Tips for Raising Dairy Goat Kids

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADairy goats are an animal that people seem to either love or hate. Raising dairy goat kids is a key part in keeping these animals as well as insuring that you have a continuous supply of milk with each generation being better than the one before. As you become familiar with these animals you will see a side that few others do. The purpose of breeding is to make the next generation better as even the best doe will not last forever. Having healthy, quality daughters to step up in her place insures a steady supply of milk, but this doesn’t come without a plan and a fair share of time.

Pound for pound a good dairy goat can outmilk a cow. In an open ag forum I would get teased by dairy cattle people and at the first insult of my goats I issued the challenge. The fact is a good Alpine in the herd milked 18 pounds per day on official test, and at roughly 100 pounds that’s producing more than her body weight in milk every week. Seen another way, a 1,000 pound cow at 10 times the body weight would have to produce 180 pounds (also 10 times) to equal her and that simply does not happen. This was a good doe but not even close to the world record holder. That title goes to a registered Toggenburg.

Heavy producing does need good management to maintain that kind of production without taking a toll on her body. These are the kind of does to product to the bucks for daughters that continue the family tradition. Often those criticizing the goat see the other side of the picture. This is the low production, hard keeping doe with poor tasting milk often because she’s grazing on brush and garbage forage that do not meet her nutritional needs. The dairy doe, like her growing kids, needs good nutrition to perform at her best.

As a homesteader you want the former type of animal or her daughters, whether or not they are purebred. Don’t gauge butterfat or production on breed as this can lead you wrong and any doe said to produce “a gallon a day” should have a clearly visible milk vein’ that runs on the underside of her belly. I’ve never seen a heavy milker without that vein clearly visible no matter what size the udder is.

Once you select your dairy kids from these types of animals you need to start early to keep them growing and healthy. If you are raising them from early on make sure they get plenty of colostrum from the doe, preferably two or three feedings. Due to some health issues many people remove the kids from the doe and pasteurize the milk. This also insures there is milk for the people as well as limits the damage a kid can do to a doe’s udder when aggressively nursing.

Contrary to often stated opinion goats do not “eat everything” and as you start feeding them you will wish sometimes that was true! They will nibble on many things and do have an appetite for boxes because it’s fiber. However, from early on the young dairy goat needs quality feed.

This means good clean hay and plenty of it! If you can find alfalfa mix hay so much the better. Have a feeder the goats need to reach into in order to eat and minimize what is pulled out of the feeder if it hits the ground many goats will not touch it! This adds up to a major cost for the homesteader as wasted hay may not be bad, just on the ground. Some people run a couple of hair sheep with their dairy goats to clean up such hay and make use of it!

Plenty of clean water is needed also for the growing dairy goat. Make sure the tank or bucket is cleaned often and keep it (again!) from where feet or debris can get into the water.

Many breeders provide a trace mineral block as well as a good mineral. If you run any lambs with the goats watch the copper level in the mineral goats need it but sheep can ingest toxic amounts of it. Don’t be tempted to feed sheep mineral but rather use a mineral for dairy cattle. The difference in this became clear when a change meant darker, richer colors on the Toggenburgs and a better hair coat on the goats. Some things goats and sheep are the same but in many you will need to adapt things down from dairy cattle.

Deworm young goats and treat for coccidia, a parasite that can kill a young goat remarkably quickly. This means treating with Albon or other drugs for coccidia as a regular wormer does not kill them. A good quality grain should be fed as soon as the kids will start nibbling on it. Don’t overfeed though as this can cause stomach upset which can be fatal.

There are not many vaccinations needed for dairy goats but a couple that shouldn’t be skimped on are tetanus and C&D. These will cost you under $8 including the disposable syringe and needle. The C&D helps protect against enterotoxaemia or “overeating”, a digestive upset that can be fatal. Tetanus is advised especially if there has been or are horses on the property.

Dairy got kids need a dry clean place to live. Dry is important as it not only prevents health problems but also prevents parasites. Good quality dairy got kids are an investment in your food supply. Feed and house them well and they will return it many times over not only in milk but also in their antics. There’s the occasional kid that especially likes people that grows into the doe that is always following you thisclose and it makes it even more rewarding to be able to say “I raised her.”

