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Caring for Goats in Winter

As the cold weather once again approaches, we see many concerned goat owners on Facebook wondering how to keep their beloved goats safe, healthy and warm in freezing temperatures.  This concern is understandable, particularly for goats that originated in a warmer climate, like our Nigerian Dwarf goats.

Caring for goats in winter is really quite simple, though, so let’s get to the basics, followed by a discussion on additional practices that can help you raise hardy, healthy goats in cold weather.

Hay

Rumen activity, the process by which a goat digests its food, generates quite a lot of heat.  Long stem roughage in the form of grass or alfalfa hay is essential to a healthy, fully functioning rumen.  Keep hay out free choice for your goats all winter.  This means all night and all day.  If you lock them in their shelter at night, put a hay feeder inside, along with a source of clean, unfrozen water. Continue reading “Caring for Goats in Winter”

10 Steps to Livestock Guardian Dog Wildfire Preparedness

It’s wildfire season again.  Up here in eastern Washington, late summer brings us the perfect conditions for wildfires and this year seems to be even drier than normal.  A spark can turn into hundreds or even thousands of acres in heart stopping short time.  A fire several miles away can be at your back door before you’ve had time to make all the preparations necessary for evacuation.

As I write this, we have 15 sheep evacuees and their companion livestock guardian pups taking it easy in a pasture on our place.  While they’re resting comfortably, their home remains threatened and we await the news of the final outcome.  My heart goes out to the family while my mind goes to the steps we all can take to help make an evacuation of our livestock guardian dogs go as smoothly as possible.  These steps to livestock guardian wildfire preparedness can help you, your dogs and their foster home transition with less stress on everyone involved. Continue reading “10 Steps to Livestock Guardian Dog Wildfire Preparedness”

Goat Marketing: The Ins and Outs

For some, goat marketing is a necessary evil but if you raise goats, marketing is a necessity. Your ability to get your goats in front of the right people is a major part of determining how successful your goat operation will be.

The following tips and pointers are designed to help you streamline the process of goat marketing and identify how and when to focus your efforts so you can not only find buyers for your goats but also establish the foundation of a solid, thriving brand – your goat farm.

Goat Marketing 101: Be Willing to Spend the Time

I often read comments online from goat breeders saying things like, “I don’t have time to take pictures,” or “I’m too busy to answer a million questions about my goats.” While I think it’s true, it’s also a matter of priorities.  Additionally, if you’re pricing your goats properly, that time spent marketing goats is paid time.

The folks who can get away with little to no pictures or communication are the ones spending their time building up show wins and accolades that do the selling for them. One way or another, you need to commit yourself to spending the time to market your goats, whether directly through talking with buyers or indirectly through participating in shows and performance programs.

With that said, marketing doesn’t have to be a tedious, time consuming process that sucks the joy out of goat ownership.  During kidding season, my time spent on goat marketing breaks down roughly like this: Continue reading “Goat Marketing: The Ins and Outs”

9 Reasons to Have a Website for Your Goat Business

I’m not into fear mongering.  I don’t feel like the proverbial sky is falling in the world of online livestock sales, but I do believe some things are changing and if you’re trying to make a business with your goats, you may need to be changing as well.

If you’re into social media, you probably have heard the murmurings of Facebook’s recent crackdown on livestock sales.  Major groups that focus on animals, even if they weren’t sale groups, have been taken down without a warning.  I’ve heard rumors of Facebook business pages being removed as well.  PETA’s recent venture into Facebook stockholder status is going to cause an increase in this activity or an outright ban on all things animal related.

Many folks have taken to other social media sites as an alternative, but from where I’m standing, that is as doomed to fail as Facebook.

Now, I’ve had this website for 7 or 8 years now.  It has always been my focal point for a variety of reasons.  Good marketing dictates that all other options should lead back to this, my main sales channel.  Let’s explore 9 reasons why you should have a website as well if you’re in the goat business. Continue reading “9 Reasons to Have a Website for Your Goat Business”

Costs of Raising Goats 2020

Every year, I like to write up a current breakdown of how much it costs us to raise goats. In 2018, the cost of raising goats came out to $480 per doe per year. The 2019 cost changed little, coming in at $483 per doe per year. This coming year, 2020, our numbers have increased, so let’s walk through the costs of raising goats again and see how we compared to the last two years.

