Tag Archives: goats

the end of a chapter, good-bye goats and chicken

On Sunday, a gal who last year bought one of our goat babies, took our whole herd of four goatie girls home to her  farm an hour southwest of here.  We helped load the girls into the truck, waved goodbye, and then Sophie and I went inside and curled up on the sofa and cried.  It was a really hard decision, one we talked about for more than six months.  One of the reasons I chose this gal to take them was that she was happy to take them all together—two mama and baby pairs, the two babies having never left our place, never been away from their families—I was glad, when they were shaking in anxiety in the horse trailer, that they were standing together, pressed close, not alone and separated.  But still, yesterday and today I have felt both relieved and terribly sad.

Sophie was two when we first got Lucy and Fancy.  Lucy was only eight weeks old.  I would put Luc, barely walking, on my back and three of us would take our goats on walks through the forest every day.  Over the next five years we mid-wived goat births, played with goat babies, learned to milk them, plus how to make different kinds of yoghurt and cheeses.  When Luc got old enough he and Sophie would spend hours out in the goat yard playing with our growing herd, and since we stayed home a lot in those days, it was wonderful to have this source of fun and adventure right here in our yard.

The last year or so, however, more and more it has been me going out to feed and milk, as Sophie and Luc have grown into other interests.  It isn’t that I wanted my kids to do more of the work—I enjoyed the work of it, exercise that benefited other creatures, plus being outside early in the quiet mornings, I liked all that, the smell and sounds of the barn—but taking care of the goats was becoming something I did away from my kids, instead of something I did with them.  That wasn’t what I wanted.  And although we all loved them, the kids want to go into town and play with friends more and more, rather than stay here at home, not to mention traveling, something I’ve never been comfortable doing with lactating goats.  “Goats” was becoming an item on the incredibly crowded to-do list.  But Fancy, Lucy, Emma, and Sally are people, not to-do list items!

So we talked about letting them move on, about our priorities, about what was best for them, for us, for Sophie, for Luc, for me.  And we talked about it some more.  And some more.  And finally it seemed like it was time.

I went and sat in the barn on the empty milking-stand yesterday.  There were still whirls in the straw on the ground where they had made their beds their last night there.  But they’ve gone to a family with six children, horses, other goats, and dogs, a farm with pastures and barns, to a gal who grew up with goats and is comfortable with them, calling them “her babies.”  I think they’ll be fine.  I think I’ll be fine.  But I miss them.

In the same week we sent our last chicken, Whitey, to live with my Aunt and her chickens.  Whitey was our last chicken left standing, and it didn’t seem right to be a chicken on her own.  Chickens want other chickens around, and we didn’t want to get more chicks.  Sophie and I don’t eat eggs anymore and Luc increasingly won’t.  Not to mention that Henry wants to chase them….

So our little micro-farm has been disbanded.  For now anyway.

It’s so weird not to go out and milk goats in the morning!  Weird not to be worrying about them on cold nights, or timing my day around when I have to be at the barn. Weird not to hear animal sounds from the barn out there.  It’s so quiet!

All things pass.  What will be our next adventure?  Maybe bees again this spring.  And maybe a few beds of greens….

Or maybe something else entirely.

goat kids, tandem nursing, and tmi

Fancy, our currently lactating goat, still, still, nurses Sally, her daughter.  Sally is over a year old and is bigger than Fancy, but she still gets down on her knees to get to the Golden Udder of Mama-Goat Goodness, several times a day.  Fancy is about the sweetest goat ever.  I’m starting to think she will never wean Ms. Sally.  Maybe when she has more kids (which we wouldn’t keep this time) she’ll finally put her hoof down and say no to Sally.  Because, you know, I want Fancy’s milk all for myself.

Of course, when I had a second kid, I didn’t stop nursing the first one, so maybe I’m wrong.  Sophie was only eleven months old when I came up—surprise!—preggo with Luc.  Not even a year old, she was way too tiny a little girl to tell her she couldn’t mim anymore (her word).  So, despite SHOOTING PAIN, ahem, I nursed Sophie all the way through pregnancy.  And just when she was starting to wean (because really, that pregnancy milk was probably salty and thin) the new baby milk came in, thick and rich, and she latched onto that stuff like drunk to a bottle of bourbon, growing round and chubby on the fat of it.

