Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scurs - Why I Dislike Them

Yesterday was a typical day...get dressed to go to town to do shopping before goat kids decide to start arriving this week, put coveralls on over "good" jeans and set about to band scurs on my buck, Phantom.  Well at least that is my typical day.

A word of warning, this post gets a bit graphic so be forewarned.  If you like cute pictures, look at this picture of Phantom as a young fellow before he started to grow his scur.  Don't look at the rest.

Most goats are genetically programmed to have horns.  Horns in dairy breeds are not welcomed by most folks so the young kids are disbudded.  For goats that are handled several times daily, horns are just an invitation to an injury to humans, other goats, and to themselves.  An inadvertent poke by a horn is painful and can cause bruising.  An intentional butting can break bones.  Horned goats have been known to cause serious injury to their fellow goats' udders and there are often incidences of a goat getting its horns caught in fencing with often fatal outcomes.

When a kid is about a week or two old, the horn buds begin to appear under the skin on the top of the head.  They feel like a hard pimple but a bit larger.  To prevent further growth, the horn bud is cauterized with a hot disbudding iron which kills the blood supply to the horn. Generally this works well for does (females) and wethers (neutered boys).  In bucks (intact males) it is often difficult to accomplish well.  Hormones that kick as the buck "comes of age" stimulate horn growth and if disbudding wasn't done extremely well, they grow scurs. Horns are securely attached to the skull and have a blood supply in the horn.  They grow much like a dog's toenails. Scurs on the other hand are hollow, incompletely developed horns that generally are loose and not attached to the skull and can be wiggled if you can manage to actually grab one. Believe me when I tell you that they also have a blood supply (this is a hint of what is to come). It just isn't as extensive as in a horn.

As you may have guessed by now I have scur issue.  I have a 2 year-old buck I purchased when he was a few months old that is determined to grow a scur on one side.  Mostly scurs are unsightly but scurs can be bad because they have a tendency to grow in a deformed way and often curve in toward the head.  One way to deal with scur growth is to band the scur.  I won't go into details but it involves placing a special rubber band around the base of the scur which cuts off the blood supply allowing it to eventually to fall off.

I had banded this buck's scur last winter when it was a couple of inches long.  It soon fell off but it started growing back last summer.  It started curving downward toward his eye and was eventually going to make contact with his head.  Not a good situation so I set out to band it again.  Only this time instead dealing with a pint-sized young fellow, I was dealing with a larger and stronger pint-sized mature buck.  My husband was skeptical.  I was determined I had to do something soon.

Yesterday morning I grabbed my scur-removal kit with my eslastrator and bands, some duct tape to help hold the bands on, a syringe loaded with a Tetanus booster shot, my husband, a camera, and then headed off to the back field to the buck barn.  Earlier, I had managed to file notches at the base of the horn to hold the bands in place.

To control  Phantom so that I could work on his head, I straddled him and locked him between my knees. Control might be a relative term here since he was still able to do a good bit of thrashing around. I gave him his Tetanus shot relatively easily.  Just as I was ready to apply the band, Phantom lurched and banged his head into the board fence sending the scur flying.  Problem solved, well except for the blood which was gushing from his head and starting to drip off his beard.

I always keep a container of blood-stop powder in both barns for emergencies.  This was beginning to look like an emergency.  I kept hold of Phantom and applied powder to his head.  By now I was speckled with blood as well.  After a few minutes the blood flow slowed and I let him go thinking that his struggling was only making the blood pump harder.

His head was caked with blood and powder and he looked AWFUL but he seemed okay.  He has a bloody stump of horn  which will probably regrow this coming year.

Some people don't agree with disbudding and prefer to leave the horns on goats.  With bucks it is kind of a no-win situation.  Horned males generally know how to use their horns and can become intimidating if not dangerous during breeding season.  I know this because I had a horned buck and although he was "tame" he rammed me into the gate trying to get to a doe that was penned near him.  Attempts to disbud are not always successful, resulting in the problem I have with Phantom.  I think the solution is to disbud carefully and don't be timid about repeating the procedure on a growing kid as soon as the scur appears.

This is that scur that came off.  It is hollow and about 3 inches long and1 1/2 inches wide at the base.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Heidi, The Great Pyrenees Puppy (Feb. 25 update)

Heidi is 14 weeks old today.  I skipped a week because I didn't really have anything new to offer.  Updates may now come at more intermittent intervals, partly due to the heavy demands on my time as goat babies begin arriving and partly because Heidi is at a stage where weekly changes aren't as dramatic.