First off, we plan to winter 21 does and 2 bucks, or 23 total, up from 19 for 2019. (Wait til you see the 2021 numbers we’re planning, that’ll change things!). Let’s look at the costs per category now.
Continue reading “Costs of Raising Goats 2020”

Hatching Eggs without an Incubator

In the last article, I talked about how we were able to incubate our 25-day-old duck eggs after their mother was killed, using only a heat pad and some elbow grease.  In this article, I will lay out the process that happened to transition them to our non working incubator shell and hatch successfully.

We incubated them for 10 days, caring for them four times per day, swapping out wet rags to keep the humidity level up.

Despite all odds, I heard peeping one night when I was giving them the last wet rag at bedtime.  Hallelujah!  The next day, there were three pipped eggs.  I could hardly contain my excitement.  Hatching, though, posed a new problem – how could they hatch layered under the weight of the rags and blanket?

Here is where our non working incubator came in handy.  It could easily be replicated with a styrofoam cooler or even a standard plastic cooler.  You just need a way to keep heat and moisture in, but with the ability to vent excess moisture out.

Continue reading “Hatching Eggs without an Incubator”

Incubating Eggs without an Incubator

eggs incubated on a heat padA raccoon killed my favorite duck hen the other day, leaving her 20+ day old eggs without a mother.  When we discovered it the next morning, the eggs were cold.  There was little hope, but there’s a saying in the farm world, “It’s not dead until it’s warm and dead.”  More than once, we’ve warmed up a lifeless body (think rabbits in particular) to find a miraculous recovery.

The problem with the eggs is that we have a non working incubator, something to do with a puppy and wires.  How could we keep the eggs going without it?  I’ve always been told you can’t, which means I needed to set out to prove someone wrong!

What we did have was a heat pad with a stay on function and a stubborn refusal to accept defeat.  As I write this, several ducklings are hatched and drying off with several more pipped and on the way.  We incubated them 10 days.  Here’s how we incubated eggs without an incubator. Continue reading “Incubating Eggs without an Incubator”

Making Tree Hay for Winter Feed

What did livestock owners do for hay in ancient times?  This is a question I’ve pondered and yearned to know, because we strive to live life as non mechanized as possible.  When I heard about tree hay, I instantly knew it was what I’d been looking for.  Tree hay is one of the oldest hay production methods in recorded history.  Ancient pollards, or trees cut specifically for branchy growth as is used in tree hay making, have been found across Europe and it is even mentioned in ancient Roman times.

What is Tree Hay?

Continue reading “Making Tree Hay for Winter Feed”

Shampoo Free Made Easy

I wanted to ditch shampoo for years but I was afraid of the process.  No penny goes unpinched around here though and during a time of reduced income, I decided it was now or never.  That was almost a year and a half ago and my only regret is that I waited so long to try.

In addition to saving me tons of money, getting rid of shampoo has had unexpected side effects.  My hair is much healthier, grows faster and has more body.  Perhaps most surprising though is how this journey has helped me to love myself more.

Here is the process I used to go shampoo free and the regular care routine I use now. Continue reading “Shampoo Free Made Easy”

The Birth of Nigerian Dwarf Goat Kids in Pictures

Penny kidded today.  We were so warm and cozy in the greenhouse that we didn’t notice the blustery, blowing snow outside at all.  It was such a lovely experience, a textbook delivery of twins with no need for assistance.  I sat back and watched while shooting these photos.  From labor to delivery, here is a Nigerian Dwarf goat birth in photos.   Continue reading “The Birth of Nigerian Dwarf Goat Kids in Pictures”

So You’ve Gone in and Assisted a Birth. What Next?

I am reminded today why raising goats isn’t for the faint of heart.  Things are great when they’re great, but it sure can be intense when they’re not so great.

I heard Silkie making noise and went out to find her already pushing, not progressing well with a backward breech who came out easily enough, but after low intensity contractions and no progress pushing on the second, I went in to find a mess.