Too much information?  How about this—I tandem nursed (that’s what nursing two babies is called these days, like tandem sky diving, only scarier) the two of them for years.  O. M. G.  I look back on this with equal parts wonder and horror.  Here’s the thing.  Hormonally—and I’m convinced it’s hormonal because the feeling was so alien, sudden, and bizarre—when a new baby comes along, nursing the old baby starts to make your skin crawl with this, this profound revulsion.  I’m not exaggerating.  (And it isn’t true for every mama, of course, but it’s totally common, I learned.)  Wtf, right?  Here was my beloved daughter, still tiny, but when she latched on, my body wanted to kick her off with violence and disgust.

Isn’t that weird?  I thought it was weird.  I mean, I also felt sweetness and connection and togetherness, all those lovely nursing emotions, and at the same time I wanted to run screaming from the room.

What’s weirder, perhaps, is that I hung in there and nursed them both, for years.  This is like the Navy Seals of breastfeeding.  But they just loved it so much!  When you have something so there, and free, and accessible, that makes your kiddo feel all happy, and safe, and connected, and loved…well, I wanted to give it to them.  So I did.

And this: an acquaintance of mine lost her eight year old daughter to leukemia around that time.  It was terrible. Shocking and horrible and it changed my life. And I remember her saying, of the many amazing things she said afterwards, that she had thought about weaning her daughter around two, but her daughter really hadn’t wanted to wean yet, and so they had continued on until her daughter weaned herself at four.  So at eight, burying that same daughter, my friend said she was so glad she had nursed her girl for as long as she had because instead of adversarial interactions over nursing to remember, she had another two whole years of sweet memories of the two of them together.  And when her daughter weaned herself, it was effortless and friendly, another positive memory.  My friend only had eight years with her daughter.  But having generously given to her, my friend had the opposite of a regret.  What is that, a gratefulness?

Live with your children so you don’t have any regrets!  I want to shout this like a call to revolution.  Because, jesus, what if I lose my children young?  I can’t even begin to let myself imagine it—the rejection of that thought is more profound than the tandem nursing revulsion thing, by a factor of 100.  But it could happen. Which makes me want to be as generous as I possibly can, while I can.  ( I fail way too often.)

Why do we wait until our children are dying to given them what their heart’s desire?  I’m thinking of that whole “make a wish foundation” thing.  Not that wishes are bad, but why wait for death?  Why not be generous now?

When Luc nursed for the last time, he patted my breast, said, “Thank you, Mommy,” and ran off.  That was it.  He was done.

It’s probably absurdly anthropomorphic to project all of this onto Fancy, who will not wean her daughter. Goats are goats, not humans.  They think nothing of trampling the bottom-goat, have no compassion for weakness amongst their peers, and regularly ram each other for fun.  But Sally, being bottom-goat in our herd, always has to wait to eat, standing at a distance until Lucy, top-goat, deigns to let her in to get some hay.  Being human, I sneak Sally treats on the side. Maybe Fancy feels the same?

Fancy and Sally sleep with their necks intertwined. And when Sally gets whammed by Emmie, who is one goat up in the herd from Sally, Sally sidles over to Fancy, kneels her great big goatie self down beside her mama, and gets a drink of milk.  It seems an act of generosity from Fancy, who will also still stand between rampaging Lucy and little Sally, and bleat Lucy off, butting heads with Lucy to protect Sally who is bigger than Fancy is.

But it’s my milk that Sally is getting!  I want to make yogurt with that milk!

Maybe I’m the kid who, to Fancy, will not wean?

to goat or not to goat

I’m considering selling the goats.  I know, I know, it’s a tragedy.  I love my goats!  I adore the fresh milk, and, oddly, I enjoy the work of going out to the barn and feeding them, milking them, taking care of them…  They are so sweet and fun, if stubborn and absurd, but still, I really enjoy it.  So why am I thinking of selling them?

Well, it’s energy maybe I ought to use elsewhere.  I mean, there are tons of things I would enjoy doing, but I only have so much time, so I have to pick the most important items, right?  And maybe the hour+ of goat time a day, and the money for feed, maybe those would be better spent on something I care about even more. Maybe it’s time to prune my to do list of all but the top, most wonderful-est items.  Maybe keeping goats is a hobby I’m ready to let go of.

[Bottom lip sticking out] But I love my goats!