Advertisements

5 Important Tips to Starting Chicks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring is near and for many that means the peeping of chicks being started inside. Selection of a breed that works for you is important, but once your research finds those birds, a good hatchery and your order is placed there are some important things to have in place when the chicks arrive. Ideally this will be set up so it makes the transition easy.

Chicks absorb the nutrition from the yolk before hatching, which allows them to be shipped the first day without food or water. However, on arrival they will need a good start to stay healthy and thriving. You’ll need a clean brooder to start with. Hold off on bedding at first, simply having a clean bare floor. The brooder need not be fancy – a commercially made one can be used or you can adapt from many options. I’ve used a rabbit carrier inside a box as an effective way to start small batches of chicks, with 12-15 in each section of the carrier. Once the chicks identify food then bedding can be added to help keep a solid floored brooder dry.

Safety. Too many times those heat lamps are not properly hung, or a cord is frayed or worn. This is critical as too many fires result from such simple and relatively inexpensive fixes. Make sure the light doesn’t come in contact with flammable materials. Temperature is important! You want the temperature at the chick’s level to be 95 degrees. If chicks are too cold they will pile in a corner or on top of each other…often the strongest ones push underneath to the center and are then smothered by the others. Make sure the chicks have enough heat – if they’re avoiding the heated area then it’s too warm, but they shouldn’t be crowding on top of each other either. A good balance is the ability to retreat to food and water and a cooler area if they want to but plenty of warmth. The temperature should be reduced by five degrees per week until the chicks are feathered out, when they can begin transitioning outside.

Feeders should be easy to find and filled with a good starter. This gets the birds started with all the vitamins and nutrition they need to thrive and become productive layers. It also supports muscle growth for meat birds. Make sure there is enough space for all chicks to have room at the feeder. A general rule of thumb is an inch of linear space per bird. Initially, because the brooder has no bedding, you can spread several small piles around the brooder. This makes it very easy for chicks to find feed and start eating.

Waterers should be cleaned and filled on arrival. Some people prefer a little sugar in the water for an energy boost, some prefer electrolytes and some prefer just plain water, but have it filled. As you pull each chick from the shipping box quickly dip their beaks in the water before letting them go. This shows them where water is, as well as the normal reflex of raising their heads to swallow. Quick introduction to water is important to combat any dehydration from their journey. Once bedding is put in the brooder, I like to (before bedding) but a small block, just a couple inches tall, to raise the waterers up. This helps keeps bedding out of the water, but be sure chicks can reach the water (no more than back high).

These five basic things can be provided many ways from reused materials to new name brand equipment. The important thing is attention to detail for healthy birds!

Keeping Chickens as Productive Pets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChickens are among the most productive of pets, and if numbers are an indication the back yard poultry movement is booming. Chickens are no longer cast in the barnyard to fend for themselves nor strictly farmed in volume – there are more options including pastured poultry and those with a dozen or less birds for eggs.

For most people interested in raising chickens for their own use it comes to whether you want to raise meat birds or keep hens for eggs. This can make a difference in the choice of breeds or the time from hatching to the table. The commercial industry uses white feathered birds but for home production there is no standard restriction.

Those interested in raising some meat chickens would do well to keep it at 25 or 50 in the order. That’s a chicken a week if they all survive, for the freezer. Many hatcheries will run specials sometimes a “frying pan special” which you can get a good deal price wise. Most of the birds will be cockerels, the less valued side of the quest for hens. Leghorn type are cheap but take a couple extra weeks to get to weight; larger birds can also take slightly longer maturing.

Most people looking for chickens for the back yard will be looking at ordering pullets and raising them for egg layers. Depending on the room available you can choose from white, brown or colored egg layers in a wide range of colors. Generally they will begin laying in about six months or so depending on breed. Some popular breeds for brown egg layers have been Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Dominiques and Rhode Island Reds.

Those with more room may enjoy the larger breeds such as Orpingtons, Brahmas or Jersey giants. Those with less room can still have the bantam varieties of many of these breeds or silkies which take less room and feed, produce smaller eggs but are still completely edible.

Chickens are often thought of for eggs and meat but another factor when you’re keeping chickens is manure. This can be added to the compost pile for fertilizing the gardens. Typically chickens will scratch dry any wet spots looking for bugs…which reduces flies and other pests.