This isn’t my first mess, but I felt like sharing this glimpse of goat life for those of you thinking you might want to someday find yourself elbow deep in a screaming doe. 😀

The second kid, much larger than the first, was upside down with his head wedged beneath the birth canal and a single front foot out.  Continue reading “So You’ve Gone in and Assisted a Birth. What Next?”

Sometimes Goat Kids Die

This is a sort of melodramatic title for an issue that I feel needs to be addressed.  When you deal with live animals, particularly with buying young live animals, there are an inherent set of risks that can cause injury, illness or death, even if the animal was well cared for prior to leaving the farm of origin.  New buyers, with the help of comments on social media like, “A reputable breeder would have…” or “I would never sell an animal like that…” are often led to believe that anything less than a perfectly healthy animal for the first month has got to be the fault of the breeder they bought from.  I want to set the record straight and say this: sometimes goat kids die. This is especially true if you are an inexperienced goat owner who may miss signs more experienced owners have learned–often through hard lessons–to notice. Continue reading “Sometimes Goat Kids Die”

Natural Treatment for Lice in Goats

Year after year, despite various changes in management, we would encounter lice in late winter and early spring in our goats. I found dealing with it incredibly frustrating since none of the effective methods were compatible with our goal of natural care. So each year I would resignedly use one of the powdered concoctions on them, hoping maybe next season I’d come up with a solution.

All that changed last year, in 2018, when I re-read Pat Coleby’s book Natural Goat Care, one of the few goat books I have that I recommend to people.  It finally clicked. In NGC, Pat talks about how important sulfur is:

“…animals receiving the correct amounts of sulfur in their diet will not get lice.” Continue reading “Natural Treatment for Lice in Goats”

Costs of Raising Goats in 2019

About a year ago, I worked up what it was costing us to raise our registered Nigerian Dwarf goats.  It was a fun exploration and I thought I’d do it again this year since a number of things have changed – surprise!  The original Costs of Raising Goats concluded that our total annual cost per doe is $415 and $390 per buck. Let’s see how those numbers compare to 2019.

Hay

We changed suppliers this year at a vastly increased cost.  We were paying $70/ton for hay from a family member.  We switched to a no-spray supplier and, with the cost of hiring a semi for delivery and a couple kids to help unload and stack, we paid $200/ton.  Sure was nice to have it all in, stacked and put away in a single day though!

To offset that, we made some silage and tree hay.  This accounts for only a small amount of their feed for this season, but we’ve had great results so far and plan to increase both silage and tree hay at a cost of almost zero to us outside of labor costs.  I’ll have to work that out this year when we do the next batch. Continue reading “Costs of Raising Goats in 2019”

Silage Making with Lawnmower Grass Clippings

We experimented this summer with silage making from lawnmower clippings.  The first barrel wasn’t a complete success–mold made it several inches down the barrel–but it was enough to convince us to keep trying, so in July we ensiled 4 barrels of grass clippings sourced entirely from our lawnmower.

We opened the first of those barrels today, so I wanted to show you the results, along with a step by step explanation of silage making with nothing more than an air tight container and a lawnmower with bagger attachment.

Silage making is so incredibly simple I’m surprised it isn’t more popular.  It took me quite a bit of searching initially to find resources that talk about it and in the end, we were pretty much on our own.  This guide is my hope of spreading the word so more people can create a sustainable, nearly zero cost food source for their livestock. Continue reading “Silage Making with Lawnmower Grass Clippings”

Raising Rabbits for Meat in a Colony

We’ve been raising rabbits for meat off and on for years.  From the beginning, I sought alternatives to traditional cages.  We started out with rabbit tractors, which worked great for small numbers but weren’t really scalable.  Then, at our old house, we started a colony and it was the perfect answer, until the goats pushed on the gate and “freed” the whole colony right before we moved.

It took a couple of years to start over, but now we’re raising rabbits for meat again and have settled on a colony build that works well for us.  In this article, I will answer some common questions and share the insights I’ve gained over the years. Continue reading “Raising Rabbits for Meat in a Colony”

150 Animals, Winter Chores in Under 30 Minutes

When talking about the animals we raise, I often hear, “How do you do it all?”  I’m startled at that question, because the reality is there isn’t much to do, so I thought maybe it would help to take you on a walk through my daily chores.  As much as possible, I try to automate systems.  Like most of us, I have a lot going on with homeschooling, house-wifing and small farming, so anything I can be hands off with is a help.

