are putting the tattoo in the correct ear. The farm ID tattoo is placed in the right ear and the individual goat registration number in the left ear. Be sure you are standing behind the goat and using the goat’s right or left ear, not facing the goat and getting mirror results. We use 5/16 inch pliers and digits. You can get a tattoo kit at a local feed store, or out of a supply catalog (see our reference index). Follow these steps to insure a good tattoo on your animals:

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