Kids For Days…

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After last year’s cascade of disasters, I was pretty apprehensive about this year’s kidding season. But it seems that this year the wheel of fortune has swung back in our favour.

I intended to kid eight does this year, and bred the first couple before Australia Day. I was all set up to hand-raise kids from my quarantine does, expecting around half a dozen kids from that group. Sienna kidded first, big twin bucks by Toggalong FitzWilliam, and I waited and waited for the other two to kid… but they did not. Meredith had come into season repeatedly and at irregular intervals, but despite being bred about five times, including the time the buck broke the gate open and spent the night with her, she did not get in kid. Maia did not cycle at all, and I suspected that she had been bred when the buck got out, but no such luck. My first round of kidding netted me two buck kids, and a long wait before the next ones were due.

So I was left with five does to kid, three first kidders and two second kidders. Everyone in the main group cycled late this year, and a couple had to be re-bred after missing on the first cycle. Juliet was huge from about halfway through her pregnancy, and we speculated that she might give us our first set of quads, a prospect that was as exciting as it was daunting. Rosanna and Elaine were bred to Buddy, the buck whose kids all died last year. Katie was bred to Tazzy, whose fertility could reasonably be suspected to be waning now that he is eight years old. It took three cycles to get her in kid, on the last cycle she was bred four times over two days, but it worked.

I am very lucky to have a flexible and understanding workplace, as most of those five does kidded at times when I should have been at work. I went out on a Tuesday morning the day before Juliet was due to kid and found her in labour. She looked like she had been at it for a little while, so I kept a close eye on her and set a time limit for her to start birthing kids before I went in to investigate. That time came and went, with Juliet sat on the floor looking quite worn-out, so I soaped up and put my hand in to investigate.

There was a kid clearly quite close to being born, but I couldn’t feel any feet. I thought I had a face but it didn’t feel right, and there was a weird floppy thing coming out first. After a few moments I realised that what I was feeling was a tail, and the kid was trying to come out literally bum first. I had to push it back in to find the hind legs and pull it out. Juliet was still lying down, which helped, and there was plenty of space to manipulate the kid. I went in again, found another pair of legs and pulled out another kid, placing it next to the first on the straw. These were not especially small kids. I reached in again and pulled out another, hoping to have the all the kids out before the first ones started making too much noise and prompted the doe to get up to investigate. Juliet lay there patiently while I reached in again and found a fourth kid. Two legs in my hand and out she came, a bit smaller than the others but otherwise fine. I felt around for any more just in case, but four was it. I got up and stood out of the way while Juliet hoisted her significantly-reduced self up out of the straw and set to work cleaning her four absolutely perfect kids.

I managed to get them all to have a feed before I headed into work for the afternoon. I weighed them first and they ranged from 2.8kg to 3.5kg, adding up to over 12kg of kids between them and beating Sienna’s record of 10.5kg of kids (triplets) in a single kidding. Juliet’s kids are now a month old, and while my plan was to remove the two buck kids and let her raise the does, she insisted on feeding all four and refuses to let her milk down for either myself of the machine. I offer her kids a bottle twice a day, and Juliet was tested last week and found to be producing around 5lt of milk per day.

Rosanna kidded the next night, and since I was concerned that she might have deformed kids I waited until she was ready and then went in after the kids. I found a huge pair of front hooves, and it seemed impossible that the kid attached to them could possibly come out of that little two-year-old doe. It took an awful lot of pulling to get that kid out and I was surprised and very relieved to find a great, strong, and otherwise perfectly normal buck kid. A doe kid followed and I was elated. A pair of perfect healthy kids by my lovely young buck Anara Eclipse. They were up and feeding from their cheerful little first time mother without help by morning and have gone from strength to strength.

Ten days later it was Elaine’s turn. After kidding as a goatling and then having a year off, she had got way too fat and had suffered from laminitis earlier in her pregnancy. I had to keep her penned with only hay for several weeks while I worked on her feet which had started to get deformed. She didn’t develop an udder until the day before she kidded, and I was not certain that she was in kid at all until the last couple of days. She had a nice, medium-sized single doe kid, meaning that all three of Buddy’s kids this year are normal and healthy.