These photos were taken today.  The average time to feed and care for all the animals on the property is under 30 minutes, with bursts of activity once per week for feeding hay.  High capacity feeders are the key to sanity.

Even with the time spent moving hay once per week, we still average under 30 minutes per day.  Here’s how.

Continue reading “150 Animals, Winter Chores in Under 30 Minutes”

Garbage Can Chicken Feeder

We’ve been feeding whole grains to our chickens for 2-3 years now.  About a year and a half ago, we finally landed on the low maintenance, no waste chicken feeders we use today: garbage can chicken feeders.  This method allows us to feed one or two times per year and results in zero waste and grain throwing.

To get started, choose a container.  We had garbage cans on hand so used those.  We have made feeders in 5-gallon buckets and I’ve seen storage totes used as well; there are no set rules for the container type as long as it will hold up to the weight of the feed with holes drilled in it.  Because we fill ours up and then move them to the coop, we prefer garbage cans for ease of moving. Continue reading “Garbage Can Chicken Feeder”

Creating a Feeding Station for Livestock Guardian Dogs

Before we got pigs, we just had a bowl of food out for the dogs free choice.  Those days were so innocent, so pure, so carefree.  Then came the pigs. <cue ominous music>

Now, I’ve had all kinds of livestock for most of my life, but nothing prepared me for life with pigs.  They are an entirely different animal altogether.  I remember the first time we were moving two of our little sweet adorable piglets out of one pen and into another.  Everything was going great, they were following a bucket of grain and we were thrilled with our success.  Then they quit coming.  I looked back to see those two sweet little angels ravenously devouring a whole chicken we’d fed the dogs, bones crunching in their mouths as they contentedly snorted and chewed.  Whoa. Continue reading “Creating a Feeding Station for Livestock Guardian Dogs”

Fencing for the Livestock Guardian Dog

My heart jolted out of my body for probably the 4,000th time in a month to the sound of a honking horn. In the weeks since moving to our new farm, situated right next to a paved road, it had seemed like one catastrophe after another and the honking horn was a sure clue that yet another disaster was unfolding right outside.

Blaze, our benevolent Great Pyrenees, had once again escaped the pasture where she lived and was out on the road stopping cars. This is a 50 MPH road, so you can imagine the chaos that ensued. She would refuse to move, barking at these evident trespassers and nothing we could do short of dragging her back off the road would make her stop. This was happening at the same time as the neighbor issue and I was over capacity for dog related stress. Continue reading “Fencing for the Livestock Guardian Dog”

Our Vision for the Sustainability of Our Goats

I like to dream about what the future holds for our little farm and the most important livestock we raise on it, the goats.  I love all of my animals, but goats are my special pals.  In terms of sustainability, they have the potential to give life to not only their kids and mine, but also to the chickens, pigs and dogs.  If we can successfully provide their needs here on what we can raise, we can use their outputs to create sustainable food for the other animals that call Little Avalon “home.”

While I thought it would be fun to share this with you, I think it’s equally important for me to put these ideas into words that I can look back on as we progress through this journey.  It’ll be interesting to see how things look a year, or five, or ten from now! Continue reading “Our Vision for the Sustainability of Our Goats”

When Your Neighbor Hates Your Livestock Guardian Dogs

Nearly two years ago, we packed up everything we owned, including 17 goats and their 2 livestock guardian dogs, and moved to our new home, a beautiful paradise you see in all the photos on this website.  It’s the place of dreams, a place I wake up every day and thank God for allowing us to buy.  Here, at last, we could fulfill our dream of becoming a sustainable farm, able to withstand life’s financial and social storms.  We were so eager to begin that we worked until midnight the day of closing to get our beds moved and sleep in our new home.

