Wednesday, May 20, 2015

7 tips for keeping bucks healthy

When you raise goats, it's easy to forget that bucks have needs too. Since does are the ones producing the kids and the milk, it's obvious that they need special attention. Because bucks are only producing sperm, it seems like their needs should be less than does, but that is not the case. And because bucks are stinky, most people don't like handling them. So, it's no surprise that bucks are often ignored beyond daily feeding and watering. But, just as with does, you will have more productive bucks if you make sure they have everything they need.

Provide good hay, pasture or browse 
Although bucks don't need grain or alfalfa, they won't thrive on dried out brown grass hay, and just as does would get sick when fed moldy hay, so will bucks. But what do bucks need beyond a good grass hay or pasture and browse?

Provide loose goat minerals
They need supplemental minerals that they can't get from their environment, which means they should have a free choice, loose mineral mix available. Why can't they get it from their environment? Because goats in nature live in the desert or in mountains, not on the plains or the prairies. They are not naturally grazers. They are browsers, which means they would normally eat small bushes and woody perennials, not grass. Be sure to get a mineral mix that is specifically labeled for goats only -- not sheep and goats. If it is also labeled for sheep, it will not have enough copper in it for goats. And it should be a loose mineral, not a block, because goat tongues are not rough enough to get adequate nutrition from a block in most cases.

Check body condition
Pegasus, age 6, clipped for show,
so you can see his body condition is great!
Even if you are giving bucks the best feed and supplemental minerals, you need to check their body condition at least once a month. That means putting your hands on them! Eeeyew! But because bucks usually have long hair, looks can be deceiving. We learned the hard way a long time ago that just because a buck looks good from a distance does not mean he is in great shape. Their long hair can hide a skinny frame. So, put your hands on them and be sure that they are not too skinny, which could indicate a parasite problem, such as worms or lice. Here is a great factsheet on checking body condition in goats.

Check eyelids
In addition to checking the buck's body condition, you also need to check his eyelids every month to be sure he isn't anemic. The main cause of anemia in goats is an over-abundance of the barber pole worm, which is an intestinal parasite that sucks the goat's blood, making it anemic and eventually killing it. The eyelids should be bright pink or red. If it is light pink or white, the goat is anemic. Treating the goat for intestinal parasites generally remedies the problem. However, a copper deficiency can manifest as anemia, so if the goat does not have a heavy load of parasites, but is anemic, copper deficiency is a possibility.

Pay attention to the buck's coat
Pegasus, age 3, under weight,
with a coat showing signs of copper deficiency
Why would you care about a buck's coat if you aren't showing your goats? Because it's a great indicator of nutritional problems. If a red goat starts turning tan, a cream goat starts to look white, or a black goat looks red (pictured at right), it could be due to a copper deficiency. Now you're probably wondering how a goat could be copper deficient if you're giving them a supplemental mineral. If you have well water with high sulfur or iron, those minerals bind with the copper and make it unavailable to the goat, so you will need to supplement with copper oxide wire particles. Another sign of copper deficiency is a forked tail, which some people call a fish tail, as well as a goat that is slow to shed its winter coat in the spring. Don't be fooled into thinking this is just a cosmetic problem! Ultimately a buck that is copper deficient will have fertility problems, so he won't be able to do the one job he needs to do.

Trim hooves
Finally, it's important to check your buck's hooves regularly and trim them as needed. This will mean every two to three months for most bucks, but some will need it monthly, and others may only need it once or twice a year. Again, this is not just a cosmetic issue. If hooves get overgrown, they can wind up with hoof rot or other problems, making it difficult for a buck to mount does and get them pregnant.

Every three to four months, we have a buck spa day, which started as simply pedicure day. The goats didn't seem too excited about having their hooves trimmed, so I thought they might like it more if we referred to it as a pedicure. Who doesn't love a pedicure? For the record, it did not appear to change their opinion of the whole thing. Over the years, we realized this was also the perfect time to check eyelids and body condition, as well as give them the supplemental COWP while they're on the milk stand. They eat grain and alfalfa pellets top-dressed with copper while we trim their hooves give them a pedicure. Once the hoof trimming pedicure is done, we check eyelids and body condition, and give a dewormer, if necessary.

