Getting your girls a baby on board sticker can be a strategic pain in the butt. Though many of you may already know this info, I thought I would share our experiences. With each passing year the does need to be "freshened" in order to get their milk production back up high. This can be a real pain if you don't have your own buck. For most, it's just not cost effective to own your own breeding buck unless you plan to stud him out for a $50 date night and you know he's at top quality show standards.
In case you haven't seen a buck in "Rut," all I can say is their is a good reason the devil is depicted as a goat. Now a neutered male is total opposite. They make the best and most docile pet if that is all you want. To own a buck you can't have just one. Goats are herd animals and don't do well alone. So now you have two bucks to feed for just one breeding season a year. They also need separate housing a good distance away from you and the does because their smell can taint your does' milk if you're in the milk business. Every time we take a doe to be bred we have to feed the milk to the chickens until the smell gets out of their system or about 3 days.
When bucks are in Rut they make their own "perfume." They pee on their own faces and somehow this gets them the girls. Kinky, I know :p The smell is awful and if it gets on your hands you will smell it all day. The bucks are much like that drunk guy in the bar that creeps everyone out and dry humps your leg on the dance floor. For us, owning males just doesn't make economical, or any other, sense.
What does the whole breeding process cost you? Our first year we paid seasoned pros to do all of the steps so we could watch and learn. We now do it all ourselves to save a ton of money. First, in order for a breeder to take your does into their herd for breeding, they require your herd be CAE tested and paper work in hand. This is a good thing for both you and the breeder. Any reputable breeder knows this is important. You don't want diseases to be spread and CAE is the worst threat. This requires someone to draw blood from the jugular of each goat at a cost and then a laboratory test for each goat at a cost. Next is the stud fee of $50 per goat. Then comes more blood tests to make sure your doe is truly pregnant. There is a window to get them pregnant and if you miss it like we did in our first year, we had three does that didn't take. This means you now have does to feed for a year with no milk to pay for their keep.
Two months before birth the does require a CDT vaccine. After birth the doe then needs to be wormed. The babies will then eventually also need a CDT shot, Dis-budding at $10 to $15 per head. Then if you plan to register them, they need a tattoo in the ear or tail, money paid to the ADGA for the registration per goat. For each goat owner the costs can vary depending on what you choose to do or not to do. All the above we now do ourselves, as intimidating as it may sound. It was for us in the beginning. Having a mentor is priceless. In our experience you're lucky to recoup these costs with the sale of the baby when they are ready to be weened off mom.
Now comes the strategic pain in the butt. For the three girls that didn't get Prego last year we were able to leave them at the breeder for a month at a cost of $1 per day for each goat. This is ideal to make sure they take. However if you are in the milk business and need that milk this won't work. So instead you need to know your goats' heat signs and be willing to drop everything, load them into the horse trailer and get them to their man since the window is short. A doe goes into heat every 18 to 21 days so if you miss one window, mark the next cycle on your calender and be alert. We have had goats that took 4 trips to finally get the job done. You then need to plan for a "dry" period and hope your customers understand. Does need to stop milking 6 to 8 weeks before birth and then the baby needs the new milk, especially the colostrum, in the first week.
This year we are pretty confident all our girls are pregnant except one. I have had my eye on her for the last month thinking something just wasn't right and I didn't think she was pregnant despite two dates with the creepy dry humping bar guy. Somehow you just seem to know. We got our first blood from the jugular, drew blood and sent it off to be tested and sure enough we were right. We really need her milk since production has plummeted but we also need her to freshen and we are not sure if it's now too late in the season to have success. The other option is to just keep milking her with a lower amount of milk or let her dry off thus costing feed with no milk money return for a year.
Signs of heat can be different for each goat and once you learn the girls of your herd, you will know their differences. Some good signs are a sudden decrease in milk production, lack of appetite, increase in being vocal, excessive flagging of the tail, rubbing on other goats of the herd and the most obvious would be goo from the girly parts. Some goats can be what they call silent heat goats. Some don't show obvious signs at all. If you miss the window, be sure to mark the calendar for 18 to 21 days later and the sooner you notice the heat signs the better your chance for breeding success. Some goats won't even look pregnant all the way up till the end, while others may look like they are going to pop. Our smallest girl stayed looking small but gave birth to the biggest babies out of the whole herd last year.