We’d lived in the house we moved from for our entire marriage and our entire goat owning career.  Nothing prepared me for the enormity of a move that involved both livestock and small children.  I’d say it took almost a full year to finally begin to feel settled in.  We were very blessed to have a fully fenced and cross fenced property to move to, but miniature goats and determined livestock guardian dogs will find ways to get out. Continue reading “When Your Neighbor Hates Your Livestock Guardian Dogs”

Walk-in Rabbit Tractor on Wheels Design

We built this tractor back in 2011. I’ve since gone through multiple variations and unique tractors and this remains one of the best designs we’ve used. I originally published this on a Blogger blog but am collecting all of it into one post here on my website.

This part first published 3/28/11 and the rest followed over the next couple of weeks, current notes in italics:

It’s been a long-time goal of mine to raise meat rabbits on pasture. Working out the details has taken forever! There are so many things to consider with pastured rabbits because they’re so adept at escape. After hours and hours of looking at hundreds of chicken tractors, I think we’ve finally figured out how to make our own rabbit tractor.

I plan to start small with 2 does and a buck and since no one pastures rabbits I have no idea how much space to give them. I figured a good start would be 4’x12′. 4′ wide will fit between our planned raised garden beds. We’re going to move the pen every day or as needed to make sure they have plenty of fresh grass. Continue reading “Walk-in Rabbit Tractor on Wheels Design”

Building a Zero Cost, Post-Free Pallet Fence

Pallets are hands-down one of the most versatile and important no-cost homesteader supplies. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever use them, if you happen upon a stash of them at a store for free, you owe it to all of your soon-to-be jealous fellow homesteaders across the world to bring those pallets home.  From instant patches in existing fences to building entire lines with only pallets and elbow grease, pallets make the easiest and quickest fence to put up.

My husband lived and worked out of state for a year and a half while I had three (now four) small children and a small farm to take care of alone.  I remember how much I appreciated being able to use pallets then.  I could put up a single line by myself while the baby napped.  (I originally wrote about our pallet fence back in 2012 on my old blog, but in an effort to consolidate info and remove myself from Google’s clutches, I am rewriting those articles here and ditching the Blogger blog.) Continue reading “Building a Zero Cost, Post-Free Pallet Fence”

Nigerian Dwarf Bottle Feeding Schedule

Even if you dam raise your kids, it’s inevitable that you’ll wind up with a bottle baby at some point. Our does have large litters, as many as five at a time, and it isn’t uncommon that we end up with one or two (or three) per year that are put on the bottle. This is the feeding schedule we use for our Nigerian Dwarf bottle babies; you can approximately double the amounts and use this for standard sized goats as well. Minis would be somewhere in between.

So much of feeding bottle babies is intuition and individual decisions. I’ve tried to pinpoint specific weights to give you an idea of how much to feed, but the best advice I have is to watch your babies and their activity level/overall behavior. Well fed kids are bright, alert, active and constantly exploring the world. Kids who aren’t feeling well will be just the opposite, standing around, lethargic, crying out or frantically seeking milk. Always go by what your kids tell you over what an article online does.

Continue reading “Nigerian Dwarf Bottle Feeding Schedule”

Physical Traits of an Easy Hand Milking Goat

In the world of dairy goats, you’ll hear such descriptive terms as “butter soft udder texture,” “plump teats” and “open orifices” to describe a hand milking udder. In an online world where words must sufficiently explain such a complex experience as milking, we often fall short of really telling readers what the udder is like. This article attempts to break down the individual traits that come together to make a doe an “easy milker” versus a doe you might want to keep as a pet instead.

I remember my first purebred Nigerian doe. I bought her as a 3 day old bottle baby and fell head over heels in love with her. She grew into a petite beauty, a light buckskin with a characteristically mellow personality and the most ridiculously tiny teats I’d ever seen. Finally, I understood the somewhat laughable term, “kitty titties.” All my dreams of enjoying the renowned sweet, creamy milk of Nigerians were dashed upon my discovery of that udder.
Continue reading “Physical Traits of an Easy Hand Milking Goat”

How Much Does It Cost to Produce Goat Milk at Home?

milk photoAmong the many reasons for raising your own milk at home is the expected cost savings.  I see remarks in various goat groups about how much more home raised goat milk is costing people, so this article is an attempt to break down the costs of raising your own goat milk to see where the money goes, which allows us all to make educated decisions on how to better manage our goats from a cost perspective.

