Measuring Success

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With goats, so it seems, those days where you wonder why you put yourself through the stress of keeping them happen to pretty much everyone, and fairly regularly.

Keeping my Anglo Nubians healthy is a juggling act of observation, preventative measures and learning. You watch their body condition, their growth, their milk output and of course you monitor their poo. Few things put a smile on my face like a healthy output of goatberries from all the goats. Yet this seems to be frustratingly difficult to achieve sometimes.

In the beginning, a successful kidding season was one where I got a good proportion of doe kids. I have since amended that qualification and lowered my expectations. First of all, I want all my does to live. Then I want my does to be healthy before, during and after kidding. Then I want all the kids to live. Or at least, all the good ones. So this season, three nice doe kids from seven live, healthy kids born without assistance to four live, healthy does was a success. Until one doe got mastitis. And another was diagnosed with staph in her udder. But these are things we can fix. Success. For now. Don’t turn your back on them…

My bucks have been a different story. Normally a happy trio of easy-care, low stress fellows, for the last month or so they have been plagued by persistent scouring. This distresses me greatly. And in the absence of other symptoms it is incredibly frustrating. The younger two are still growing well, they have all gained body condition since winter, and they are otherwise showing no signs of disease. I have tried different wormers as well as bi-carb therapy. They have had a course of antibacterial injections. They have had mineral supplements. They are currently shut in their small paddock on a diet of home-grown grass hay to see whether there might be something in their big paddock causing the problem. On a good day, it looks like the latest thing I tried is working, and I smile. On a bad day they are passing puddles of poop and I feel so defeated. My mood is linked to what comes out of the back end of these goats. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, some tests to do, but I just want my boys to be well, and hopefully to find out what is causing this so I can keep it from happening again. Meanwhile, what is the opposite of success? Because that is what this feels like.

Milk production is another measure of success. My oldest doe gave 3.5 litres in her first lactation, but has not gone anywhere near that since. This year I found out why. High cell counts on her milk tests led me to have cultures done on her milk, and a staph infection was diagnosed. Well, that explains that. So now I look at treating her and hopefully curing it after her doe kid is weaned in six weeks time. Then maybe her milk production goes back up next season. Stay tuned on that one.

My little doe came in with an alarming 5lt of milk per day after kidding triplets. This was alarming because she is such a little girl and I really worried about how she would manage to keep that up for her whole lactation. She has settled down to produce just over 4lt per day and do it with relative ease. She didn’t pass her 24hour test at the Royal Melbourne Show, but is on her way to a 12-month production recording award. So stay tuned on that one too. I’ve got very bold plans to attempt to run her through, that is, milk her continuously for two seasons without kidding. That is a real leap of faith, but she has shown a tendency to milk on well after weaning her kids, so I have decided to give it a try. If it works, I’ll be over the moon. If she dries up after the first 12 months then at least we tried.

Showing sounds like an easy way to measure success, but it doesn’t always work that way. I rely a lot on the comments of show judges to help me see the points of my goats and how they compare to others. Winning is fun, and broad sashes are nice to hang on the glory wall, but it really is mainly a learning experience for me. A season of showing helps me know what to look for when selecting which bucks to put over which does. This is not only from the does themselves being judged, but also their young daughters. When a judge discusses the faults and virtues of a doe kid, he or she is evaluating last year’s mating for me. For goats of all ages, as far as I am concerned, the more comments the better and don’t sugar-coat it. I have done better than I expected in the show ring this year, but a Champion Milking Doe award still seems a long way off. When that finally happens, you’ll know by my jumping for joy.

With goats, there are so many things to consider. They are an all-encompassing lifestyle, and managing a herd is a huge undertaking. From planning matings, formulating feed rations, and keeping up with the paperwork, to the routine maintenance of hoof trimming, vaccinating, worm treatments and blood tests, there is always something to be done. Holidays are for other people who don’t have to be home to do the milking, and following the show circuit through spring uses up a lot of fuel.

One day maybe I’ll have a roster of milk-awarded does, effortlessly producing over five litres per day, sporting neat udders with tidy little teats. Maybe one of these does will gain Australian Champion status and give me triplet doe kids. For now I can dream, and face each challenge as it comes, even if some days those challenges make me question what on Earth I am doing.

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