There is much more I could go into including bottle feeding versus nursing, goat diets and such. Be sure to have a good birthing kit on hand and know the signs that labor is coming. Try to educate yourself in all that could go wrong. Your does and babies could be at risk just the same as complications in human births. We have had to reach in and re-position babies and had a few still births. Have a clean birthing stall stocked with all that you would need but not out of site of the herd. They get stressed by big changes.
A baby monitor is your best friend during this time as they could go into labor in the middle of the night so have your warm clothes and a plan in place to rush out the door because it can happen fast. As complicated as this all may sound, it's not always that complicated. Nothing beats the experience of holding that newborn baby and building a playful relationship with them. It's a labor of love.
The February freeze is coming and I want to share some of our tricks we learned to make the cold easier and more efficient. During this time we use deep litter methods which creates good heat by natural decomposition of the lower layers with a clean dry layer on top. I rake our dead prairie grasses with a thatch rake storing it in barrels to save money on something they are just going to poop on. We don't believe in using heat lamps due to their danger of fires and also you don't want to keep your animals too warm. Doing so creates humidity in their shelter and also makes the change going from a warm house to the outside bitter cold hard on them. You're usually better off letting them get cold and use cuddle power to stay warm but in a draft free environment. You don't want to create conditions that can cause pneumonia and certainly don't want to start a barn fire.
Should you find the need to use heat lamps and your cuddle power is low, be sure to secure heat lamps with backup wires or chains. The last thing you want is a chicken to fly into it knocking it down and obviously don't put them in reach of goats. (Red lights are good for chickens as they can't see well in that color and sleep better. White lights are good if you want to trick them into thinking the days are longer so they lay more eggs.) A timer plugged into the heat lamp that comes on early in the morning works great. You want to also keep your outside wattage low to save money and also not overload your circuit.
Another great tool in the photos below is a Thermo cube. This saves energy and is a great option should you want to use a heat lamp but not create too much heat. It turns on at 35 degrees F and off at 45 degrees F. We use a heat lamp and thermo cube in our well pit. The cold at our house can freeze the pipes, cutting off water supply and using these saves some energy and keeps the water flowing.
Pictured below: We use heated dog bowls for chicken water. The wattage is that of a light bulb and they only turn on as the temperature reaches freezing. Personally I would stay away from those expensive metal heated bases for the metal waters because they have a high failure rate. They are always breaking and the dog bowls are way cheaper. They do sell expensive heated plastic chicken waterers but for that kind of money, if the plastic breaks in the cold I would be pretty upset. A flat back rubber heated bucket works just the same and we use them for our goats. The cords are protected by a spiral wire and they can't chew up the rubber.
Also pictured below is a heated hose. This keeps your hose from freezing and is great if you have a fairly short distance to go -- however they are also a bit costly. The distance of hose we need here on the farm is 150 feet so these don't work for us. We have a covered compressor next to our outdoor outlet and blow the hose out everyday and this works great for us but it's a pain.
Heated pet mats. We use these during the cold part of our kidding season for the goats. They usually cuddle with mom but I like to give them another warm option. Goat sweaters also work great for the newborns. A good and cheap do it yourself option we use is the sleeves of sweatshirts from the thrift store. All you have to do is cut the sleeves off and make holes for their legs.
Wi-Fi Thermometers: These are a great tool if you want to monitor the outside temperature in any outside shelter from inside your home. We use these in our chicken incubators as well. They also can measure the humidity which is important while incubating eggs.
Outdoor electrical outlet covers. These are very easy to install and are great if you need to leave cords plugged in outside. They keep them dry in the wet weather. Also pictured below is a special electrical tape. I'm not quite sure what its called but we use this when we need to join two electrical cords together to be left out in the weather. The tape is not sticky at all but somehow when it's wrapped it creates a chemical reaction that makes it bond together making a water tight seal. So cool.
The dryer vent below is a great use of lost energy. We use this on our dryer in the winter. Instead of blowing the heat outside it keeps the heat inside where you want it. The only hassle of this is to keep water in the base which catches the lint so there is no mess in the air and you have extra heat in the house. This works great in Colorado where the low humidity makes my lips bleed but I wouldn't use it in a place like Florida or your walls will be dripping and mold may form.
