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.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Goat birthing: Patience is a virtue

Over the past year or two, I've noticed an increasing amount of advice directing goat breeders to routinely intervene in the births of every goat. Not only is this unwarranted, but the risks far outweigh the benefits because it can result in infection or a ruptured uterus or even hurting the kid.

A friend recently told me that a goat magazine had an article advising goat breeders to do a vaginal check on every doe when she goes into labor to assess the position of the kid. This is terrible advice for many reasons. First of all, someone who is new to goats has no clue when a doe is in early labor. I had to see at least a hundred does give birth -- that equals more than 200 kids born -- before I consistently had a fairly good idea of when a doe was within a few hours of giving birth. New breeders often think a doe is in labor when she is not.

There were many times in my first few years with goats when we thought a doe was in early labor, and she did not kid for several days. Obviously, she was not in labor. My favorite memory came from my second or third year on the farm. I had a friend who had purchased two pregnant does, and she spent several nights in the barn with them because she was sure they would give birth at any moment. When the does were past 155 days pregnant, she called the vet out to the farm, only to learn that the does were not pregnant! That is not the last time I've heard of such an experience. People often want their goats to give birth so badly that they wish them into labor and see things that are not happening or misinterpret what they see.

Let's assume that you do have an accurate idea of when a doe in labor and do a vaginal check. If she is in early labor, odds are good that the kid will not be in the perfect position for kidding. You will then panic and think that you have to reposition the kid -- and then assume that you saved everyone from certain death, or at least tried to. In reality, kids are not in position to be born until they are ready to be born. A good part of early labor is spent with kids getting themselves into position.

Carmen gave birth to a kid presenting head first with no feet.
I'm sure some people think that birth position is just random, but if it were random, you would have kids regularly presenting with all sorts of different body parts. However, the vast majority of kids are born head first, with or without a front foot or two. In 450 births, we have had one ribs-first presentation, and that was a kid that had been dead for days already. But if someone is routinely checking kid position on does in labor, no doubt they discover kids in all sorts of difficult positions. Had they only waited, most of those kids would have put themselves into the perfect "diving" position to be born.

Someone recently posted on Facebook that she attended a sheep and goat seminar where they told everyone that they should stick their hand into a doe's or ewe's uterus to check for more kids or lambs after they think the last one has been born. Again, this is completely unnecessary and dangerous. In 450 goat births and more than 200 lamb births, we have never had a doe or ewe retain a baby. Even if it happened tomorrow, that would be less than 0.5% -- less than half of 1% -- of births, and there is no point in subjecting your does (or ewes) to a painful and invasive procedure that could cause an infection or uterine tear because you are worried about something that happens so rarely. Plus, most does and ewes only have twins. Once two kids or lambs are born, they are probably done. Even if you have a breed that tends to have multiples, like Nigerian dwarf goats, the risks far outweigh the benefits of doing a routine uterine check, assuming your goats are healthy and well-nourished.

If you think it's a good idea to give every doe a shot of antibiotics after birth to prevent an infection following a routine uterine check, then you will find yourself with a dead goat at some point when that antibiotic no longer works -- and you might even find yourself with an incurable infection. Someone posted on Facebook last week about a doe dying from an infection following a birth where she intervened, and she thought that she should have given her a higher dose of antibiotics. Sadly, if she was using the same dose she had always used, a higher dose would not have worked. The organisms were simply resistant to that antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance is real, and human beings are dying from infections that used to be cured by antibiotics. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2 million people get antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and 23,000 people die from them. I have a friend whose fiancé died from MRSA. Russ Kremer is a hog farmer in Missouri who almost died from an infection that he got from his pigs that were being given antibiotics regularly. Today he is an organic farmer.

