Winter goat care on our farm means stocking up on nutritious feed, administering supplements, and preparing for kidding season. While there is no milking to do at this time there are still daily chores and special preparations to make. My favorite part of winter goat care is getting ready for the baby goats to arrive!
Winter goat care begins with acquiring and storing high quality hay. During the winter, our goats are unable to get enough fresh, green forage from the pasture so they rely on us to provide them with an abundant supply of good hay. We seek out certain types of hay like clover, alfalfa (which is very hard to find where we live), orchard grass, perennial weeds and Bermuda. Alfalfa is the preferred choice for many dairy goat breeders because it has a high level of digestible calcium and protein. Goats need lots of calcium and protein when they are in milk production. Milking goats can develop hypocalcemia if they do not consume enough of these important nutrients. This dangerous condition, also known as milk fever, can result in death. Therefore, if we can’t find alfalfa hay for our winter goat care, we will feed alfalfa pellets. These pellets can be purchased in 50 pound bags from our local Co-op. They are a great source of calcium and protein for our winter goat care.
Winter goat care also means administering oral supplements to every goat in our herd. In our region of Tennessee, the soil does not have enough copper or selenium to meet the dietary demands of our goats. When a goat doesn’t get enough of these minerals in they become anemic and their milk production drops. Signs of copper deficiency include a faded and rough coat, balding tail and face, and very dry skin. Selenium deficiency can cause weak kids and white muscle disease. In years past our goats have experienced these symptoms due to not enough copper and selenium. Thankfully we learned what to do and we now give them supplements that are formulated specifically for dairy goats.
We purchase winter goat care supplements from Valley Vet Supply. We prefer the selenium that comes in a paste form over the inject-able selenium. It is easy to administer and less likely to cause an overdose. The copper comes in capsules. Each capsule contains tiny rods of copper which are released into the goat’s system over a period of time. These are much harder to administer than the selenium paste. We have to load each copper capsule into a contraption called a bolus gun and then force it down the goat’s throat so the capsule is deposited in their stomach without being chewed. When a goat chews the capsule the copper rods get broken and will not work properly. If this happens or if the goat spits out the capsule, we have to start over with another capsule. Administering supplements for winter goat care can be frustrating but when its finished and every goat has had her share, we feel confident that our herd will have a healthy kidding season when spring comes.
Preparing for kidding season is another important part of winter goat care. Our kidding will start a little early this year. Daisy will be the first to kid. She is due any day now. In the mean time we will be setting up our new video monitor so that we can see what is going on in the barn at night from the comfort of our cozy bed. In the past, when a goat was due to kid, Nate would get up every couple hours and go to the barn to check for signs of labor. Hopefully the video monitor will work out well and he won’t have to go out there in the freezing cold dark night! In addition to setting up the monitor, we will be stocking up on emergency milk replacer, puppy pads (which we put under the newborn kids while their mamma cleans them off), iodine to dip their navels, and treats for mamma goats to have after their labor is over.
Each of these chores is a labor of love because we know we are doing our very best to keep our goats healthy and happy. Like we always say, happy goats make great soaps!