Category Archives: Husbandry

Today was nuts

I have the kidding area setup so I can separate mammas with their babies at night, but open it up so the babies can mingle in there during the day.  When the mammas start wanting to go out to pasture with their friends, I send them out, and, if they want their babies to stay behind, the kidding area serves as a daycare.

It sounded good on paper.

The mammas don’t want their babies playing with each other.  They’re all being super-protective mammas.  I kept the mammas in the barn with their kids, and kicked everyone out when we had a sunny day.  That did not loosen anyone up.

It does not help that the kids can’t tell Meg and Kit (the red mammas) apart from a distance.  The mammas can’t tell Spirit and Bear (the black babies), or Meg’s boys and Kit’s girl (all red), apart at a distance.  Sweetie is fairly lovely about mistaken identity.  Meg and Kit think the kids are doing it on purpose, and they think the kids need to be put in their place.  “I am NOT your mamma!”

For the last week, I have been alternately ignoring or responding to various mamma’s plaintive wails.

This afternoon, I responded.  There was quite a LOT of screaming.

I found alpacas circling the wagons around goats.  Meg standing by the barn, complaining, but not more than usual, one kid by her side.  Kit racing down the hill to the herd, screaming, with occasional glimpses of a kid bobbing along at her side.  Sweetie bawling her lungs out, racing up the hill.  I knew it was wrong when Abbey raced into the middle of it.  Abbey may be a problem child sometimes, but she takes care of her herd before she head-butts them.

From a distance, all I could tell was that it was a really good-looking kid.  So I thought Kit was taking Spirit down to Sweetie.  “Aw, that’s sweet” ran through my mind.  When I got into the middle of it, Sweetie was already back up the hill, but the kid was so confused, he had run to the gate nearest the house.  Yep, he.  It was Meg’s boy.  Sweetie was panicked, trying to get through the scary-alpacas to the wayward kid.  The alpacas were trying to surround him for protection.  He was trying to escape the scary-alpacas.  By the time I got to him, he was so freaked out he ran from me.

My best guess?  He just followed a red goat.  Since she was the wrong red goat, she ran away from him.  “Don’t drink my milk, kid!”  But he kept coming, so she kept running, and, next thing you know, she’s really far away from her own kids.  “MAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”  Since she doesn’t care who’s kid he is, she doesn’t know which mamma to deposit him with.  Since she’s a new mamma, she’s over her head just keeping track of her kids and her hormones, so she had no clue where Meg was.  She just ran to the herd.  And maybe some part of her knew that taking another goat’s kid OUTSIDE, without his mamma, was a bad thing to do.    “MAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”  And then Sweetie thought what I thought – “A kid that good-looking has to be mine!”

Poor kid.  When a baby goat is scared, we get down low and talk calmly to it.  Chasing a scared goat just upsets them.  So I was able to snatch him up, give him a hug, and take him back to mom.  I put him with his mom, and he and the other kid went running in circles, hiding behind things, acting nuts.  I scooped them up and took them back into the barn – with a pack of angry mammas behind me, screaming like banshees.  It turns out, the kid that had been standing with Meg was Kit’s kid!  When I put them down, I didn’t even have to look to see which one had the big adventure; I could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

So I took ALL their kids away from them after a quick sort-out and a suckle of “nature’s valium” (mamma’s milk).  I sent the mammas outside to cool off, while I hugged baby goats.  Which, it turns out, is what the mammas wanted.  They wanted some “me” time away from their kids, but they wanted me to babysit so they wouldn’t worry while they were out kicking up their heels.

I got 4 out of 5 babies piled together in one hut for a nap, and let Spirit climb on me just outside.  Spirit loves her “me” time, too.  Seems she’s been feeling a little vulnerable, and I’m her “safety zone.”  Spirit tucks into her own baby hut to escape the melee – even though there’s no melee in her bonding stall.  As I spent extra time with the babies today, trying to bond them together, I realized that Spirit needs her safety zone.  She would play a tiny bit with the other (smaller, younger) babies, then run back to me.  She mostly just played with me, while the other babies mingled.

