The Trials of Raising Goats

Recently we went out of town for a few days, leaving a house-sitter to care for the critters.  He’s done it before, with good results.  On our last day – in fact, as we were packing up the car to drive home – I received a text that he had found our goat doe dead.  The last time he saw her, she had appeared healthy, and she had no injuries so he was baffled as to what killed her and distraught that it happened on his watch.

On arrival home, I examined the goat but found a distressing lack of evidence regarding cause of death.  She had a piece of hay sticking out of her cheek as though she was standing there eating and just…..dropped dead.  Very strange.  I decided to perform an amateur necropsy.  Amateur because I am no vet and have never necropsied a goat before.  However, in butchering birds frequently, I have become accustomed to what the internal organs should look like and hoped I might find some clue as to why this doe died.

This is where you’re gonna shoot me…..I forgot to take pictures.

By the time I was able to necropsy she had been dead approximately 24 hours and the gases building were evident.  I started with a small slit in her side to relieve the pressure.  I then cut her open from the rib cage down in order to expose the organs.  Nothing looked out of the ordinary.  I did note that her stomach was HUGE.  It was full of hay, grasses and a little grain, and at first I was concerned it was too large and that possibly an obstruction was what killed her.  However I then realized that as a grazing animal, they do need to eat a lot of hay and grass in order to get the nutrients they need.  Watching them all day, they spend the entire day with their heads down, eating, and all of that grass has to go somewhere in order to be processed out as tiny goat nuggets.  So – probably – the large stomach full of fibrous material was completely normal.  I would like to know this for sure though.

The organs all looked the right color and size and I found no sign of parasites – something about which I had been concerned.

So – possibly? – a brain aneurism?  Or a heart attack?  I dunno.

Sheep and Goat Maintenance

“Let’s get a few sheep to graze the pasture”, she said.  “How pastoral, watching them out there grazing”, he said.  “Isn’t keeping sheep and goats rewarding?”, they said.

Yup – most of the time, our sheep are no trouble at all and we thoroughly enjoy watching them out mowing our pasture.  But, they are not entirely maintenance-free.  This being our first year with sheep, we are still in the steep learning curve phase.  But, while I imagine there will always be more to learn, it is our hope that after the first year the curve will shallow out somewhat.

The guy we from whom we bought our lambs assured us they had been vaccinated.  We nodded and smiled and pretended we knew what that meant.  After all, we were only going to have them a few months and then take them to butcher so it didn’t matter that much, right?  But then we decided to keep the ewes and raise their lambs and suddenly it became far more important to know what vaccinations they need….and when.

Google is one of my best friends.  Smart.  Helpful.  Never whines about medical conditions.  From it, I learned that both sheep and goats need to be inoculated against Enterotoxemia (otherwise known as “Over-eating Disease”).  I also learned that a pregnant doe or ewe should receive the vaccination “within 30 days” of giving birth, in order to pass on immunity to her baby.

Our problem was that our ram and buck run with the flock at all times so due dates are mostly guess work.  But I could see that the ewes were starting to show so one Sunday we decided to wrangle them and give them their shots, in the hopes we were “within 30 days”.  Our sheep run to me when I dole out grain, but they stay an arm’s length away and have never tamed to the point of being easily handled.  Not to worry – we had a small area we could corral them quite easily by graining them there, and then it would be a simple matter to grab them one at a time and give them their shots.  It went just as smoothly as we predicted…..not.

My first attempt to grab a ewe and gain control of her landed me on my back with the ewe standing over me.  It turns out they are bigger, heavier and stronger than they look.

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But with two of us – one to hold while the other administered the shot – we were ultimately successful.

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Three days later the first lamb was born (see post here).  Ooops.  I guess my prediction of due dates was a little off.  Unfortunately, that meant the lamb was not getting protection via her mother’s milk.  I consulted with a vet as to whether I should give the lamb a shot sooner rather than later but was told that their immune system is too immature in the first few weeks.  Instead it was recommended that I wait until the lambs are 6 weeks to give the first shot and follow it up with the booster at 10 weeks.

Seed Starting

Oh my, what a busy time of year this has been.  I blogged here about the newspaper starter pots I make each year to start those first seeds.  After the long, cold winter we’ve had, I was eager to get started but the first pepper and tomato seeds I started in the pots were apparently too early and did not sprout.  Two to three weeks later I tried again with far better results.

This year I came up with a great solution for a way to organize and store my starter pots: the plastic tubs that we buy spinach and salad greens in from the grocery store.  I call these my mini-greenhouses.  Here is one:

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I use popsicle sticks to label each pot, writing on both sides of it even though it takes longer, so that I can see it from either direction.  In order to avoid mistakes, I make the pots, fill them with potting mix, stick the labeled popsicle stick into them and only THEN do I get out the packets of seeds and plant.

The mini-greenhouses are easily portable and are easy to carry outdoors during the day to get sun and back in at night when it still gets below freezing here most nights.

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They worked great like this for the first couple of weeks, but once the seedlings started to grow, I had to remove the lids to give them space to grow.  Unfortunately this led to the loss of several seedlings whose vulnerable little stems could not stand up to the winds.  So I came up with this solution:

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By cutting out the base of a second plastic tup and inverting it over the first, then securing with clips, I was able to continue to carry my seedlings outdoors to get sun by day, protect them from wind, and also keep them from getting too warm, as excess heat was able to rise through the open top.  This also made watering them easy.  In fact, watering in the my mini-greenhouses couldn’t be easier.  Rather than try to water each individual seeding, I simply pour water directly into the tub and allow the seedlings to draw up what they need.