I wrote an in-depth breakdown of our personal costs to raise goats.  The end result is that we need to sell about $480 worth of kids per doe per year to break even.  This includes total operating costs, such as labor, farm insurance, fencing, feeds, etc.  Rats!  There go my dreams of being a professional goat breeder! 😀
Continue reading “How Much Does It Cost to Produce Goat Milk at Home?”

Cost of Making Homemade Dog Food

We’re still in the early stages of being 100% kibble free and making our own dog food, so I’ll continue to update this post as the details become clearer.

Prior to making the switch, we were spending $4.55 per day for dog food, which gives us quite a bit of cost to work with.  If we pay the same amount but feed them homemade food instead, I’d count it a win for the health benefits.

How Much To Feed Per Day?

Juliette de Bairacli Levy says a healthy collie adult should eat 2 pounds per day with this method.  Collies average 60 pounds full grown.  Our four dogs average 66 pounds, but LGDs eat less for their weight than other dogs their size.  We’ve been averaging about 6 pounds of kibble per day (fed free choice) before switching so I’m basing our current rations on that and will adjust both the ration and this article if things change considerably.  Levy also mentions dogs eat less on this diet than on an “unnatural diet.”
Continue reading “Cost of Making Homemade Dog Food”

Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food

For years now I have wanted to get away from kibble in my dogs’ diets.  It is unnatural, laden with chemicals and filled with things we wouldn’t necessarily choose to feed ourselves.  I have a six year old German Shepherd who, after having mandatory vaccines to be boarded one year, has suffered off and on with skin conditions and nervous issues.  He is sensitive to foods and has never seemed to regain full health after his ordeal.  It is mainly for him that we are finally jumping into feeding dogs naturally, with no kibble.

The thing that has held me back from making this move is the many conflicting recommendations on how best to feed dogs homemade food.  On one end of the spectrum you have the raw camp saying that dogs must only eat raw meats, bones and offal and nothing else.  On the other end is a personal hero, Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden fame, who is feeding his dogs only fruits, vegetables and eggs all grown on his property.  His dogs are sleek, healthy and vibrant, a sure testament to the fact that dogs do not need meat to thrive.  With so many opinions, it’s easy to get caught up in indecision.
Continue reading “Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food”

When to Separate Kids Overnight for Milking

By the time kidding season rolls around, the kids and I are all but salivating over our favorite goat milk products. Caramel consistently tops the list, but one thing is certain: we’ve missed fresh goat milk for the past couple of months!

When those kids begin to arrive, it’s a balance between the kids’ needs, the milk quality and our own eagerness to begin tasting fresh milk. I see a lot of people asking around this time how long they need to wait before separating kids overnight, so I know we’re not the only family looking forward to milk!
Continue reading “When to Separate Kids Overnight for Milking”

Calculating Grain Costs for Goats

We buy grain in bulk from local feed mills. It saves a lot over retail at the feed store, but the tradeoff is that we spend more time handling the grain and drive longer distances to get it. We have been going twice a year now, but I’d love to get bigger storage bins to allow us to make one trip per year. That the peas are in one town and the oats/barley are in another just complicates things.

The current mix, which changes based on availability and sometimes our whims, is 3 parts barley, 1 part field peas and 1 part black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).

Our most recent purchase put the prices as follows:
Continue reading “Calculating Grain Costs for Goats”

Costs of Raising Goats

Our methods change frequently, so while these costs are accurate now, by next season we may be doing things differently.

One thing is for certain no matter the method: raising goats is costly!

Hay
January begins kidding season, or it has the last two years anyway. The does are wintering in the barn and eating free choice second cutting alfalfa at $70/ton. Our price is drastically lower than market value because we buy at cost from a relative. Market rate is about $175 a ton.

We winter about 6 months out of the year, so I figure 180 days of feeding hay at a rate of 4% of body weight per day per goat. An average adult Nigerian weighs 75 pounds, so 3 pounds a day, or 540 per season. I round up to 600 pounds to account for increased eating during late pregnancy.

Continue reading “Costs of Raising Goats”