So, tonight, when everyone went back to their stalls, I went into Sweetie’s stall and sat with Spirit for a bit,  I sat on a plastic chair and let Spirit flitter around me.  She ducked under the chair and nibbled hay.  So I put her to bed.  And she ran back out of her hut and begged for more play time.  I sat down on the barn floor and gave her a little more huggies, and gave her mom some huggies, too.  It was the quietest the barn has been in days.  All the babies tired out, napping, except Spirit.  All the mamma’s content that their babies were where they were supposed to be.  Sweetie still feeling a little confused at her new home, but happy to get pets while her baby sat in my lap next to her.

Abbey v. Sweetie

Abbey loves me.  Not in a good way.  In a co-dependent way or something.  It’s okay, I love Abbey, even though she’s a little crazy (does that make me co-goat-dependent?).

To wit: We milked Abbey through winter.  Just Abbey.  Other goats were pregnant, so they made babies instead of milk.  Abbey did not feel unjustly singled out for extended work.  She felt vindicated – Abbey was the only goat worthy of milking.  She always knew she was special, and now we knew it too.

But Sweetie makes too much milk for her baby.  We HAVE to milk Sweetie because she makes so much milk that her udder gets big and full, and her teats get so stuffed with milk that baby Spirit can’t fit the teat in her mouth.  So we started milking Sweetie.

Abbey stands outside and stares daggers at Sweetie.

Why are we milking Sweetie?

Why are we fussing over Sweetie?

Abbey can make milk.

Abbey’s milk is better than Sweetie’s milk.  Right?

Meanwhile, Abbey tripped up our Abbey-breeding-plan, and I have to do a pregnancy test on her.  I really thought she spurned the buck, but now I’m not sure.  If she’s pregnant, I don’t want to milk her in case the kids need her to focus her metabolic energy on them.

So I’m milking Abbey a lot less, to help her stop making milk.  (She makes a lot, so she needs an adjustment period before we stop milking altogether.)

I’m not JUST milking Sweetie, I’m abandoning Abbey.  (Abbey was bottle-raised.  She isn’t a goat so much as a puppy-dog who thinks she’s a person.)

Abbey stares daggers at Sweetie.

Well, our milking routine is all jumbled now.  I didn’t plan to milk Sweetie so soon.  I didn’t plan to stop milking Abbey just yet.

I came out to milk Sweetie today, and she was in the pasture with the goats.  A good bit away.  So I called her.  Our neighbors already think we’re nuts.  Traffic was picking up, so it was getting noisy.  I whistled for Sweetie like I’d whistle for a dog.  “Whoo-ooo-woo.  Sweetie!”

Sweetie maahed back at me.  “Sweetie!”  And Abbey came running.  Like a dog.  “You need something?  Here I am!”  I hugged Abbey and waited for Sweetie to come in.  I milked Sweetie.  Abbey wandered off after staring daggers at Sweetie.

I went back out and called Abbey.  Abbey – as unfriendly as she can be towards goats – was waiting at the bottom of the hill for Sweetie.  Nobody likes to walk to pasture alone, so Abbey waited to walk with Sweetie.  “Abbey!”  Abbey looked at me with annoyance.  “Abbey, do you want to get milked”?

Abbey holds a grudge.  But not for long.  She’s a puppy.  So she stood at the bottom of the hill and made a big deal of ignoring me.  “Abbey, come get milked.”

She turned her head away.  Letting me know I had done her wrong.

“Come on Abbey.”

And she trotted up the hill.  I told her I’d meet her in the barn.  I don’t have to wait and walk her in.  I know she’ll come in.  When she got to the gate, I let her in, she hopped up onto the milk stand, and we got to work.  I milked enough to let the pressure off her udder, and let her finish eating what she wanted.  Then I sent her on her way.  She went out the back of the barn, and I took the milk out the front of the barn.

“Meeeehhh.”  Abbey called to me from the gate.  I looked back, and she was alone.  Phil was home by then, and the milk bucket is heavy, so he carries it for me when he can.  “Phil, can you take it in?  I’ll be in in a minute.”

Sweetie wasn’t waiting for Abbey.  Abbey was alone, no goats in sight.  “Sweetie!”  Silence.  It was raining and muddy and I was too tired to climb down the hill.  I took Abbey in the barn and gave her some alfalfa hay.  If it was Sweetie left behind, I would have had to walk her down the hill.  But Abbey is okay without her goats, as long as her people love her.