Most importantly is to keep yourself warm outside as well. Get some nice wool socks. A good pair of Carhartts plus compression under-layers (better known as long johns) makes a huge difference. The compression clothing is just that. It's made of 100% polyester, fits tight and wicks great. Getting out of the shirt makes you look like your trying to escape a straight jacket but they are completely comfortable to wear. Under Armor is the most popular brand of this type of gear. I personally buy mine on Ebay and the brand is Go-Gear. You can get a shirt, pants, and hat all for $50, where Under Armor can cost you $50 plus, just for a shirt. For guys this is a mentally better option than the old trick of wearing panty hose. I'm neither denying or confirming I've tried this option :p
These are just some of the tricks we learned over the years. They are great products that can sometimes be overlooked but they make winter just a little easier. It seems like just as you get done prepping for the winter your then prepping again for the summer heat. Just part of the joys of farming.
One more reason to love my mason jars :) These reCAP lids are BPA-free and come in both regular and wide mouth sizes. They're perfect for my goat milk!
We like to keep our goats udders and bellies shaved for a cleaner milking experience and no hairs in the bucket. The teets however is a place you don't want to take the clippers to and we found this to work great. It won't injure or nick the nips. Milking a freshly shaved goat is so much more pleasant and you won't have those stray hairs that make the milk stream angle off and shoot you in the leg.
You can find them on Ebay for the cheapest deal. It's called the Micro Touch Max.
The extinction of the small farmer and the difficulty in raising Free Range Organic Animals
(From one small farmer’s perspective)
Ken Ulin – Lilbitfarms
I don’t want this to sound like a complaint article but I want to share with anyone looking to get into this style of farming or with those already in it. We have been building our farm for over 3 years now and one thing we found is there will always be something to fix, constant improvements to be made, and more to learn. Don’t forget the costs and hard task of marketing, farmers markets, land, quality animals and quality service. We have had complaints about our prices but we strive to bring the old farming style back without sacrificing the health of our animals, health of people, and quality service. I refuse to go the “corporate” way to save a penny for a cheaper product and take on more than we can handle, otherwise we would just be another Tyson or Monsanto which defeats the purpose.
We currently have ducks, turkeys, goats and chickens. All your work quickly becomes animal care with little time to actually make money unless you have 9 kids working the farm. Fires, droughts, and high gas prices can make you wonder if you’re going to make it. The last two years feed, and especially hay, prices have tripled. Our local feed store sells a bale of alfalfa for $15 per bale. Our goats go through a bale of hay per day and on top of that 1 lb of grain per goat, plus other care costs! Making friends in the field and learning from others' experience is essential to save major headaches. The start up costs alone will leave you at a loss for at least two years and that’s without buying all the fancy equipment and animal housing.
You really have to love and be dedicated to what you’re trying to accomplish. Our animal feed costs more than our own grocery bill and feed is only one small part of farming. But to work towards the goal of self sustainability and working for yourself can be a priceless experience. You will work harder than any other job you have ever had, though at times you will have nervous breakdowns when everything goes wrong. Your animals can sense your bad mood and will act as if they want to push your buttons but they are really just nervous if you can’t be a good actor around them. No matter how much the weather is making chores harder, smile and don’t let them know. We have one crazy sensitive goat that will kick the milk bucket or squat in it if she thinks you’re mad.
Now there are more good days than bad if you love what you’re doing but the times come around when you just need a day off. Forget about it. It's seven days a week. The animals don’t care if you're sick or needing a vacation. They depend on you to survive and your tiny bank account depends on you to market. (Farming isn't a rich person’s life by far) We moved here 4 years ago for our love of the mountains and camping. The only mountain we have seen in three years is Pikes Peak from a distance. Unless you know someone with the knowledge and willingness to come to your farm and cover for you, the only vacation may be an afternoon nap.
Now for the “meat” of raising animals, assuming you haven’t given up reading this far… one key is to know your local regulations. Chances are everything you want to do is illegal. But don’t let it discourage you from doing anything or you will always work for someone else instead of going for your dreams. Corporate lobbyists, government regulations and the FDA are the ones to thank for this. There is even an egg law on the books if you can believe that. It’s best to know ahead of time if it’s worth the effort and risk to you.