Confined to a portable or stationery pen they are low maintenance pets that don’t bark all night, can let themselves out of the shelter in most areas and don’t need vaccinations. They don’t need daily walks or expensive toys, eagerly make use of many kitchen scraps and while they aren’t often “lap pets” they’re no less entertaining to sit and watch.

Make sure zoning is not a problem to keeping them, and do strive to keep them contained, odor free and well kept. There is a wide range of colors, feather type, sizes and appearances available from fancy to ordinary.

Did you know – A typical layer hen can mature at standard 5-9 pounds, smaller for bantams. Some crossbreds can be “sex linked” – or have colored females and white males at hatching. Pullets (females) eliminate having to deal with roosters and crowing.

An Introduction to Meat Goat Breeds

boerkidwikiPDMeat goat breeds are often seen as being Boer and Boer cross. While it is true that any goat can be used for meat, just as beef cattle are heavier muscled than dairy so it is with goats. This puts more pounds in the freezer for the space and resources used.

Often misspelled as boar or bore, the Boer is a South African breed that is a powerful, stocky, meaty goat. They typically have large horns on the bucks with smaller horns on the does. The Boer was introduced and initially brought incredibly high prices with $30,000 or more not uncommon. They were crossed with Spanish and Nubian goats largely due to availability and the high cost of Boers made it impractical to sell them for meat. When the market crashed many found themselves with expensive Boers that no longer held the value.

The initial Boers were white with red heads although sometimes black or tan were seen in crossbreds. So dominant has the Boer been that anything carrying Boer markings was priced higher. They have a high growth rate but some became disappointed in the Boer as to finish well it was said they had to be feedlot fed’. The most disappointed were the people who believed goats “eat anything”, bought expensive animals and turned them into barbed wire areas with scrub brush that offered little to no nutritional value.

The Myotonic goat is smaller and has several names including Tennessee fainting goat, wooden leg and stiff legged goats. This breed has a high meat to bone dressing percentage and can make a good outcross for other breeds. The unique trait of these goats is their “faint” which despite appearances is not fainting or seizures nor is it painful. The muscles will stiffen and the goat often falls down, particularly when startled or scared. These goats absolutely MUST have tight fences as they are helpless in a predator attack. They are aware of what is going on but cannot run. Owners must make sure especially with this breed there is proper protection.

The Kiko has also gained favor among many as a more efficient grazer than the Boer. The Kiko is a New Zealand meat breed developed from native feral goats using Anglo-Nubian, Toggenburg and Saanen bucks then selective breeding to produce a meaty, solid and deep bodied goat with plenty of muscling. The horns of the Kiko are different from a typical Boer and the Kiko excels under natural conditions. Like the Boer the Kiko has a breed registry to maintain purebred meat goat lines.

The Kiko Boer cross has found favor with some meat goat producers. Still others have selected heavier muscled dairy animals such as some producers in California in the mid 1990s with working towards establishing a Santa Teresa goat. Using largely Alpine and LaMancha these goats were slated as a dual purpose, milking a good amount but also producing weathers that finished out at heavy weights. Indeed at one carcass show the Santa Teresa easily won the class over all the Boer crosses with simply more meat over shoulders, hindquarters, ribs and top.

The best breed of meat goat depends on your situation. Like most animals the goat can benefit from crossbreeding commercially to increase the frame and function. Buck kids slated for finishing for meat should be castrated for reasons of meat quality, although some ethnic customers require only buck kids be consumed so your methods depend on your market.

No matter what breed or combination of breeds that you use good genetics, good feed, good fences and good management will product the best meat goats.

Cow Productivity Depends on Cow Comfort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACow productivity and cow comfort is something that often is pointed at dairy cattle. Beef cattle, too, are more productive when comfortable. The comfort of cattle is of primary concern among producers who not only want to maximize the care of the cattle.

Modern dairy cows are often a focus due to confinement situations that are needed from a labor standpoint. Many modern confinement systems provide shade, fans and even misters for cows in hot weather. Feed that is easily available is important as well as clean water – both make for more milk. While concrete pens are usually used for reasons of ease of cleaning, it can be hard on a cow’s feet and legs. For this reason a comfortable, dry, clean place to lie down is important.