I love them both.  But Abbey will be there for me, even if it means being left behind.  And Abbey will stare daggers at Sweetie, but she’ll still stand alone at the bottom of the hill, waiting for Sweetie.  Goats are complicated.  Abbey scares Sweetie, and she’ll shake her head menacingly at Sweetie at the bottom of the hill, but she’s THERE.  Standing alone.  Making sure Sweetie doesn’t have to be alone.  When Sweetie comes in from the pasture, alone, desperate to be with her sleeping baby, Abbey idles up the hill.  Sweetie comes into the barn, joins her baby, realizes baby is still sleeping.  Sweetie maaahs with anxiety.  She wants to be with her herd.  She wants to be with her baby.  The herd is in the pasture.  The baby is sleeping in the barn.  A high status goat would have the herd with her, no matter where she is, but Sweetie isn’t high status, so her maternal instinct drives her up the hill alone.  We turn around, and Abbey is quietly munching hay as if she just wanted to come in from pasture.  Eh.  Abbey could be out bugging the other goats.  I joke that Abbey has Goatsberger’s syndrome.  She cares, but she doesn’t get along well.  She’ll never be friends with Sweetie.  But, in some ways, Abbey is the best friend Sweetie will ever have.

Sweetie’s sweet baby

Spiritc

Sweetie gave us a beautiful baby girl!  We’ve named her Sweet Spirit.  Little Spirit is already following her mamma around like a champ.  I swear, I saw her learning today!  She looked from where she was to where she had just been, like she was memorizing the distance.  She jetted across some of those distances sometimes, just for practice. Sometimes, her little face looked like she was concentrating hard.

And then I saw something funny in the barn.

Baby goats sleep in a “hut” or a small cave-like thing that lets them feel safe and draft-free when they don’t feel like interacting with the world.  Some farms make really fancy huts out of 50-gallon drums with a heat-lamp hardwired into the top!  We use what we’ve got.  So, when I setup the kidding area for Sweetie, I put in a small dog crate (without the door).  I put lots of soft barn bedding on the bottom of the crate.  And I don’t especially like the type of bedding we have right now, so I grabbed a burlap feed sack, folded it up, and put it over the bedding so her tiny baby feet wouldn’t slip on loose bedding.

And we have more kids coming.  So I setup two more “huts”.  Spirit’s hut is big enough to share when the new kids grow a little.  So I put out little huts, made by cutting a 50-gallon drum in half and cutting a little doorway in the side.  One has an open top, so I put a big bowl on it to close off the top.  That makes it short inside, but it’s strong enough for bigger kids to climb on without crushing it.  I put down soft bedding, and I decided that the burlap sack had been a success, so I took it out of Spirit’s hut and put it in the baby hut.  Spirit is walking just fine on loose bedding now, so I thought this would be fine.

🙁

And I put the two huts side-by-side while I worked.  And Spirit had a big, active day with her mamma.  When she started twitching, I took her back to the barn.  Twitching means their body is saying “sleep!” and their brain is saying “No! There’s so much more to do and see and explore and play and learn!”  They stomp their little feet to keep themselves awake, and twitch like little life-junkies.  So I take them to the barn for a nap when they’re twitchy.

Spirit walked to where her hut belongs.  But the new hut was there.  It’s a BABY hut.  Spirit walked in like she always does, but found it was shorter than she remembered.  She sniffed, backed out and looked around, as if she were checking her coordinates.  Convinced she had the right place, she got down on her belly and tried to wiggle into the baby hut.  It was still very short.  I imagine she felt like Alice in Wonderland!

She sniffed some more, decided it was the right spot, and collapsed for an overdue nap – with her butt halfway out of the hut.  I lifted the cover to make it taller, but she didn’t go the rest of the way in.  So I felt bad for her, and picked her up and put her in her own hut – the dog crate with soft bedding.

She poked her head out and looked around at where she was.  And the she sniffed the crate all over.  Something was off.  She sniffed and sniffed.  And she twitched and twitched.  And she kicked the bedding into a pile and flopped down for a nap.  But she kept twitching.  Her body was still saying “sleep!” but now her brain was saying “this isn’t right!!”   She started to get up twice.  It was fascinating to watch her!

I felt bad for her and put the burlap bag back in her hut.  When she went back in to her hut-in-the-wrong-spot, with the nice burlap bag on top of soft bedding, with plenty of room for her long legs and little body and big head with long floppy ears, she sniffed the burlap, sighed contentedly and curled up for a nap.