What about parasite control?
You may be surprised that routine deworming is not on this list. Regular use of a dewormer was common practice during the 1990s and early 2000s, but recent research has shown that it's a bad idea because it ultimately leads to dewormer resistance, which means that at some point, you are likely to find yourself in a situation where dewormers no longer work. For more information on dewormer resistance, check out this post.

So, if you don't regularly deworm the bucks, what do you do? Check eyelids and body condition, and if a goat is anemic and under-weight, it is advisable to use a dewormer on that goat. For more information on preventing parasite problems, check out this post.

Now, if you're thinking that this seems like a lot of work, don't despair. It really isn't, especially when you consider the fact that a healthy buck can produce dozens of kids in a single year. Wise breeders for decades have known that your bucks are half your herd, even if you only have a few. Be smart, and protect that investment in your herd's future!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is my goat kid fat?

A lot of people new to goats think a kid is "fat" when it has a big belly. However, a big belly -- sometimes called "hay belly" -- is a sign of malnutrition, either from a parasite overload or not getting enough milk. And not enough milk leads to parasite problems because the kids are not getting enough of mom's antibodies to fight them. Malnourished kids get a big belly because they are eating as much solid food as they can stuff into themselves, but it doesn't have the nutrients they need for growth. If they have a parasite overload, they are overeating because, depending upon which type of parasite it is, the parasites are either sucking their blood or consuming the  food in their digestive system, either of which leaves the kid malnourished and possibly anemic.

So, how do you know if your kid is fat or getting too much milk?

Goats put fat on their spine, ribs, and brisket, not on their bellies. There are lots of goats with big bellies that are actually underweight. Here is a great PDF on body condition scoring in goats.  I have seen many kids that people thought were "fat" when they actually had a body condition score of 2, which is underweight.

When kids get too much milk, they get diarrhea. This usually only happens when bottle-feeding because some people try to get the kids down to only two bottles a day, which means large amounts of milk in each bottle.

When kids get more milk than they need but not too much, they will grow very fast. When our best milker had triplets at her prime, one of her bucklings was 30 pounds at two months, which is huge for a Nigerian. My daughter referred to him as "the draft horse." We have lots of kids that are sold at 3 months, and people exclaim that they're the same size as their 5-6 month old kids at home. It's because we don't limit the amount of milk they get from mom for the first two months. That also means that we rarely have any of the problems that people think are normal, such as coccidiosis and parasites in kids. We have many goats here now that have never had a coccidiostat or a dewormer in their entire lives -- because they didn't need it. If they need it, I will certainly give it to them. It all starts with a solid foundation of good nutrition provided by mom's milk, coupled with good management, which I discussed last month in this post.

Dam-raising and separating kids from mom

Many people who are new to goats think that they can start separating the doe from the kids within a couple of weeks of birth. If a doe has only a single kid, then you can actually start milking her the day she kids, but if she has two or more, it's probably not a good idea to start separating the kids regularly until the kids are two months old.

It is definitely a bad idea to separate kids from their dam if the doe is a first freshener because she is unproven as a milker, so you have no idea what her production will be like. With first fresheners it is a great idea to put them on the milk stand twice a day and try to milk them -- but NOT separating her from the kids beforehand. I say "try" because you may or may not get any milk, depending upon when the kids last nursed. That's fine if you don't get any milk because she's producing just enough for the kids. If she has produced a little extra, you can take it. But separating her from the kids regularly is setting her up for producing less milk than if you left them together. Research has shown that nursing kids cause the doe to release oxytocin, which results in better production than when a doe is milked by a person or machine.

The idea that you can separate babies from their mother overnight from birth comes from the dairy cow world. For the past century, milk production in cows has been driven so high that most dairy cows produce far more than a single calf could possibly consume, so separating them overnight is usually not a problem. However, goats have not been bred to produce such astronomically high volumes of milk, so most of them only produce enough to feed their kids for the first couple of months when the kids need the most milk because they are growing the fastest.

Dam-raising multiples

I often see sale ads where people say that a goat is "small because she was one of quads" or an even larger litter. Being a multiple is not an excuse for being small by two to three months of age. There are three reasons for a kid that age to be small: parasites, not enough milk, or genetics. Even though a kid may be born small, if it receives adequate nutrition, it should catch up in size to other kids its age within a couple of weeks.