 I am happy to say that she seems content to stay in with the goats and has grown enough that she can no longer walk through the fence.  It is definitely difficult for novice LGD owners like me to figure out exactly how to manage this puppy.  So far she seems to be forgiving of my inexperience.  And she seems to like our cat.

We continue to practice our manners and our "who's alpha" training.  I feed Heidi in the goat pen but I always feed the goats first.  She has learned to sit in her feeding area and wait patiently for her food.  I make her "wait" once I set the bowl down and she watches me for her "okay" signal.  This is a big improvement over pawing at the goats while I'm feeding them.  I occasionally remove her bowl while she is eating so that she knows she gets food at my discretion.  She is also slowly learning that goat-pen cleaning time is not her play time.

I spend 15 to 30 minutes daily walking her on leash.  During this time we walk the new pasture fence boundaries. I will be moving goats to this new area once vegetation begins growing so I want her familiar with this larger enclosure. Sometimes we walk out to visit the bucks in the back field.  It accomplishes leash training as well as teaching her boundaries.  She is learning leash-walking cues such as watching for my left foot to move as her signal to begin walking.  She also automatically sits when I stop.  Having had experience training large dogs before, I am so thankful that she is catching on to these things before she weighs 80+ pounds.  I'm sure during her adolescent phase she will challenge everything I try to do as she exerts her independence that the breed is known for.  I am also sure that all she learned during these early lessons will return to her as she settles into her role and accepts her humans as alpha.

By this time next week, some of Heidi's does will begin kidding.  The puppy will no longer have free access to these goats but will continue to live with the three does who will kid in April.  Because the goat kids will only weigh 2 or 3 pounds and Heidi will weighs 30+ pounds, she will only be allowed supervised visitation.  A playful pup may accidently hurt a small kid and there is also risk to the puppy from protective goat mothers.  I do want Heidi to learn to act appropriately around the babies so it is important that she be able to interact as guardian of the herd while I'm there to supervise.

A young livestock guard dog (LGD), however, is not trustworthy with  young stock until they are mature and can demonstrate appropriate behavior.  Until then, Heidi will have to settle for being a LGD-in-training.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Goats Who Stare At People

Our goats are housed close to the house.  Every morning when I open the back door to go out to feed I am faced with this....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ode to a Farm Truck

Many folks around here have a "farm truck".  As in our case, this is often a truck that used to see "road duty" but at some point just too many things start to go wrong to make it road worthy so it gets relegated to perform various hauling chores on the farm.

Our farm truck is a 1984  4-wheel-drive Toyota.  We purchased it about 15 minutes after we moved to Spencer.  In March.  During a flooding rain.  Nobody with any intelligence moves to Island Run in Roane County in March except us!  Access from the east is a river ford.  Access to our place from the west is a steep and often muddy county road.  Prior to our move from suburban Lexington, we thought it would be a grand idea to purchase a truck so we would have a good vehicle for our new life in WV.  We located a imposing beast of an old truck that we lovingly named "Bubba".  It was an 1982 one-ton 4x4 Chevy truck with dual rear wheels. We parked Bubb in front of our house and worked on him a bit getting ready for our big move.  Well, suffice it to say, Bubba lost his mojo, mostly related to the transfer case and other associated parts that are integral to having 4 wheel drive, during the first attempt at climbing the steep muddy hill on our county road on moving day.  We realized to our horror that we would be basically stranded with no vehicle access once Don's son went back to South Carolina in his big NEW truck.  His dramatic rescue of our move is a story for another day.

Anyway, we trotted down to one of the few car dealers in the area and found a 12 year-old Toyota truck on the used lot.  The dealer, after being informed that if we couldn't try out that truck for the weekend we'd be sleeping in his showroom until Monday morning, happily let us try out the truck for as long as we wanted to make sure it would suit our needs.  Well, that was 16 years ago and the truck, now 28 years old still graces our yard and it's not even up on blocks.

