October 2011


Thanks to our family’s former and current health problems, and the natural farming experiment we dove into out here, I have been learning all sorts of things about nutrition–for both human and animals.  Sara, my Lamancha cross doe, has been a huge part of that learning, as she has been my “guinea pig” of the goats.  

If you are new to my blog, you can catch up on Sara’s plight by reading past posts here, here, here, and here.

Sara, the week we bought her in early April.

Anyway, a few months ago, I read a book titled, Natural Goat Health by Pat Colby.  Of all the goat resources and books I have read so far, this is by far my favorite and most used!  I highly recommend for anyone who owns a goat!  The research she has done, the studies and experiments she has participated in, and the conclusions she has made just make sense to me (and you know how I like things to make sense!). 

In any case, Sara really turned around this summer, and after getting a couple more experienced opinions on her, I had decided to go ahead and breed her this fall.  I was still battling a couple of issues with her though, and I just couldn’t seem to figure it out.  First, I saw worms, and she would have occasional, random boughts of the dog-poop like stool.  I used my herbal dewormer, which gave her diarrhea for the 3 day period she was on it, but I assumed it was just a reaction to the herbs.  She would be good for a couple weeks, then her poop would go funny, and I would see worms again.  Her eating was improving, I had introduced kelp meal supplement free-choice, yet, she still wasn’t gaining any weight.  Then, her milk started decreasing.  I was about to conclude that perhaps she just had a really bad worm infestation, and I even considered trying a more traditional chemical dewormer like ivermectin or such.  Yep, I actually considered unnatural chemicals. 

Sara, in late August, after I body-clipped her.

The idea bugged me though.  One thing I had read stuck with me, and it was the idea that nutrition is all inter-related.  For example, a common deficiency (in both people and goats) is iron.  You will find livestock sections in stores sell many iron supplements.  As it turns out, however, the absorption of iron is directly linked to the amount of copper in the system.  If you are deficient in copper, you can’t properly absorb the correct amount of iron.  Oh, but wait!  The absorption of copper is directly related to the amount of B vitamins in the body (I can’t right off remember which one).   So, essentially, if you have an iron deficiency, and treat with iron supplements, you will only treat the symptom, not the root problem (which is the case with most medications as well–they treat the symptom).  In actuality, you need to find out if the root problem is B vitamin or copper deficiency.  Along those same lines, a worm infestation can indicate a copper deficiency.  Worms just will not stay in a host that is up to par on its copper.  Period.  So, you treat the root problem, and you will cure the symptom as well.  At least that was the idea I had read about. 

So, before I went the chemical route, I re-read Colby’s book.  The section on copper really got my attention.  Copper deficiency causes many of the issues I was dealing with.  Decreased milk, complicated births, heavy worm loads, picky eating, and even a slight curl at the end of the hair shaft.  Sara has always had a scruffy-looking coat, so I wondered if that was the curl the book was talking about.  Another symptom described was a copper-colored sheen that would appear on dark hair, and a fading of colored hair. 

This intrigued me.  She didn’t seem to have the symptoms linked to the B vitamins, but she had and has lots of the symptoms linked to copper deficiency.  I figured it was worth a shot.  I never listen to only once source, though, so I really began researching this issue.  I found several sources that supported the idea that a goat can be so low in copper that you have to supplement temporarily to bring them back up to normal levels, at which point a maintenance ration of goat mineral should be all they need.  The problem is, there are few copper supplements, and no research has been done to find out what “normal” levels of copper are in a goat.  In fact, it seems dark-colored goats need more copper than light colored goats.  This was not going to be easy!

As the month of October was quickly passing, I realized Sara had yet to show signs of heat, which is another symptom of copper deficiency.  I decided I was going to supplement and see what happened.  We also were blessed to have a friend who had extra milk and was willing to supply us.  Therefore, we decided to allow Sara to dry up, and stop milking her so she could put on more weight.  First, I had to find copper sulfate in its purest form.  That was not easy, but I finally took a big risk, bought the only kind I found locally, did a little research, and decided to use a safe average of the suggested amounts I found. 

I gave Sara an oral bolus of a 1/4 tsp. of copper sulfate diluted in water.  Then I prayed.  Hard.  I was half convinced I had poisoned my goat, and would find her dead in her shed the next morning.  I didn’t sleep well that night.  The next day, she was doing fine.  So, I began step #2, a 7-day regimine of a twice-a-day bolus of a 1% copper sulfate solution.  About half way through the week, I was still researching, and came across some before and after photos of some goats who had totally changed color after being supplemented with copper. 