I know the goats sniff us.  I’ve seen them sniff our mouths to see what we’ve been eating.  But I didn’t realize just how much they use scent to take snapshots of their world!

Udder Perfection: A silly story

Cinnamon got pregnant last year.  We didn’t breed her.  She got pregnant.  Without our approval.  So our first hint was her udder.

We walked the goats to pasture one day.  As we walked them home that night, Cinnamon walked in front of me and I noticed a tiny, perfect udder.  “Look, Phil, Cinnamon has a tiny little udder!” I exclaimed happily.

Yep, happily.  I was oblivious.  I did not think “where did this udder come from?”  I was in that moment like many parents where such questions as “Mom, is birth control expensive?” are not a red flag, they are just moments in life.  And, like other parents, it was only many hours later that I thought to myself, “Hey, that was really strange! Oh crap!”  Because udders do not just crop up out of nowhere.  They grow to feed babies.

Babies!?!?  But Cinnamon was a baby!  My baby can’t have babies!

Well, she didn’t ask my permission.  And, clearly, it was happening.  “Goat berries! (that’s a polite way of saying “oh, crap!”) She hasn’t had prenatal care! I don’t know when she’s due!  Panic!!”  Also, I had missed the joyous anticipation.  I didn’t get to feel her babies moving for weeks before the big day, to say hi to tiny goat fetuses swimming in a big goat belly.  Hey, Cinnamon’s mom was kind of fat.  I had just figured that Cinnamon was kind of fat.  You don’t look at a 10-year-old and think “that must be a champion kart racer!” (I think Jeff Gordon WAS at that age!); you think “I hope he doesn’t touch my stuff, because they still pick their noses at that age.”  Fat OR pregnant were both possibilities, it was just that – we had kept the boy away.  Fat seemed more probable.

After it sank in, I scowled at the boy every time I fed him.  He looked at me like “Hey, she was game.”  And I wanted to scream at him, “Your sister is just a baby!!”  I still scowl at him sometimes.  He was just doing what bucks do – perpetuating the species.  I was just doing what people do – being grossed out at how utterly inappropriate it all was.  Too young, too inbred, too sneaky, too – ew!  I still don’t know how it happened.  He was separated.  He escaped a couple times, but I was always there.  I let him stay for a few minutes because he was nursing his mom and I felt bad for him, and then I’d take him back to his buck area so he wouldn’t make anyone pregnant.  Ha!

And I became a whirling dervish of calm, plodding research and chaotic, panicked action.  And, like many fathers in a crisis, Phil found my behavior mystifying.  He was supportive and followed orders, but, mostly, he stayed out of the way of his banshee farmer wife.  I spent days enhancing Cinnamon’s nutrition, giving her the best care, and checking for signs that birth might be imminent.  While researching all the ways birth could go wrong, what we could do about it if it did, and just how badly we had messed up our baby’s life by allowing her to mess up her own life when we weren’t looking.

Clean the farm!  Baby must have clean environment!  Build kidding stall!  Enhance nutrition!

And sometimes Cinnamon would step in front of me, turned the other way, and I would see her udder.  And, if Phil was nearby, I would stop my whirlwind of panicked work, grab Phil, and say “Look at her udder!  Isn’t it the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

And Phil would look at me like I was bat-[goat-berries] crazy.  Because it was the 10th time I said it.  In the midst of all this panic and thrashing, I ALWAYS had time to stop and love that little udder.  And he didn’t know why.  And he thought we had already covered “Isn’t it the cutest thing?” really thoroughly, so why were we making time for it in the middle of mucking the barn?

Because it was perfect.  Two tiny little grapefruits, perfectly rounded, like a dollhouse miniature of an udder.  Perfection.  I mean, if we went to Paris, and I took him to the Louvre on Monday, and we saw an amazing painting, and then we went back to the Louvre on Friday – the painting would still be amazing.  Right?  We’d still stop and let its beauty soak into our souls.  Even though we’d already seen it.

Well, maybe not 20 times, right?

1,000 times!  That HAS to be why people pay millions for paintings.  Can you imagine, a million dollars and one week later, you’re, like, “Okay, I’m over this one.”

Or maybe that perfect udder was a lucky rabbit’s foot.  Nothing bad could make such a lovely udder.  Right?  If the udder was perfect, everything else would be perfect.  Right?  Or, if I stopped for a minute and thought about how calm and perfect Cinnamon was, I could forget for a minute how panicked I was.