Our truck is not without issues however.  Shortly after we purchased it, we took it to a local guy to reinforce the frame where it had rusted through in several places.  A common problem in that era Toyota apparently, since he had a pretty thriving business doing those repairs.  The last registration sticker is from 2004 which closely correlates to the last oil change.  We just add a bit of oil here and there along the way.  We repaired numerous rust holes in the rear fenders (and passed inspection) by riviting aluminum flashing over the holes.  Once spray painted with near matching paint it looked pretty good.  Now, years later, both fenders flap in the breeze.  No worries either about the annoying problem of the truck bed filling up with water since it has numerous gaping drain holes.  Rubber mats from the good ol' rubber plant here in Spencer keep larger things from falling out the bottom.  There is no (functioning) muffler and the clutch and brakes pedals have to be pumped prior to application, requiring a bit of advanced planning to accomplish some basic driving tasks like shifting gears or stopping... that is once you get it started.

I've considered writing a checklist for starting this truck much like pilots do.  The procedure is as follows:
1. Open the door to see if the key buzzer makes a sound indicating there is maybe enough juice to turn over the engine.
2.  Find spouse since this is a two-person operation. Station one person in the drivers seat.
3.  Find can of starting fluid rolling around behind the seat. (Maybe this should be step 2).
4.  Pump the clutch until there is adequate pressure so that the truck can be put into neutral.
5. Undo hood latch.
6.  The ground crew removes the air-filter cover, sprays starting fluid into carburetor, replaces the air cleaner cover, runs for cover and yells "OKAY hit it".
7. Truck crew turns the key and if it doesn't start, repeats step 6. If it starts, proceed to step 8.  If clicking sound is heard, proceed to step 11.
8.  Pump gas pedal furiously, hoping all the while that someone actually remembered to put a bit of gas in the tank.
9.  If it starts up, signal driver to exit the cab as quickly as possible to escape the cloud of oily smoke until you're ready to drive away.
10.  Close hood.

If clicking sounds are heard, start here:
11. Get out battery charger.
12. Plan something else for the next few hours and remember to plan ahead next time.

Despite it's obvious shortcomings, our old Toyota sees a fair amount of use. It will probably will serve us well until one day after we turn off the key, it dies in its sleep.  It is sad to think that one day we will never hear it's familiar starting rumble or see it enveloped in a cloud of smoke again.

Apparently cats LOVE trucks too!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fencing Update Update

Well, it seems I may have somewhat of an addictive personality.  Or, as the old saying goes, if one goat pasture is good then two must be better.  No matter, it appears that I can not be trusted with post-hole diggers.  It doesn't help that my dear hubby is a fencing enabler.

Looking up the field toward our house (hidden) from the road.
Access to our farm is via a fairly long driveway from the main (I use this term loosely) road. It is located to the right side of the field in the picture and borders the steep bank.  Part of the property that borders the road (in the foreground) adjacent to our driveway is a field that is maybe an acre and is long and skinny.  It is disconnected from the rest of the farm and has not really had a purpose, other than power-line right-of-way.  We used to have a board fence along the road that connected to the gate post that effectively closed off access to our driveway.  The boards gradually began to rot so a couple of years ago we took it the rest of the way down.  I have to admit it seems a little odd to have a large gate to block entrance to our farm when a large open field provides ready access to our driveway if one is so bold as to drive though our field (and they sometimes are).

Looking down our driveway toward the road.
This field is just begging for a fence, or at least enough of a one to block entrance to the field where it borders the road.  Access to the rest of the field is adequately protected by a creek.  However, as the old saying goes," if a partially fenced field is good then a totally enclosed field must be better".  Maybe that is my saying.  Oh well.  Now the plan is to enclose a portion of the field with woven wire, install a large "gate" for access and build a small(?) goat shelter.  We have most of the wooden posts installed so we can't turn back now.

Since we are folks that like to make our hard labor accomplish more that one thing whenever possible, we subscribe to the excellent idea of multi-purposing,  where one task completed accomplishes more than one thing.  According to Shelley math, the little extra work required to enclose part of the front field will accomplish five things:
1.  Keep folks we don't want to come in - OUT,
2.  Help keep neighboring critters OUT,
3.  Give our bucks a field to graze in summer where as now they only have a small lot that is enclosed,
4.  Minimize mowing by me since the goats will help with that, and now that it is designated "pasture" and not "fairway" who cares that is not manicured. This is a farm after all.
5. Prevent me from thinking of turning it into a veggie garden (or worse yet, a gourd field - see below) again.

Yup, maybe being addicted to post-hole diggers isn't such a bad thing after all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Making Ambience

Today was the first real snow we have had all winter. Blowing snow combined with plummeting temperatures made me long for a cozy spot to finish my book that I have been reading for over a week. It is a luxury I don't often allow myself during the day. And I didn't just want to read, I wanted reading with ambience. It was early afternoon so I still had some time to myself before doing goat chores.