Now, I have to point out something here.  One of my concerns is that I did something wrong with her feed this summer.  She was doing so well improving, yet this copper thing seemed to be a major issue.  Did I cause it, or did she come with such a severe case that she just couldn’t possibly eat enough on her own to solve the problem?  Truth be told, I just answered my own question as I uploaded photos into this post.  Look back at photo #1, the week we got Sara.  Notice how scruffy, shaggy, faded, and light her hair is.  By the way, she was 4 months pregnant with twins in this photo.   Then, notice photo #2, taken 4 months later, in August.  She had been on good free-choice minerals and good feeds during that time, and I had finally shaved off the last bit of scruffiness to see what the new growth would show.  She was looking much better, and notice how much darker her hair color is.  Photo #3 was taken about a week ago, in mid-October.  Her hair is longer, and notice how much darker it is.  I would say all the faded areas are gone.  But then, after researching one day, I had found some photos of a Toggenburg buck that had mysteriously turned totally grey.  After being supplemented with pure copper for 10 days, he showed a natural, brown, Toggenburg color in his roots, as they were growing out.  Well, I bought a faded brown goat, and she had darkened to a very pretty darker brown goat.  Nonetheless, I was curious.  So, after 5 days on the intensive copper supplementation, I went out and looked at her roots.  Check this out:

In case you can’t tell, this is a photo of me parting her brown-colored hair on her right side.  She has almost 1/2 inch of BLACK hair roots!  I was so surprised to find that I may have a black goat rather than a brown goat as I have always thought!  I can’t believe one nutrient can be so critical!  I have seen lots of photos of the copper sheen on mildly-deficient goats with black hair, but if her copper-brown coloring is, in fact, from a copper deficiency, then it was far worse than I could have imagined.  Which would explain the lack of her coming into heat, and most of her other symptoms for the last 6 months.  As if that wasn’t shocking enough, would you believe after 6 days on the copper solution, she came in heat last night! 

I am totally amazed right now.  God truly created all things to work together, and in order to be good stewards, it is our job to figure out how to let that happen.  Just sitting here typing this, though, and looking at these pictures, I am truly in awe over what a difference God’s design can create.  I am so thankful I didn’t turn to the chemicals, as I know a normal copper level will repel the worms just fine.  I am so thankful for this goat, who absolutely drives me nutty some days, as she has given me such a wonderful learning opportunity, and there is no doubt in my mind, she will be the one I remember the rest of my goat years! 

At this point, I am so eager to take a picture in another 3-4 months, and compare it to this most recent.  What color will she be, and how will she look?  Guess we’ll all have to wait and see…..

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There is a saying, “If you make it illegal to look at the mountains, then everyone is a criminal.”  I cannot find who said that, but it is becoming a closer reality every day.  In other words, as more laws are made, more people become criminals by breaking them.

When I lived in Las Vegas, NV, every month, I volunteered to drive to pick up raw milk for everyone in our little co-op.  The problem was, it was illegal to obtain raw milk in NV, so I drove to neighboring AZ, where buying it was perfectly legal.  It sounds simple enough, but before I could do that simple thing, I made at least a dozen calls to officials to ensure I was acting legally prior to volunteering.  They told me how to be legal, and I complied, but they warned that what I was doing fell into a grey area, which meant it was left open to interpretation by any official who questioned me.  If, at any point, the person in charge of the offices to which I spoke changed, then the interpretation could potentially change.  Now, a couple years later, I no longer live there or drive, and transporting raw milk across state line is now considered illegal, no matter how, or for what purpose, it is done.  So, currently, if you live in NV (or any other state) and wish to carry raw milk with you, even if it’s for your family, you could potentially be charged with a civil crime if you cross state lines.

I have dairy goats.  I go to the expense and effort to own, care for, and milk dairy goats because it is easier than trying to skirt the law to get raw milk–something we feel is crucial to our family’s health.  In CO, I am allowed to give away milk to allow people to try it, particularly if it is in my own home.  However, I cannot sell a jar of milk or it would mean breaking the law.  In our future home state of IL, however, once I have that milk, I can sell it to someone willing to drive out to the farm and get it.   However, I cannot put it in a bottle for them, or it would mean breaking the law by becoming a “bottling plant.”  To avoid this, the customer has to bring their own container, and pour the milk from the farm container into theirs.  Until recently, in my former state of GA, you could legally sell “pet milk”, but to ensure no human would drink it, you had to mix a blue dye into it to make it unappealing to humans.  Go figure. 

We have learned to slaughter much of our own meat–including goats, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits.  We find many people are interested in this topic, as they raise their animals for meat, but don’t know how to get meat out of it.  However, after a few phone conversations with officials, I discovered that, while I can legally sell a live animal, and slaughter it free of charge, I cannot sell the animal once it is dead, and I cannot charge a cent for the time involved in the harvesting.  It is far too easy to cross that line and become a criminal. 

