Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Raising Good Goats (or raising good anythings, really)

We raise good goats here at Bent Barrow Farm. I know, I know, Jasper Jules is a bit of a tool, but he and Missy, Empress of All that the Light Touches, really are sweet. It is not just the fact that they are my only hooved companions in this world that makes me say that, either.

The following advice can be applied to just about anything, really . . . larval humans, baby puppies, little tigers, mule foals, whatever. Raising goats are what we do best here at Bent Barrow Farm, though, excepting of course Blogging and Braying, and so that is where we shall begin.

1.Good stock.

Look for the nicest registered doe your humans can afford, with the traits you want (in this family, the humans' priorities are 1. good temperament, 1a. good mule companionship, 2. good health, 3. good milk flavor, 4. good conformation, 5. good bloodlines, and 6. good milk volume). Don't let them buy a buck, because bucks, like stallions and jacks, are a hassle to own unless you have exceptional facilities and resources. Additionally, the best bucks will be out of your humans' price range, whereas a good buck's breeding fee should be only about 10% of what the kids will sell for in their first summer. Additionally, bucks smell like a skunk and intentionally piss on themselves at every opportunity. Even we wallowing beasts of the hoof place some importance on good hygiene. We don't need that sort around.

2. Good pre- and postnatal health.

Once you've indicated your choice of very good doe, make sure she's in good health before the humans take her out for her big night on the town. They should feed her quality, clean, nutritious hay (no musty, weedy, stemmy garbage, please!) with plenty of browse, fresh water, and clean surroundings. If they do not provide her with adequate hay, share some of yours. After all, the ever-replentishing Volvo has got your needs covered. The humans should also have a fecal count done to determine your worming protocol, because the less nasty paste you have to eat, the better. Strangely enough, your new goat friends will actually LIKE to eat nasty paste, but for your own sake you should hope for the fecal count.

The humans should then arrange a date for your new doe with the best buck they can find. This, according to our dear friend Shona, will be your experience:

"When you notice your goat is in season you will have exactly 37 mins before she becomes a manhater again. Enroute to the breeder she will pee twice and attempt to drive. Once there a satanic looking creature, which can pee on its own front legs, will do the dirty on your doe. On the way home your goat will try to order a mocha - before peeing in your car again."

(Thanks, Shona!)

Wait 5 months, throw the baby shower, paint the shed pink (or blue . . . or yellow?), shop for cute onesies, etcetera, but in the meantime keep up the great doe care. In addition to blogging with you and maintaining your weekly grooming and exercise routine, the humans should join the American Dairy Goat Association, register a snazzy new herd name, and sign up for an inundation of emails via some sort of listserve peopled with those who know more than them. They'll be grateful for this network when it's 10:30 pm, their doe is bloated, the regular vet is not on call, the goat book says that the options are death or surgery, and their internet friends merely advise to force feed one dose of pepto-bismol and a tablespoon of baking soda (which, by the way, will work).

3. Good birth preparedness.

When the babies are born, your FarmWife must make like a good midwife and have a clean, well-stocked birthing kit ready. She should have a good relationship with a knowledgeable veterinarian, and be prepared to stay home with your goat on the day of delivery. Luckily for you, goats give birth at 3:00 in the afternoon on the sunniest day of spring 95% of the time. (Horses, we know, give birth at 3:00 in the morning on the stormiest night of the year four times out of five.) 

4. Compassionate care.

Once your baby goats are alive and kicking, you must ignore two pieces of conventional advice. The first is to separate them from their mothers. Dairy animals or not, mama goats love their babies just like you love yours, and they must want them very badly, Why else would they fornicate with a filthy troll? In any case, the only possible exception to this rule would be in the event that you have a disease such as Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis in your herd, which would necessitate the pasteurization of colostrum for your kids' protection. Otherwise, LET THE GOAT KEEP HER KIDS. If the humans attempt to borrow the kids for more than about a half an hour at a time, you must bray like you have never brayed before in defense of your goat's maternal rights. This should result in the return of her offspring or the production of another flake of hay by the humans, either of which is a good outcome.

The second bit of advice to ignore is the "kids don't feel pain like we do" bit of advice, which is generally used to defend the barbaric practices of disbudding (or cauterizing the horn buds) without anesthesia and neutering via rubber band (which any man, jack, or stallion will object to out of principle). If you are human, take your goat to a good, empathetic veterinarian who's professional and moral standards have risen above that of 16th century vivisectionists, and have these painful procedures done under gas anesthesia with a local painkiller and a shot of banamine for the next day's aches and pains. If you are a mule, give your humans the hairy eyeball if you see them approaching with a disbudding iron, a wooden box, and a bath towel. It's a dangerous combination. 