Far too many people think that a doe will make enough milk to feed whatever number of kids she has, even if it's five or six. This is simply wrong, and it can result in small or dead kids within a few days or a few months. If a kid is getting as much milk as its siblings, it would be growing as much as its siblings. When we had our first set of quads 11 years ago, one almost died at two weeks of age because everyone in the Yahoo goat group was saying that a doe could feed quads with no problem. A year later, another doe had quads, and one died at only two days of age because it wasn't able to get enough milk. Today I don't normally let a doe try to raise four unless she has a track record of exceptional production. Click here for more info on How many kids can a doe feed?

Milk vs. solid food

Some people think that once a kid is eating solid food, it doesn't need milk any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dam-raised kids are usually eating solid food within a few days of birth. However, nothing else can provide the high levels of nutrients, as well as the antibodies, of fresh milk. Baby goats are born with very immature immune systems, and without all the antibodies of their mother's milk, they usually have problems with coccidiosis, which is why many people who bottle-feed kids will start them on a coccidiostat or medicated milk replacer at three weeks of age.

Be a hands-on goat breeder!

It's not enough to look at kids from across the barn and assume that they're healthy. You need to pick them up every day or two so that you know how their weight compares to the other kids. You also need to run your fingers down their spine and under their chest. Is there plenty of meat along the spine? Or does the spine feel sharp? The body condition guide linked above is not just for adults. Kids should have the same scoring done on them even more often than adults. It's not that hard to turn around an adult that has a problem with parasites, but if a kid is not growing adequately, it can be impossible to turn around if you don't catch it soon enough. That means you could have an animal that never reaches its genetic potential. In the case of does, they won't be big enough to breed until closer to two years, and in severe cases, their growth can be permanently affected, and they'll never be big enough to breed. Or in the worst cases, you'll wind up fighting parasite overloads for a few months, and the kids will ultimately die.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Time-Honored Tradition of Bone Broth

Bone broth is made from bones with a little bit of meat on them, which you cook for longer than you would a meat stock. You can introduce bone broths into your diet once you’re through the Intro Diet and following Full GAPS. It’s a good idea to prepare a large quantity of broth at a time; use it to make healthy soups, stews, and casseroles or simply to drink throughout the day as a beverage, complete with probiotic juice, good fat, and mineral-rich salt. What a wonder drug! Occasionally, when I say to a person who is sick, “You need some homemade bone broth,” they look at me as if I’m crazy—like it’s some foreign, exotic food. Yet this humble staple is perhaps the most traditional, nourishing, and nutrient-dense food available. It’s also dirt-cheap to make. It does take a little time and effort, but once you get the hang of it, you will be movin’ and groovin’.

Be sure to source your bones carefully. The best bones are from 100 percent grass-fed and -finished cows, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish. Of course, you can make bone broth with lamb, turkey, bison, and venison bones, too. Just be sure that the livestock was raised to your standards. The best way to ensure excellent quality is to seek out a local, sustainable farmer, or to find a reputable resource online.

It took me a few years to work up the courage to order chicken feet from our co-op, and another year after that to order chicken heads. These are not ingre- dients we are used to seeing in the average American grocery store! Nonetheless, they are star players in making a fine bone broth. Often people are reluctant about these ingredients, unless they grew up in a different country, in which case I sometimes hear, “Yes, that’s how we did it when I was growing up.” Or even, “We used to eat the feet right off the bone; they are so delicious!” Even in many parts of Europe they still make use of every last animal part. It is now more important than ever for us to get back to traditional food preparation and honor the wisdom of our past. These inexpensive super foods are a must for the GAPS Diet.

Place the bones in a pot, add the apple cider vinegar and water, and let the mixture sit for 1 hour so the vinegar can leach the minerals out of the bones. (Add more water if needed to cover the bones.) Add the vegetables, bring to a boil, and skim the scum from the top and discard. Reduce to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 24 to 72 hours. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, throw in a handful of fresh parsley for added flavor and minerals. Let the broth cool and strain it, making sure all the marrow is knocked out of the marrow bones and into the broth. Add sea salt to taste and drink the broth as is or store it in the fridge (up to 5 to 7 days) or freezer (up to 6 months) for use in soups and stews.

Homemade Chicken Broth

Makes about 4 quarts

When we make chicken broth we make it in one of three ways: using a whole stewing hen or layer; with the carcasses from a roasted chicken or two; or with 3 to 4 pounds of necks, backs, and wings (or a combination). With a roasted chicken, we often save the carcass in the freezer until we have enough to make broth.