I bought a couple goats and someone gave us a donkey.  This is something that happens on a regular basis here (and, I imagine, in most states).  However, what many people do not know, is that before a goat can be moved, even within the state of CO (or IL), it is supposed to have a negative scrapie test.  Equines and cattle must have a brand inspection.  Did you know that?  Unfortunately, neither do most new livestock owners, who go and innocently purchase animals, but who unknowingly break the law by not meeting those criteria.  

 Winter is coming (it’s here in CO).  If you have rabbits, and allow their water bottles to freeze over, according to the Debe Bell case below, that’s a neglect issue!  It doesn’t matter if your temperatures are in the 20’s half the time, and you change out the water bottles several times a day.  Oh, and do you happen to have horses turned out in paddock with no shelter?  It doesn’t matter that they aren’t turned out during inclement weather and have tons of trees for shade.  Technically, that could be a charge of animal cruelty.  Shelter is mandated by animal control and welfare organizations. 

That last paragraph probably sounds especially ridiculous.  Sadly, crazy as it sounds, farmers are being charged with criminal activities for just these types of things, all over the country, and on a regular basis.  Country, not world.  This is the United States of America, and most of her citizens have no idea how their freedoms are slipping right out from under them because they aren’t educating themselves.  They don’t know what’s happening every day. 

Did you know a family in the midwest who ran a dairy farm was recently raided?  Along with their personal computers (used for homeschooling), dairying equipment, and personal records, the officials also took the raw milk in the family’s house fridge.  They were told it was illegal, even though the family drank it themselves and did not sell anything out of that fridge!  Another family dairy was raided, and the cheese building was quardoned off.  The family was not allowed to access the cheese stored in the aging cellar, that they had made, for the purpose of feeding it to themselves!!

In two seperate and unrelated incidences, a man in GA and a woman in MI, were both fined for growing vegetables in their yards.  They were simply trying to be a little self-sufficient, but as it turned out, his land zoning didn’t allow for large gardens, and her HOA didn’t want to see tomatoes in the front yard. 

Oh, you’ll love this one…. did you know that, according to the FDA and USDA, if you pack meat and some chopped fruit or veggies into a cooler to take on vacation with you, for your family, you, too, become a criminal the moment you cross state lines?  Yeah.  Apparently, the governing officials have decided that meat inspected and approved for sale in one state, is not approved as safe in another state.  Furthermore, once you slice into a carrot or celery stick, and chop a few apples, that food becomes a bio-hazard.  Un-certified meat and bio-hazardous material is illegal to transport across state lines.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, because it is now an unpermitted bio-hazard, it is illegal to feed it to your own, private family.  It is even illegal to feed it to your chickens and pigs!!  Oh, but don’t worry, you can still eat plenty of fast food while on the road.  You know, those greasy unidentifiable chunks of fried “meat” known as chicken nuggets, and a dark colored drink that contains not a single natural ingredient except water?  Yeah, those are OK to feed your children, because the FDA says so, and the fast food chains stand to profit, thereby bringing in revenue for that state you are driving through. 

In fact, in IL, it is currently illegal to feed our animals the way we do here in CO.  There is actually a written law that potentially makes it a criminal act to feed ANY animal, to include chickens, goats, and pigs, any item considered “trash” or animal parts.  Yes, that means that feeding Athena her BARF diet, giving our veggie scraps to the goats, and feeding any leftover whey, milk or meat to our future pigs will potentially be against IL law, depending on how it is interpreted!

Honest to goodness, I am not making this up!  Just this week, on an organic farm in NV, an uninvited USDA inspector showed up to a private party hosted by the farm family.  All the perfectly safe, healthy, organic food that was being prepared for the guests was “illegal” because it was freshly picked from the farm (and neighboring farms), and uncertified and uninspected.  Thus, with guests waiting for the meal, the inspector forced the family to dump the food into trash cans.  The family asked if they could just eat it themselves, after the event, to prevent waste.  The inspector said no.  They asked, in the interest of at least preventing total waste, if they could at least feed it to their farm pigs.  The inspector said no.  In fact, to ensure they wouldn’t do so after the inspector left, she threatened to call the police and more officials and have all guests escorted off the property (from a perfectly legitimate private, invitiation-only party, mind you) if they didn’t pour bleach all over the food in the bins.  The farm family complied, almost in tears the whole time.  By adding bleach, they couldn’t even compost it!  They were now forced to dump several bags of formerly-perfectly-good-food into a landfill.  Talk about a real party pooper!  Here is the whole story, which I highly recommend you read:  http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/quail-hollow-farm-dinner.htm

Recently, about 100 miles from us, just outside Denver, CO, a rabbit breeder was raided.  Debe Bell was a 4-H leader, and raised several breeds of rabbits for show, angora fur, and meat.  She also boarded rabbits for 4-H kids who lived in HOA communities and apartments that didn’t allow them to have rabbits for pets.  She was well-liked and well-respected, and considered by many to be an expert in the rabbit realm.  One day, police and agriculture officials, as well as a rabbit-rescue organization, showed up, and confiscated all of her 200 or so rabbits, leaving her with a court date and charges of animal neglect and cruelty.  The rabbits they took included those rabbits owned and boarded by the 4-H kids. 