Free Range and Organic! It doesn't come without a labor intensive price. If you can still find $5 dozen free range eggs you’re lucky. You won’t get rich on eggs. Actually you’re lucky to cover your feed, cartons, housing, labor, gas and time at markets. It boils down for us as a nice perk to offer our milk customers. Unfortunately we decided to drop out of the egg business for now until improvements and efficiency can be worked out. Feed costs, time invested for care and chicken poo (as I call them, “land mines”) finally broke the camel's back.
Over the summer we hatched and sold baby chicks, raised and housed 200 laying hens, meat birds, turkeys and ducks. We processed 120 chickens just before winter and got our numbers down to a few ducks, turkeys and 80 chickens. Over the years we have watched feed prices go up and up. Now it’s the time of year that chickens molt, growing new feathers and stopping laying. Most folks don’t take that into account for summer profits when the hens are cranking the eggs out. That winter loss, topped with our only predator loss from a neighboring dog attack, scared the survivors so bad they stopped laying completely. At night, coyotes are our biggest predator but everyone gets locked up as the sun goes down. After spending hundreds and hundreds for feed and not getting any eggs we just decided to start over keeping only 25 hens.
Improvements we want to make before taking on this venture again are from lessons learned and hope to have it back up and running by the summer. We just love raising peeps from the day they were eggs. However, we are going a slightly different direction this time. Organic feed? Not always the best in my experience. We did an experiment on some of our hens over the summer. While feeding organic to the rest of our flock, we locked some hens in our breeder housing and fed them Nutrena from the local Big R store. Why did we feel the need to experiment? We started noticing our egg shells in our young flock getting thinner and thinner despite the availability of oyster shells (calcium). Our hens were also starting to look a bit sickly. Now the hens getting Nutrena with no antibiotics for a month started looking better and the egg shells doubled in thickness while the egg inside looked and tasted just as healthy. We are going naturally free range raised next time around instead of organic. Getting good and cheap organic food can be a challenge for a non profitable portion of the business.
For the small backyard flock owner some of this won’t be as big of a deal but if you plan to have a big flock, PLEASE for your own sanity make your coop mobile and away from your house if possible. One chicken produces 40 pounds of manure a year. We had 200 chickens running free. The poo math makes me nauseous. No matter how much you sweep the ground and watch your step you will hit a land mine. I call it the chicken shuffle trying to drag your feet to get as much of it out of the tread of your shoes as possible. I clean the coops and sweep the surrounding area daily. I spent more time on birds than I did caring for the goats needs. Milking, feeding and mucking the goat barn went way quicker. Plus chickens can get everywhere and anywhere and then they want to turd on your hard work. Gardens are very hard to keep them out of and they love to dig holes. If you net a garden bed they will get stuck in it. We recently ran across some mobile home axles with wheels and plan to make mobile coops with wire bottoms for the summer and a board we can scrape off in the winter making cleaning simple. The mobile coops will hook up to my tractor and can be moved daily to fertilize the field and since chickens stay close to their coops we can move them out into the field away from the house maintaining their free range humane way of life and poop free shoes.
A few more problems we observed with free range hens. They are very susceptible to pests from other wild animals running around. To treat that many birds one by one can be a daunting chore. You quickly have to become a wide receiver with a blocker helping you catch them out of the air for some breeds. Leghorns are the worst to catch and are not personable at all. On occasions you have to play detective as well, looking for any possible egg laying sites outside of the multiple nest boxes you built. Of course when you find the secret treasure stash in the field somewhere, you can’t use the eggs since you do not know how long they've been there. When you hatch new babies and raise them to the age to introduce to the older flock all you will hear is yelping chickens all day long while the older ones bully them around (not hurting them though.) This goes on until the young-lings are fully grown. The nice thing about chickens is that they will put themselves to bed as the sun is going down. The bad thing is if you know bad weather is coming there is no rounding them up early… It’s impossible. In the winter it’s no big deal when the sun goes down around 4-5 and then you can enjoy the rest of your night. In the summer however, when the sun doesn’t go down till 8 pm, you don’t go to bed until they do.
