Staring Down the Barrel

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3 does

Sienna, Maia and Meredith, expanding rapidly.

Three weeks until the first does are due to kid.

I haven’t had does due this early before. It feels like it is still Autumn, with a whole winter to get through before Spring returns. Spring didn’t really start until November last year, when the rain finally stopped after a miserable two and a half months, so based on that, we have a long, cold, wet half a year ahead of us.

And kids due in three weeks. The first to kid will be the older does in the quarantine paddock. Sienna was bred on consecutive days before Australia day and didn’t come back into season. Meredith seemed to miss on the first cycle and was bred three weeks later, but she showed heat on and off for a couple of months so could be due any time. She is the size of a house, though, so no doubt about her.

Maia seemed to be doing nothing for a very long time, but recently it became apparent that she is already in kid. The only time this could have happened would have been when the bucks first came in rut and Fitz broke the gate latch and got in with the does. Making Maia due a day or two after Sienna.

Sienna and Meredith will both be 7yo this year, and it is my intention that this be their last lactation. They are both residents of the quarantine paddock, so their kids will be hand raised as a biosecurity measure to give them the best chance of not contracting cheesy gland. The plan is to milk them both for a full 365 days and get the highest herd recording result possible for them, as well as a Q* 24 hour production award for Sienna, who has proved her ability to get the butterfat and volume required during previous lactations. Maia is only a fairly young doe, who lacks the production capacity of the other two but has a really nice udder. She had really lovely twins last year, but the doe was lost to joint ill, so another daughter from her would be wonderful.

There are still a few things to do before kidding. The gutters have been installed on the shed, which should solve the problem of water running off the roof and coming in under the back wall during wet weather. The feed area has been cleared out and will be used for raising kids. I’ll need to get a lamb bar or similar for feeding multiple kids.

I’m in the process of acquiring a milking machine. With two high-volume does to milk, and a history of carpal tunnel issues, I’ve had to admit that hand milking more than one or two does is more than I can cope with. I’ve found the make and model I want, now it’s just a matter of having it delivered and figuring out how to work it.

After last year, I am pretty apprehensive about facing another kidding season. After the three older girls kid I’ll get a bit of a break before the other five younger does are due, spread over September and October. Hand raising kids is a lot of work, and very time consuming, even when everything goes well.

For me kidding season is about late nights and early mornings. It’s about the moment when you realise that even if the doe kids right now and with no problems you are still going to be up most of the night. It is huddling under the heat lamp, staring at a glassy-eyed goat who could give birth at literally any moment yet manages to hang on for hours. It is the accumulation of straw on the carpet due to all the washing that has to be dried in front of the fire, and all the straw your clothes pick up from the pens while you are on your knees trying to get frustrating newborns to feed. It is dry, cracked hands, the smell of amniotic fluid and colostrum on the cuffs of your coat, and endless trips back and forth to the shed in the dark.

It’s the feeling of relief when all the kids are out, even if they haven’t all made it. It’s the difficult decision of when to wait and watch and when to help a doe to deliver.

I don’t know how many kids we will get this season. Between none and 24 is the reality of it. Somewhere around 16 is likely if things go well. Inevitably we will lose some, but all I can do is hope that the 50% losses we experienced last year were a one-off.

For now I will enjoy the good nights of sleep and the relatively quick morning and evening routines milking just one doe. The calm before the storm. But before long I’ll be under pressure to get up at 6am, fit in feeding kids three times a day and go to bed early. I’ll be working out how to fit in evening milking with footy training. Checking the online camera every hour when there are does in the kidding pen.

There is no going back now. This will happen, soon.

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.