Now, I saw a number of the photos released as “evidence” of the cruelty charges.  Granted, she had a lot of rabbits.  Granted, some of the cages and the barn were dirtier than I would prefer.  In fact, I would call them filthy.  But, I didn’t see a single rabbit that looked malnourished, dehydrated, or any way unhealthy.  Furthermore, some of the “neglect” photos were pictures of the undersides of Angora rabbits that had a couple of fur mats and some urine stains–something very common to the angora breed in almost any type of living environment.  Even the vets that checked the rabbits out stated that they were in “surprisngly good health” for their situation.  Just for the record, that was their way of saying that there wasn’t a single sick rabbit in the bunch.  In addition, they took “dead rabbits” out of her freezer–and charged her in their deaths–despite the fact that she had personally and humanely slaughtered those rabbits intending them to be meat for her own family. 

The worst part, however, was that the rabbits were all divided up among rabbit rescue organizations.  Within a few days of the raid, the rabbits were spayed or neutered, and being placed for adoption for around $80 in some cases.  Here’s the clincher….Debe didn’t have a court date to try her case for several weeks!!  Since when can anyone raid a farm, no matter the legitimacy of the situation, and have the right to permanently alter the animals, and then place them in new homes before a person gets their day in court?!

There is a better solution, according to a city in Washington state.  They recently just banned rabbits entirely.  Seriously, not a single rabbit is allowed in the city, no matter the purpose.  I’m curious how they explained that to the local wild rabbit population, and who got the pleasant job of telling every child in town who owned a little pet house bunny that it had to go?

It isn’t the ideas that are crazy.  It’s our modern day laws.  I find it interesting that most of the FDA and USDA employees are very closely affiliated with companies like Monsanto, dairy farmer unions, and cattle rancher unions.  In other words, those making the laws have vested interests in keeping the organic and small-farmers under tight control.  It’s about money and power, not health as they’d have you believe. 

Well, this post has gone on long enough.  I beg you, though, to please educate yourself.  Don’t be one of the majority of Americans who are fighting for more laws, or just allowing your freedoms to slip away.  My father and husband dedicated their entire careers to preserving those freedoms, and it doesn’t look like that fight will stop once we retire from the military.  A really good place to start gathering info is http://www.ftcldf.org/.  Peruse that sight for a bit, and you will learn all sorts of things about the freedoms being snatched from innocent people every day.  Then, if you have time, get active somehow.  Support your local farmers.  Contact your state representatives.  ?Just do SOMETHING before we can’t do ANYTHING.

About a month ago, we decided to try out the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) diet for our pets.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out why the acronym is BARF:

This particular bowl consists of a little chopped beef liver, beef heart, and beef tongue, in addition to a few raw vegetables, and topped off with a chicken foot.

If that’s not enough to make you BARF, don’t worry, Will did plenty of it for you!  All over my new carpet.

You can read some of the reasons we chose this diet in a previous post (here).  Unfortunately, Will and Callie did not handle the transition well at all.  Callie is around 11, and Will is going on 9.   They have eaten the same kibble, and very little of anything else, for their entire lives.  I suspect their guts are no longer equipped to handle such rich, raw food.  As with anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  Now, that’s not to say I couldn’t wean them over on to it.  I tried for about 3 weeks, but it just wasn’t working.  I gave up on Callie, and just let her go back to her auto-feeder.  I did, and do, continue to supplement Will on occasion to see if he can regain some of that natural function.  At this point, he can still only handle meat and bone from “white” meat such as chicken, rabbit, and goat.  He won’t touch organ meats, chicken feet, gizzards, or any other rich foods, and he even limits his red (beef) meats.  Health nut, maybe?  In reality, Will has an amazing memory, I suspect.  The first few raw beef and organ meats I gave him, he promptly vomitted up.  I think he remembers.  So, I re-read the new “natural” food ingredients I bought for him, and actually, it’s quite a good brand–albeit expensive.  Guess you have to pay to get real meat in your dog food.  There are no words I can’t pronounce, no animal by-products, and lots of good things I want for him.  So, I guess natural kibble, supplemented with BARF foods is it for now.  He also gets to clean up cooked left-overs once in a while, which he very much enjoys.  Apparently cooking takes some of the “richness” out of it, and I have since read that older dogs used to kibble do better on cooked food than raw.  I get that, but I refuse to cook just for my dog.  He is a dog after all.  If we happen to have leftovers, though, then I will let him have some.  It works for now.