Free stalls are designed so that cows walk in and lie down, helping to insure that the manure deposited when she stands up is in the gutter or at least at the back of the stall where it is easily scraped into the gutter to be scraped out. Sand, shavings, rubber and cow mattresses are all options that are used in dairies around the US.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basics of feed, water, shelter are a great deal towards cow comfort that certainly isn’t all. Dairies that dry cattle off for a rest grass based dairies and beef facilities also make use of pasture. Ground is easier on feet and legs, but more difficult to keep dry and sanitary.

Dry areas to lie down reduce the chances of mastitis and other problems. Cows will lay down in many areas and some cows are just messy and don’t seem to mind laying in manure, but most given a choice will choose a dry stall over a wet one.

Cow comfort of course goes much further. Keeping feet properly trimmed and maintained makes it easier for cows to walk without pain. If they are hesitant to stand or walk they won’t be up eating and, pasture or confinement, can lose production and condition.

Pest control is another important part of cow comfort. Cows that spend their time fighting flies aren’t eating or resting – both essential activities of a cow’s productive day. There are also diseases such as pinkeye that can be transmitted with flies. Pest control also includes controlling mice and rats around the feed supplies.

When designing barns, shelters or even feeding areas in pastures keeping the focus on cow comfort pays off whether it’s 2 cows or 2,000. Observe cattle daily for signs of soreness or injury.

Keeping up on cow care basics is important but it also is important to think from a cow’s preference, not a human one. Don’t let dominant cows keep more submissive ones from the feed – make sure there is plenty of bunk space for all to eat without harassment or fear.

Plan well for cow care and productivity. Your cows depend on you as much as you depend on them, and a good cow is too expensive to replace in rotation before her time. Take care of your cows and they’ll take care of you.

Draft Animals Offer Alternatives

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADraft animals are important around the world for getting in to places that mechanization can’t get to. A working draft animal is a valued transportation for carts as well as a means to move heavy loads. Cutting hay, plowing, powering a treadmill and packing are but a few tasks made easier without fuel with animal power.

While in the US we look at primarily the dog, mule, donkeys, draft horse and oxen these are just a few of the animals used for power. Camels, dogs, elephants, water buffalo and caribou all work for people also and as working animals there is a much different view.

Jobs the draft team can do include milling grains, hauling logs, lifting loads, plowing and farming, operating bellows and hauling loads.

The most powerful of draft animals and the longest lived is unquestionably the elephant. Normally it is the smaller Indian elephant used, valued in hilly terrain and serving as work animals since well before the birth of Christ. However, with mature males being aggressive and much larger as well as the elephant in general eating more than 500 pounds of forage per day, there is limited use for these amazing animals from a draft standpoint in the US.

For American uses equine and bovine are mentioned as draft animals. The draft horse, mules and oxen have their supporters and their critics. Both are threatened today. Modern agricultural practices of farming thousands of acres and sometimes tens of thousands of acres make the draft animals outdated. However, as indicated by the spike in fuel prices that can change quickly when grass becomes cheaper than diesel to get the fields tilled. Additionally draft animals are renewable.

The reasons for using draft animals are many. There is no foreign fuel required to power them. They can get into the fields earlier than heavy machinery. They cause less compaction of the soil and a draft mare can produce offspring for more power.

However, the critics have points also. They require care every day, whether you work them or not. They need time to learn how to do their jobs, and they are powerful enough there is a risk of injury. They are prone to injury themselves and if it happens when you need to get in the field then you can be stuck unless you keep extra animals. They take room and pasture.

Of course these arguments can be balanced by injuries happen with machinery also, and machinery is also prone to break down. Most owners don’t consider the daily care a bad thing but rather point towards it is time spent with animals they are truly partners with.

Draft horses have a long history in America. All have become more show than working but there are still many people who log and farm with horses. There are several main breeds. The Shire is a tall heavy breed originating in England and often called a Clydesdale. Shires often have more “feathering” on the lower legs. Clydesdales have become easily recognized due to their appearance on Budweiser advertising. Percherons and Belgians are actually more popular than the other two breeds. Suffolks are the only breed developed for farm work, and are always chestnut in color with minimal white. America’s only native draft horse, the American Cream, is critically endangered with just a few hundred remaining. Draft horses can weigh over a ton and a pair that are well trained are worth a great deal to someone who wants to work them.