After a couple of weeks it was Delilah’s turn. Being school holidays I left the rest of the family to keep an eye on her and went to work. Around 1pm I was summoned home as the first kid was presenting with only one foot forward and Matt’s hands were too big to be able to offer much assistance. I drove home envisaging a bad malpresentation with a small doe, reminiscent of Elise’s vet-assisted arrival last year, but found a fairly easy fix with the second foot tucked under the kid’s chin. It was a big kid though, and she was meconium-stained and more than ready to come out. Another fairly big kid followed, and when I checked for any more all I could feel was a handful of placentas. The kids were a good size and Delilah looked sufficiently deflated, so I helped the kids get a feed and stood by as the doe lay down presumably to pass the afterbirth.

And out came another kid. Smaller, and looking like she’d been dragged from a stagnant swamp. She was floppy and I had to give her a bit of a rev-up to get her breathing reliably. I parked her in front of the doe, who was happy enough to clean her up while the other two kids lurched around the pen trying to find their feet. The third little doe had no suck reflex and could not stand, so once I was sure she was warm enough I stomach tubed her with some colostrum and left her under the heat lamp.

I tube fed the little doe again before I went to bed, and checked her at 3am after the Barncam revealed that she had wriggled out from under the heat lamp. I expected to find her dead in the morning, but she was able to stand with help and I got her to feed straight from the doe. She gained her strength that day, but did not take up feeding on her own and cuddling up with her mother like the other two kids did. The next morning it was evident that her mother did not want to raise her, and since two kids are plenty for a maiden doe, I took the tiny kid and moved her to a neighbouring pen to hand raise. She has made plenty of progress in the last few days, and is feeding well from a bottle and bopping about like a normal kid.

That left Katie, who was showing signs of kidding on Friday morning. I opted to work from home rather than risk having to make a mad dash from the office later in the day, so predictably she waited all day and kidded at around 5pm when I would have already got home from the office had I gone in. She had a nice pair of twins without any assistance, and apart from needing a bit of coaching to feed them she is doing very well with them.

So at this stage we have fourteen healthy kids – seven does and seven bucks – from six healthy does. And we have plenty of milk for everyone.

So to sum up, we have six kids by Tazzy, my supposedly sub-fertile buck they are:

Chris, Alf, Sophia and Odessa, from Elcarim Juliet, and

Trinity and Neo, from Elcarim Gloria (aka Katie).

By Toggalong FitzWilliam we have five kids:

Romulus and Remus, from Elcarim Sienna, and

Florence, Mac and Devika from Elcarim Delilah.

And finally, by Anara Eclipse we have:

Luna and Cosmo, from Elcarim Rosanna, and

Celeste, from Elcarim Elaine.

We’ll register seven doe kids, including Florence who has already been sold and will go to her new home when she is weaned. Cosmo was sold as a buck, but when we discovered that he has a hernia I wethered him, and he will stay on as a pet. The other six buck kids either have been or will be wethered and also have homes to go to.

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Seriously, This Feeder is the Greatest Thing…

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Anyone who knows me also knows that my goats are my life. If you want an indication of how my life is going, ask me how my goats are. When they are well, life is good. When they are sick or having problems, things are less rosy. So anything that helps keep my goats healthy also improves my life in general.

I had a specific goal in mind when I set out to acquire a feeder from Advantage Feeders – to resolve the annual issue of newly-kidded does going off their feed and becoming unwell due to the compounding effects of kidding, milking and insufficient feed intake. Kidding time is stressful enough without having to worry about does who turn their noses up at their feed, or get acidosis or scours post-kidding or succumb to worm burdens due to the huge drain on their physical resources.

Saving time, reducing waste and saving money were handy side-effects. I just wanted a way to ease my does through that transition from pregnant to milking, keep them eating and keep them happy and healthy. I rationalised that to save one doe or one kid per year, or even just avoid some of the inevitable vet bills, would give me value from the feeder purchase.

The feeder did all these things. And so much more.

The premise of the three-way feed restriction system employed and created by Advantage Feeders is that consumption is limited by the amount of feed the animal can get to stick to its tongue before it runs of saliva and has to take a break from eating and let the saliva build up again. The amount the animal can eat in a session is limited by the two adjusters and the Adjuster Guard, which control the amount of individual grains or pellets the animal can access in any one mouthful of feed.

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Imagine eating crackers – you don’t get through many before you need a drink. Now imagine if you had to pick up little bits of cracker with your tongue, and could only lick a few bits at a time in order to pick them up. Before long you would run out of saliva and the cracker pieces wouldn’t stick to your tongue any more.  You would go and do something else and get back to eating crackers later.