Athena, our livestock guardian pup, on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother story!

Knowing we were going to get her was one of the main reasons we went the BARF diet direction.  We knew she would be big, and I knew I didn’t want to pay for kibble for her for the next 10 years.  Call me cheap, I don’t care.  So, since she was only 10-weeks old, only recently weaned from mother’s milk, and used to eating “whatever was on sale at Big R”, we figured she was a prime candidate for a BARF diet experiment.  From the day we brought her home, her diet has consisted of twice a day feedings of mostly raw foods I throw together.

The first thing I noticed was how little waste she produces.  I clean my goat pens 1-2 times a week, and there is always surprisingly little dog poop in that mix.  The second thing I observed was that the staph infection she had on her belly when we got her cleared up within a week, with no medications.  The third, but more puzzling thing I noticed was that, despite the amount of healthy food she ate, and the lack of waste she produced, she wasn’t gaining a bit of weight.  She wasn’t the typically rolly-poly pup.  Rather, she was quite thin and bony, and since she was growing a bit, that wasn’t helping any.  I began to suspect a worm problem.  Although it’s common in puppies, from my vet-tech days, I also knew that chemical dewormers were the normal solution.  I didn’t like that idea. 

After a bit of research, I decided to try a regimine of my goat’s herbal dewormer.  It seems the wormwood and black walnut are acceptable for use in dogs in small amounts.  So, I put her on a 3 day de-worming regimine, as prescribed for young goats.  Then, I waited to see what would happen.  For two days, she had massive diarhhea, but this had also happened to my doe, Sara, when she was wormy.  By the third day, the runs cleared up, and the pup was back to normal.

Within a week, I saw a drastic difference in Athena’s appearance.  Her coat just looked better, and she didn’t feel bony.  Around the end of that week, she hit a major growth spurt, but at the same time, she was packing on meat.  She looked, and obviously felt, great!  Although I never saw the first worm, I think it was quite obvious she had a pretty good infestion that were using up all her nutrients needed for growth and development.   

So, the hardest part of using the BARF diet is ensuring the continuous supply of meats.  Thankfully, Craigslist has helped us out a bit there, by providing a free meat goat and a few roosters.  We had a supply of beef soup bones and offal meat in the freezer I didn’t need immediately, so we used that as well.  We also found a good deal on some grass-fed offal from our rancher, and bought it all from him.  Nonetheless, Athena is a big eater, so we go through it fast.  I am always on the look-out for a good deal such as free roosters, goats, or rabbits.   However, I still expect healthy, and like to “detox” them on organic, natural feeds for a few weeks prior to slaughter.  If I wouldn’t eat it due to it’s health, I don’t feed it to the puppy. 

The second hardest part of the diet is the preparation.

Athena has a problem with inhaling her food as though she hasn’t eaten in months.  As a result, I chop her food into bite size pieces for now.  I may mix in large rocks later.  It isn’t as bad as it sounds now that I have my system figured out.  It also helps the food go further.  In the photo above, I thawed a beef tongue, heart, and liver I had purchased from our rancher, chopped it up, and split it all up into individual ziploc bags.  I like to put at least a full days’ (2 feedings) worth of food in each bag.  Because variety is good for nutrition, I also randomly threw in some meaty goat or rabbit bones, some chicken feet and necks, and a few gizzards.  In about 30 minutes, I prepared almost 2-week’s worth of food for her.  All of it went into the freezer except the next day’s bag. 

The third hardest part is remembering to take a bag out of the freezer each night.  I have forgotten a few times, so I fed her kibble when I was rushed and didn’t have time to thaw a bag in the morning.  Even then, though, it was an excuse to top it off with an egg, some raw milk, or some kefir–all of which have tremendous benefits in moderation.  In addition, I will randomly throw in some leftover porridge, vegetables, cooked dinner leftovers, bread, etc.  When we take kitchen scraps and fruits out to the goats, she usually chooses a few pieces for herself.  As if that wasn’t enough, I have also caught her licking at the goat’s kelp, and even eating some of their alfalfa pellets on occasion.  I think she has a very well-balanced diet!

An interesting aspect of BARF is that it has made us very aware of what can be fed as part of the diet.  This has allowed us to cut down on our waste products even more.  Particularly when we are harvesting our own animals, things like hearts, gizzards, livers, eyeballs, tongues, feet, tails, etc. are all perfectly edible items–but they don’t appeal to me in the least.  I tried tongue once, and don’t care to again.  (You can read about it here).  Now, rather than tossing them into the compost, we can use it to help sustain another part of the farm (our working dog). 

I am really hoping this is a diet we can stick with for the long haul.  As long as we can develop a steady supply of meats, I think we’ll be good.  I am very interested to see how this affects her health in the long run.  The way I see it, the closer I can make it to God’s original plan, the better for her it will be!