Someone recently lamented online that she "had to pull kids" from every doe that has given birth on her farm except for one doe who kidded in the pasture. Unfortunately she did not see the correlation between her attending births and the perceived level of difficulty. When she wasn't there, the doe kidded on her own. Yet the person never questioned her involvement in the births. She assumes that her does all have problems. If indeed, her does all have problems, then she has a nutritional deficiency on her farm, probably either calcium or selenium, which would account for poor uterine contractions. She said her does all have narrow hips, yet if that were the case, they would have all required c-sections. With strong uterine contractions, if the pelvis is big enough, does can push out big kids. It is impossible to pull kids out of a doe if the pelvis is not big enough. Also, if the does all have narrow hips, and they are not all related, then there is a nutritional deficiency that caused improper bone development. The bottom line is that pulling kids does not solve a herd-wide problem, and if you are pulling all kids whether you need to or not, then you have no idea if your does have adequate nutrition or if you need to be culling for poor birthing ability. If does truly cannot give birth on their own, then there is a big problem that needs to be fixed, and continuing to pull kids is just exacerbating and prolonging a no-win situation.

I am NOT saying that we should just ignore our does in labor. Of course, there are times when something doesn't go quite right, and we need to intervene. However, there is an assumption that we can have 100% live births, and that is simply not possible. Most of the time when a kid is not presenting in either a nose first or breech position, it has already been dead for days or longer. You'll know it's been dead because the skin is very thin and easily tears, or the hair is easy to pull out. Unfortunately when a dead kid is born, most people think it was alive only minutes earlier, and they could have "saved" it if only they'd intervened. Unfortunately this simply is not true. Seconds or even minutes are not that important. A kid does not die in an instant while inside the doe. It dies after a doe has been in active labor for many hours and the placenta starts to separate, cutting off its lifeline.

If you are able to save a kid that was within seconds of dying, it will often be blind or deaf or have other problems. One situation where seconds do count is if a breech kid's body is out and the head is still inside. If the cord has broken, and the head is not out, the kid can't breathe and get oxygen. This happened once on our farm. My daughter saw a doe standing in the pasture with a kid's body hanging out of her. My daughter jumped the fence, ran over there and pulled the kid's head out. She thought it was dead at first but cleaned off its nose and began rubbing its body briskly. Although she saved it, it turned out to be blind because of the oxygen deprivation.

I frequently say that if you have a health problem with your herd, there is a nutritional or management problem that is contributing to that. People who say you should intervene in every birth are not being pro-active, as they claim. They are being reactive to the assumption that their goats are incapable of giving birth. But there is no reason to assume that goats will have problems. If people offering such advice claim that they have saved X number of kids since instituting that practice, then they are covering up a much bigger problem, such as a nutritional deficiency or genetic problems. Nutritional deficiencies should be fixed, and goats with genetic problems should be culled. Otherwise, you will have does dying at some point. If the does are healthy and genetically sound, and you're intervening in all of the births, then you're doing so without cause in the vast majority of cases. A study cited in Goat Medicine, 2nd Edition showed that only 5% of births require intervention, so if you are intervening in more than 1 out of every 20 births, you need to be re-examining your practices.

The biggest problem with telling people to intervene routinely or too quickly in a birth is that the doe is the one with everything to lose. You are thinking only of the kids when you do that -- and it's not even realistic to assume that you will save a kid by intervening. My ultimate loyalty is to my does, and my actions in a birth are guided by that principle. I am not going to intervene unless she really needs me to do so. Of course, it's sad when a kid is born dead, but imagine how you'd feel if the doe died. I personally have become even more respectful of the birth process after one of my favorite does died of a 7 cm uterine tear following a difficult birth in which the vet pulled kids.

New goat owners want to do everything right. They love their animals! Unfortunately they are the ones who are most susceptible to advice from people online predicting doom and gloom if you don't follow their advice. My advice has always been to listen to your goats. Since none of us was born understanding caprine, this takes years. My mantra is, "If the goat's happy, I'm happy!" And that works. A happy, healthy goat does not just drop dead with no warning. A doe unable to birth kids would die several days later when sepsis sets in, so there is plenty of time for patiently watching and waiting and to think about your options, if there appears to be a problem.

I certainly do not mean that you should wait days if there is a kid's nose or hoof sticking out of your doe, but you certainly have 30 minutes or even a couple of hours to take action. We live two hours from a vet hospital, and in the three cases where I've taken goats there in labor, seven of the eleven kids were born alive -- after a lot of pushing and us trying to pull kids and then a two-hour drive. Kids are far more resilient than most people give them credit for. I will never forget a lamb that we named Miracle because she survived 45 minutes with her head sticking out of her dam who ran around the pasture as we tried to catch her so we could help deliver the lamb. Ten years later, I know that it wasn't such a miracle that the lamb was born alive and healthy after such an ordeal.

