Monday, January 17, 2011

A Lesson In Disbudding Goat Horns

Well, we went out to the barn at around 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon and came in at 8:30.  Is was really cold outside but inside the barn wearing winter gear it wasn't so bad.  There is still some work to do today but we were thrilled with everything we accomplished yesterday.  It's really starting to look like a barn out there.  I know that sounds strange but if you saw how huge our barn is and saw the little area where we kept the goats and donkeys you'd understand.  Now we have more than doubled their space and we will be able to separate the two.  This is important for when the babies arrive.  The donkeys won't understand right away that the babies are not intruders and guard donkeys have been known to stomp new kids to death thinking they are protecting their herd.  Madeline said she even saw Dexter pick up and throw our beloved barn cat Jake!  The goats will have the new run area all to themselves.  Today the plan is to shut the gate that divides the two areas and put up new hay feeders for the donks since we moved the big feeder to the new run.  Now we can control the donkeys portion and we will be getting them some hay that isn't so legume rich.  Right now they are sharing the goats alfalfa mix and they really only require a good grass hay.  All that alfalfa will just make them fat.  Then we can really get an idea of how much the goats are actually eating and what the donks needs are.  The good news is that the hay for the donks is considerably cheaper than the alfalfa mix for the goats.  Now all we have left to do is put up at least three kidding stalls in the next couple weeks and we will officially be ready.  I also talked to a friend from our 4H club and she gave me some great advice on how to tag the kids and tattoo them.  She also offered to come over and show us how to disbud them.  Good thing she told me that it is required for showing meat goats in Rice county.  They just passed the new rule this year and I would not have known which means we would have beeen ineligible for showing because we were not planning to disbud the Boer herd.  It is typical to disbud any dairy breed but meat goats are usually permitted horns.  Dairy breeds have different horn conformation.  They tend to grow up while Boers have more rounded horns that follow the contour of their heads. 
Disbudding means to burn off the bud of the horn before they begin to grow.  It sounds really awful and it is.  Initially we were adament that we would not disbud a goat.  Then we lived with them for a while.  Our goats are all very tame but as our herd grows we can expect a little more conflict between herd members.  In this picutre you can see the typical Saanen profile with horns straight up.  They are really good at getting them stuck in the fence.  A kid with her head stuck in the fence and goes unnoticed for a couple of hours would most likely get stressed and die.  We also install special fencing with smaller spaces at the bottom to help prevent this from happening. 
Here is a fine example of a Boer head as an adult and a four month old kid whose horns are just beginning to grow.  Daisy, the mom, is about a year and half old in this picture.  She is two now and her horns are a little bigger.  He daughter Buttercup is just beginning to have a little growth in this picture and today they are about the same size as her mothers in the photo.  These photos were taken in May.  So you can see how easy it would be to have your eye poked out with a horn.  In fact, just recently my dear little Daisy gave me a big fat lip with those horns.  She is generally a gentle girl but she did not enjoy the invasion of her privacy when I was checking her belly and udder for baby monitoring.  Our Rent-A-Buck, Rocky had some really nice horns!
Notice the slightly outward curve?  Those are really good for rubbing up against you and leaving some pretty nasty bruises on your legs!  Or darn your luck if you happened to be standing too close when he decided to back up into you and spears you with one of those!  No ill intent, they just got in the way sometimes.  You may also be able to see in the photo the spot behind his horn where no hair would grow because every time he turns his head those horns would rub against his neck.  The day we picked him up there was a little scuffle in the buck pen and one of his buddies poked him in the side with his horn and left a nice little hole in his rear.  It bled for two days.  So don't get me wrong I am certainly not advocating for the removal of all goat horns but I think it's the right decision for our herd.  We will only disbud the goats we intend to keep.  All others will be left intact.  I should also mention here that you should not remove a goats horns once they have grown.  They are actually an extension of their scull.  They are hollow inside but contain a large supply of blood to them.  Their purpose is to help regulate their body temperature and of course they are their first means of defense in the wild against predators. This link contains an article and some very graphic pictures of a buck who was injured and lost one of his horns.  This is a life threatening injury to a goat.  The hole that you see is actually the passage to his sinus cavity.  They can bleed to death and infection is an obvious concern.  Disbudding is not without danger.  It is important to have someone who has experience disbudding help you.  When done incorrectly goats can actually grow spurs.  The spurs have to kept trimmed so that they do not become too long and break off.   Spurs are different than horns in that they are not firmly attached to the scull but can actually be so loose you can wiggle them.  Lilly, our Alpine cross has a couple of spurs.  They break very easily. 