S has been eager to check on his hives, but things have been so busy, he has been unable.  Our daily checks involved making sure they were flying in and out of the hives on nice weather days, and that was pretty much it.  Finally, this weekend, he decided to suit up in full bee suit, hat, and gloves, and go in.  Of course, his little boy wouldn’t be left out, so we suited JR up in an oversized bee keeper’s hat with arm holes and a set of gloves, in the hopes the bees wouldn’t be too vicious. 

S has spent the last couple weeks reading about bees everytime he had an opportunity, in the hopes he would be able to figure things out.  He wasn’t sure what to expect, so he told JR to stand back a bit, and pried open the first hive.

They were thrilled to see the trays were all packed with sealed honey comb for the winter….the sign of a good, healthy hive.  They couldn’t find the queen, but didn’t go any lower than the top super since the bees were starting to get riled up.  They also found very few drones, as most of them have already been cast out for the winter

Hey, did you know a drone (male bee) develops from an UNfertilized egg, and workers (female bees) come from fertilized eggs?  The queen controls which eggs get fertilized and which don’t.  A drone’s sole purpose is to fertilize a new queen, then he dies.   A queen breeds only once in her life, and then stores the…umm…seed for the rest of her life.  Workers will later determine if they want to develop one of the female eggs into a new replacement queen.  Any drones remaining as winter approaches get tossed out of the hive to fend for themselves (aka die in the first cold snap).  I’d hate to be a guy in the bee world!!  Only something like one in a thousand even get the privilege of breeding a queen once in his life! 

So back to bee keeping….S liked the looks of his first hive, then moved on to the second.  As he pried it open, and began inspecting, JR realized a bee or two had somehow gotten up inside his netting, and were buzzing around his head.  Dad calmly told him to just walk carefully to me (I was outside the area observing).  As he approached, I kept reminding him to stay calm, move slowly, and walk to me.  I gave him calm instructions as we slowly unpeeled his netting, and then counted as 1,2,3,4,5!!  bees flew out of his helmet!  I couldn’t believe it!  Not a single sting, JR never panicked, the bees never got upset, and the whole situation ended as smoothly as it could.  I was amazed!  I also had a new appreciation for calm, easy-going honey bees.   As it turned out, JR wasn’t finished.  He wanted to suit back up and return to dad.  I discovered the source of the bees entry into his outfit, and sealed that up, and JR went back to learning how to be a bee-keeper. 

By this point, S was re-assembling hive #2, and preparing to check hive #3.  The seller had warned him that the hive seemed more aggressive for some reason, so S made JR hang back for the inspection.  Sure enough, as soon as he took off the cover, bees were aggressively flying up and banging against S’s head cover.  This was obviously a hive that will need the smoker to remove honey next year!

Then, he felt the crawling.  A bee had gotten inside his suit.  Remembering JR’s experience, he just stayed calm, re-assembled the hive, and prepared to leave.  Then, another bee started crawling up his bare leg.  Then one of them fell down into his boot, and he knew he was in trouble, as it was trapped. 

“OUCH!”  he yelped, as one of the bees ensured it’s presence was known.

As quickly and smoothly as he could, he finished everything up, and headed out toward us.  Bees from the last hive were buzzing all around him, and he had to walk about 100 feet before they began leaving him alone.  When he finally got to us, he quickly took off his suit.  He then proceeded to give the kids a demo on removing stingers from skin…

Did you know a honey bee’s sting venom is known to be far less toxic than a hornet, yellow-jacket, or other type of stinging insect?  It (supposedly) hurts far less, and causes fewer allergic reactions than the others.  Another fact….once a honey bee stings, it will die.  The stinger is attached to its’ body, so it only uses it if it truly feels a need to defend.  When it stings, it actually breaks off, exposing the insides of the bee, thereby causing the death of the bee.  The problem here is that a worker bee won’t think twice about giving her life to defend the colony!

We discovered his suit had a hole in the side, which was the source of those bees getting in and getting stuck.  He found one of the dying bees, removed it from his boot, and it promptly flew over to M’s dress, where it landed.  After assuring M that it couldn’t sting her (its guts were actually hanging out), M took an interest in observing it up close.  She held it, touched it, let it crawl on her dress, and became quite comfortable with it. 

So, we learned a few things about a bee-keeping….First, make sure suits are sealed.  Bees find their way into the smallest holes.  Second, they don’t like the plastic frame foundations, but seem to love the more natural wooden ones.  Our plastic ones had very little honey comb on them (and even then, likely because the wooden ones were full).  Finally, we need to consider getting a new queen for hive #3.  A calmer queen will breed to produce calmer workers genetically.  Hive #3 is too aggressive for my liking, particularly with all our young children.

