Feedback on How to Raise and Keep Goats

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ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Keeping goats tethered was a practice reader Sue Gross couldn't endorse.

My husband and I have just read the goat chapter from
Grow It! and feel that we must
throw in a few remarks for the consideration of other
readers.

It would have been helpful to know where Richard Langer got
his information, and how long he’s raised goats personally.
So much of what he says just doesn’t check with my own five
years’ worth of intensive and sometimes tragic experience
… five years during which we’ve owned and boarded enough
different goats to have handled a fair cross section of the
breeds and the problems one is likely to run into.

It seems sad for MOTHER EARTH NEWS to be publishing advice on how to raise and keep goats that
doesn’t agree with real practice or natural methods. As an
alternative, we’d like to suggest that novices can avoid
many problems by trusting nature.

Here, first of all, are a couple of the points with which
we disagree:

[1] Langer’s suggestions on housing and equipment for dairy
goats–as well as on their purchase–are swell if
you have that kind of money. I never have and never will.
It’s far better, anyhow, to provide the minimum shelter
necessary in your climate. Here in California we have no
barn at all but merely a roofed shade where the creatures
are healthy and happy. Being tied to a wall in a shed would
be slow death to my animals!

Milking equipment can be equally simple: a blue earthenware
pot, mesh strainer, and fiber milk filters. Any tight glass
jars will do for containers, and–unless you feel that
you must go in for super-caution–you can forget all
that jazz about ice and sterilization. Your dairy should be
clean, yes … because that is natural.

[2] Grow It! is also way off base in its advice on grain
feeding. Four to eight pounds a day would kill a goat,
lactating or not … those figures must be a misprint. If
top-quality alfalfa is fed on a free-choice basis and the
proper mineral salt mixture is always available, there’s no
real need for any grain except perhaps in very cold
weather.

Purina recommends one pound of Goat Chow for each three
pounds of milk given by a doe, and one pound minimum daily
for dry goats and kids. This is really way too much …
such a heavy ration will make the animals too fat and lazy,
reduce milk output in some cases, and cause loose bowels in
others.

Next, I’d like to tell my own “goat story” to show why I
feel as I do about natural methods of husbandry.

We had a fine scrub Nubian doe that gave three quarts of
milk a day. She was our first, and we loved her dearly. I
did everything in my power to follow the advice of
“experts,”  tempering their words with some common sense
and what I learned by trial and error. (The animal,
unhappily, was the one that suffered from my learning
process.)

Since I have a child who nearly died before we found goat
milk, I have to have a year-round supply … so I began
looking for a second doe. I’d almost lost hope of finding
anything worth having in my price range when a neighbor
told me about a registered French Alpine, of champion
stock, that was going cheap because her blemishes made her
unshowable. She had just freshened for the second time and
had given birth to triplets. Best of all, she cost only
$35.00. I jumped at the bargain.

The papers were all in order and–since the doe looked
beautiful–I bought her. The owners told me that she’d
been attacked by dogs the previous year and that her bag
was no longer perfect: Fluid leaked from tiny holes on the
udder’s sides during milking, but not when the animal was
at rest. The bag was well-shaped otherwise, though, and I
felt that I’d managed a “steal.”

The next morning, however, it was obvious that my new goat
was not well. Her udder was hot and red-swollen but without
much milk. I was frantic … we had spent every spare dime
to buy the Alpine so there was no reserve with which to pay
a vet. The sale was final, and I was stuck.

I had to call my only milk customer and tell her I had no
supply available … and her family turned out to have the
answer to my trouble. They knew nothing about livestock
but–being interested in everything to do with health
and nutrition–they brought by a book called Vermont
Folk Medicine. The author, Dr. D.C. Jarvis, had set up
practice in a remote part of the Green Mountain State where
he discovered that the old-time residents had a very
profound, natural system for maintaining health, seldom
needed his services and lived to a serene old age. They
were more than willing to share what they knew, and Dr.
Jarvis learned that the main addition to his neighbors’
plain, unprocessed food was raw apple cider vinegar. The
same substance was also used as a veterinary preventive and
remedy.