Okay, aside from the delicious milk, one of the reasons we got goats was as something cool for the kids to be a part of.  Which they have, especially Sophie, especially around the birthing of kids.  That has been great.  But, as with all things, goats are kind of old hat now.  Yesterday’s news.  Sophie still comes out to help take care of them sometimes, but not that often (true, it’s been cold lately).  Which is not to say that either Sophie or Luc might become re-ignited in their goatie interest.  Especially around kidding season.  But still, that only lasts a couple of months, and the rest of the year, they’re not that into it.  As an unschooling project, it might be done.

Also, with no goats, it would be a lot easier to go on trips, and now that Sophie and Luc are older, trips start to look more doable….

Jeez, I just don’t know.  I’d want my sweet goats to go somewhere good, preferably together, or at least the mommas and daughters staying together.  It seems so cruel to upset their goatie lives so profoundly just because of my convenience or loss of interest!

And my god the milk is so wonderful.  It would be sad to let that go.

But it might not be enough of a reason to keep them.

Arg!  I’m so conflicted!

the worst part of having goats

…is selling the babies.  That’s right, today is the day.  Little Sam is moving on to his new family, in this case, a human family with eight (!!!) kids and a goat family of other minis and a few full size Nubians.  He’s going to get to keep his privates intact and be a daddy goat to some new minis—go Sam, go!  In dairy goat land, boys are not wanted nearly as much as girls, so only a few bucks get to keep their equipment.  I think it will be a great situation for him, but it’s still sad.  Sophie and been crying on and off for most of the day.  Heartbreaking.  And we haven’t even gotten to the part where he drives off, bleating his little heart out, while Fancy, his mom, bleats back.  It’s terrible!

always doubt having goats on this day.

how to hand milk a goat

Okay, you’re sitting at the milking stand, staring at an udder: what next??? I have previously written about how I milk my goats using a small hand-powered milker. I love my milker, I do. But it does break occasionally. If you’re smart, you have two, so you can run and get the spare when you suddenly need it. Like a week ago when the spring broke in mine. And I do have a spare, but I swear to god, I couldn’t find that fucker! Anywhere! And I looked! A lot! So anyway, I had to hand milk my goats for a week while I alternately (1) waited for replacement parts, and (2) tore apart the yurt looking for my spare milker, that I know is here somewhere, dammit. (Still haven’t found it.) (Smacks palm to forehead.)

But, while that was going on, I found myself liking the milking I was doing by hand. Using the milker is faster, easier, and cleaner, but more…mechanical. Less friendly somehow. I can’t explain it, so here, have some pictures instead.

In order to milk, either by hand or milker, you need (and you’ll find this post overlaps somewhat with my previous post on milking):

….a milking stand, some teat dip, a dixie cup, a paper towel, a stool to sit on (mine is that five gallon bucket with the black lid), your hands and…

…a goat.

Oh, and a container to milk into.

You feed the goatie gal something nice, usually her grain ration, while you milk her, which distracts her from the business at hand and helps her associate milking and the milking stand with good things. And indeed, when it’s time, my goats hop up happily.

So here we have The Udder.

It’s a bit dirty.

So first thing, we wash it. Pour a couple of inches of teat dip into the cup and give each teat a dunk. For teat dip I use a quart of water, an ounce of so of clorox, and a drop of soap. Thank you Fiasco Farm for that recipe. It works wonderfully.

Next towel off with the paper towel. Sometimes I have to repeat this a few times if it has been raining and she’s been lying in the mud. Yuck.

That’s it for the prep. Next you take hold of the the top of the teat and kind of roll your pressure down to get the milk flowing.

If your gal is a good milker, chances are her udder will be tight with milk. The first few days after selling the kids, I often milk three or four or even five times a day just to relieve her—it’s a big difference for her udder to go from nursing a dozen times a day to milking twice a day. I breastfed my babies—I remember. If I had had to make such a change in one day, I’d have gone mad with the pain and probably gotten mastitis. Perhaps it is my relatively recent experiences being a milker myself that cause me to have extra compassion for my goatie friends.

So you come at this semi-hard, tight udder and you start with the teat. The picture above is more like that, really—the first squeeze I might be even lower, depending on how tight the udder is. You might be surprised at how much pressure it takes to get that first squirt of milk out. The teats seem to have a natural plug that you have to release. Once that’s out, the milk comes out much easier. You take hold of just the top of the teat and roll and squeeze and pop!