There you have it.  There are lessons to be found in everything, including keeping bees.

After we lost our second chicken to a fox, the last being while the donkey was on guard, we knew we had to do something else.  After more research and discussion, we laid out our goals, one of which was to live in harmony with wildlife, rather than just killing any predators, and another was a determination to not pen up our laying hens.  We wanted to them to free-range, even if that made them vulnerable to predators.  So, our next step, was to try a livestock guardian dog. 

We got Athena, a 10-week-old livestock guardian pup (1/4 Anatolian Shepherd, and 3/4 Great Pyrenees), figuring it would be a few months before she would much use.  In the mean time, we planned to utilize our old, but large and gentle, house-dog, Will, to watch over the chickens.  We quickly noticed a few differences between the dogs and donkey.

Dogs are a lot different than donkeys, as they are predators themselves.  Therefore, they defend their entire, perceived, territory rather than just the immediate.  Anything that the dog considers as part of their pack–be it human, chicken, goat, or whatever, will be effectively protected and defended by a good dog.  A good dog will give its life to protect if necessary, no matter how big or impossible the threat–be it canine, feline, bear, human, or even a threatening non-living object (ie vehicle).  This fact is not necessarily limited to livestock guardians. 

A difference in dogs bred to be guardians is their instinctual independence and drive to patrol and protect.   They typically only bark when there is a perceived threat.  The barks are very distinctive, and we can tell if Athena is wanting to play with a goat, or warning us of a threat.  90% of the time, if we hear her “threat” bark, sure enough, we will usually see a fox off in the woods, or strange people walking in the distance somewhere.  As soon as she understands the threat to be gone, she will stop barking.  And, as every one told us, it is not  the annoying bark of a yappy, bored dog.  It is reserved, used with purpose, and not wasted.  Even our children have noticed the difference, and will check on things when they hear her threat bark.

Not only do the dogs bark, but, unlike the donkey, the dogs will literally “patrol” the entire territory.  They circle the perimeter, or close to it, mark it with their urine and poop, and you can tell they are always on alert.  I believe this in itself deters the fox, as he seems to sense when the dogs are in the pasture, and we have never seen any sign of him when they are out.  Athena has rarely barked while out to pasture that I can recall.  Something about the dogs’ mere presence keeps the fox away very well. 

I have observed several other things with Athena in particular.  While she never really stays with any group of animals (which shows her confidence and independence), I will observe her coming over, as if to check on them, very frequently.  She will go back and forth from the fenceline, where she stands and looks around, to the goats as though to check up and take a head count, to the chickens, into the woods, into the clearings, then starts all over again.  Once in a while, she will lay down and rest, but she is always alert and aware, and she never seems to stay down long–even as such a young pup.  I have heard the older, more seasoned dogs will appear to sleep most of the day, but they are still always alert as to their surroundings. 

Oddly, I have noticed that, on occasion, Athena appears to gently “herd” our chickens together and towards the coop.  She has only done it a few times, and only when they were very scattered over a large area of the pasture.  She never barked, ran, or otherwise acted playful.  Rather, she simply approached them and then circled them, until they clustered together, and then she walked behind the flock, “pushing” them slowly toward their coop.  Once they got about 20 feet from the coop, she eased off, and returned to her patrols.  She also doesn’t do it every time they scatter.  I have not figured this out, but wonder if she senses a predator on nearby territories, and brings the chickens to a safer area.  She has also done a similar thing with the goats on occasion, if one of the doelings seperates itself from the other goats.  Athena will sometimes gently “push” the kid back to the older goats. 

Another interesting fact I have read about in several sources is how the dog will “clean up” its territory to prevent attracting predators.  If it finds dead animals, it will eat or bury (usually eat) it.  During birthing season, the dog will often sense a laboring female, hang close by to protect it, eat any dead babies, and even eat the afterbirth, thereby removing all smells or predator attractants.  Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to give the dog any desire to maliciously kill live animals for food (assuming it is properly fed on a daily basis). 

Dogs, however, have downsides too.  They require food that is different than the animals they protect.  Some owners choose to feed free-choice.  We feed twice a day since we use a BARF (all natural, lots of fresh,raw meat) diet.  Dogs have more of a tendency to roam.  Unlike “pets” that can be taught where invisible boundaries are, a true lgd’s instinctual nature causes it to always desire to expand its territory.  Property lines mean nothing to a lgd, and Athena has proven time and again that she will very quickly roam off if we don’t watch her closely when outside the pen.  They will respect fencelines, but only if taught to do so early on (we use electric wire).  Many a good dog has been lost by jumping over or digging under a fence.  They do bark, which as a general rule is a bit more obnoxious than a donkey’s bray.  Younger dogs have been known to be overzealous in play and accidentally injure or kill young lambs, kids, or poultry.  Older females have been known to want to be too involved in birthing-season, and will sometimes steal a new baby from its mom.  Though no harm is intended, like the donkey, if she won’t let mom nurse the baby, then the baby will die.