Now you've got healthy, happy kids who don't see humans as a torturer, which makes enjoying the next phase of goat rearing more enjoyable!

5. Socialization.

Spend time with your goats. If you are a mule, this won't be hard because you will live with them. They will be left with you for hours at a time while their mother is off galavanting about the pasture, getting high off blackberry leaves and generally living the life of Riley. If you are a human, this means getting out in the paddock and playing with them every day. Get your larval humans out there, too, and get your dogs and chickens to meet these little goatlings as well. Bring them in the yard, let them nibble your roses, bring them in the house, let them nibble your bagels, bring them in the car, let them nibble your key fob. They will enjoy the attention and you will enjoy noteriety in your neighborhood as that crazy goat lady with the two strapping goats in the passenger seat.

Take your goats places. Take them to your larval humans' preschool, where they will be photographed for the yearbook and where they will be allowed to pee on the carpet without consequence while enjoying the fawning attention of two dozen children and a handful of staff. Take them to a drive-through coffee stand, where they will be given a choice between a dog biscuit or a half a bagel (hold the cream cheese, please). You will be asked whether they are sheep or llamas, to which you can answer, "neither, they are goats," or "neither, they are alpacas," depending on your mood. Take them on a leash to the busy intersection near the public library, where you can tell the admiring public about your idyllic goat- and mule-farm in the country so that they might go home with little rural fantasies of their own.

At this point, you've got a pair of more than decent goatlings, and if they're coming on three months old then it's time to part ways. If you have a girl goat, a goaterina, you may now advertise her on Craigslist for sale to a nice family looking for a milker of their own. Your humans should expect to get about five times their stud fee back in recompense for this lovely critter with which you must now part, but she shouldn't be hard to sell with her good breeding, good health, and well-developed character. If you have a boy goat, a goateroo, you have the option of selling him for fifty dollars to an Armenian family looking for a special celebratory meal. They will want to remove him, alive, in a pillowcase in the trunk of their car. I strongly advise not going this route.

Here is where your bagel shop, library, and preschool fieldtrips come in handy. This is not a goat vindaloo you are selling, but a mannerly member of society who knows how to walk on a leash, order a double tall caramel macchiato, and fasten his own seatbelt. Have your humans hitch him to a wagon for a photoshoot (the light will be best in the early morning or late afternoon), and sell him as a driving prospect. If that doesn't work, tell your humans to flash some photos of this good goat napping in your very own hay pile, and they can sell him as an equine companion for some neurotic racehorse, lonely retiree, or freewheelin' mule out there.

Now give your humans a big frosty glass of goat's milk, and kick back with the Empress of All the Light Touches. She gets some time off before the next round of kids arrives, and you are, for the time being, done babysitting. Congratulations on some goats well raised!

Fenway Bartholomule
Trail Mule, Celebrity Blogger, and Goat Farmer Extraordinaire


  1. I'm so glad you are such a knowledgeable mule who can educate me about goats! I've been pestering my humans to get me a couple goats, ever since October when they bought me a big field and river of my own (along with the house that I let them live in with me.)
    They keep telling me I can't have the goats I need until Summer or later, after they educate themselves about the right goats to get, how to care for them properly, put up the right kind of fencing, and buy ones who have been cared for and socialized properly, from a reputable place. We've been discussing eventually getting two geldings (I tell them the correct term is "wethers" which could be wrong but my humans don't know any better)because we don't care about milk, we want pet-types who are tough enough to put up with my herding practise (and correct me gently but firmly when I go too far,)be good company and not be scared of my horse when he comes to visit occasionally, eat my blackberry bushes, walk on leashes in my park, and maybe even help us by carrying my pack on hikes, fertilizing Mom's garden, or pulling Mom's cart from the garden to the compost pile.
    Maybe you can help educate my humans and point them to good goatish web-sites (my Mom keeps finding silly ones) because I really, really REALLY NEEEED my own goat friends! and my humans keep putting up unfair roadblocks, minor things like them not knowing much about goats.

  2. Littledog, please refer to today's blog entry for a nice rundown of your goat breed options, and then tell your humans that a goat dairy is a wonderful place to get tame wethers. In Western Washington, you can easily get free Saanens and free Saanen-Boer crosses in the spring, as the poor little goat colts are a byproduct of the dairy industry. Raising babies is all sorts of fun, but Craigslist can be a good source for older goats, too.


Thanks in Advance for Your Mulish Opinion!