I went on so long and could keep going because there is so much to the farm life but then I would have a book, so I will keep the next animals a bit shorter... but I can't make any promises :p
Ducks: Unbelievably cute. Grow faster than the Harry Potter movies. Their poo is way more and worse than chickens. I know I mention poo a lot but I have come to the understanding that I’m now a turd herder by profession. Ducks like to take a swim and dirty up the chicken’s water all the time even though they have their own pond that gets cleaned daily. They do not go to bed by themselves. They have to be led to bed nightly. (Once again a reason for no vacations) But they are extremely cold hardy and the eggs are great for baking.
Turkeys: This was our first year owning turkeys. My only problem with turkeys is they are more time consuming to process and they too won’t go to bed when night falls. It’s not fun to carry 30 plus pound birds across they yard every night. They are so friendly it’s unbelievable. At least the ones we had and still have.
Goats: They are such a great versatile animal for so many products but this comes at a price. Fencing and housing can be a lot of work. Besides you don’t want a 150 pound animal jumping all over your new car or chewing the siding off the side of your house. They will stay at your house if they get out but then it’s party time for them like a heavy metal party smashing stuff and laughing only to give you puppy dog eyes when you catch them. Luckily fencing doesn't have to be high. They don’t seem to want to jump even though they can. We also have 3 strand electrified pastures to rotate them on and once they get shocked once or twice they never try again. Goats also have to be tucked into their stalls nightly. We also have to milk daily twice a day no matter the weather. Keeping them in milk takes multiple trips to the breeder when each go in heat. That breeding window is small so we drop everything and get the horse trailer hooked up. Watching a male buck do his thing is not one of my favorite days and the doe smells for days after from his stink. The girls are truly fun animals though. Smelly at times and a little more complicated but catching that baby goat during birth is such a surreal moment. When things go bad in birth you never know what’s going to happen and a bit of panic kicks in. For us they are like the family dog and we always fear some day we will face a loss due to complications. There is a learning curve on all animals but more so the goats for us. If you plan to register them you need to know how the ADGA works and tattoo them in the ear or tail with your registered farm name. There are vaccinations, blood draws for CDT and CAE testing but dis-budding is by far the worst -- burning their horns off at only a few weeks old. They scream and it smells but it’s for their best. We had two goats with horns and goats like to head butt to play. Horns cause injuries and they also get their heads stuck in fences.
All this can be discouraging but not enough to quit. While it has its ups and downs, we feel a great sense of pride in the hard work and the appreciation we get from our wonderful customers. Just remember, your local farmer is trying to make food that you want and not what King Soopers wants. We feel healthier ourselves eating real food with no chemicals plus it tastes so much better, rather than making food in mass quantity and then treating it to make it “safe.” I don’t believe chemicals are safe...
We need more farmers! Good ones that is. Harnesses whatever interests you and just go with it or you will never know what could have been. There is always competition but quality and happy customers will make you happy, successful and stand out from others. This wasn’t meant to discourage but to help anyone new from making the same mistakes and also share some learned knowledge. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the mistakes. Just come back stronger.
Thank you and best wishes.
Ken - Lilbitfarms.com
The popularity of natural handcrafted soaps is on the rise, particularly ones that offer therapeutic properties such as goat milk soap made with pure essential oils, no animal tallow and herbs/spices picked right from the garden. As many who suffer from sensitive skin realize how many of the harsh skin care products on the market today not only effect their skin condition, but overall well being. This has many making the switch to natural products. Goat milk soap is just one of several types of natural soaps one can choose from. You may be thinking why you would put something that comes out of a farm animal all over your body. Goat’s milk has amazing benefits for your skin; in fact it is well known in the skincare industry that Cleopatra who was known for her amazing skin would soak her entire body in goat’s milk bathes. Here are the top ten benefits of goat milk soap.Goat milk soap-top ten benefits
1. Has recently been proven to effectively treat acne.
2. Goat milk soap is less allergenic than synthetically loaded commercial soaps and detergents.
3. It is known that goat milk can reduce skin inflammation, and soothes dry and damaged skin.
4. Can reduce wrinkles and delay signs of skin aging.
5. Goat’s milk soap has alpha-hydroxy acids that soften the skin by breaking down the glue that holds dead skin cells together.
