Friday, January 30, 2015

A beginner's guide to goats

Whether you already have a few goats or you are just thinking of getting a couple, here are links to some of Thrifty Homesteader's most useful goat posts ...

Getting Your Goats

Goat Care Basics

Time for Kids!

Sometimes, even after reading everything you can find, you still have questions. That's when it's helpful to have another person to ask! Nigerian Dwarf Goats is my online forum filled with friendly goat owners who are happy to help others and talk goats. Thrifty Homesteading is our Facebook group where we talk about all things related to homesteading, including goats and other livestock. Feel free to click on over and say hi!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Castration options for goat kids

It is a simple fact that you don’t need very many bucks for a dairy herd. Because a buck can sire dozens of kids, you should keep only the best for breeding. That means that a lot of bucklings will become pets, brush eaters, or meat. Unless they will be butchered in a few months, bucklings should be castrated because intact bucks get stinky and pee on themselves. They also tend to fight with each other during the breeding season. There are three methods of castration, and breeders can easily learn the methods themselves.

Banding is probably the most popular method of castration because it is simple and inexpensive. A rubber band the size of a penny is placed around the base of the scrotum using a special tool that opens up the band wide enough to get it over the testicles and in place. Some argue this is the most inhumane method of castration because it cuts off blood flow to the entire scrotal area, which causes everything below the band to atrophy and fall off. We used this method for a few years, and most bucklings didn’t seem terribly bothered by it. A few bucklings would scream for a few minutes up to an hour, and some would get very depressed for a few hours or a day following banding. Because of the anaerobic environment that exists under the band, there is a risk of tetanus with this type of castration//


Emasculation is the safest method of castration because the skin is never broken, but it is not immediately obvious that you have done the job. With this method the cord that goes to each testicle is crushed using a special instrument called a burdizzo. Although a kid usually lets out a short bleat when the cord is clamped, most recover fully within fifteen minutes. Some cattle ranchers say they have an unacceptably high rate of failure with this type of castration, which makes sense when you see that a cattle burdizzo is quite large and requires the use of two hands to operate. The goat and sheep burdizzo is much smaller and can be closed with one hand by most people. We started using this method several years ago and have not had any failure.

Surgical Castration
When I had my first goats, I read that surgical castration was the most humane method, so I took my first kids to the vet for the surgical castration procedure. As we stood in the parking lot, I held the bucklings as the vet sliced open each side of the scrotum, pulled out each testicle and dropped it on the ground. He told me he was leaving the scrotum open so that it could drain because stitching it up would be more likely to result in an infection. Although the boys survived the ordeal and were just fine, I decided to look into other methods of castration. Some people do prefer surgical castration, though, and if you want to do it yourself, you should have a vet or an experienced breeder teach you.

This is Part 4 in our series on issues related to kidding season, which appears every Monday this month. It is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Conducting a newborn check in goat kids

Shortly after each kid is born you should do an initial newborn exam to make sure that each kid has all its pieces in the right places. In addition to checking for obvious things, such as an anus, you also want to know if a kid has any disqualifying defects so that you don’t offer it for sale or get your hopes up about its future in your herd. Peeing or pooping is generally a good sign that the newborn’s plumbing is in working order. Although it is rare, kids are occasionally born without an anus, and obviously they will not survive. If a kid latches on and nurses well, the mouth is probably in good shape. However, if milk comes out the kid’s nose or if it has difficulty latching on, run your finger along the roof of the kid’s mouth to be sure it doesn’t have a cleft palate.

Check that each kid—buck or doe—has only two teats. Extra teats are a disqualification in show goats, and they are not something you want in milkers. In addition to possibly getting in the way when milking, extra teats can also get infected if they are functional. If they are not functional, kids can get confused and try to suck on them and then not grow properly because they are not getting enough to eat. A buck with extra teats should not be used for breeding, so you should plan to castrate it.

You also want to be sure that bucklings have two testicles, regardless of whether you plan to keep them intact. If testicles are not descended at birth, the odds are good that they will not descend. A buck with only one testicle should not be bred, and it is impossible to easily castrate a buck with an undescended testicle, making it a challenge to sell as a pet. With an undescended testicle, he will still get stinky and act bucky. Most people will use a cryptorchid as a meat animal.

This is Part 3 in our series on issues related to kidding season, which runs every Monday this month. It is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann.

Friday, January 16, 2015

You asked for it -- webinars!

Every time I post on social media that I'll be speaking at a conference in various parts of the country, someone (or a few someones) will ask if I'm going to start doing webinars so that they can attend without having to travel. So, after lots of planning and getting my Internet upgraded, I'm excited to say that I'm doing it!

