I grew up in suburbia, born to a dad with a green thumb, and a mom with a black thumb. I inherited the black thumb. In fact, I did a science experiment for science fair one year, in which I discovered which acids and bases killed plants the fastest. Needless to say, I killed all plants quite successfully! Yet I always dreamed of living on a ranch, and maybe having a garden.
Here I am, as an adult, and I have successfully managed to kill every plant I’ve ever put in the ground, with the exception of cactus and agave. Those, I can grow! But give me a well-established tomato plant, and I will destroy it within weeks. Even if those tomatoes are fenced in behind goat fencing! My goats will manage to find, and exploit, any weak spot that exists, where 2 panels come together, and squeeze their preggo bellies in to feast on whatever is in the garden. But I fully believe that perseverance will pay off someday, so we are already working on plans for this year’s garden, which will be enclosed with electric fencing this year.
I may not have figured out gardening yet, but I have learned a whole host of lessons about goats during this last year and half. Before we purchased goats, we researched breeds extensively, and settled on Spanish goats, due to their adaptability, survivability, strong maternal instincts, parasite-resistance, health and vigor, the fact that they can be utilized as a meat breed, and also due to the need for conservation. If you are curious to learn more, visit http://www.sg-cs.org for more information.
The #1 rule that I have learned in researching goats, goat breeds, and how to care for, and manage goats is that there are Spanish goats, and then there are ALL. OTHER. BREEDS. This has been quite the learning curve! I research “how to do [insert topic] for goats” and come up with answers. Then I hop on to one of the Spanish Goat discussion groups on Facebook and look for answers from among the many knowledgeable farmers there, only to discover that the way I thought I should do things is the exact opposite of what Spanish goats need!!!! So, here’s a short list of lessons learned!
· I’ve learned I don’t know a darn thing about goats! But I make fewer mistakes these days.
· I have learned what a goat looks like when pregnant! This was NOT something I figured out until we had babies “magically” appear on our farm!
· I have learned how to flip a goat, in order to subdue him. I have had my authority challenged by our buck, who outweighs me, and is taller than me when he stands up—and I have reminded him who is boss. And it’s not him!!
· I have learned to never turn my back on our buck. After knocking my husband over one day, we now take a hot stick with us when we go into the buck pen. Hank doesn’t like the hot stick. He’s a lot more respectful now, after coming up to sniff the stick a couple times, and he ended up shocking his nose.
· I have learned how to drive a tractor!
· I have learned how to give vaccinations--and I have learned that vaccinations should be largely unnecessary, if herd health is managed properly.
· I have learned how to administer dewormer--and I've learned that if a goat can't handle it's internal worm load, I either need to evaluate my paddocks or the goat may need to be culled.
· I have learned how to administer a copper bolus to both kids and adults. That can be quite a workout, when goats don’t want to take the bolus!
· I've learned that a goat's horns aren't meant to be handles--though on occasion, it might be necessary to grab a goat by the horns.
· I've learned that our goats love alfalfa pellets and alfalfa hay. I've also learned that these things get costly when purchased all the time. And I've learned that our goats love our weedy bermudagrass hay just fine.
· I've learned that separate sleeping quarters, birthing pens, bonding pens and a pretty barn are unnecessary, but having a quarantine pen--or space--is a necessity when bringing home new animals.
· I can conduct FAMACHA scoring and can evaluate body condition based on what we've seen so far, and talking with other farmers about what to look for.
· I can collect fecal samples and take them to the vet for worm load testing. My goal this year is to get over the “yuck” factor, and conduct fecal testing myself. I have all the supplies here to conduct my own fecal counts, but I haven't quite taken that leap yet!
· I can trim hooves and tag ears. But for the most part, trimming hooves should be unnecessary--and is unnecessary here.
· I’ve learned that tagging goats’ ears breaks my heart, but it needs to be done anyway! Their bleats, though short-lived, cause them and their mommas to not be the only ones crying and blubbering!
· I have no idea how to help a momma goat birth. I have watched a ton of YouTube videos and read many articles. I'd like to think that if push came to pull, I'd be prepared. But our mommas do just amazing on their own! They like to birth in the late evening or middle of the night. We usually find out about new babies when we go out in the evenings or mornings to check on everyone as due dates near, and lo and behold, there will be new babies!
· I have learned that nannies like to deliver in the worst possible weather around their due date (which is why we breed mid-July, for mid-December kidding, before the weather traditionally gets too rough here).
· I have learned how to bottle feed babies when a mom's deformed udder prevents the babies from latching on during the first 24 hours.
· I have learned how to milk a goat. And I have made the decision to cull (not kill—just not rebreed) a goat based on the need for human intervention post-birth.
· I have had goats drown, get attacked by a coyote, and get attacked by a family dog. I have had a goat just keel over dead for no apparent reason. We have buried quite a few goats. Each death is heartbreaking, and each death brings lessons learned.
· I have been reminded that goats are every bit as hard on fences as I have read.
· I have learned that watching a bunch of little kids run around and play can turn any horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day into a great one!
· I’ve learned that moms everywhere—goats, cats, and humans alike—love and protect their babies, and it is a joy to watch.
· I already knew that duct tape saves lives. My dad taught me that! I have also learned that baling wire can fix anything that duct tape can’t.
· My girls are involved in American Heritage Girls. Our creed contains 10 descriptions of what it means to be an American Heritage Girl. One of those words is Resourceful. I have learned that living on a farm requires a great deal of resourcefulness, creativity, ingenuity, compassion, and patience.
We’ve learned so many things in a short amount of time, and this isn’t even the half of it! We are looking forward to learning and growing more, and making fewer mistakes over time. And maybe someday I’ll figure out how to grow a garden!