Well, Cinnamon made it.  Her perfect little udder stayed perfect.  We barely milked her, because I didn’t want to make heavy demands on the young mom – I just milked enough to train her “this is what it’s like to be milked.”  And she was good.  And she didn’t totally ruin her life.  And she didn’t have any trouble with birthing.  She was sneaky, gave birth overnight, and we opened the barn door one morning to find an extra goat.  He hopped right over to the door, and looked up at us with healthy, happy baby eyes, and then hopped away.

KopiBirth1

Well, hello there!

Cinnamon was a great mamma.

Now we’re getting ready for Planned babies.  Breed-ed babies.  I spent months and months searching for the right buck, planning timing and matings and researching pedigrees and I even made a spreadsheet.  And Kit jumped in with the buck when I was swapping girls.  She was verbally sold, to be picked up a couple days later.  Maybe she just wasn’t meant to go?  I canceled her sale.  But, at least I can give her proper care, so it’s not a crisis this time.  (And he is a nice buck, not a scoundrel brother.)

And Kit is starting to develop an udder.  I told Phil that Kit was starting to develop an udder.  And it was really cute.  He seemed wary.  When we went to the barn for evening chores, I called Phil over to see Kit’s udder for the first time and said “Isn’t it cute?!”  And he asked quietly, “are we going to do this again?”

Naw.  I’ll keep it to myself this time.  But, honey, could you muck the barn?

 

(Oh, yeah, and we still make soap.  We’re taking special orders for lotion for mid-March, and we’ll see you at the farmer’s markets this summer.)

My goatie warmed my heart today

Once upon a time, Bean (Goatzilla) was big and waddly and uncomfortable.  Every morning, we would walk the goats to a distant pasture.  Every evening, we walked them back to their safe and cozy barn.  The goats would race to see who could get to the barn fastest, and they would jump and play as the crossed the farm.

But Bean was big and fat and waddly with a belly-full of babies (or an udder full of milk, I don’t remember which).  One day, I noticed she tried to run, stopped, tried again.  I called to her.  “It’s okay, Bean, I’ll walk with you.”  And she stopped and waited for me to catch up.  I put a hand on her shoulder, and we walked back to the barn.  This became our routine. Phil went ahead with the fast goats, I stayed behind with my waddly-slow goat, and Bean and I walked, quietly and sedately across the farm.

It’s been a while since we did that.

I had forgotten it.

I love Bean.  She’s the Buddha of goats.  Big belly, big heart, gentle soul.  She’s a goat of few words, and she “mobs” me for pets and rubs by standing next to me with the patience of a mountain.  The fast goats push and shove and demand attention.  Bean, when she needs attention, stands still and quiet in the middle of the jostling, almost unnoticed.  And she waits.  Until I notice her.  She accepts her pets and rubs with the same peaceful spirit.  Mamma #1 grunts with pleasure and rubs me back.  Meg gets frustrated that I’m not scratching her just right, and she wiggles and jostles her head so I reach the right spot.  Bean stands still and calm.  Petting doesn’t make her happy.  It gives her peace.

Well, that’s Bean.  My little river rock, unchanged by the eddy of goat rapids swirling around her.

Today, I went to the far, far part of the goat’s pasture to work on some blackberry brambles.  The goats raced after me with joy.  They LOVE when I take them on walks.  They could have gone to the far pasture themselves, but they really, really like when I go with them and keep them safe.  So we went down the hill, and the goats leaped and hopped and scampered happily.  I love to watch that.

And I walked ahead of them around the bend.  They follow a little ways.  Someone decided it was scary, and they ran back to the barn.  I stood in the middle of the lane, looking back, calling them.  They didn’t come back.  But Bean was waiting for me.  I turned and kept going, further from the barn.  Bean looked back toward her herd.  Looked at me.  And followed me.  I knew she wasn’t doing it for joy – she didn’t pick a careful path, didn’t pace herself or look for something to nibble as she came.

She hopped onto a rock and stood guard while I worked. She didn’t graze or forage – just stood on the rock, keeping guard.

And then she walked me back to the barn.  I got tired, and I sat for a bit.  Bean stopped and waited.

“It’s okay, Tracy, I’ll walk with you.”