The first webinar will be held at 8 p.m. central time, Monday night, February 2, and it's based on one of my most popular talks, which I've presented across the country, from Pennsylvania to Washington State. It will be 90 minutes long, which is about half an hour longer than when I usually present it in person at conferences and other events.

Homesteading 101 will cover the basics of modern homesteading:
  • Finding your homestead, whether in the city or country
  • Sustainable gardening
  • Choosing livestock for your homestead
Homesteading in the 21st century does not mean free land or moving to the middle of nowhere with a mule and 40 acres. Many people today are living more sustainable lives by producing some of their own food, whether they have a garden for fresh tomatoes or a few hens for eggs. This webinar is designed to get you thinking about where you can homestead, how to start a sustainable garden, and which animals might fit into your life to provide you with eggs, milk, meat, and fiber.

What's the webinar environment like?
It is very similar to attending an in person seminar, except that you will be sitting in front of your computer, rather than traveling to a conference. You'll hear my voice through your computer speakers, and you'll see my PowerPoint slide presentation on your screen. And no, you don't have to have PowerPoint on your computer.

Can participants ask question?
Yes! You can use your keyboard to ask questions during the presentation. Participants are not able to talk because the quality of the sound for everyone is drastically diminished, and if a baby started crying or a dog started barking, we'd all hear it.

Do I have to download anything to my computer?
I'll be using AnyMeeting, and one reason I like it is that as a participant, you do not have to download anything onto your computer to participate. Simply click on the link that is sent to you when you register, and it will take you to the webpage where the webinar is happening. But don't share that link with anyone because it is uniquely yours!

How do I know if my Internet connection is fast enough?
Click here to run a speed test. If your download speed is at least 1 mbps, you should be able to participate.

What if my husband (or wife) wants to watch it with me and is working that night?
No problem! It will be recorded, and you'll have online access so you can watch it again and again.

What is the cost, and how do I register?

Tuition is $19. Click here to register.

What if I'm not able to watch the webinar after I register, or if my computer has problems, or if I just don't like the webinar?
No problem! You can get a 100% refund within seven days. If, within the week after you participate in the webinar you decide that it wasn't what you had wanted, you can receive a full refund. And don't forget that you can watch the recorded webinar again, if something happened during the live webinar that kept you from being able to participate in the whole thing -- like if you had to run out in the middle because a goat was giving birth.

What topics will be covered in future webinars?
Great question! And I'd love to have your opinion on the answer. Click here to choose the topics you want to hear next!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Water, water everywhere! But what's fit to drink?

One might think that the #1 selling water filter removes a lot of contaminants. You might also think that the most expensive water filter is the best. And you might think that a fancy system like reverse osmosis would remove more things than a simple pitcher filter. Unfortunately, if you thought any of those things, you were wrong.

I thought that trusted names like Culligan and Shaklee would have great products, but I was wrong about that too!

Why do you need a water filter?

Regardless of whether you have municipal water, well water, or bottled water, there are contaminants in it that are potentially dangerous. All of them contain toxic substances and various types of endocrine disruptors, which do all sorts of bad things to our bodies.

If you have city water, you want to eliminate the chlorine and fluoride from the water. Well water can contain heavy metals and pesticides, such as atrazine and 2,4-D. Bottled water contains bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, and because it has much looser regulations than municipal water supplies, it could also contain a host of other contaminants. In fact, bottled water is often much worse for you than either well water or city water.

Why should I care if those things are in my drinking water?

The endocrine system is responsible for hormone regulation in your body, from estrogen and progesterone to thyroid hormones. In addition to turning male frogs into females, atrazine has also been linked to breast and prostate cancer. BPA has been linked to multiple cancers, reproductive problems, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, and heart disease. Phthalates have been linked to infertility in men, thyroid disease, obesity, and diabetes. Although a lot of lead will kill you, a little lead can cause miscarriages, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. For more information on other endocrine disruptors in our lives, check out the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors.

So, how do you know which water filter to buy?

Although some people are under the impression that a "purifier" is better than a "filter," there is no legal definition for those words. If you search online, you will find that some people attempt to define them, but what is defined as a "filter" on one site is defined as a "purifier" on another site.

The bottom line is that you need to know what needs to be removed from your water. Unfortunately there is not one single technology that does everything. Although some people think that a reverse osmosis system is the gold standard for water treatment, some of those systems don't remove pesticides. Those that do remove pesticides will have a second stage of filtration that uses some type of carbon filter. To learn more about the different types of filter technologies and what they can and cannot do, check out this article. But it's important to understand that not all carbon filters are created equally. Just because a filter can be made to remove a certain contaminant does not mean that all filters actually do remove that contaminant.