Out comes some milk!

Gradually the hardness in the teat itself eases up and you move to a slightly higher position. That that section softens and you move even higher. More about that in a minute.

Now, even though you may be squeezing at first with quite a lot of pressure, don’t hurt your goat! She’ll let you know if it hurts by moving away, tossing her head, etc. I’m not talking about nervous milkers, where they just get all fussy about being handled. It’s different when it hurts—her response will be sudden and quick, a clear “Don’t do that!” So don’t. I’m all about happy goats.

Another note about these pictures: I have miniature goats. So they have small teats. I can’t hold on with my whole hand, wrapping all four fingers around the teat and rolling the pressure down the way you can with a full sized goat, or a cow. This is another reason I like my milker. But for hand milking, I’ve found that I can use my thumb on one side and my first two fingers on the other side, rolling the pressure down onto the base of my ring finger and pinkie on the other side, tucked in against my palm. So again, the teat is passing between my middle and ring fingers. See if you can see it in this picture.

Wait a minute, look who has poked her nose into the shot! Mochi loves fresh goat milk, and usually gets a saucer full when I milk. She’s gotten downright pushy about it, actually. “Is my milk ready yet? Can I drink it right from the teat?” No, Mochi, you can’t. Be patient.

Let me finish up with Fancy here and I’ll try to show you what I mean with the whole rolling thing on my other goat, Lucy.

So, I’m re-dipping with the teat dip—only this time I’ll let her air dry. The teats stay open (remember that plug we released?) for a while after milking and I don’t want any stray bacteria climbing up in there. Gross. This redipping helps prevent such nastiness from occurring and turning into mastitis. And mabye it’s working because so far, knock wood, none of my goats have ever had it.

Dipping complete!

One more thing before Lucy gets up on that stand. Milking is a conversation, spoken in body language, between you and your goat. When you milk a girl twice a day, you really get to know her sounds and movements, as she does with you. When her eating is slowing down, when she shifts her weight, when her breathing changes—she tells me she’s finishing up, so hurry along, that’s uncomfortable, oh, that’s better, etc. Even the sound of the milk, the speed that it is flowing, etc, starts to be part of the conversation. These things are subtle and so they are hard to explain, but you get it, with practice. And you can add things to the conversation on purpose. For example, when I’m all done, I give her a nice tummy scratch.

It lets her know that I’m moving on. She appreciates this. She doesn’t kick any more once I’ve given the scratch, and just waits for me to tidy up and get ready for the next goat.

“Can you hurry up? I’m ready for my hay now.”

Okay, so I let Fancy out, open the gate, and as she trots into the goat-half of the barn, Lucy runs out and takes her place. It’s a little dance they’ve worked out.

Here’s Lucy.

She says, “Don’t bother me. I’m eating.”

Okay! Teat dip,

wipe down,

and we’re good to go.

Another note: I would be holding the milking container with my left hand, ready to snatch it away when one of the girls decides to kick, which they do occasionally. If I’m holding the container I can just pull it back out of range, preserving my precious milk from being fouled by her muddy hoof. But for these pictures, I’m holding the camera with my left hand, so the container is kind of abandoned on the milking stand, far enough away not to be kicked, maybe, I hope, but close enough to squirt the milk into. Just thought I would explain the odd placement there, and why I am shooting the milk from the teat such a distance.

Anyway, back to the roll and squeeze. I wanted to point out how high up on Lucy’s udder I am with my hand. I did this on Fancy, too, but didn’t get such a good shot of it. it isn’t just the teat you milk from. Like I said, you start with the teat, and roll out that plug and the first squirt of milk, but if you stay on the teat, you’ll get milk, yes, but a teaspoon at a time. Be prepared to milk for, oh, maybe an hour. Instead, you keep moving up the udder as each section gets soft, until you are quite high up. In fact, until you practically have the whole side of the udder (goats have two teats and the udder is divided into halves) in your hand, squeeze-rolling the whole thing.

With experience, your hand will start to be able to feel where the milk is, just as if you have a thick-walled water balloon and you are squeezing the milk out of a pin-hole in its bottom. You don’t want to squeeze too hard, because the milk will come out FAST and I think it hurts the goat—mine always toss if I push too hard. But it’s a surprisingly firm pressure. When you’ve got it right, the milk comes out in a long stream that lasts for several seconds and makes a loud sound against the bucket. I wouldn’t be surprised is there are a couple of tablespoons of milk per squeeze when it’s going well.