We finished the walk together, joined the herd again, and Bean stood by my side, quiet and patient, and let me rub her cheeks the way she likes.  Just looking at me with big brown eyes that I can never read.  With Bean, I know her by her actions.

Belated photos

Last time we had BGs, the blog software wouldn’t let me upload photos.  Lest you think this weekends’ babies are the best babies ever, I present to you the Monkeys – summer LaMancha babes.

Hot off the presses (day of birth):

MonkeysFresh

Two days old, climbing on a bale of straw (which is about 2′ tall):

MonkeysFreshlimb

Little troublemaker on the right, little angel on the left:

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Helpy helperton:

 

 

MonkeyHelper

“How do you turn this thing on?”

  So, you see, the most beautiful goat in the world is the one standing in front of you right now.  Because they’re all beautiful.

Meet the new kids

Jpeg

Photographing goat kids is like herding cats.  By the time you get the camera out, they have either fallen asleep, turned their heads, or discovered some other amazing thing somewhere else that they HAVE to investigate.  Often, that thing is the camera itself.  It’s sooo easy to take a close-up of goat noses.  Whole-baby pictures, however, require careful planning and a steady lap.

Jpeg

Well, sure enough, the first girl fell asleep, and we didn’t want to wake her, so we just added another goat to the lap.  And he fell asleep.  The third one thought about napping, but decided to stay up and play, so she just elbowed her siblings for a bit and got down.

Jpeg

Yep, that’s the culprit.  She already looks mischievous.  This other little girl is a looker.  Beauty is not the goal.  But it is a nice fringe benefit.

Jpeg

(Yeah, I’m not dressed for barn work or photos, but this is what I threw on under a flannel shirt at 4 am when I woke up to check on the newborns.)

Beauty

At this stage, they’re easy to babysit.  They mostly sleep.  Or practice – it literally IS their first day with new legs.  The skinny one is already practicing her hopping skills.

They’ll stay in the barn for at least a day, letting the new Mamma settle into her role while she gets lots of hugs and rubs and “good job, girl”s.  She’ll call to them and learn how to get them to follow her while they learn to recognize her voice.  Because leading baby goats is like cat herding, too.

We reserve all copyrights to our photos.  Even the bad ones.

Lovable LaMancha Goats

I love our LaManchas.  They are kind of funny looking with their tiny ears.  Supposedly, the Spanish called them Monas or “little monkeys.”  Because LaManchas are born with tiny little nub ears like monkey ears.

Baby Paddy

Baby Paddy

Or maybe it’s because they act like monkeys.  They love to climb and play, and they love to explore.

MonkeysOnALog

Sometimes I think they look like aliens.  Broad forehead, narrow mouth.  But I think they’re all beautiful.

And their personalities are glorious.  They are the most loyal, intelligent goats on the farm.  They’re big, powerful animals, and they are gentle with us by choice (we haven’t trained them to be gentle).  They love to be loved, and, sometimes, it makes them so happy that they jump and kick up their heels afterward.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – you can’t have a smart animal without her being a little head-strong.  Abbey thinks I should spend more time with her.  Yesterday, she called her “something’s really, really wrong” voice.  I know she was lying, because all the other goats around her were calm.  Yep, they figure out how to trick their people.  Fudge used to get me with that “Aaah!!!” voice every time.  She would cry out, and I would come running to check on the babies.  “Where are the babies?!”  And I would search and search.  And the babies would be sleeping in the barn.  Fudge would wait at the door while I found them, then she’d run – fast – to the pasture.  Because she knew I wouldn’t leave her babies alone.  And neither would she.  If she could just get me down to the barn, she could go play in the pasture, confident her kids were being protected.

Baby Pepper Minty Fresh

Baby Pepper Minty Fresh

No complaints. She was a fierce Mamma (still is!) and I loved that she chose to trust me with her precious babies.

Our La Manchas are not shy about asking for what they want.  But their wants are usually fair and/or charming.

I want more love!

I want to spend more time with you!

I want a rub.  Right now!

I think I want my dinner early.  Get over here!

I am in heat!  Bring me your finest male goat, now!  Now!

Perhaps they are loud sometimes, but they are lovable all the time.  And, a lot of the time, they call out softly, gentle voices that almost say “please?”