1 3- to 4-pound stewing hen, 1–2 chicken carcasses, or 3–4 pounds chicken necks, backs, and wings
4 quarts filtered water
2–4 chicken feet (optional)
1–2 chicken heads (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, quartered
Handful of fresh parsley
Sea salt

Put the chicken or carcasses in a pot with 4 quarts of water; add the chicken feet and heads (if you’re using them) and the vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes, to give the vinegar time to leach the minerals out of the bones. Add the vegetables and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil and skim the scum. Reduce to barely a simmer, cover, and cook for 6 to 24 hours. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, throw in a handful of fresh parsley for added flavor and minerals. Let the broth cool, strain it, and take any remaining meat off the bones to use in future cooking. Add sea salt to taste and drink the broth as is or store it in the fridge (up to 5 to 7 days), or freezer (up to 6 months), for use in soups and stews.

This excerpt has been adapted from Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett's The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet (September 2014) and printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

If you'd like a chance to win a copy, check out our giveaway that started on Monday!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Raising Goats Naturally webinar

If you'd like to attend a conference on goats, but there is never one in your area, then you might be interested in the Raising Goats Naturally webinar, which will be held this Friday at 11 a.m. central time. You can attend from the comfort of your own desk.

We'll talk about raising goats without the routine use of drugs while letting mothers raise their own babies, as nature intended. You'll learn the basics of housing, fencing, goat nutrition, parasite control, and how to tell if your goat is sick.

All webinars are recorded, so you can watch them over and over again to pick up things you might have missed the first time. Not sure if webinars are right for you? No worries! We have a 100% satisfaction, money-back guarantee. For more information about our webinars, click here!

Tuition is $19. Click here to register.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q&A with authors of Heal Your Gut Cookbook

If you have health challenges, you may have read about or considered the GAPS diet at some point. If it seemed complicated or challenging, you'll want to check out today's Q&A with the authors of a new book that was written to help people on a GAPS diet. The first third of the book provides basic information about cooking for a GAPS diet and the last couple hundred pages are filled with recipes.

Today we're chatting with Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett, authors of The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet.

What is the GAPS Diet?

In short, it is the It's the ultimate application of “food as medicine!" In 1985, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride coined the phrase 'Gut and Psychology Syndrome' (or GAPS) in reference to disorders which stem from, or are exacerbated by, leaky gut and dysbiosis. These include (but are not limited to) ADD/ADHD, autism, addiction, depression, and OCD.  Likewise, chronic gut-related conditions such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Crohn's disease also fall under the auspices of GAPS. Even sufferers of asthma, eczema, allergies, and thyroid disorders can benefit from this healing diet protocol. Finally, as an evolution of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, GAPS also appeals to followers of the Paleo Diet who might be struggling for optimum health.

Why did you want to write this cookbook?

Mary G. Brackett
Mary: When we first started doing GAPS I found it very difficult to comprehend all the different pieces of the diet—when to start which food, how to know when it was time to move on. And more importantly, I didn’t know what to cook! I found myself cooking the same three or four meals over and over again until I could no longer look at chicken soup or boiled meatballs without cringing. This cookbook was born out of a desire to organize the pieces of the diet so that they are crystal clear and provide a blueprint of delicious, healing recipes.

Hilary: When my family started on the GAPS Diet, I found myself lost and frantically searching the web for what to cook, and when. I was craving a book that was not only aesthetically beautiful, but was also a one-stop shop: one that would walk me through all the necessary steps and inspire me to get in the kitchen and start cooking! When Mary mentioned doing a cookbook together, we recognized immediately how helpful it could be to people and families like our own. So we set out to inspire others to try the GAPS Diet and to lessen the stress of it all.

The GAPS diet requires a lot of time dedicated to cooking meals from scratch. How did this fit into your lifestyle and what tips do you have for someone just starting out?

Mary: Cooking is a lost art in this country, so I was accordingly lost at the start of the GAPS diet. Thankfully I had Hilary to call upon to give me ideas of meals as well as books to reference. But the truth is, GAPS is a serious time investment. At first I had anxiety with how much of my day was spent laboring in the kitchen. I felt like I never took my apron off, as if I was living in some weird 1950’s sitcom. It was definitely strange at first. But once I got a few recipes under my belt it slowly became easier and easier until cooking daily was routine. For someone starting out, I recommend going slow and be kind to yourself. Begin by picking out a few recipes that entice you and once you have made a few—and realize how delicious and satisfying they are—you will get the hang of it.

Hilary Boynton
Hilary: Yes, the GAPS Diet does require more time in the kitchen. However, what a gift you are giving to yourself and your loved ones. Now is the time for us to learn, or another generation will grow up without knowledge of food, nutrition, or cooking skills. The time in the kitchen will come back to you tenfold. Dinners around the table, smiling faces, exchanging conversation, no more picky eaters or separate kids' meals! I promise, you will be patting yourself on the back and so thankful that you have given you and your children not only the gift of health, but also 'family dinners' that they will remember fondly for a lifetime! Give yourself time, and you will be overjoyed with your efforts. Slowly but surely, you'll become a more confident and creative chef. Even your children will start coming up with their own creations, relieving you of some work!

How has the GAPS diet helped you and your family?

Hilary: The GAPS Diet has helped on so many levels. It has given us a clean slate to move forward with an understanding of our personal health that goes beyond any doctor’s office. One major lesson is that every person is different. Bio-individuality is very true. What works for one does not always work for everyone. The GAPS Diet has also given me a perspective on life that I did not expect. Overcoming challenges, letting go of control, and coming together as a family has developed a bond between us that we will always share together. Do I get push back from the kiddos? Do I pray that they won’t run for the free bins of Lucky Charms in the dining Hall at college? Sure, but I know the foundation has been laid and they will be okay.

Mary: The GAPS diet has helped our family immeasurably. The diet gave me the space and understanding to properly diagnose underlying health issues that had plagued me for years, and begin to heal from a lifetime of eating foods that were quite toxic to my body. Embarking on GAPS also taught me how to cook—no small feat there! My family considers themselves quite lucky to have a partner and mama who can prepare healthy, nourishing whole food meals that taste great and keeps them in tip-top condition. I’m incredibly grateful for the healing that has taken place, for myself, and for my family.


Be sure to come back on Friday when we'll be sharing Hilary's and Mary's recipe for bone broth!

Not only was the publisher nice enough to send me a copy of this book, they are also giving away a copy to one lucky reader of my blog. If you'd like the chance to win a copy of the Heal Your Gut cookbook, just enter below! Remember to use your name when commenting. You can't win when commenting as "anonymous" because we don't know who that is. Your name needs to match the information you type into Rafflecopter so that we can verify your entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Homesteading in Nigeria

In 2002, Katharine Norton left her home in Ireland to move to east Africa to work in Bible translation. Last year, she and her husband and 9-year-old daughter moved to Nigeria where they started a homesteading lifestyle, along with three goats, four chickens, and a kitten.

In addition to homesteading, Katharine also homeschools their daughter. There are no restrictions or regulations on homeschooling in Nigeria, so Katherine uses an English curriculum and supplements with Irish language, history, and geography.

When and why did you start living a homesteading lifestyle?

During my years living in Africa I have become concerned at how many western practices which are bad for the earth and bad for our bodies, are being adopted in Africa and given a high status because they come from the West. I have seen people preferring bottled fizzy drinks over local nutritious fruit juices; cake mixes or plastic wrapped sweets over local healthy snacks like peanuts or seeds; expensive skin care products with unknown ingredients in plastic bottles chosen over fantastic local oils like shea or coconut.

Quite apart from these things being less good for your body, they produce vast amounts of rubbish each year. Traditional rubbish, like peanut shells or mango skins, is thrown on the ground where it composts or is eaten by a passing goat. But plastic rubbish just piles up and causes many environmental problems.

I have been challenged to see what I can do, as a westerner living in Africa, to live an example of a healthy, environmentally friendly lifestyle, producing as little waste as possible. We've been living on our 2 acres since August 2014, just 8 months now, and I've learnt so much already!

I love the idea of homesteading as I always loved being outdoors or on the move rather than sitting all day in an office job. I used to want to be a farmer, but that didn't work out, but that's ok because homesteading is more manageable!

For me a lot of homesteading is about food – good, wholesome, healthy food for you and your family, using healthy ingredients from known sources. Its a very creative lifestyle- making bread, ferments, nutritious meals, or designing ideas for the garden or animal shelters. I love that homesteading involves making rather than just consuming. I also love that I am able to spend time at home, with my family, learning together, eating together.

How much of your food do you produce and how?

Homesteading is really new to us, I've never grown more than a few pot plants before! This first year on our land (2 acres) we are mostly learning about the soil, the sun, the features of the plot, and enjoying the fruit of the mature trees (orange, mango, avocado). We're also building up lots of manure and compost ready to start growing next rainy season. There are a lot of systems to get up and running – composting for food and garden waste as well as humanure; rainwater collection, animal enclosures and shelters, solar panels etc. Because its all so new to us, we are trying to move slowly, adding new projects gradually rather than all in one go.

What are some of the challenges that you've faced?

I always feel aware of my inexperience and lack of knowledge because homesteading is so new to me. I've had to learn many new skills, e.g. how to make sourdough bread, how to can food, how to milk a goat, how to preserve food in the tropics without a fridge/freezer. It's been fascinating, but a steep learning curve!

Because some of the things we are doing are counter-cultural, e.g. milking goats, or keeping chickens enclosed rather than allowing them to wander anywhere – there are very few people here that I ask for help or advice as no-one else is doing these things! The internet has been a wonderful resource to meet like-minded people and to learn from their experiences.

Aiming to produce no waste has been a fascinating project. There is no waste collection here so we have to deal with all our waste ourselves. There is a deep pit at the back of the garden for plastic bottles etc, but I would like to close it up rather than add to it! This means finding alternatives for plastic products or products in plastic packaging, including toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries; food items like pasta, bread, etc.

I have learnt that even though I am the main homesteader in our family, I should only take on what everyone else can cope with too. I shouldn't be the only one who can do tasks so that if I am sick or unavailable, things don't fall to pieces! This hit home one morning recently when I was bitten by a scorpion just before going out to milk the goat – the pain was incapacitating, but I was the only one who knew how to milk!

What are your goals? How self-reliant do you want to become?

I would like to be self sufficient in some things, eg herbs for teas, eggs, chicken meat, but since there are so many skills required for homesteading, I don't think I can ever learn them all! I prefer the concept of community to self-sufficiency, so we can do what we can, share our excess, and benefit from the skills of our neighbours.

Last year I did a Permaculture Design Certificate which gave me lots of good ideas and the opportunity to do a project on our homestead. In it, I decided to aim initially for the following goals:

-a small mixed homestead, with healthy soil producing healthy food, preserved in healthy ways
-re-using household water to grow a dry season garden
-goats/sheep milk for drinking and cheese
-homegrown eggs and chicken meat
-producing no waste

Do you plan to stay in Nigeria, or where do you plan to go next?

We plan to stay here as long as we can – but you never know, sometimes plans change, especially in Africa! But we are benefitting from the mature trees that others planted before us so I am determined to put as much as possible into the land for our benefit, for the benefit of the next occupants. Also, I am learning so much by doing, that I will carry those skills and experiences with me wherever I go.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Goat birthing: The problem with online advice

There is no shortage of forums and Internet groups where you can sign on and start asking questions or posting comments about goat keeping. This can be a wonderful way to learn and share information, but there is also the possibility that you will receive some seriously bad information. Answers are given to questions about situations that may not be clearly described. In the case of birthing complications, a lot of people are quick to suggest intervening in a birth without getting a clear picture of what is happening.

Recently someone posted about a goat that had been in labor for 16 hours and then gave birth to three kids, two of which were dead. She asked if the owner should have intervened? Several people were quick to assume that the doe had been pushing for 16 hours, and lambasted the person for not helping. Although I never say that anything is impossible, I am pretty sure that a doe would not push for 16 hours. If a doe is having trouble birthing kids, they generally give up after a couple of hours of pushing. I know this because we are two hours away from the vet hospital, so we've only given up three times and headed down there, and in all three cases the does also gave up, and their labor stopped. I've heard other goat breeders say the same thing has happened to their does who were truly unable to give birth. When asked for clarification, the person posting said that the goat had only been pushing for a short time and never seemed to be in distress. This was probably a case where the owner misinterpreted the doe's behavior, and she was not actually in labor for that long.

More than a decade ago, as a new goat owner, I was on the receiving end of some bad advice a few times. I posted in an online group saying that I had a doe that had been in labor for a couple of days, and several responses painted terrible pictures of what horrible tragedy must have already occurred. Some strongly encouraged me to intervene and start pulling kids. Had I tried, I would have been unsuccessful because the reality was that the doe was not even in labor. She gave birth to three healthy kids the next day. In my post a couple of days ago, I mentioned someone who thought her does were in labor when in reality they were not even pregnant!

If you use an online forum for goat advice, always include as much information about a situation as possible. I’ve seen people ask something like, “How soon after a doe passes mucus will she give birth?” which seems like a simple question. People may immediately start to respond, but the answer to that question is that it could be anywhere from a week to five minutes depending on how much mucus was actually passed. Too many people are willing to start offering advice without knowing the facts.

When posting a question online, don’t simply say that a doe is in labor. Describe exactly what she has been doing and for how long.
  • Is she eating and drinking? 
  • Vocalizing? Sounding angry? Or screaming in agony?
  • Standing? Walking? 
  • Lying down, looking alert, with her head up? 
  • Or is she lying with her head on the straw and panting? 
If you have a doe that you think is overdue to kid, don't just say that and ask what to do, give the following information:
  • How many days pregnant is she?
  • Does she have an udder?
  • Was she with a buck at any time after being bred?
Many times I've seen people post a question online, which they think is a valid question -- such as how do you induce a goat who is overdue -- however, they ultimately learn that the goat is not due yet or not pregnant at all.

If you have a health problem, it is best to describe the symptoms, rather than presenting a diagnosis. Last year someone bought several goats from me, and after a couple of months she sent me an email stating that a couple of them had ringworm and how should she treat it. Rather than simply giving her the medication info for ringworm, I asked her what symptoms she was seeing. She said they had hair loss on the backs of their necks, which is typically a result of goats sticking their heads through the fence too often and rubbing off the hair. As it turns out, that was the problem. However, hair loss in other places would mean a completely different diagnosis, such as lice, mites, or zinc or copper deficiency.

Although you might think that posting a picture is a fool-proof way to get good advice, pictures can easily be misinterpreted. For example, the picture on the right looks like there are three hooves sticking out. However, there were only two. Posting a picture of goat and asking if she is pregnant or in labor is usually pointless -- unless it is something as obvious as showing hooves sticking out, which someone recently did as a joke on Facebook.

So, what can you do?

In a perfect world, you can buy goats from someone who is experienced and can serve as a mentor to you, answering questions as they arise. Of course, this person would also need to have a philosophy similar to yours.

In addition, you should find a vet who is experienced working with goats. This can be challenging in some parts of the country. It may mean you have to travel more than a few minutes from home. For us, that means two hours, but I can also call them and get advice over the phone for situations that don't require a trip into the clinic. If you do truly need to intervene in a birth, it is much better to be getting advice over the phone from a knowledgeable vet or mentor than from written messages in an online group. When you are in the middle of a complex situation, you really need the instant Q&A of a phone conversation. It is also better to be able to see someone actually perform a procedure, such as using a kid puller, before you actually try to do it yourself. I consider all of my vet bills to be educational expenses, as I always learn something from every visit.

You can also read posts on some of the online goat groups, but remember that every bit of advice offered is simply one person's response to a situation. It does not mean that it is the only answer or the best answer. And never do anything that you feel uncomfortable doing. Someone recently told me about a person on Facebook instructing someone to cut apart a kid inside the doe because it was breech. It is just plain crazy to tell an untrained person to do that in their barn! In cases where trained veterinarians do that, the doe often dies from a ruptured uterus. (I personally know of two cases where that has happened.) In situations that serious, a c-section is the preferred alternative.

Even if you include as many details as you can think of, the people giving you advice may still not fully understand your situation. And remember that you have no way of knowing how much experience and knowledge anyone online has. People responding to your queries may have never even owned a goat, or maybe they've been raising goats for 20 years but have a philosophy that is polar opposite of yours. In a world where people write computer viruses for fun, it is not unreasonable to assume that some people online will give bad advice for entertainment.

Ultimately you are the person responsible for your goat's health and well-being. You are the person who will have to deal with the consequences of your decisions, and there are potentially negative consequences to every decision you make. Too many people online present treatment options as absolutes -- if you don't do X, the goat will die. Unless these people truly have perfected the art of seeing into the future, they actually have no idea what will really happen in your situation. Whenever you intervene in a birth, tube feed a kid, or give an injection, there is always a risk of something going wrong. So, you have to decide if the benefits of a procedure or treatment outweigh the risks.
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