Feeding goats in the cold

-15 degrees this morning. I’ll admit I was glad I didn’t have to milk any goats this morning. For the first time in two years, all my does are dry at the same time while we wait for kidding to start. (We really miss our lovely, luscious, fresh goat milk.)

Some people might think you can slack off the good food right now, but pregnant does have special nutritional needs. While a cow usually gives birth to one calf  that’s 8-10% of mama’s weight, a sheep or goat often has twins or triplets with a total birthweight of 15-20% of mom’s normal size. That’s a tremendous load on mama goat. If she doesn’t receive enough – and the correct – nutrition, her body will leach calcium and other nutrients from the mother’s body for those developing kids. The result is a weakened mother and probably kids without good, strong bodies at birth. We believe in feeding to avoid problems – not cause them.

Why push for multiple births? There is a correlation between milk production and the number of kids. Our goats are bred for generations of multiple births and they can handle it – IF they get enough of the right food.

When temperatures start to dip below zero, I make sure my ladies receive a late night (10 PM)  feeding of alfalfa. It doesn’t matter if they still have hay in their mangers. I go out and add a handful or adjust some of the hay in their feeder. That’s enough to get their curiosity going and they’ll usually come over to sniff and eat a bit. Even a little more hay will keep their rumen digesting that much longer and digestion keeps them warm. I get up at 5:30 AM or so for the first trip to the barn. Depending on how cold it is and how the does are acting, I may add a bit of hay. If they’re acting very cold, I might offer them some whole oats to kick start their consumption. Or I may put a little hay down by their faces so they can stay in their semi-warm beds and nibble. When it gets to -20 or so, I’ve been known to cover the sleeping does with straw.

In cold weather, I increase their grain or give alfalfa, especially for the really pregnant does who don’t have much room in their abdomen because of their babies. They need the extra  nutrition of a concentrate….though they also need to consume some roughage from hay just to keep their rumen working and maintain good digestion. It’s a balancing act.

In general – I watch their calcium-phosphorus ratio. Alfalfa produces calcium and grain give phosphorus. Ca-P needs to be balanced or you can cause a multitude of problems, including ketosis. With the high metabolism of goats, any imbalance can be touchy to adjust. So it pays to understand your feed and the needs of your goats.

Observation is one of my best management tools. I have to know the habits of each doe. When they do something that’s not normal for them – I need to figure out what’s going on and get them back to their normal. That’s challenging. But it’s also part of the fun of having goats.




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BSC Students Come To Visit

Earlier this week I received a call from one of the agriculture instructors at Bismarck State College. She and I had met last fall and, when she mentioned she was teaching livestock nutrition, I replied that one of the things I loved about having dairy goats was trying a variety of feeds and seeing the almost immediate results in the milk bucket. Then I offered my place up if she wanted a field trip for her students. Her call was to set up a time.

The only problem is that I was drying up my does and expected not to be milking them by the end of the week. (Normally I try to milk year round, but the does seemed to have other ideas last fall and convinced me to let them play with the bucks. With barely two months before the first of the milkers is due to kid, it’s time to give them a rest.) The instructor threw things into high gear and set up the visits for Wednesday, Feb. 4 and Thursday the 5th – just two days after her initial call.

So how do you deal with 15 students and 45 minutes when you want to teach them something they’ll actually remember and use about nutrition for dairy goats? My barn is small. 15 students would fit – as long as they only need to hear and don’t see. But this is supposed to be lab time for them.

So – we devised three stations. One for milking, one for measuring goats and observing them and one for weighing and evaluating hay and concentrates. Each student was given basic information about each goat including age, milk production and ration. I feed each of my goats their concentrates on an individual basis, so they had some variety to look at.

The lab began with a brief overview of our place and a chance to see my nine-year-old doe Money, who is dry right now. We talked about how sheep and goats often have multiple births and, while a cow will produce a calf that’s less than 10% of her weight, a doe or ewe often produce kids and lambs that weigh 15-20% of the mother’s weight. That’s a large burden for any animal. While they were looking at Money, I asked them to visualize this large, mature doe and how she could hold 20+ pounds of kids and still be able to eat and breathe.