No, we don’t dock their ears, they come that way.  Little nub ears don’t fall in water buckets and get frostbite in the winter.  They can even wiggle their ears.  And maybe they look a little like aliens, but they are beautiful aliens with sparkling eyes, expressive faces, and the most delightful personalities.  And, sometimes, I think they play jokes on us.  Fudge seems to smile afterwards.  Heh heh.  Little stinkers.  I think they are especially sociable, especially domesticated.  And ours are smart.

I say that goats are like a cross between a cat and a dog.  Our La Manchas have the loyalty and affection of a dog.  They have the stubbornness of a mule.  But they do want us to be happy, as long as they get to be happy, too.  Sometimes they swing at a goat who is breaking our rules – “you know they don’t like when you do that!” – and Hannah sometimes helps us escape from babies (lovable babies, cannot resist lovable babies!) by distracting them with play while we slip away.  Clever girls, all of them.

Maybe you have to be a goat person to love a La Mancha.  But I think animal lovers of all stripes can enjoy the special little monkeys who joyfully share milk and love.  I know floppy ears are awfully cute, but the La Manchas have a special inner beauty.

Myth: All Goat Milk is the Same

It seems like a lot of folks think that “goat milk is goat milk is goat milk.”  That’s not true.  We produce our milk very differently from commercial milk.  Here’s a webpage with lots of pictures of typical goat milk farms: http://www.allgoats.com/commercial.html

What you’ll see in those pictures is a lot of goats inside barns, a lot of big heavy equipment bringing feed to the goats, and not much pasture at all. When you imagine a goat farm, you probably picture something like ours – goats nibbling trees, bushes, grasses, and weeds (forbs) out in the sunshine.  The reality for most commercial dairy goats is more like laying hens – they’re not free-range unless they proudly advertise that fact, and, if they do have the freedom to go outside, it’s a small lot adjacent to the barn with little to no living plants to eat.

Do you seek out grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, pastured poultry, etc.?  Then why would you settle for confinement-raised milk?

I have not found any nutritional studies on pastured vs. confined goat milk systems.  But it is hard to imagine that goat milk would be the only farm product that defies all the other research showing pastured farm animals produce healthier products.  Here are some pages specific to grass-fed milk:

  • http://www.eatwild.com/basics.html
  • http://www.natural-by-nature.com/milk-organic-myth.htm
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/28/us-milk-grass-fed-cows-idUSTRE64R5GY20100528

We know that humans who eat fresh veggies and get lots of exercise are healthier than humans who sit around eating processed foods.  We know that hens who walk around outside foraging on fresh plants produce healthier eggs than chickens who spend their lives in battery cages, eating only processed food.  We know that cows who walk around outside eating living grasses produce healthier meat and milk.  But goats aren’t “economically important” enough for nutrition scientists to study the difference in goat milk.  And scientists would be hard-pressed to find pastured goat milk in stores.  Because, like all dairies (cow or goat), goat dairies find it’s cheaper to produce milk in confinement.

So I find it a little disturbing that well-educated food-focused consumers think that all goats are pastured and all goat milk is the same.  It’s not.  Dairy goats are typically only pastured on small farms.  Pasture is expensive.  But if the nutrition isn’t the same, cheap goat milk could be more expensive than you think.  If you have access to local dairy goat products that are pastured, snap them up.  They are worth the higher price.

Here is an interesting article that compares 1940s nutrient levels to 2002 levels (Meat and Dairy: Where Have all the Minerals Gone).

What changed between 1940 and 2002?

1) Increased reliance on confinement farming; 2) increased reliance on petro-type fertilizers for raising the crops that we feed to animals; 3) the moon landing; or 4) All of the above?

Back when dairy animals were predominantly raised outdoors, milk and cheese were richer in important minerals.   The old-fashioned ways left the land and the consumer in better shape.  The old-fashioned small farms bought most of their inputs locally, and spent most of their farm income locally.  The old-fashioned pasture-based farm recycled manure into compost into nutrient-rich fertilizer into nutrient-rich grazing land and back around, 360 degrees, into nutrient-rich foods.

If you are thinking about raising goats, please learn about pasturing goats (and using pasture rotation to keep goats healthy).  If you must raise them in confinement, try to bring them freshly-cut forage as the bulk of their diet and make sure they still get exercise and sunshine.  But the goats will definitely be happier if they get to go out and choose from the “buffet” for themselves.  Goats like exercise, fresh food, variety and mental stimulation.