Our Husbandry Practices

Our Husbandry Practices

THE BIG PICTURE

Our Husbandry Practices

This is an overview of how I take care of my goats.  While there are a lot of similarities in how people care for them, there are differences from farm to farm as well.  What works for one person may not work for another, so you need to be flexible and in tune with how your herd is doing.  At the same time, if you’re just starting out, it’s helpful to have some basis of comparison, everyone needs a solid starting point that they can adjust.  In the early years after we brought home our first goats in 2003, I certainly did some experimentation and found some practices that helped my goats, and some that didn’t.

Feed

The adults – 6 months and older

I feed for longevity and milk.  Which for my herd means an emphasis on alfalfa and browse (seasonally) and less grain.  I do feed a non-medicated grain mix on the milking stand and occasionally supplement their alfalfa/grass mix hay with a top dressing of grain, especially on brutally cold winter days.  On the milking stand, my does eat about 2 cups of grain per milking, on average – I just keep their feeder full of grain so I don’t have exact amounts for each, I just let them eat what they want while I am milking them.  I do not push my goats to grow fast, as I don’t find that fast growth leads to a larger goat in the end, and is more likely to cause them problems.  I let them be slow but steady bloomers.

This is the grain mix I use, mixed by Story Ag LLC in Grinnell, IA:

300 lbs Kent Milk Goat Feed
200 lbs alfalfa pellets
40 lbs plain beet pulp
25 lbs Equigizer (a vitamin/yeast supplement for horses)
10 lbs black oil sunflower seeds
10 lbs molasses
top-dressed with a scattering of chia seeds

The kids – less than 6 months

Bottle-fed or shared dam-raising/bottle-fed until a minimum of 12 weeks but not past 20.  Hay available free-choice from day one and at about one week, Kent Kid Developer (medicated for coccidia prevention) is also available free-choice.

Supplements

Let’s assume that fresh water and a salt block are understood.  🙂

Minerals:  Currently the most effective mineral mix for my herd has been Cargill Right Now Onyx.  In the summer I offer the Kent Goat Mineral instead, which they consume at a much slower rate.  I had originally used only the Kent Goat Mineral but found that after a few months they would ignore it.  I always use loose minerals rather than the block.  For us, the block tends to just end up a sticky mess that no one wants anything to do with.

Copper:  It took me a few years to realize this, but my goats need a copper supplement and I have seen clear benefits to the shininess of their coats, which is so often a barometer of the goat’s health.  I don’t bolus our herds and can’t really comment on the effectiveness of that.  What works for us is a monthly copper treat. Mmm…peanut butter and copper on bread…not always as much of a hit as I’d like but they all get it!  I have opted to give our goats 6 months and older monthly doses based on research done by the Cornell Sheep and Goat Program, 1 gram for the adults, less depending on size for the younger ones.  The study indicates that the potential worm control benefit of giving copper is most effective when given a smaller dose monthly, rather than larger doses less frequently.

Protein supplement:  In the winter they have access to a pail of Kent Feeds EnergiLass Goat which is a molasses-based protein and mineral mix supplement.  (I balance this with very little molasses in their grain mix as iron inhibits copper absorption.)

Worm Control

The only automatic deworming that happens at Jasper Farm is the annual complementary post-partum deworming and pedicure (as I try not to drag them up on the milking stand during their last month or more of pregnancy).  Often this is the only deworming a goat in our herd gets in a year.  We try to feed hay off the ground and not let them eat pastures down close to the earth, to keep their exposure to worms down.

Otherwise I rely on checking fecals, which I do at home, with occasional checks by our vet to be sure I am accurate in what I’m looking at.  So far I have been accurate, but as worms are a serious killer, I need to know if any one of the goats is having a flare-up for any reason, usually stress or when their system is compromised by an illness, and I need to know that my own home checks are giving me the information I need.  When Naomi had goat polio (a thiamin deficiency) and her body was using all its energy to fight and recover from that, she had quite a worm flare-up.

What I do and what I use:  When I deworm, I do it 3 times, 10 days to 2 weeks apart, to catch subsequent worms as they hatch from the eggs.  I have used Valbazen for the last 3 years, and I keep Quest on hand just in case one of the does needs to be dewormed during pregnancy.  I make no recommendation as to what dewormer to use, other than, of course, be sure it is effective.  It is wise to start with the mildest dewormer and only move to stronger families of dewormers if you find a resistance to the mild dewormer.  I am saving the stronger dewormers in case all else fails…I don’t want our local worms to have developed a resistance to the big guns before I really need them.

My general deworming advice is simple: when you deworm, use something effective for your herd, and do it 3 times, 10 days to 2 weeks apart.  Always deworm does after kidding.  Learn how to check fecals or plan on taking fecals to your vet.  We do not use herbal dewormers as I feel that they are both more toxic and harder on a goat’s system than the chemical dewormers are, and I do not trust their efficacy. This is my own opinion, and not to say that herds can’t have success with them.  People who use herbal dewormers tend to fall into two categories: experienced goatkeepers who really understand the herbs, their goats, and their herd’s environment, and new goatkeepers who can have a year or two of the herbal dewormer seeming to work, and then tragedy strikes.  Unless you are in that first category, I advise against herbal dewormers.

Copper:  Research has indicated that copper is beneficial in fighting worms in goats (and sheep) and/or in helping a goat to be resistant to worms.  So starting at 6 months, we use our monthly dose of copper in hopes of a double benefit, overall health and worm control.

Diatomaceous Earth:  Since 2012, I’ve been adding it to their grain mix at the rate of approximately 1-2 tablespoons per goat.  Does it make a difference?  Honestly, I really don’t know.  But we are in the routine, they’re used to the powder on their grain, and based on what I’ve researched about DE, it’s worth it to me.

Coccidia Control

Kids are given Toltrazuril at 1cc/5 lbs starting at 4 weeks and continuing once a month until 6 months of age.  We never keep kids (or any of our goats) in confined, dirty areas.  We maintain a clean, uncrowded living area as our best natural coccidia preventative.

Vaccines

Our goats get Cavalry-9 at 4 weeks of age, boosted at 7 weeks and 6 months, and then boosted annually, one month prior to kidding.  The bucks usually get theirs at the same time that the earliest kidders do.

In 2015, I started also vaccinating with J-Vac and Lysigin.  Not sure if in 5 years we’ll still be using them, but I decided to give them a trial run here.  Similar to the DE…how will I know if they are needed and/or working?  I don’t know, but I will keep an eye on things!

In Summary

Remember, this is just what works for us, this is not a commentary on what works for another herd.  I have tried to be thorough but concise here but likely I have forgotten something so I will update this page as needed.  As always, feel free to get in touch with me if you think I may be of assistance!

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