Then we divided into three groups. One group’s job was to use a weight tape and measure the heart girth of each goat to determine their weight. All the goats were tied in the corral, so the students didn’t have problems catching them. That group was also to look at the goats and write down some observations which might impact how you would feed that animal, including condition, coat, feet, etc.

The second group went with their instruction to a feed station outside the barn. I set out buckets of different concentrates, including whole oats and corn, alfalfa pellets, COB pellets, sweet feed and beet pulp, along with the sack labels, so they could see nutritional information. They also had three samples of alfalfa, which were tied in a bundle of approximately what an adult goat would consume in a day. The students weighed the alfalfa and looked at the samples, then weighed out the ration for one of the milking does, including a half pound extra of one concentrate for that doe. Each of the three does had a different concentrate added, so they could see the effect of each concentrate on milk production. Luckily, I had a listing of nutritional requirements for dairy goats at various list stages from a seminar I’d attended with our NDSU Extension Sheep/Goat Specialist. I provided a copy of that for the instructor, so she’d have accurate information from which to work out rations, etc. in future labs.

The third group came with me to the milking parlor. We talked about the structure of the udder and attachments and I did a quick demo of milking with a few squirts. Then each one of the students got to try their hand at milking. With five students per does and the does giving about a pound of milk, (Remember, I’m drying them up.) the students didn’t get much practice, but enough to say they had milked a goat. Those who had milked cows were surprised at how soft the udders were and how easy it was to produce milk. We talked about colostrum and how long it takes for a doe to reach peak production and when production will start to slow down. We also discussed how milk early in a lactation doesn’t have as much butterfat as milk later on in the lactation. Of course, we weighed each doe’s production.

Each group had ten minutes at a station, then rotated so they all got to try and see everything. I sent the group home with cheese from my dairy, so they could also say they’d had goat cheese.

As a participant, I’ve visited a lot of farms and learned something from each. This was my first chance to host a group. It was great fun, but did require some prep time, especially because the instructor hadn’t been here and we don’t know each other very well. We just forged ahead and made it happen. Next year, I’m sure we could do better. The first day the temperature was around 15 degrees and just plain chilly. The second day we had sunshine and temps in the high 20’s.

What a fun couple of days!

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The primary reason for Harner Farm to have dairy goats is to keep LeAnn from leaving the place for more than 12 hours.

I hope you laughed!

The REAL primary reason for Harner Farm to have dairy goats is to provide milk and dairy products for personal use. A secondary reason is to utilize home grown forage, including weeds and leaves, as a part of their diet whenever possible and as a supplement to a good dairy ration. Our goats should be able to live healthy, happy, and productive lives, so shelter and other facilities should work towards that goal.To find some efficiencies in the operation, we will look at the possibility for seeking milk and cheese customers as well as work towards milking all year round. This will require 4-5 milking does.

Since Harner Farm is not primarily a seedstock producer, an attempt should be made to milk for considerably longer than 12 months. With Money, Star and Penny, there should be genetics for extended lactations.

Replacement stock should be evaluated for all-round soundness and structure, health, milking ability (both quantity and butterfat) and the type of personality which fits into a small operation. While our preference is to raise our own replacement stock, the cost of such should be evaluated versus buying replacements. Breeding decisions should reflect our replacement needs, but any stock not needed for replacement should be sold as soon as feasible to allow for other use of milk.

To further our goal, for 2014, we plan the following:

Money bred to Dandy – Keep at least one doeling if one is born .- Try to keep Money in milk as long as possible to avoid problems with pregnancy and birthing.

Penny AI’d – Keep buckling to breed to Cherry and Sherri – Keep at least one doeling if available. Plan to rebreed for 2015 kids.