Disbudding is not something to take lightly.  It is a great debate in the goat community.  Initially I was intending to become an advocate for the discontinuation of disbudding for 4H projects and shows.  I certaintly haven't done a complete 180 but I do see that sometimes it can be beneficial for the animal as well.  If you have ever seen a couple of Saanens really go at it you may be more likely to undersand.  The noise their heads make when they crash together is horrible.  I have also experienced a situation where my little beloved baby Snowy was being bullied by another goat and the goats horn got stuck in Snowy's collar.  I'm so thankful that I was standing right there because I'm sure it would not have been a good outcome for Snowy.  As a result I no longer keep collars on my girls either.  It makes it much easier to catch and handle them but at what cost?  It's not an easy decision but if you intend to keep goats it will be one you will have to make as well.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Think Spring and Baby Chicks

It's been a crazy year for weather here in the Midwest.  I have had enough of the snow already.  Seriously, I think we've averaged two snowfalls a week since the beginning of November.  I'm so over the snow!!!!!  Spring is just around the corner.  I can tell because I am starting to get seed catalogs in the mail and today my Murray McMurray catalog came.  This is where I order all of my chickens from.  I can already hear my husband..."What do you need more chickens for?????"  He says the whole farm thing is just a giant cover-up for my animal hoarding disease.  I honestly never really thought he caught on to that.  I should really give him more credit.  Anyways, I managed to convince him that I was just ordering the Rhode Island Red roosters he wanted to get for butchering.  I'm just going to throw in a couple of extra chicks.  Chances are he won't even notice.  I discovered early in our marriage that my husband is not very attentive.  I once bought a large piece of furniture and I am sure had he not caught me still assembling it when he got home he would never have noticed.  I've managed to slip several small tables and other furnishings into the house over the years and he remains oblivious. Sometimes, we (the kids included) like to play a little game called "Guess what's new in the room".  The last time was a framed picture of George Washington on the wall.  How on earth could he possibly overlook a gigantic picture of our first Pres that wasn't there before?  After about a half an hour we finally pointed it out to him and all he said was, "Oh yeah, that's cool!"  Okay, back to the chickens...