When we first moved here we heated with wood. We had and still do have 3 woodstoves; two in the house and one in the woodshop.  Our main wood stove is downstairs in the combined kitchen/living area. It is a large, steel non-airtight fire-breathing stove that needs large logs to be effective. Hmmm, too much ambience.  And besides, it heats up the area where our furnace thermostat is and the far flung areas of our house get cold. The woodstove in the shop didn't seem to offer the exact ambience I was looking for. Too many power tools. Our third woodstove is located upstairs in an open room that has lots of windows. Perfect! I can watch the snow outside and sit by the old Dutchwest airtight cast-iron stove that gently crackles and gives off a nice warmth. 

The only problem is that we haven't used this stove for a couple of years. In fact we haven't used any wood stove this year. It looked as though I was going to have to work a bit for my ambience. I first rounded up matches and a bit of paper to see if the stove flue would actually draw once lighted. Things turned out A-okay in that department. I had stored a bit of scrap wood and sticks on the front porch in case we needed a fire due to a power outage. Hubby suggested that I use that, except that the front porch and everything on it was covered in snow. I dusted off an armload of mixed wood and brought it upstairs to the stove. Then I went back downstairs, out to the porch and got a bit more wood and laid it on the hearth. I went back downstairs and out to the porch one more time to get a bucket of wood shavings for kindling. After my third trip I looked around and the living room floor was now covered with snow, wood shavings and debris that I had carried in with me. No matter, a broom will take care of that after the snow melts and the water dries.  I followed my snow and debris trail upstairs to my stove. With a bit of draft created from the open stove door I could see that there were a few wispy cobwebs fluttering around under the base of the stove. This was not appropriate ambience. This was a call to clean. I went downstairs to fetch a broom and knocked off the few cobwebs. I went back downstairs to put the broom away and raided a few trash cans to find a bit of paper to help start the fire. Apparently I had dislodged a few spiders with my broom, for when I returned they were skittering across the hearth. Stomp. No more spiders. I was ready to create ambience. Once I had the fire going I realized that I had to go back downstairs to reheat my tea that was now chilled. Not good ambience. I heated my tea and went back upstairs and there was a nice roaring fire going.

I shut the air flow down a bit, pulled my rocker and footstool up close to the stove and sat down with my book. I gazed out at the blowing snow thinking I was finally on my way to spending a cozy afternoon with my nose in my book. My feet were warmed by the fire and I had enjoyed my tea . I finished my book and went downstairs and glanced at the clock. I had been in my rocker cozied up to the stove for exactly 20 minutes. All that work for 20 minutes. At least I had time to sweep the living room floor before going out for afternoon chores.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gettin' Ready For Babies - Part 2

Yesterday was a departure from the mild weather we have enjoyed for the past week or so.  Because we are only 3 weeks or so away from a kid explosion, I spent part of the day sorting through my kidding supplies and staging them in our sunroom so they'll be ready to go when needed.

All births are attended by me and Don so that we can be sure each baby gets dried off, treated as needed, and is observed nursing to get colostrum which is only absorbed by the kid during the first few hours of life.  When they arrive in three's, it can be a very busy time for us and the new goat moms.  I hate to jinx my luck, but last year all kids were born healthy and during the daytime.  They also managed to pick the sunny mild afternoons that were sandwiched in between some pretty nasty weather.  The does were very considerate.  I hope it is the same this year.

Many of the supplies are stored in a tote that comes to the barn with me and it contains the followingitems:

  • puppy-training pads to catch the kids as they are born so they don't touch the bedding until navel cords are treated with iodine,
  • towels to dry off the kid, especially important when it is cold,
  • dental floss to tie off umbilical cords,
  • iodine to dip the navel cord to prevent bacterial infections,
  • a film container to put iodine in,
  • A bottle of BO-SE (selenium supplement).  If a kid appears weak and unable to stand it is often due to a selenium deficiency so an injection of this supplement is given to the newborn.

Emergency supplies, are always with me in case the doe needs assistance with her delivery.  These include a lubricant and sterile gloves in case I have to physically go in and assist positioning kids into the birth canal.  I also have a kid puller which is basically a rubber "snare" in case I can't find and turn the kids with my fingers.