Look, in that shot I missed the container and it ran everywhere. I kept clicking the shutter on the camera when I meant to squeeze, or squeezing the teat when I meant to click the shutter. Talk about mixed brain/hand signals. But it was fine, Mochi was on hand to help with the clean up.

Here’s one more shot to show how high up I’m going, maybe three inches higher than the teat itself.

And see how soft and floppy her udder has become?

At this point the milk flow slows, until finally, the stream is too small to bother with, and you can feel with your hand there are no more pockets of liquid in that inner container for pushing out. I know some places say to strip the udder, meaning get every last drop out, but I’ve never done that. It doesn’t make sense to me, because she’s always making more milk—there will always be a little bit more in there if you give it a minute.

That’s how you milk a goat by hand.

Don’t forget to filter your milk though. You may not have to wash a milker, doing it by hand, but you do have to filter the milk because look:

Goat hairs! Ewwww! It’s no big deal, you just pour it through a cotton cloth or a specially made filter. It’s an advantage of my milker, which is a closed system that lets no goat hair in. Pros and cons, baby, there’s some of each, no matter which way you decide to go.

Milking goats is pleasant, meditative, frustrating, friendly, fun, delicious, in more or less that order, every day.

Enjoy your goats!

come on, let’s go on a goat walk!

I’ve mentioned before that we take our goats on walks. The girls come along with us like dogs do, except, being goats, they hoover up fallen leaves like nobody’s business. Yellow tulip poplars leaves are their favorite, so this is the best time of year for walks, as far as they are concerned.

When we let them out of the goat yard, they swarm out and glom on to the nearest tree, so we have to poke and prod them to get them out to the woods. Then we cross the creek and the walk has officially begun. Here we are at the bridge.

Our property is long and skinny so you can walk quite a ways down to the big creek, then up the slope and back to the yurt, in a long oval, never feeling like you’re covering the same territory.

Here we are following the path down along the little creek.

Fancy says, “Ple-e-e-e-se can I have that yellow leaf? Ple-e-e-e-se?”

Fancy is very committed to her leaf hoovering. She often falls behind, not willing to leave any leaf un-gobbled.

Lately, Mochi the Kitty comes with us on these walks. At the cross over part of the walk, there is a huge area of fallen trees from a hurricane about a decade ago. A great climbing area for kids, goats, and cat alike.

The big goats used to climb but once they started being dairy goats for real, their tender udders put a stop to all that. Here they are watching Sophie, Luc, Emma, and Mochi. Is it longing? Or curiosity?

The shepherd and his herd…

Our land covers a patchwork of sections cleared at different times in the past, creating very different kinds of forest. Then that hurricane came through and took down dozens of trees, opening up some areas where new trees are just starting to fill in. But some big old trees still stand, some old oaks, and this one, one of my favorites, a ‘three-tree’ that is, one tree at the bottom that turns into three at the top. Another tulip poplar.

We’re just about to transition out of the deciduous area and into a section of mature pines…

Can you see Mochi in this shot?

The goats always speed up as the walk progresses, because they know treats await them back at the goat yard. They practically RUN at the end. Here they are trotting past another of my favorite trees, a willow oak.

Sophie says, “Thanks for coming on our goat walk! Join us any time!”

good-bye cinnamon! we’ll miss you!

They grow up so fast!

Here he was, just a few minutes old:

cin 1.jpg

And here he is, just eight weeks later, a few minutes before he left us to live with his new family.

cin 4.jpg

Running and jumping and humping everything that would stand still for it… Sob! Cinnamon, it all passed in a blur!

Joking aside, Sophie and I both cried. This is the hardest part of having dairy goats—in order to get milk, you have to have a lactating goat. And in order to have a lactating goat, you have to first have a pregnant goat. And pregnant goats mean goat babies, babies that, in all probability, we can’t keep. Every year, separating the babies from the mamas makes me doubt the rightness of having goats. Mostly I feel like our goats are happy and we’re happy to have them. But around this, the sending away of the unwanted (by the humans, not by the mamas!) kids, I always feel terrible.