6. The famous Cleopatra known for her beauty and amazing skin, biggest skin care secret revealed was bathing in goat’s milk.
7. Goat’s milk has the closest PH level to our skin. This helps protect our skin from invading bacteria and chemicals.
8. Loaded with essential nutrients and vitamins like vitamin C, B1, B6, B12, and E.
9. Goat’s milk soaps are free from harmful chemical and a very mild soap bar safe to use for all skin conditions.
10. Goat milk consists of natural emollients and triglycerides that act as natural moisturizer.
These top ten benefits of goat milk soap are only a few of the many wonderful benefits goat milk has to offer. Not only does goat milk offer so many great benefits to our skin, but drinking goat milk is extremely healthy as well. I personally enjoy the taste of goat milk and think that it’s a mental issue for most folks trying it for the first time. I could be wrong everyone’s taste buds are different; however I think it taste like milk- “healthier milk”, which this could lead into a whole other topic, goat’s milk vs. cow milk. You should Google this I think you will be amazed learning of all the other great health benefits goat milk has to offer.
Our prize girl Star has had her babies and they are up for sale. They were born on Fathers Day June 11th so they won't be ready to go until August 15th at the earliest since they still need mom's milk but they can be reserved in advance with a deposit. She had a baby boy "Ricky Bobby" and a girl "Lucy." They will both be registered, tattooed, and have their CDT vaccination. They have also been dis-budded. Our herd is tested CAE free. Ricky Bobby is going to make a great breed quality buck so he will be left intact. Star milks over a gallon per day. You can see the size of her udder in one of the photos and it was taken mid day after the morning milking. She's crazy huge in the mornings. Star's registered name is Nitro and her lineage can be seen here. She's from the well known "Bo Jangles." The father "Harry" is also from top lines out of Dewmar Acres and his lineage can be seen here. They are going to make great additions to a new herd. We just don't have the room too keep all the babies. We wish we could. Please visit our Farm Store Page to reserve.
Things have been crazy round the farm. Only 2 days after my boy getting out of the hospital for his spine fusion, Star went into labor while more baby chicks were also popping out of the incubator. My boy still has a ways to go on recovery but he is doing good. I'm so grateful that my Father and his wife drove in from D.C. to help us through it all. He is one of those guys that can build an entire house and it just so happened that our back deck fell off the house while sitting on it as well. What are the chances? We made a trip to pick up the lumber to rebuild it and pick up 20 freedom ranger meat birds we are now raising also. They helped us out so much and I'm so happy that they both had the timing to see our newest babies born and be there for Diana on the farm and my boy in the hospital. We had a lot of family support and even the neighbor girl was here to help with the animals.
Star had a baby boy and girl. I just couldn't resist and named the boy Ricky Bobby. He came out the chute at full throttle and hit the wall Talladega Nights style. Star was wasting no time. It was the fastest birth we seen yet. We are going to offer up the boy for sale in tact as a breeding buck since the babies blood lines are such high quality. We haven't decided just yet but the girl might be staying on the farm. They are absolutely adorable and star is a good mom. She really needed to get it over with. That girl got so huge and started making milk 2 weeks prior. Her milk production is insane.
I can't take credit for this since I saw it on the internet but thought I would share for any goat owners that want to make feeding an easier daily task. What we like to do is give a flake of pure Alfalfa per goat in the mornings then after the grain feeding they get to run free and eat pasture grass. This feeder is also in the middle of their fenced yard (this yard is for the times we have to leave and they can't escape)
The huge bale in the cage is 1,000 pounds of grass, alfalfa mix so moving it can be a challenge. I pounded a T-post through the middle of both sides and used my tractor to drag it into the yard. I then enclosed it with metal Cattle Panels that the goats can fit their heads through to eat and still have minimal amount of waste. it's so nice having this. Their is nothing worse than having to fill feeders in the hurricane force winds impaling your eyes with hay stems. And it minimizes the knuckle head goats from fighting over feeder space.
P.s. The hay is much greener than in the photos. Diana is the master of the camera settings .. I just know how to make it click.