Other heavy breeds not commonly seen as draft horses include Halflingers, Norwegian Fjord, spotted drafts, Gypsy horses and sometimes Friesians. These are all breeds suitable for light draft work on a farm.

Draft horse prices can vary from $1,000 to $4500 and more for show animals. For those serious about purchasing there is quite a few to pick from in the $2500-5,000 range in almost all breeds. Some examples in a recent advertising listing is a Belgian mare broke to ride and drive for $1900, a black Percheron mare for $3200, a Clydesdale gelding for $2,000 and a pair of Percheron mares for $6,000.

Donkeys and mules are another popular equine but unlike draft horses cannot reproduce themselves. Commonly they are the product of a large jack and a draft mare.

Oxen were often preferred over horses in early American farm life. Indeed 100 years ago there were several breeds that were viewed as triple purpose. These included Brown Swiss, Devon, Charolais, Simmental and Ayrshire. Today an overwhelming dominant breed in dairy and another in beef have all but eliminated some breeds but the Brown Swiss and Devon (now usually called Milking Devon) remain as favorites among oxen people with many shorthorns and other breeds also used.

The advantage to oxen they’re cheap. Oxen are often castrated bull calves from dairy operations so the price for a pair of baby bull calves is but a few hundred dollars. Typically oxen are not dehorned so many have horns. A pair of oxen, first called “working steers”, take a great deal of time to train and learn to handle.

Typical prices for an older started team recently advertised are a pair of Brown Swiss of about 1,000 pounds each for $1500; a pair of red shorthorns weighing 330 and 350 for $1200, a pair of Holsteins started on farm and logging chores for $1600 and a pair of 800 pound Chianina Holstein steers for $3500, the latter offered due to owner’s health. More finished teams include a pair of Brown Swiss tipping the scales at 2100 pounds each for $3200, a pair of Ayrshires the same size for $2750, and a massive pair of Holsteins for $3200. The latter were a 4-H project team and were 5’9″ each at the shoulder and weighed 2516 and 2688 pounds each large enough to learn to do some serious work!

The advantage to oxen is long standing that they could be used for beef if injured although many who handle them can get quite attached to their animals. The disadvantage is that they are a one time thing as castrated animals they cannot produce offspring. Like horses, oxen usually have names and are commonly purchased in pairs. Like other cattle they are creatures of habit so purchasing as a team is common. Single animals can be purchased but team animals are often yoked a particular way, with one steer always on the left and the other always on the right. For those who view cattle as being stupid animals working with oxen can be enlightening! Young steers are started very young, with basic training beginning at just a few hundred pounds, long before working on a load.

Draft power can do many chores around a farm from hauling logs, manure and hay to tilling fields and a wide range of other chores involving moving things from point A to point B. Some oxen are even taught to carry a rider.

Draft animals will need plenty of forage, feed, shelter and training. While many working at home can work barefoot some areas require shoes (yes for oxen and horses!). From a care standpoint they are low maintenance but some of that care is a part of normal working of the animal. This can include grooming before and after working, attention to health care and monitoring any cuts and scrapes they might pick up.

While they are a good alternative for many to a tractor they do require time. Many owners see this as a benefit, not a liability.

Beef Raising Basics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany people have some land and decide to take advantage of it by raising some cattle for beef. There are several ways to do this, from raising a bottle calf to buying a weaned calf to getting yearlings to finish. You can also have a few cows and raise the calves from start to finish.

The first step is planning. Consider how much land you have available. How much time do you have available? Do you have previous cattle experience? Are you interested in raising a few extra calves for selling to cover expenses and if so would that be direct selling or at the sale barn? Are you interested in purebred, registered or just cattle?

The answers to these questions will dictate the type of cattle you choose. How much land do you have available? Do you have pasture or are you limited to a smaller dry lot situation? Either can be used effectively for raising beef, but the latter means having access to plenty of hay, silage or other forage. This can be done on pasture with good fences or, in a dry lot, with large or small bales of hay, a little grain and possibly protein supplements to boost growth.