Star AI’d – Unless there’s something spectacular, sell the kids. – Try to milk as long as possible, perhaps even through 2015.

Cherry & Sherri – Sell their 2014 kids. – Evaluate their milking ability and, depending on condition, consider trying to milk one of them through. – Depending on how they milk and develop, consider keeping a doeling from them in 2015.

When considering participation in ADGA or other programs, we should ask ourselves, “How does this further our primary goal?” and prioritize accordingly. This puts the highest priority on milk records. In 2013, all milk was weighed by LeAnn, but getting onto DHIA should be a priority in 2014.  Linear Appraisal (LA) is another program which provides an objective evaluation of structure and should be helpful in making breeding decisions.
We recognize that we do not need registered animals to achieve our goals and running a purebred/registered herd is a personal preference that won’t necessarily contribute to the bottom line. We like purchasing from herds who routinely test for health and have production or other records, so we’ve elected to go the purebred route. That also makes it a bit easier to sell kids as 4-H projects.
While participating in shows is fun, showing does not advance our herd towards our primary goal. However, we are committed to helping increase the visibility of the goat industry in our state as well as communication between goat breeders. Shows can be a means of addressing those issues. So we’ll help out at shows and may participate in some locally.As a complement to the goat operation, pasture improvement should be considered with an emphasis on high-protein plants to supplement or replace some of the purchased alfalfa.

Most importantly – we can and should be able to enjoy working with our goats. At the point where the goats become a physical and mental burden, we need to evaluate the program and decide if the herd should be disbursed.

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Got a new website!

If you notice the dates of my posts….I certainly haven’t taken to blogging. With new goat kids to feed and garden to plant, well, I got busy and just didn’t get back to my blog.

This spring, I decided to change things up a bit and put together a simple website showing the goats and guinea hens. Now those baby goats talked about below have babies of their own.

I hope you visit me at: harnerfarm.webs.com


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Our Website

Come visit the Harner Farm website at: www.harnerfarm.webs.com

There’s lots of photos.

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Doe, doe, doe

Our second Nubian doe kidded with triplets! Unfortunately, her first kid was stillborn, but the next two came out alive and kicking. Both does, so with our first kid, that makes three lovely little doelings to add to our herd.

More importantly, they’re all good healthy babies with healthy appetites. We’re hand-raising the kids, so it’s been several days of feeding first every 2-3 hours, then 4 hours apart and now I’m down to 4 feedings a day.

Why hand raise? One, the kids bond to humans instead of their goat mamas. The first one learned to follow me almost immediately. Meanwhile, because I’m milking their mamas, I can make sure the does’ udders are healthy and free of infection or injury. Sometimes you need to pasturize the milk before feeding kids to prevent disease transmission, but we test our does for CAE, CL, Brucellosis and Johnes’ Disease. If the does are disease-free, you can feed the kids raw milk.

So now I can enjoy watching three little doelings playing in the sunshine. Somehow, that makes up for all the lost sleep.

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She’s Here!

My new baby goat arrived! Just after midnight on Friday night. I think her mama knew she was due May 6th and was just waiting until the calendar was ready.

Just a single, but a beautiful little doe.

Life is good!

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Waiting for kids

What better topic for a first post than a birth? Right now I’m patiently – well, lmost patiently – waiting for our very first Nubian goat kids. Izzy – aka Inspiration – is due tomorrow, but she’s starting to pace and just might drop them an hour or two early.

Not that I’m truly worried – more anxious. We’re trying to get into this dairy goat thing slowly – which included buying a doe in milk (Mony Lisa, aka Money) last June and a dry first freshener – Izzy – a couple of days later. We’d hoped to get them bred earlier, but one thing led to another and it was early December before the girls decided to make a date with a handsome buck named Charlie. Even then, I’m told they were very coy. Still, there’s now two very pregnant does who have spent the last few days grunting and groaning and complaining that they can’t get comfortable. I wonder if they’ll be relieved to give birth?

Oh – if you find this post interesting, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

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