My customers had brought a quart of the vinegar with them
and the taste and smell were so delicious and appetizing
that I decided to try Dr. Jarvis’ methods on my sick goat.
The treatment was simple: two tablespoons of vinegar to one
pound of dairy grain twice a day … every day. The idea is
to maintain the chemical balance in the body for prevention
of illness as well as for the cure of specific infection.

It worked! By the fifth day our patient was eating
normally, the milk was nearly clear and the rough coat and
dull eyes were gone for good. We started using our new
doe’s output on the seventh day and were pleased with the
rich, sweet flavor … her milk has never tasted “goaty”.

Darlene (the Alpine) loved the vinegar and didn’t want the
grain without it. The other goats started getting the same
dose–you bet!–and total production rose even
though the Nubian was due to dry up. In fact, I had to take
her off grain and vinegar to stop her lactation.

Then I made a big mistake. After nine months of terrific
milk production and an easy mating (Darlene had always been
very hard to breed before, since she stayed in heat only
six to eight hours), I dried the Alpine up as I had the
other nanny. Because she was a little too fat I decided to
cut the grain out of her diet … and in so doing I got
careless about the vinegar.

The doe was in blooming good health and looked ready to
have quadruplets. She freshened easily with two delightful
and devilish buck kids–very large and
active–and I was thrilled.

At that point the result of my mistake became clear. Within
24 hours Darlene had raving mastitis, and the kids had to
be removed for fear they’d get sick from her milk. I
restarted the vinegar at once, along with every herb and
plant I could offer her. She took comfrey with relish, and
little else … except the vinegar grain, which she ate
with frantic speed. I mixed more of the acid in warm water
with molasses, and my poor doe drank it in sobbing gulps.

That treatment stopped the mastitis cold, without vets or
antibiotics. Darlene was well in three days, the kids were
returned to her and the milk was perfectly normal.

My goat will never again pass a day without her dose of
vinegar … and neither will I. Darlene also gets fresh
tomatoes, comfrey, cornstalks, leaves and a hundred other
fresh, natural foods from the garden. When she bloats a
little from a new bale of hay, I give her an armful of mint
sprigs. It works. I just put all the feed where she can get
it and let her choose.

The fresh or dry tops of onions and garlic are a special
treat for the goats … when the animals aren’t in
production (because such food makes their milk taste pretty
bad). I grow stock beets, pumpkins and soybeans just for
the herd, and the does repay me with terrific milk and
large healthy kids that don’t need pampering and sterile
conditions to survive.

I must add one tragic experience to this story in the hope
that if other goats are saved I’ll be repaid in some
measure for the loss of our dearest animal friend. Cocoa,
the Nubian we had first, was found one afternoon in her pen
quite dead. She had choked on her own collar. The band was
fairly snug on her neck and I’ll never know how she got her
nose into it too. A freak accident, to be sure, but so
unnecessary! The sole purpose of the collar is to give one
control of the animal when it’s outside the pen, and the
small convenience isn’t worth the risk.

Another sad experience makes me angry that Langer suggests
using a collar to tether a goat. If you must do such a
miserable thing as tie your animal, make or buy a
well-fitted halter such as you would use for a horse or
cow.

The incident that makes me say this with such heat
concerned a goat that was brought here to board after a
mishap. That doe had been tied out with collar and chain
practically since birth and was as used to it as an animal
can be . . . yet one day a dog attacked her and she was so
badly frightened that she broke her windpipe when she hit
the end of the tether. She was saved from her enemy, but
she wheezed and gasped pitifully for every breath and her
owners brought her to me in the hope of a cure. None was
possible and she died shortly with her spirit broken as
well as her windpipe. What a waste for want of a fence!

To sum it all up, I think it’s obvious that the more
natural and loving we can be to ourselves and our animals,
the better off we’ll be. Chemicals and manipulation may do
the job, but never better than good ole Ma. I’d be glad of
any feedback–pro or con-on my ideas … I’m still
learning from the bottom up and have a very long way to go.