I could talk about this for hours, which is one reason I decided to write an ebook on the subject. Because people who are new to goats don't know what to expect, I pulled together 17 birth stories from our farm and put them into a 45-page e-book called Just Kidding: Stories and Reflections on Goats Giving Birth. I include the stories of the births as I wrote them within a day or so of when they actually happened. Some of these births happened eight or nine years ago when we were still quite new and didn't know much about goat birthing, so I added my reflections on the births as I see them today. Some of these births included hard lessons. Sometimes we should have done something differently. Other times, we did everything we could do and still had an unfavorable outcome. When I was a new goat owner, I always wondered how I'd know if a goat needed a caesarean, so the ebook also includes the stories of our two c-sections to give readers an idea of how that can happen.

The ebook is available in most e-reader formats, but if you don't have a Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or other e-reader, you can download the book as a PDF or get the free Kindle reading app for your computer or iPad and read it on there. The book starts with four normal births, and you can download that section for free to get a better idea of how different a normal birth can be from one goat to another. The regular price for the complete ebook is $4.99 but if you use coupon code QW38Q by Friday, April 10, you can get 20% off.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Internal parasites in goats: Preventing infection

If fighting internal parasites with dewormers is ultimately a losing battle, what can you do to keep your goats healthy and productive? There are a number of environmental controls that can be utilized to eliminate parasite problems almost entirely. If goats needed dewormers to survive, they would have all become extinct before dewormers were invented. Many of the following ideas are not new, simply rediscovered from the era before drugs were developed. There was an old Scottish shepherd’s saying that one should “never let the church bell strike thrice on the same pasture,”9 meaning that sheep should be moved to new pasture at least every couple of weeks.

Pasture rotation

Pasture rotation is one of the most important management tools you have in preventing parasite problems. Worms and coccidia can contaminate a pasture and cause continual reinfestation of goats eating the grass. The shorter the time goats spend on pasture before being moved to fresh ground and the longer they stay off previously grazed pasture, the fewer parasite problems you will have. For example, if you could give goats a clean pasture every day and never put them back on any section for a full year, you would probably never have any parasite problems. Of course, few people have that much pasture or the time to rotate their goats every day, especially if they have a large herd, which may require the help of several people to move. Ideally, goats should be moved off a piece of grass within five to seven days and should not return to that spot for six weeks. However, the more often you can move them and the longer they can stay off of a piece of ground, the better.


Weather plays a big role in the rotation schedule. If temperatures are above 95°F and it is very dry, you will be able to leave goats on a piece of pasture much longer than if it is 70°F and raining every other day. You can usually let goats graze in a pasture until you get at least 1/2 inch of rain, which provides the perfect environment for larvae to thrive. When temperatures are in the upper 90s, you can probably let a pasture rest for as little as five or six weeks. However, keeping goats off pasture for at least three months in more moderate temperatures is necessary to help prevent ingestion of worm larvae left on the pasture during the previous grazing period.

Grass height

Height of grass is an important consideration when goats are on pasture. Because most larvae are on the lower 2 or 3 inches of grass, it is a good idea to move goats to the next pasture when the grass is about 5 or 6 inches tall in their current pasture and definitely by the time it is grazed down to 4 inches. Early in the grazing season, some varieties of grass may not get very tall, so you will have to move goats to fresh pasture sooner than you will have to do later in the grazing season. This is one reason it is better to create many smaller paddocks and move goats more frequently. Goats in a very large pasture will completely ignore some areas and overgraze others, and the longer the goats are there, the worse the problem gets. Young grass is tender and sweet; taller grass begins to grow tough and becomes less appetizing. Sections of untouched grass can be mistaken for an abundance of grass in the pasture, but unfortunately, goats will keep going back to the grass that is extremely short and covered with infective larvae.

Mixing species

Integrating other species such as poultry, horses, cattle, or pigs into the pasture rotation can help you utilize pasture more effectively than if you only have one species. Grass is at its most nutritious about thirty days after it was last grazed or cut, but that is also when larvae tend to be at the most highly infective stage. However, horses, cattle, and pigs are not susceptible to worms that infect goats and are able to digest the larvae. In other words, cattle, horses, and pigs can clean up a pasture, making it safe for goats to graze sooner than would otherwise be safe. Using sheep, alpacas, or llamas is not effective, however, because some goat worms can also infect them.


Providing goats with areas to browse is also an effective tool for controlling parasites. Goats have a much harder time dealing with parasites than sheep and cattle because as mentioned earlier, goats have not been grazers throughout history, like sheep and cattle. Although goats will eat grass, they are browsers and prefer to eat small trees and shrubs, which have no parasite larvae on them.

Dry lot

It might be tempting to keep goats on a dry lot or in a barn to avoid grass and the inevitable parasites on it. However, when goats are kept inside, the bedding needs to be kept cleaner than you would expect, in order to avoid coccidiosis in kids. If a stall is too dirty for you to sit down in, it isn’t clean enough for kids. A dry lot needs to be large enough that there isn’t a build-up of manure in it. Even in a dry lot a goat can become infected when it sticks its head through the fence to eat the grass that has been infected by other goats pooping along the fence line Also keep in mind that not all parasites need grass. Intestinal thread worm (Strongyloides papillosus) can hatch in bedding or soil and infect a goat through its skin, although it is not a common parasite.

Breeding for resistance

Selecting goats for parasite resistance is one of the most sustainable ways to deal with parasites. Some goats are clearly more parasite resistant than others, and research is under way to see if some breeds are more resistant than others. In the meantime, some researchers and veterinarians are encouraging breeders to cull animals that have an unusually hard time with parasites. By eliminating goats from your herd that need multiple dewormings, you reduce your dependency on dewormers. I know one vet who raises goats and will cull an animal the second time it needs a dewormer. In my own herd, I breed goats with mediocre parasite resistance to goats with high parasite resistance.

Seasonal birthing

It has been a common practice for many years for goat breeders to give a chemical dewormer to every doe as soon as she kids. An increase in worm load is thought to be a normal part of freshening, and the dose of dewormer at that time has been considered unavoidable. However, some breeders are starting to question this practice and are waiting to deworm until they see that a doe truly needs it. There is no doubt that some does have an increase in parasite load after kidding and they do require a chemical dewormer. There are alternatives for some goats, though. Most of my goats do not require dewormer after kidding if they give birth in January or February when parasites on the pasture are frozen or in late summer or early fall. If they give birth between March and June, however, the odds are not in their favor. July is variable based upon whether it is a dry or rainy summer. A number of breeders and researchers have begun to make similar observations about avoiding dewormers by timing kidding so that does are not freshening when parasites are at their highest level on the pasture. Keep in mind that the ideal time for kidding can vary from one location to another, depending upon your weather.

Tannin plants

In addition to traditional herbs, there are a variety of tannin-producing plants such as sericea lespedeza, birdsfoot trefoil, and chicory that have been shown to reduce parasite loads. These are plants that grow wild in many places but can also be planted in your pasture. However, it is not as simple as seeing a few of these plants growing in the pasture and assuming that you don’t have to worry about parasites. Sericea lespedeza is the most studied of the natural anthelmintics, and it has been shown to reduce parasite levels at varying degrees. Goats grazing on fields of lespedeza daily have been shown to have no parasite problems. However, as their grazing time decreases, the parasite problems increase. There are currently no solid recommendations for how much lespedeza goats need to consume to control parasites.

As you have probably realized by now, there is no magic bullet. Controlling parasites has to be a multipronged approach. And just when you think you have it figured out, things can change. This is why it is important that you understand the life cycle of the parasites, rather than simply memorizing a particular deworming protocol. An unusually mild winter or wet spring can make problems worse by providing the perfect environment for larvae to survive on pasture for an extended period of time. A drought may improve the problem by drying up the larvae on pasture. Raising goats sustainably doesn’t mean substituting a natural dewormer for a chemical one. It means creating a management plan and an environment in which goats can thrive with the fewest external inputs from humans.

This is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann. For information on dewormer resistance, check out this post.
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