In a ruminant, this ‘little and often’ style of feeding is the sort of thing these highly-efficient systems of digestion evolved to thrive on. Feeding every couple of days, or even twice a day, is not good for the rumen and its community of microbes that convert what the animal eats into digestible nutrients. The rumen works best when the optimal pH level is maintained. Under these conditions the animal feels well, has a good appetite, and makes the most of the food it consumes.

The feeder itself doubles as bulk storage. There is no moving of feed from storage vessels to feed bins for the stock to then eat. This saves time. Having feed constantly available makes the animals much more relaxed – there is no feeding frenzy to deal with, no shy or anxious animals, everyone gets their fair share.

The feed is kept clean, dry and fresh in the feeder.  This reduces waste, which in turn saves money. I suspect that it also reduces the amount of worm larva the animals ingest, and I certainly had less trouble with internal parasites last winter than in previous years. Buying feed in bulk rather than by the bag is also a huge money-saver for the smallholder like myself. I am currently saving $300 per month on grain by buying in bulk. I buy grain every 4-5 weeks, where buying by the bag had me in at the produce store at least twice a week. More time savings.

But my observations in the behaviour, health and development of my stock go way beyond the basic economic benefits.  Animals who know where their next meal is coming from are much more content and relaxed. There is less competition, less bullying. Even the littlest members of the group get plenty of opportunity to feed. Dams are less cranky and possessive of their offspring, the group is more like a village than a series of separate nuclear families. Everyone is more tolerant and gets along better. This makes my life a lot easier and safer.

The does coped much better with kidding, even with the horrendous wet conditions that prevailed for weeks on end during kidding season. They maintained their appetites due to their rumens functioning efficiently, ate well, came into milk, fed their kids and didn’t get acidosis or suffer from internal parasites post-kidding. This was a major win in solving what had been an ongoing problem.

Rather than milking off all their condition, even the heaviest milkers remained well-covered as they approached peak lactation at 8-12 weeks. The goatlings have grown on well in preparation for the coming breeding season. At shows, judges and other breeders have commented on the improvement in condition and development throughout my herd this year. My kids breezed through weaning without stress, due to their interest in the feeder from a young age leading to earlier rumen development and an easy transition from milk to grazing and supplemental grain.

So everyone looks and feels good. And the flow-on effect is an increase in production. Butterfat levels are up. Milk volumes are up. All without increasing cost or input.

The really exciting part is that these gains will only increase with the generations. As kids raised on the feeder get to breeding age, and their kids are then raised on the feeder, we will start to see the full effects of allowing stock to reach their potential and then pass those gains on to their offspring. All while the feeder sits as a sort of maternal metal monolith, providing consistent nutrition to the herd in all weathers, without asking for anything other than the occasional refill.

No, they are not cheap, but the quality is excellent, the after-sales service is excellent and once you buy a feeder you really don’t need to spend any more on it. It will just work tirelessly to save you money and time, and increase the production of your livestock. Although you may find that once you have one, you can find ways to use two – or several. I honestly think that, in time, it should become at the very least frowned upon to grain feed ruminants without an Advantage Feeders feeder. Feeding any other way is just throwing money away and denying your stock the opportunity to make the most of their feed in the way their bodies were designed to.

Dairy goats, especially those which are intensively managed, are high-performance animals. Even an average milker makes her own weight in milk over a three week period. So the changes I have seen in my dairy animals may be compounded compared to what you might see in meat animals due to the high metabolic rate of dairy goats. But for larger scale farms, and ‘real farmers’, any observable gain converts to dollars. More milk or more meat or more lambs without more work or more expense is a win on any scale. All the ways that Advantage Feeders can improve life for farmers as well as their livestock add up to big benefits.

They say there is no advert like a convert. And this convert is keen to tell you that if you have high-performance ruminants – be they goats, sheep, cattle or deer – you need Advantage Feeders.

** Disclaimer – Yes, I am employed by Advantage Feeders. But when I worked for Major Discount Department Store I used to tell people not to buy the bikes there because they were crap. I certainly wouldn’t have bought one myself. I think you get what I am saying here…

** Footnote – I now have two feeders, one for my big milkers and one for the rest of the girls. And a mineral attachment which allows me to feed free-choice loose minerals without the poultry or horses getting into it.

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