Seldom Herd RTW Aurora (Joey)

The below is a draft post I started months ago. Then Joey unexpectedly died – leaving me with three week old twin kids to bottle raise. I consider myself pragmatic when it comes to the livestock – while I believe I owe all my animals food, water, shelter and try to accommodate behaviors natural to each species; i.e. free range, pasture, browse, etc. – I don’t believe livestock are “pets” the way I consider my working dogs (or even my horse) to be. However, losing Joey left a hole that may never be completely filled.

Why a Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat

Years ago, before I moved to the farm, I had a little more free time and took up spinning and weaving. I was renting at the time in a rural location so then the obvious next step was to obtain animals that would provide the raw fleeces. I found some colored Angora goats that were also a good weed control measure and kept those for a couple of years until the shearer I used decided to retire. After I moved to the farm I needed some serious brush clearing but didn’t have the time to deal with shearing myself and could not find anyone local to shear so I opted to buy some grade goats that were various types of dairy goat crosses. Most of these were crossed with Boer goats (a South African meat goat). A year or two later I bought some Navajo Angora goats with the intent of returning to spinning and weaving. A few seasons of sometimes being able to find a shearer and sometimes having to do my own shearing, combined with not having sufficient time to actually process the fleeces convinced me that fiber animals really were not in my future. I had been toying with the idea of soap making and decided that perhaps a dairy goat would be a better choice. I had already replaced the grade goats that I had not lost to predators or accidents with Katahdin sheep so started researching dairy breeds.

I had a list of things I that were important to me and some that weren’t. I had tried goat milk products, primarily yogurt and cheese, in the past and found the taste to be “goaty” and unpleasant so I wasn’t planning on utilizing the milk other than for making soap. Therefore, the amount of milk was not as important to me as other criteria. High on the list though was that the goat was easy to handle. I had had my fill of goats that had to be caught and physically restrained to do any husbandry and wasn’t interested in having to do that twice a day over the long haul.

While I was still in the consideration phase, I happened on an ad on Craigslist for a couple of Nigerian Dwarf does in milk. In speaking with the seller, I discovered she wasn’t the type of poster I’ve come to expect from Craigslist, but someone with a lot of experience in dairy goats who actually had a planned breeding program. I explained that while I had previous experience with goats, I had never owned a dairy goat before and didn’t know how to milk. After asking which of the two does she had for sale would be best for a novice (and whether she would teach me how to milk) I made arrangements to visit her place. I showed up at milking time in the evening. Christine hand milked up to twenty does twice a day and was downsizing, hence the does for sale. She brought out Joey who hopped right up on the stand and proceeded to give me a lesson in milking. An hour later she finished stripping out Joey for me (I’m a slow learner) and we discussed her breeding Joey to one of her champion bucks before I picked Joey up the following weekend. Joey wasn’t the most attractive little Nigerian, but she made up for her appearance in all the ways that counted with me.

Shortly after bringing Joey home I decided to try a taste of her milk. I wasn’t expecting to like it and was surprised to find that there was no goaty flavor at all – it was sweet and creamy and the best milk I had ever had. I have always been a huge fan of milk (well, except for a few years after I spent time in Vermont and had occasion to visit several dairy farms) but haven’t bought or drunk cow’s milk since I first got a dairy goat.

Joey could cop an attitude with the other animals on the farm. She terrorized my dogs – even my working dog avoided her whenever possible. When I bought a second dairy goat, Joey made it absolutely clear that Joey was going to be the top goat. (Funnily, according to Christine, Joey was a very quiet doe that stayed out of trouble in her herd.) On the milkstand though, one couldn’t ask for a better goat. When let out of the pen, she would run up to the milk stand and immediately jump up. When I first started milking it could take me up to an hour to milk Joey out and she would stand there quietly and patiently the entire time.

I milked Joey for three months and then dried her off two months before she was expected to kid out.

Drying her off was not easy. Even when I was only milking her every three days, Joey would still be giving me a 2 lbs of milk. Joey kidded without assistance, giving me two little doelings, and within a couple of weeks was back to giving me 2 lbs a day in addition to nursing her two kids.

Since I wanted milk and not necessarily goat kids, I decided to wait on breeding Joey again until she started to slow down on her milk production. As it turned out, I bred her again about 17 months after she had kidded and that was because I had to go out of town and had to leave her with her former owner where she could be milked. She milked out for me for another three months and then we had the long process of trying to get her dried off again before her next kidding.