I have a very diverse flock of birds.  They are all heritage breeds but the most I have of any one breed is four.  I have three Auracanas, these are the ones who provide the beautiful blue eggs, four Buff Orpingtons and two White Orpingtons, One Cuckoo Maran, three Light Brahmas, two Rhode Island Reds, three Silver Laced Wyandottes, four Black Australorps, one each of Black Minorca, Brown Leghorn, Blue Andalusian  The last three are white egg layers and all of the others lay varying shades of brown.  The Maran lays a beautiful dark brown egg.  I'm sure you're wondering (just like Gary) why on earth I would want more chickens.  Well who knew I would fall head over heals in love with those feather footed beauties the Brahmas.  Luck would have it that they also come in a Buff variety.  They have all the same marking of my light birds only the white is a beautiful buff color.  Who could pass that up I ask?  Initially I was very afraid of the heavily feathered and feather footed breeds.  The Cochin really seemed intimidating even though every where I read says their temperaments make them an ideal bird for a beginner.  I was worried that their abundance of feathers would make them tricky to care for.  They are considered massively feathered.  I couldn't think of a better way to describe them.  The egg laying ability has, unfortunately, been bred out of them but they do make excellent "broodies" and mothers.  There are two varieties that I am going to order.  One is Blue and the other Partridge  The thought of having those beautiful hens roaming around my garden is endearing enough in itself but their value will be in setting.  Being "broody" is to be inclined to sit on eggs.  Believe it or not some varieties, most Malaysian breeds, in fact, do not make good setters.  All of the white egg layers I have are Malaysian and most likely would never sit on a nest.  They are flighty and don't have the patience to sit on their eggs.  I also have one Orpington who I will absolutely let hatch some chicks when the weather gets warmer.  She has already spent the majority of the winter sitting in a nest box.  The poor little thing is itching to hatch her own little brood.  I can't seem to get it  through her little feathered head that it's just too cold out right now.  She quite a hoot.  At least once a day I will remove her from her box and sit her in front of the feeder.  It is not unusual for a Broody to forgo eating and drinking to keep her little ones warm.  She has plucked all the feathers from her belly to keep the eggs eggstra (couldn't resist) warm.  After she chokes down a little grain she throws her wings out and runs across the barn to the waterer while screeching.  I'm sure she yelling, "GET OUT OF MY WAY!" to the other chickens.  If anyone dares cross her path she will run them right over.  She then guzzles a bit of water and runs like a maniac back to her nest.  It's really funny to watch.  Madeline and I get a kick out of her!  In addition to my beautiful flock of hens I have four roosters.  Farmer Brown is a Buff Orpington, Rodeo is a Rhode Island Red, Sam is an Auracana and what we initially thought was a Dark Brahma hen actually turned out to be a rooster and he is yet unnamed.  They are definitely a frisky group of boys!

So, I'm really trying to prepare myself for the goats having their kids.  I've been re-reading all of the "kidding" sections in my goat books and reading blogs and watching videos of difficult births so I know what to be looking for.  I scared myself by reading a post on a goat site about a woman who's first goat delivered a dead kid after a very difficult delivery and then her second doe delivered a dead kid and was still in labor for the next two days.  She thought there was another kid stuck in her uterus but it turned out she had a gigantic tear in her uterus and she wasn't feeling another kid in there but it was actually her internal organs she was feeling through the tear.  Her vet was horribly unreliable and she didn't have anyone else to help her.  I at least am armed with two really good vets and a handful of people I know I can call to help.  It is really exciting and terrifying all in one.  Every day I go out to the barn and I can feel babies kicking in a couple of the girls.  It is so amazing.  Just like a human pregnancy you can feel the baby rolling around and kicking.  The videos I've been watching are a little torturous.  It's like when I was pregnant with Madeline and used to watch "A Baby Story" on TLC.  If I keep doing this to myself it will make the next eight weeks drag on forever.  I'll try and get some pictures tomorrow of the girls.  Freezing cold or not we have to get their kidding stalls ready and get them separated from the donkeys.  Those donkeys are so squirrelly without being able to run outside.  They run all over the barn and trample everything in their path.  The goats are too big to all fit under the feeder now so we really need to give them a safe haven where they are out of harms way.  Then we'll move the hayfeeder in with the goats too and give the donks room to wrestle!   It's not that they aren't able to go outside.  It's just that Dexter doesn't seem to understand that he's not a goat.  He has bonded so well with them that he won't leave the barn without them.  Occasionally he will go outside with Millie but never far from the door.  Millie doesn't really seem to get it.  I often look out of the kitchen window to see her head poking out the barn door.  She'll stand outside a lot by herself too but she won't go far from the door without Dex.  We had hoped to be able to separate them in the spring and put a donkey in each pasture with a group of goats but I don't think either one will put up with that.  Millie has attempted to jump the fence when I've taken Dex on a walk without her.  Dex loves her just as much but he seems more torn between the goat world and donkey world.  Hopefully we can get everything done in the barn tomorrow that needs to get done and then we just sit and wait!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a very happy New Year.  I have heard your complaints about not posting enough so thought I better get something out today.  Please keep in mind that I really do not consider myself a writer in the least and that this is a huge chore for me.  I would much prefer to tackle a couple algebra problems than have to sit and write.  In college I chose a BS instead of a BA so I could substitute some classes with statistics and calculus to avoid having to write more papers...No Joke!  Anyhoo...

