From the prior parts of this series, you might have concluded that we are vegetarians. While fruits and vegetables do fill a large portion of our plates, protein from meat is not taboo. Thus, part of farm life is raising animals. Our culture is beef, hog, and poultry oriented. Not following trends, we have goats and ducks.
Back in the spring, you may recall that I had a post on Buck Shot. The results of Nubie’s activity came to us back in July, with four kids being born. Unrelated to goats, though living in the same barn, are the ducks, which hatched three ducklings, at different times in the spring and summer.
While people babies do not come with instruction manuals, and sometimes I wonder how much hardwiring we have about bearing and rearing children, goats seem to know what to do, or in the case of ours drop the kids and wander off. Ducks seems pretty adept at the sitting and hatching activity, and have a momma duck-duckling communication system set up fast to warn to scary things, like me, coming to the barn. Fortunately, we have Granny (the oldest goat), who played mid-wife. We just happened to wander
by and notice that we had more goats in the field than the last time we walked by. Our cats are good helpers too, especially with cleaning up the new-born kids. But, we suspect that they are really waiting for a fresh placenta meal or a lick of the milk bottle. Nothing is wasted in nature.
Our most important function is to make sure that the newborn kids get plenty of milk in the first 24 hours. This new milk contains colostrum, which is rich in nutrients and antibiotics that a newborn lacks. If milking animals (including calves, colts, piglets, etc) miss this first day window
for colostrum, they have little chance of surviving the first few weeks. The world is a dangerous place in the bacterial realm. The key is getting the correct bacteria into the gut to protect the kids from the nasty bacterial, and to later help break down the grain and plants they eat.
Our experience with Nubian goats is that they have been bred for milking, not for caring for their kids. So, to get the first day of milk into the kids means chasing the doe around and trying to hook the kids onto a teat for sucking. Plan B is to chase the goat around to milk her, then use baby bottles to feed the kids. Ours went for Plan B. If their function is to be milk goats anyway, this is training for their role on the farm.
Milking is an exchange activity. Other than reducing the pressure on their utters, goats do not really like someone squeezing their teats for 10 minutes. Would you? The reward is a bowl of grain. To make the job more tolerable for the milkmaid, I built a milking stand, which raises the goat up to knee level. At one end of the stand is a shelf right at goat mouth height, on which a bowl of grain rests. Now goats are not so cooperative as to stand their eating while the milkmaid is milking. Thus, there is a bar
which closes and locks on either side of their neck. The goat can move around, but, as with most of us, their heads are fatter then their necks, so she cannot back out. I hope no one from PETA is reading this far.
In case you are worried about sanitation, this is an important part of milking. Bring a pail of warm water and sanitation wipes to clean the utter and teats before milking. The first few squirts from each teat go into a stripping cup for inspection for clots to verify that the goat has not developed mastitis. All is well? Then milk until
both teats are dry. In case you are wondering where the French came up with Cafe Latte, you should try skimming off the top layer of foaming, warm goat milk for you coffee when you come back inside! For best results with preserving the milk, refrigerate it immediately. From our experience, raw goats milk will last longer in our refrigerator than pasteurized cow’s milk from the store (which begs the question of how long that milk took to go from cow to processing to store to cash register to home to coffee cup or cereal bowl). Of note, pasteurization kills both potentially harmful bacteria in food as well as many of the nutrients which goats milk contains. The icky stuff is usually on our hands, the utter, or the milking bucket, so preventative sanitation is the first step to clean, raw milk.
All those goat kids need to do now is eat, run around, and grow. These are the happy days of barn life. Goat kids are born with spring loaded roller skates. Run, jump sideways, and climb on anything stationary or not, is their day, when not eating. Ducklings, on the other hand are hatched with snorkeling flippers. The goats are quickly off to any part of the field with the other goats, but the ducklings stay close to the duck box and their mother for security. In time, you will find the ducklings paddling around in the pond (really a Dollar store kiddy pool next to the rain barrel).
Childhood does have some risks for farm animals. Kids are at risk for nutrient deficiencies and mold from damp hay. Preventative care is the main cure for these, because once their eyes role around oddly, they list and fall over, the neurological damage is done. The first time this occurred a couple of years ago, our friend who works for a vet took Betty to the clinic without success. The vet had an agreement with the local pet disposal company to tend to deceased animals, unknown to us. A couple of weeks later, we received a UPS box with a beautify wood box of ashes and sympathetic note about our dear Betty. Guess no one told the company that this was a goat. When you visit, pause briefly at our secretary and pay your respect to Betty, until we figure our how you dispense of goat ashes. Ducklings who survive the first couple of days do well, unless they slip under the fence to wander in the driveway when the dogs are out. I fixed the whole in the fence after that mishap.
As cute and fun as farm animals may be, each serves a purpose, other than our amusement. As mentioned before, milk goats provide milk, that can also be processed into gogurt and chesse. Meat goats (a different bread from our) make nice crock-pot meals, with an assortment of those vegetables from the garden. For those unfamiliar with goat meat, it taste like deer meat. Lost you there, huh? Duck produce a lot more eggs than they need to hatch. When breeding, these eggs make rich baked goods, and other things for which you would use chicken eggs. Duck eggs are more substantial than chicken eggs, but not as plentiful. And, once the ducks start to sit and hatch eggs, they stop producing, unlike layer chickens where are bred to be egg machines. And, so the cycle of birth-life-death-meal continues.