In December 2013 Joey kidded twin doelings (Nutmeg and Spice). I didn’t rebreed her until February of 2015 so she stayed in milk from December 2013 until I dried her off the end of May 2015, producing on average about 2 lbs of milk on a once a day milking schedule. Her high was just shy of 4 lbs of milk.

Addendum

Joey had twins again in July 2015 – the buckling was enormous and for the first time I had to pull a kid. When I had run back into the house to clean up and get fresh towels, Joey delivered a second kid – a little doeling. I kept a close eye on Joey following her kidding. She was eating and drinking normally and did not have any discharge. In other words, she was showing absolutely no signs that anything was wrong – until I went out one Saturday morning three weeks later and found her dead.

Joey was an exceptional dairy goat. The problem with starting at the top, is the only direction you have to go is down. I retained Spice and Nutmeg as well as Joey’s last doeling, Chai, and am hoping that the genetics that made Joey such a wonderful milker have passed down to her daughters. Time will tell. But Joey will remain the standard by which all my future goats will be judged.

Seldom Herd Aurora (Joey)

Seldom Herd Aurora (Joey)

Joey with Nutmeg and Spice (December 2013)

Joey with Nutmeg and Spice (December 2013)

Second Addendum:

Nutmeg kidded out last July, just a few days before Joey’s last kidding, and gave me twins. I retained the doeling, Thyme, who is now in the milk rotation herself. I dried off Nutmeg the end of July as she is due again the end of September. Nutmeg, as a first freshener, gave me, on average a little over 1.5 lbs per day during her first lactation (milking once a day most of that time).

Spice kidded out for me for the first time this past spring. Spice not only looks like her dam, but it appears inherited her phenomenal milk production. Spice, as a first freshener, is consistently giving me over 3 lbs a day, on a twice a day milking schedule, and has on a couple of occasions given me 4 lbs.

Quibeyn Spice

Quibeyn Spice

I just weaned Ash, Chai’s kid, this week. Chai, as a first freshener who snuck into the buck pen and got herself bred much earlier than I would have bred her, is on the small side but still giving me an average of 2 lbs of milk a day since I started milking her twice a day.

So far it appears I’m on the right track and that Joey did indeed pass along some very nice milk genes.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Last summer I missed the narrow window to paste horn buds so in the fall I tried banding horns. Unfortunately, I didn’t band low enough on every goat, and as the horn grew the band ended up closer to the tip so I only lost tips on some horns. On other horns the bands broke and I didn’t replace them so the horns remained.

Here is Thyme, one of last summer’s kids, with one horn that lost the tip and the other horn intact.

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This photo was taken June 28 of this year right after I rebanded her.

In the past few days I noticed that one horn was getting loose. It it important when banding not to pull on or try to remove a horn but to let it fall off on its own so I took special care when putting her on the milk stand not to bump her horns on the head gate.

This morning though, she stuck her head through the fence near a corner and then through the second cattle panel. There is no way to dislodge a stuck goat without handling the horns and I started with the “non-loose” horn. I had just put my hand on the horn when I heard a loud crack and the horn came off in my hand. Since it didn’t fall off on its own, the blood supply was still active. Luckily I didn’t get an arterial spurt as much as just a welling up of blood. This, of course, freaked out Thyme and she pulled back. Since she was still stuck in the fence, all she did was hit her other horn which also popped off. Thyme was able to pull out of the fence then – no pesky horns – and I had to go catch her to see how bad the bleeding was and treat it.

Here she is with blood running down her face.

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And here are both the horns – detached at the base very neatly.

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I’ve gone ahead and purchased a disbudding iron but since the first one came damaged, I have three kids that I’ll need to band in a few weeks. I had rebanded Chai at the same time so expect her horns to fall off in the next week or two. Garfunkel, who I banded after the paste didn’t work, lost one horn a couple of weeks ago and broke the other band so I’ll reband him when I do the other kids. Banding is a slower process but does work if you are able to replace any broken bands and make sure you get the bands placed properly to start off.

Summer Fun

A co-worker gave me some watermelon for the hogs last week. I forgot to bring it home so the next day I asked if it could be put in the freezer until today. I stopped at the pasture on my way down the drive to deliver the treat.

Winnipig

Winnipig

Its all mine!

Winnipeg

Hamlock

Where’s mine?

The smaller three (Bok Choy, Hoggle, Hamlet) are better at sharing

The smaller three (Bok Choy, Hoggle, Hamlet) are better at sharing

Camouflage

When I got home this evening, I saw a lizard on a rock which resides on the top of a gate post. By the time I got my phone camera up and running, it had disappeared. I went ahead and opened the gate and then looked over . . . .

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New Housing

Finally, the new shelter for the hogs is finished. The automatic waterer was moved so it is inside the shelter and the shelter was divided into two sections – with a hog nipple accessible from each side.

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Another hog panel divides the area behind the shelter and each section is set up with a drip for a wallow. Once the pasture gets fenced in “spokes” I’ll be able to rotate hogs in different sections of the pasture and will have the ability to keep hogs separated if needed.

Bok Choy is the pig in front and Hoggle is the smaller hog. Here is a close up of Hoggle.

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Quibeyn Chai

Chai is the last doeling out of Joey. My intention had been to breed her in June this year, but she, like Thyme, had other plans. Chai kidded out on June 21 with a single buckling. Last night I separated the two and put Ash in with Garfunkel, Thyme’s buckling, and left Chai in the doe pen. This morning I put Chai on the milk stand for the first time. She needed a little assist to get on the stand, but once on it she stood quietly and let me milk her.

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Chai is small but her teats are a decent size and she was easy to milk out. She gave me a very respectable 1 lb .03 oz on her first milking.

And More Milk

I was expecting Nougat to kid last week, but she showed no signs of pending labor. The past few days she wasn’t eating with her usual enthusiasm but I attributed that to her size (enormously huge) and the fact that she didn’t appear to have a lot of room for food. I bought her as a first freshener in January 2014. She had given her previous owner triplets – all doelings. In May 2014 she gave me triplets – also all doelings. Given her past history and her size, I was sure she was going to have at least triplets again this year, and I was hoping for doelings.

Just before 5 pm today I went out and found her cleaning a kid off. I went back in to finish a job and came back out about 15 minutes later to find her cleaning off a second kid. Chai and her buckling got turned out of the lambing jugs, as did Garfunkel, and I cleaned out the lambing jugs. Chai and Ash were rounded up and put in the doe pen and Garfunkel (who had latched on to his mom for a quick meal) was caught and put back in one section of the lambing jugs. I then moved Nougat and her two kids into the other section of the jugs. I weighed both – the first-born was a male, just over 5 lbs, and the second was also male, and just under 6 lbs. Try as I might, Nougat was still so huge I couldn’t get my arms around her to “bounce” her to see if she had another kid inside. I made a quick run into town and checked on Nougat when I got back. . . still only the two kids and no signs of distress so I’m assuming that despite her huge size, two is all she’s going to give me this year.

Nougat and her two bucklings - Smoke and Spark.

Nougat and her two bucklings – Smoke and Spark.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention (or Experimentation)

It is incredibly hot here . . . we don’t normally get a lot of days over 100 and have already had more in June than we usually have all summer. So because I had an extra day this weekend, and really wanted to make soap, I used a method I had not tried before. Previously I have only made soap using the Cold Process method but turning the stove on to heat and melt oils had no appeal. All of my soaps use Coconut Oil and most also use Shea Butter, both of which are solids under most circumstances. The Coconut Oil I use is solid up to 76 degrees and since room temperature in my house has been running in the high 80s the Coconut Oil is currently a liquid, but the Shea Butter while softened, was still a solid. As with most things, there is a learning curve with the Room Temperature method of making soap so the first batch – a shampoo bar using beer – didn’t turn out as well as it could have.

Shampoo Bar with beer and spearmint/eucalyptus essential oils

Shampoo Bar with beer and spearmint/eucalyptus essential oils

The second batch of soap – lavender and oatmeal using goat milk turned out much better.

Lavender and oatmeal goat milk soap

Lavender and oatmeal goat milk soap

And Life Goes On

I weaned Thyme’s and Spice’s kids about a week ago so now am milking twice a day to develop their udders as both are first fresheners. Thyme is giving me a respectable amount of milk, especially given her age and that she only had a single kid. Spice is exceeding my expectations for a first freshener and I have hope that she will be as good a milker as her dam. Chai will go on the milk stand for the first time in the next few days. She is still nursing her kid so I’m not expecting a lot. I’m drying off Nutmeg. She should be bred and if so, will be due the end of September. I could keep her milking for another month, but she has been in milk for over 11 months now and I have plenty of milk (more than enough) so taking her out of the milk schedule makes my life a little easier.

A short while ago I put Thyme up for sale as well as the three weaned kids. A couple of days ago, Spice’s twins went off to their new home.

Looking pretty pleased with their new digs

Looking pretty pleased with their new digs