To learn how various water filters compare, check out the Environmental Working Group's Buying Guide, which tells you which filters are certified to remove what contaminants. You can search the database by type of filter (pitcher, under stink, etc), filter technology (reverse osmosis, carbon block, etc), and contaminants that are removed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dam raised vs. the bottle: Socialization

The decision to dam raise or to bottle raise kids needs to be made before the kids are born. There has been a bias towards bottle raising baby dairy animals for the past few decades as factory farms took over the dairy industry. When you have thousands of cows in a dairy, it is impossible to socialize them if they are dam raised. Dairies want as much milk as possible from the cows, which they can do if they milk them and ration the milk given to the calves, selling the excess milk and increasing profits. In spite of the fact that our goat website includes milk records and clearly states that our kids are dam raised, I still get questions every year such as “Can you milk a doe if she was dam raised?” I always point out that people were milking cows, goats, and sheep for thousands of years before bottles were invented. An old-time farmer will laugh at the idea of bottle raising kids. It is a modern misconception that dam raised kids are inevitably wild.

Like most animals, goats will be wild without plenty of human contact as babies. A litter of kittens found in the woods or in a secluded part of a barn will be as wild as lions. Goats are very much the same way. When kids are born on pasture and get little human interaction, they will be wild and difficult to handle. When handled daily, though, they will be friendly. But regardless of whether their mother or a human raises them, some kids can be incredibly stubborn.

Some claim that it is easier to milk does that were raised on a bottle. This view comes from the fact that when an entire herd is employing bottle-feeding, the does are easier to milk overall. It is not the doe that was bottle-fed as a kid that is easier to milk, but rather it is the doe that has no kids to feed that is easier to milk. If a doe has been nursing kids for a couple of months and is put on the milk stand, she may not be thrilled with the idea of letting you milk her because she firmly believes that the milk is for her kids. Just as she would kick at any strange kid that tries to nurse, she may kick at the bucket or your hand.

This is Part 2 in our series on issues related to kidding season, which appears every Monday this month. It is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann. Click here to read Part 1, Is My Goat Pregnant?

Friday, January 9, 2015

5 things to stop buying for a healthier life

Looking to make some positive changes in 2015 but don't want to spend a ton of money? Many people think that living a healthier life is expensive. In reality, the exact opposite is true if you educate yourself about what's good for you and what's not -- and STOP buying those things that are not good for you. What am I talking about? Here are five things that you can stop buying right now, because they could be causing problems you are not aware of yet.

  1. Bottled water -- Plastic contains bisphenol A, better known as BPA, which leaches into the water and has been linked to cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity because it is an endocrine disruptor, which means it messes with your hormones. If you know anyone who has thyroid problems, they should definitely stop buying bottled water because BPA negatively affects thyroid function. If you are worried about your tap water, you can buy a water filter, which will cost far less per gallon of water than buying bottled water.
  2. Air fresheners -- Because air fresheners are not consumed by humans, they are completely unregulated by the FDA, which means they contain some incredibly nasty stuff that is bad for you! Some of the chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and even though you aren't drinking air fresheners, anything you breathe eventually winds up in your blood stream. If your house stinks, you need to find the source of the odor and eliminate it. You can also use baking soda as a natural odor absorber.
  3. Cleaning products -- Again, because they are not consumed by humans, they are not regulated. When you use these cleaning products you are absorbing the chemicals through your skin and inhaling them and absorbing them through your lungs. What to use instead? Baking soda and vinegar can take care of most of your cleaning needs on the cheap. If you want to spend more money for all natural products that are naturally scented, they are available.
  4. Antiperspirants and deodorants -- Many people know that antiperspirants contain aluminum and are best avoided, but most commercial deodorants are also not good for you because they contain artificial fragrances. There are lots of inexpensive natural alternatives to commercial deodorant, which I discussed in this excerpt from Ecothrifty.
  5. Non-stick cookware -- If you've ever used non-stick pots and pans for a few years, you know that the non-stick coating wears off. And where do you think it winds up? In your food! Not only is that bad for you, but even breathing the fumes created during cooking is bad for you. Cast iron is an inexpensive replacement for non-stick cookware, and it will last so long that you can put it in your will! For more on ecothrifty cookware choices, check out this post.

This list is only a start, as there are so many things in our modern life that are causing health problems that I wrote a whole book about it -- Ecothrifty. But if you aren't ready to dive in and make big changes, start with just a few and see how easy it is. If you are reading to jump in and make big changes, you can even borrow Ecothrifty from your local library. If they don't have it, they can get it through inter-library loan for you.

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