The doe also needs a pick-me-up after all that hard work.  If she is just tired but still active then she gets hot bucket of water that contains molassas and karo syrup with salt and soda added.  Does will often drink up to 1/2 gallon of this immediately after kidding to restore their depleted energy reserves.  We also have treatments on hand in case she develops a metabolic imbalance due to the stresses of pregnancy and kidding.

Although most kids come along just fine and they immediately start nursing, there may be an occasional kid that may be too weak to nurse.  If they don't respond quickly to a BO-SE injection and appear to have no sucking reflex then the kid must be tube fed colostrum immediately.  I keep a feeding tube handy along with dried colostrum in case I can't manage to milk colostrum the mother for some reason.  Very occasionally a doe kids and develops an udder later.  Use of a feeding tube will usually save a kid that might otherwise die.  

Fortunately if the does are well cared for, most births proceed easily.  Just like having insurance, I prefer to be prepared for the worst, all the while hoping that most of the supplies that I have on hand will never be needed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heidi, The Great Pyrenees Puppy - Week 5

The biggest news this week is that Heidi is continuing to grow at an unbelievable pace.  Every time I look at her she seems bigger.  She no longer fits in my lap without hanging over onto the ground when we have our brief cuddle in the barn.   She is looking less like a puppy and more like a dog.  Her personality is really beginning to shine.

She had another play date with her sister Dixie who lives down the road.  This time the activity level was much higher. We let them romp in our back field (neutral territory) and they chased and rolled each other in the mud.  At the end of the session we had wet brown pups.  No one remembered to bring a camera :-(

She is also continued to demonstrate her Houdini trait which seems to involve squeezing through the fence.  When I watch her she cannot get through but in the morning she is standing outside the fence.  As a result of this behavior, she is back in the smaller, but more secure pen with the three younger goats.  So far there have been no escapes.  This is the pen with the cozy "Heidi Hole"  which has been taken over by the goats.  Now that Heidi is a bit older (11 weeks) she is happy to hang out and sleep in the dog house.

We also have an interesting inadvertent social experiment developing regarding Heidi and Dixie.  Although Dixie lives on a farm with chickens and will be a general farm protector much like Heidi, she has been spending some of her puppy life in the house and also has been travelling with her owners off the farm to visit various venues.  Heidi has not been in the house for a month and has not been off the farm except to go to the vet.  However, we are both planning to attend a "Canine Good Citizen" class starting in March.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gettin' Ready for Babies

January was was an unusually mild month here in WV.  It allowed us to work outside on a variety of projects that generally must be postponed until spring.  The end of January also signals that it is time to get ready for the impending arrival of our Nigerian Dwarf goat babies in early March.  A fact of life is that the does need to have babies if we are to have milk.  Goats are pregnant for 5 months and are now in their last month of pregnancy.  This is a critical time in the does life as well as ours.

 The kids grow very rapidly during the last month of gestation therefore, the health and nutritional needs of the doe must be attended to.  Feed rations that were reduced when the does were dried off (from milk) in December are gradually increased during this last month of pregnancy. The does get additional loose minerals and kelp to meet their increased need for trace elements.  It is also important to maintain proper calcium ratios so that the doe's calcium reserves are sufficient for her needs as well as that of her rapidly gowing babies.  I vaccinated each doe this week (approximately 30 days before birth) to maximize immunity passed from dam to kid via colostrum. They are vaccinated for Enterotoxemia (a deadly infection of the intestinal tract especially for young kids) and for Tetanus.  I trimmed feet so that during the last month when the does are extremely heavy, their feet can support their weight preventing undue strain on other parts of the body.  I avoid trimming feet much later than this because it is difficult for them to stand on three legs easily.

Goats commonly have multiple kids and I'm predicting that we will have at least two sets of triplets again this year. It is easy to feel the kids moving around now and the does are resting more.  It is also time to check on kidding supplies and order any items that are needed well ahead of the expected kidding times.  I hang an inexpensive baby monitor in the barn a few weeks before kidding so that I can monitor the herd at night in case there is a night birth.  I make sure I have a large tote filled with old towels and puppy-training pads to catch the babies as they arrive.  I also have emergency birthing supplies on hand in case a doe has difficulties.  BO-SE (an injectable selenium supplement) is on hand so I can administer it to any babies that appear weak.  

If all goes well this next month, then we'll have lots of  cute kids screaming their way into this world the first week of March.

Also check out Gettin' Ready for Babies - Part 2: