It’s 21 degrees this morning at the farm (Monday early morning). The clouds are hanging low and frost covers our farm. I am sitting by our wood cook stove warming, along with our new little critter, Princess Nicketti, whom our daughter has renamed “Lil Bean”. She is one of our newborn Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat babies. She is getting bottle fed now.
This year Lil Bean’s mom’s milk didn’t come in at the time of her birth. The milk is starting to come now so we do bring Lil Bean out to her mom to milk during the day. However, the contrast in temperatures between inside our house and outside at the barn are too extreme to keep Lil Bean in the barn full time.
Since we are now bottle feeding about five times a day, on Sunday (yesterday) we watched church via computer versus heading into town and sat by the fire, watched the sermon and bottle fed.
Mike has been a trooper with the little one. He says, “why don’t you just make a little diaper for her.” LOL. That is a pretty good idea really. I think I’ll figure that one out later today.
Our daughter Laura came over after our sermon so that I could go outside to the livestock barn and administer shots for our new mamas and their baby goats that were born on Saturday. We dewormed the two does and also gave the mamas and the babies a BOSE shot (which is trace mineral selenium and vitamin E.)
Later we all watched the football games with the little critter in tow.
I have been raising goats for seventeen years now. Wow, has it been that long? Goodness gracious.
My biggest take aways for having healthy lambs and kids are as follows:
- Have birthing pens ready and prepared. We have special birthing bays that the mamas (both does and ewes) can be taken into adjacent to the larger lambing and kidding pens so that the mamas can have quiet time and nurturing time in private with their newborns. We also wrap these little pens in moving blankets so they are draft free and warmer though the barn itself isn’t heated. On top of the pens we store our extra wool and fiber that needs to be cleaned and processed. So, their mini roof is really a five foot deep layer of wool. That does a great job as a heat insulator. And it is a great place to store my wool and fiber.
- Separate the ewes and does from the bucks and rams. I have had all our animals together in the past so it is okay if you do that. However, as your herd grows, there is more stress in the bigger stalls with a bunch of animals around. The biggest reason for me to also separate them is so that the does can get their own adequate supply of grain upon birthing. They really need that protein and diet boost that grain and supplements give after giving birth to enable the greatest and best supply of milk production.
- Continually be monitoring the barn for new borns. Besides being in the livestock barn twice a day doing feeding and stall maintenance, we are in the barn at least three to five more times a day checking for new borns and for any issues. One example of what could have been a serious issue yesterday was our 24 hour old buckling had impacted stool. That means that his early sticky poop got stuck on his behind and it hardened. Then, follow on poop can’t get out and builds up inside of him. This is dangerous and can kill them. This happens to baby chicks too. So, we quickly, upon noticing this, got an udder rub cream (you can use vasoline too) to soften the stool and have it slide from the hair, and cleaned up his exterior behind. There was still stool inside you could see, so we softly pressed our fingers to push the stool out and it came out easily. He will now require constant monitoring to assure this does not happen again. But, he busily went to jumping and kicking his hind feet in the air so that was a big relief for him you could see.
- Work from a “preventative” health position versus an “acute care” position when raising your livestock. Many livestock producers like to skip the prevention portion of animal care. I guess this may be tied to a view that the livestock is a “commodity”. I am really not sure why. Maybe the work and cost is a barrier. However, here at our farm we subscribe to an organic philosophy and therefore believe healthy from the get go delivers better return later on. So, we use a great deal of natural supplementation to assure healthy animals so that when lambing and kidding season starts there aren’t major tragedies that unfold due to poor health and nutrition. Things like diatomaceous earth, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, minerals, selenium, etc. are all valuable health tools in the tool kit for an organic farm.
- Have good fencing when lambs and kids go outside. As per the above bullet point, our animals are very healthy and therefore we experience very low mortality on our farm from health issues. In fact, our fiber mill was commenting on how amazing our wool is as compared to other Navajo Churro fleeces they’ve seen. We discussed this and concluded the amazing wool was due to good nutrition (organic non GMO grain) and also very low stress for our sheep flock. However, what does cause the highest mortality on our farm is neighborhood dogs. Yes, you heard that right. While all our whole farm is fenced, on occasion we have dogs that roam around these parts literally dig under our fences and chase down and kill our sheep and lambs. They will literally chase down until the sheep can’t run anymore, the animal until it dies. This is a terrible thing. We check our fences constantly. We even have game cams up to identify the dogs. Being very protective of your young as they are developing requires really good fence.
Those are the biggest learnings we’ve had as small farmers in terms of healthy happy herds. We hope they are helpful for those of you that are considering farming for you and your family. These thoughts can help shape how you configure your infrastructure and tend to the animal husbandry side of your farm life.
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