Emma is the one who feels it the most here. Her closest buddy and pal is GONE. Look at how they slept each night:

cin 2.jpg

I’ll bet you a hundred dollars they were in the womb like that. That first night he was gone, she kept pacing back and forth on the bed, confused, looking around and bleating….

Did slave owners 150 years ago have these feelings—feelings that must have been so much worse!!!—when they sold children away from their insane-with-grief-parents? I mean, I’m keeping a person (a goat person) in captivity so that I can benefit from a product they create, just like the old slave owners did. Does that seem like too extreme a comparison? Goats are just animals, after all. I don’t know. I’m conflicted!

What I do to deal with it is put a lot of energy into finding people to take our babies who seem kind and loving and desirous of having happy goat friends. I mean, look at these nice people who took him home:

cin 8.jpg

They have another little boy goat named Knuckles who needs a pal. Cin and Knuckles! I predict they will be life long friends.

But still, hearing the mamas cry for their babies, fielding the callbacks from new owners who are worried because their new goat bleats non-stop in distress for three days, well, this part is pretty awful. I don’t want to harden my heart to it, because who wants a hard heart? But I hate it.

On the other hand, I know they do all right. They connect to their new herd and their new humans and they settle down into new happy lives. It’ll be okay. I keep telling myself, and Sophie, that it will be okay. It will. Really.

Here is Cinnamon getting his last suckle:

cin 5.jpg

….and his last hug from Sophie.

cin 6.jpg

We’ll miss him! Well, not the constant humping. (What is it about men, anyway?)

cin 3.jpg

Good luck, buddy!

when goat mamas won’t nurse their kids

Last year we had Fancy as a first freshener (that’s what they call a first time goat mama, you gotta love goat terminology). Fancy was a bottle-fed baby herself, which is why I think she was totally confused about the whole mother thing. What the H-H-HELL are these creatures, she seemed to say, and W-W-WHY do they keep bothering me??? But after a few days, she figured it out. While never the most attentive of mothers, she did come around, allowing her kids to nurse when they asked. This year, Lucy was our new mama. She was dam raised, and I thought for sure that would mean she would jump right in, because her mama, Cesna, is great with her kids. But nope. She pushed those babies away even longer than Fancy did, actively butting them (not hard enough to hurt) back, and standing up on the bed to get away from them. Perhaps it was her difficult labor that interfered with her connecting with her babies. Dunno. But one week later, something clicked, and we went out to the barn to find the kids nursing. Yeah! We’re all about the mims around here.

On the other hand, some goat keepers don’t want their goat kids raised by their moms. There are generally two reasons for this. The first is CAE, or Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis, a nasty disease that is passed through body fluids from goat to goat. A friend of mine recently lost her entire herd of Toggenburg goats to CAE—it’s serious business. In the interest of preventing CAE, some goat keepers remove their kids from the mommas at birth and bottle feed them, thus preventing the babies from possibly getting exposed to CAE through their mommas milk. The babies and mommas never know each other.

For my part, I can’t do it. It’s against my religion (in a metaphorical, not literal, sense). The goat kids may have one source of CAE exposure removed, but at huge cost. Mommas and babies being close and connected is a kind of central tenet of our life here at the yurt. Since CAE is fairly unusual (though awful when it shows up) separating the mamas from the babies seems like extreme measures beyond reason to me. We keep a closed herd (minus an annual buck visit, which we try to make safe by carefully choosing the buck and the farm), we keep clean conditions, and we boost our goat’s immune systems with herbs and good living. We might be naive, but so far, so good.

Still, if my goats came down with CAE at some point, while terribly sad, I would be glad for all the babies that had gotten to be happy and healthy with their moms at our barn, prior to that. That’s just my stance. This is a charged issue in the goat keeping world. I can only recommend doing the research and making your own decision.

But back to bottles. The second reason many goat keepers give for bottle raising kids is that they feel it leads to friendlier goats. In a way, this is true. The goats connect comfort, nourishment, pleasure, full bellies, etc. with their human keepers. And these goats certainly are friendlier than semi-wild goats who run away from people. My experience with this, however, is that it isn’t the feeding, it’s the quantity of contact with humans required by bottle feeding that makes the kids comfortable with humans. What you also get with bottle fed goat kids is needy pushy goats who yell a lot! Okay, I’m sure that isn’t always true, but it has been my experience. Dam raised goats who have had a lot (ten minutes a day won’t do it!) of contact with humans are friendly, sweet, playful, and come up to humans to be petted and loved on—but they are happy with their goat herd, too. They don’t strain to get to the humans like needy babies will. They see us as friends, not The Source. I like that relationship much, much more.

