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!