Thursday, July 26, 2012

My dairy goat journey...

I love my dairy goats.  My herd is quite small, but learning to manage them so that they stay healthy has been difficult.  To begin with, I didn't know anyone who owned dairy goats, and the only information I'd ever read about management of them didn't say a word about de-worming.  So I lost most of my first herd, due to lack of knowledge.

     That was several years ago.  I bought Mabel in June, 2011.

 That first year was still a struggle to keep her healthy, because I didn't want to feed the commercially mixed grain, or the chemical de-wormer, and wasn't yet serious enough about feeding proper minerals.  She was constantly getting wormy, which made her coat coarse, and she lost weight.  Finally though, I tried the Hoegger herbal wormer, and it worked!  From then on, whenever a goat looks a bit wormy, I give her a treatment of this wormer, and that takes care of the problem.  There is no milk/ meat withdrawal time, and it is safe to use, even in high doses.

     I also got serious about reading Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care , and applying the methods, and proper nutrition explained and advised in the book.  I highly recommend this book to anyone considering getting goats, to anyone who already has goats, and especially to those who want to raise their goats naturally.  Coleby raised goats for decades in Australia, and she has some really amazing stories about how minerals, vitamins, and overall proper nutrition kept her goats healthy, healed them when they did get sick, and even cured other people's goats.

     Based on what she advises, my goats now receive 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of copper sulphate each morning, 3-4 teaspoons of dolomite and 1 teaspoon of sulphur at night.  The copper is an extremely necessary nutrient, especially for dark-colored goats, and helps to prevent auto-immune diseases (such as CAE) and keeps parasites at bay.  (Warning:  Do not feed copper without dolomite!) The dolomite is a balanced mixture of calcium and magnesium, both of which are also very important for bone growth, brain health, mastitis prevention, and many other conditions.  The sulphur provides amino acids, and helps keep external parasites off the goats, and has other functions as well.  Of course, these minerals are important for humans and other animals as well, and are passed on to us and our milk-drinking animals through the milk.

      I put the minerals in the oats which are the only grain I feed my goats.  They get a small amount morning and night when they are milked.  The morning ration is actually soaked to release the phytic acid- I mix the grain with water, copper sulphate, and apple cider vinegar, and I make up enough to last for a week or so.  The vinegar and copper keep it from spoiling.  The raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar also is an important supplement, providing potassium in a completely safe, and very palatable (to the goats!) form.  They also have free-choice kelp, baking soda and Himalayan rock salt.

     Finally Mabel was looking better.  Her coat became soft and shiny, and she put on a little weight.  But we dried her off because I thought she would be kidding soon (though it later turned out she wasn't bred).  Then, just as our cow, Blossom, who was our only milk source was also about dry, I found and bought Nelly, a Saanen doe, and her two doelings.

We sold one of the doelings, but kept the other, whom we named Heidi.  Nelly is a bit stand-offish in the pasture, and doesn't delight in being scratched and petted like the other goats, but on the milk stand she is usually impeccable, and her milk is some of the best I've ever tasted.  (My father says that it is the best he's ever had- and even my brother (who doesn't like goats) admits that it is good.)

     Then a buck and a doe were given to me- the buck, Ritz is a fullblooded LaMancha, and the doe, Violet, is a LaMancha/ Nubian cross.

     Their previous owner didn't know about the importance of worming, and it's a good thing they came to me when they did.  Both were underweight, especially Ritz, and were very wormy.  I am still working on getting them completely healthy, but they've come a long way.

Violet resting by the gate (probably wishing she could get out- grass is always greener on the other side of the fence!)

Violet has a very soft and easy to milk udder.  She recently came in milk, although she didn't kid, and is currently giving about 3 cups per day (one milking).

She is Ritz's daughter.


     Finally, there is Old Heidi.  She is the most recent addition to my herd, and is an older Boer/ Alpine mix, and is certainly not the most beautiful goat ever seen.  She produces lots of milk though, and the buck kids should also be good for meat.

Old Heidi (behind Mabel, who was jealous, and so kept between me and O.H.)

Young Heidi checking out Old Heidi.

     My goal all along has been to start a small dairy, since most of the milk for my family comes from the cow.  Now, finally I am in the position to begin selling milk.  I will have limited amounts available beginning, hopefully, in early August.  Prices are given for the milk and kefir on my "For Sale" page.

     I hope that this record of my "goat journey", which is still continuing, will be an encouragement to someone.  Goats are fun and loving animals, and I hope that I always have them.