The dam raised, frequently played with, goat kids I’ve known and helped raise have been happy, friendly, well adjusted, healthy, and relaxed in the herd. So this is what we go for at Honeymilk Farm.

But is hasn’t always been easy.

When our first goat mama wouldn’t nurse her babies, I was in a frenzy, emailing all my goat contacts, asking them what to do. Here’s the information I really wanted to find:

If you want your goat to nurse her babies and she is refusing, it’s worth sticking with it for a few days as long as the kids are getting *some* milk. Put the mama and her babies in a stall together for a few days. Try to help the babies nurse while the mom is distracted with eating. If she can look back and sniff the babies without kicking them off, that’s good, but even if she gets away from them once she is done eating, the oxytocin released into her system every time she nurses will help her feel more motherly. Think frequency over duration. I went out there five or six times a day to hold Lucy’s collar and let the babies get a drink, either giving Lucy some food, or holding her collar to get her to stand still. I was always calm and friendly, never violent or pushy (even when I was feeling frustrated—and it is VERY frustrating), because I surely didn’t want her to make those associations with nursing her babies. make sure the babies are getting enough milk to not get dehydrated (if you let them suck on your finger, their mouth should feel hot and wet) so keep close eye on that. If you don’t think the babies are getting enough, milk the mom and give the milk to the babies in a bottle, supplementing what they are getting from the teat, but I wouldn’t give up on the nursing right away, either. The babies help with all of this by being really, really persistent. They don’t give up. By keeping the babies and mama in a stall together, the babies have a continual opportunity to try to wear mama’s defensiveness down. If they can hang in there for a few days, chances are, mom, with her increasing oxytocin levels, will come around.

It took Fancy three days and I was about to give in because I wasn’t seeing the babies get much of anything and I was worried for them. I was heading to the barn, bottle in hand, when I saw her nursing both of them. Woo hoo! It took Lucy a WEEK, and I never would have waited that long if Lucy hadn’t been willing to nurse while I held her, thus making sure they were getting a minimum of what they needed. The kids were jumping around, not listless or sick looking in the slightest, so I kept thinking I’d give it one more day, one more day…and it worked. They finally connected. Now Lucy gets down on her knees and sticks her head under the goat bed (where the kids like to sleep) to y-y-yell at them to come out and n-n-nurse! It’s pretty funny.

Still, there are times when the mother just WON’T. Bottle feeding is a blessing then, because you don’t have to lose the kids! I wouldn’t bring the kids into the house (some goat keepers do), because I think it’s important for the babies to bond with the herd, important for them to know they are goats, and to learn how to be a goat from other goats. Bottle feeding can be tricky to get started—they don’t know what they heck this bad smelling rubbery thing is you are trying to shove in their mouths, but if they’re hungry, and they will be, they’ll figure it out. A bottle made for humans with a small X cut into the nipple will work.

For information on any of this, especially on the humane treatment of goats, I HIGHLY recommend the fabulous Fiasco Farm site.

One final note. It’s important that the babies get the antibody rich colostrum in the first day or two. If mom is really, really refusing her kids a drop, I’d milk her to get the colostrum and bottle feed it to the kids.

Bottom line, it’s worth hanging in there for a few days. Goat mamas often come around. Stay calm and sweet with her at all times. Be gentle but persistent. And just keep helping those babies get a drink.

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adorable, friendly goat baby for sale

Meet Cinnamon!

This Miniature Nubian sweetie-pie is going to need a new home in about six weeks. He has been disbudded, but he has all his boy parts at the moment, though he would make a lovely pet if whethered. Or he can be registered (both his parents are), and can pass on some strong dairy genes (his grandmother has her milking star), to some kids of his own.

He’s carmel brown with dark brown, circular spots, and white ears. So cute!

Our goats are dam raised and nurse freely

but in case you think that means less-friendly goats, don’t believe it. It’s the amount of time they hang with humans, not who feeds them, that is the crucial variable. All our goat babies received hours of contact with us (whether they like it or not, lol) and are tremendously friendly.

Cinnamon, in particular, likes laps.

Don’t you want to buy a goat?