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.
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.