Do you have previous cattle experience? If you do then you may be more able to deal with calving and husbandry more than someone who has never handled cattle before. The novice will need a quieter animal and more docile breed to handle safely than the one who has experience.

Are you interested in selling extra animals? If so will they be purebred or for meat, and will you make the effort to sell directly or just haul to the local sale barn? If you are depending on the market you may have a choice of black cattle. If you are selling directly or working towards a purebred herd you have a wider choice in preferences including rare breeds, horned breeds and historical or other breeds that may not be favored in the market.

Alternately if you are on a small area with limited room and raising for just yourself or to direct market you can take advantage of market breaks in price on red, white or tan cattle which typically bring less money at the sale barn than equal sized black calves. Equally the cattle with horns will be less expensive than those without horns. The reason for this is modern feedlots and equipment are set up for cattle without horns. Those with horns must be dehorned to fit in, which can stress the cattle and result in setbacks in weight gain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are interested in delving into registered cattle this, too, can affect your choice of breed. What breeders are in your area? Do you have the experience to maintain a semen tank and inseminate cows? If you don’t have room, facilities or experience for a bull then it means breeding via artificial insemination – or AI in cattleman’s terms or finding a bull owner who will let you breed to their bull, something that is a risk due to disease.

Keeping a bull yourself can be an option for some if you have facilities and an abundance of caution. Bulls are a ton of power that can and have killed people. Some are fearful of horned bulls but polled or dehorned bulls can also be dangerous, as it isn’t the horns that determine danger. Always have a clear escape path when handling a bull, no matter how gentle he is. Growing up we had an ex-show bull from the top Charolais ranch in the country and we trusted him a great deal but even with him were taught to respect (not fear) the power that could crush us without intending harm.

Are you interested in milk from your cattle? Although many have a dairy cow you can use the milk from any cow. Many of the breeds that were dual purpose (or triple purpose – beef, dairy, oxen) are good choices due to the ability of the cattle to be both.

If this is an interest consider the Charolais, Limousin, Simmental or breeds that have split to specialize such as shorthorn/milking shorthorn, Devon/milking Devon or Braunveigh/Brown Swiss. These cows are typically a bit heavier milking to allow raising good sized calves as well as milk for a family.

You do not have to be tied into milking if you pen the cow and calf up at night – separate the calf on the other side of the fence from the cow. In the morning milk out a quarter (or two) and leave the other quarters for the calf, who will nurse eagerly as soon as they are reunited and milk her down during the day.

You may find that most beef animals have never been milked, leaving the decision to raising your own heifer and training her to accept handling. Cattle are creatures of habit – if you are consistent in handling she will learn what is expected.

Oxen are another option from triple purpose cattle. Usually worked in pairs they can also be worked as a single. While in training from just a couple months old they are called working steers. These are often horned animals but not always. While many find it acceptable to eat cattle but not horses because horses settled America they have conveniently eliminated oxen from history.

470_46717For many it was oxen, not horses, that pulled wagons west and broke ground for gardens. Horses were faster but often couldn’t work as long. Oxen were stronger but slower and very much an intelligent, trainable animal.

From a beef standpoint cattle can offer many options. Be it crossbred black cattle, shorthorns, longhorns or shaggy highland cattle all can offer options to the small farmer wishing to raise their own food.

If you have pasture area this can be done very economically with a few steers. Buying feeders of about 500-700 pounds is a good option if you are just interested in eating them without a great deal of time put into them. If you purchase direct from the farmer (your best option!) you can insure they are vaccinated, castrated and properly cared for, ready to go.

If you are considering purebred or registered stock are you interested in showing? This can make a difference in the price paid and received as well as the animals themselves.

For the novice work with an honest farmer and tell him (or her!) your experience level. Have him select a couple calves that are gentle enough for your ability. As you feed the calves in a pen the first few days they will learn you are a food source and be easier to handle.

Don’t take squirrely calves and turn them in an 80 acre field and have any prayer of catching them again. If you have 10-20 acres of pasture cattle are a great way to use it, but give your animals a few days to get used to you. Maintain good fences to keep cattle contained and neighbors happy.

If you are interested in cattle research, ask questions and choose wisely. Your satisfaction with the enterprise depends on it!