Here at the Ruedy Ranch we celebrated a wonderful Christmas break.  On Christmas Eve we spent time with Gary's parents and played bingo.  We were lucky to see his Aunt Julie and Uncle Jerry as well.  It was nice to be able to catch up.  We're hoping they come for a visit this summer.  Christmas Day morning was spent opening gifts with Madeline and Joshua and then I went to work while Gary took the kids to my mom's in-laws.  They had a good time and I enjoyed my afternoon with my co-workers.  As usual we had a potluck and stuffed ourselves silly.  The Tuesday after Christmas I spent an evening with old friends from high school and we had a fabulous time.  I think there were 10 of us in all and Joe came all the way from Seattle.  It was really great to see them all.  Congrats to Kati who married (a different) Joe on Saturday.  What a wonderful way to ring in the New Year!  Congrats to Kate as well who became the first of us to become a grandparent.  She welcomed her first grandson, Adam, into the world in November.  He and mother, Sabrina, are doing wonderful.  I can't wait to meet him in person.  I also can't believe Sabrina is even old enough to be a mother.  I have pictures of her and Ali in the bathtub together when they were little.  Kate and I would throw them in the tub and not have to worry about them for and hour!  I worked on New Year's Eve and came home at 11pm to a bustling house.  Children were still wide awake!  I started cooking to prepare for my side of the family Christmas-get-together the next day.  I had to work bright and early the next morning and came home late that afternoon to find Ali had already arrived.  No surprise she was out in the barn when I got home.  We had a marvelous buffet dinner and then opened gifts.  And that was the conclusion of the holiday celebration for us.
Today, while grocery shopping, I found a steal of a deal on a cappuccino maker.  Regular price was $80 but the box top was torn so they marked it down to $50.  Not one week earlier I was at Target with Gary trying to convince him we should buy it!  After dinner I made espresso for Gary and the kids and I had cappuccinos.  Yup, you heard me.  My kids love coffee as much as their dad.  They will drink it black but they probably prefer the cappuccino.  And how cute does it look in my new snowman mugs?  I know, right?

Be on the lookout for the Ruedy Ranch Facebook page.  I will begin posting all my farm related items and pictures on that page instead of my personal page.  We really hope to have a web cam or at least to catch some actual video of a live birth in the coming weeks.  The girls are beginning to look pretty plump and by my calculations we should begin the kidding season around March 15.  Super excitement!  My two little girls, Buttercup and Blossom, who I thought were way too small to begin breeding already have caught up in size to their herd mates and are showing all the signs of impending motherhood.  Rosie started out as our largest goat and she retains that title as of today.  If it wasn't for the fact that she was so big before breeding her I would be convinced she was having at least triplets.   Daisy who did have triplets last year does not seem to be big enough to expect the same this year.   You can never really tell until the day comes.  I just pray they all get through their deliveries without any complications.  Soon you will be able to check out our Facebook Farm page for maternity pictures of our girls!

Here is another interesting egg that Joshua found in the coop.  It was just a tiny little thing smaller than a ping-pong ball.  We left it on the counter for a few days and then Madeline asked if she could break  it open.  She said when she shook it there seemed to be something in it.  When we broke it open there was what appeared to be an egg white but no yolk.  The white seems to have dried out.  It only filled about half of the little egg.  We are getting a ton of eggs now.  We generally collect anywhere from 12-18 eggs a day depending on the weather.  When the temp drops below freezing we only get about a dozen but with the warmer weather over the past week I have been collecting an average of 16 a day.  What beautiful eggs they are.  The ones I keep for our family I don't even refrigerate.  I have a porcelain egg holder that I sit on the counter.  They're just too beautiful to keep shut away in the fridge.  If you would like any I do sell them for $2 a dozen but they go quickly so let me know and I will keep some for you.