Furthermore, and probably more important, dogs are predators, and they can chase.  We caught Athena chasing the chickens several times.  If she caught it, she would just pounce on it, then sit and watch it.  We scolded her, but, being the independent breed she is, she completely ignored us.  Although she wasn’t attempting to harm the chickens, she was certainly beginning to stress them at one point.  We also caught her chasing a new doeling one time.  So, I had to do some minimal training.  I’ll do another post about that.  A little training goes a long way with these dogs though, and she caught on quickly.  Now, at roughly 14 weeks old, she is patrolling the pasture even without Will, and doing a very good job of it. 

To summarize, a dog is an excellent option for a guardian, if you are aware of a few factors.  A lgd is not considered mature until 2-3 years of age (depending on breed).  Unless you buy a mature, proven dog, or have an already trained dog, then you may need to do at least minimal training to teach it some boundaries.  It will need to be supervised during the first baby-season or two, to ensure it doesn’t pester mom or baby too much.  It will bark, and it will patrol any type of terrain.  It is very aware of its surroundings, so you must be careful about scolding a dog that is giving a legitimate alerting “threat” bark, even if you don’t see the threat.  You have to be aware that they are naturally very independent, and will not answer or obey like a house pet breed.  This can be frustrating.  However, if you think you can handle all that, then a livestock guardian dog may be perfect for you!

Ever since the fox took our Light Brahma rooster, we have been forced to learn everything we can about guarding our livestock.   Later, we will have to worry more about the goats and other predators such as mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, eagles, and hawks, but for now, the big concern is protecting our chicken flock and goat babies from fox.  You can read more about that here.

We have learned a lot in the last couple of months.  Our first attempt was to use a donkey to guard, as they are often praised as being good guardians.  We also like the multi-purpose aspect, as the kids can ride, we use her for therapy for A and N, and eventually, we plan to train her to drive.

I have obviously had very limited experience in this area, but that experience, mixed with my research and my past experiences with wild horses have helped me draw a few conclusions. 

Donkeys have a lot of advantages as a guardian.  Particularly if they are the only donkey in the herd, they can bond closely with other species, which can intensify that need to protect them.  They eat the same thing, or complimentary things as the herd they are protecting.  They can also thrive on sparse, roughage foods most domestic horses cannot.  Thus, wherever sheep and goats can thrive, so can a donkey.  Furthermore, they are quite hardy animals, require little maintenance, are not as flighty or as easily spooked as horses, and are usually very gentle and easy to train. 

I’ve found, however, that there are a few issues worth considering in using a donkey as a guard. 

Donkeys are still prey animals by nature, and if the predator is deemed to be too big, scary, or dangerous, a donkey will  generally give in and run.  For that reason, you must set your donkey up for success.  One way to do that is by size alone.  because many wild dog packs and coyote/dog hybrids are quite large, as a general rule, the small mediterranean or mini donkeys just won’t cut it.  So, you need a donkey that is at least a small-standard or standard sized.  This means roughly 10-13 hands at the shoulder.  There are also Mammoth donkeys, which are the size of a full-sized horse, but, the larger the donkey is, the more problems that could cause, too.

Gender also plays a role.  Jacks, for one, can seldom be trusted to protect.  They can be too playful, too rough, too aggressive, etc., and can (and do) easily injure or kill the livestock they are supposed to be protecting.  Geldings are a better option, as they don’t have the testosterone, but they can still be very playful and rough.  Mares (Jennies) are generally considered the ideal, as their temperaments are generally the calmest and gentlest, with the least amount of playfulness.  Of course, this varies by individual too.  Some geldings may be far more trustworthy than some mares. 

Another problem I have observed with Shiloh, my previous BLM mustang mares, and read about with other’s experiences, is that you have to be careful to introduce the donkey to its “herd.”  They seem to view every animal or individual group of animals as seperate and unique.  Either they accept them, or they don’t, and I haven’t found much in between.  The problem is if they DON’T accept, then any animal risks being treated as a predatory canine.  The good news is that, because of the way a donkey “needs” to bond with other animals, the introductions can be fairly easy.  Usually, penning the donkey alone for a few days or so across the fence line from the group it should guard is all it takes.  They get to know each other while the flock or herd is protected, and then, when the donkey is introduced under supervision, there seems to be generally little threat.  If this process is not done properly, however, the results can be tragic should the donkey refuse to accept the new herd member.   For example, Shiloh bonded quickly with Stallion, our buck.  They are housed together.   Across the fence-line are our does, where she can see, smell, and interact, but not access them.  The few times we turned her out with our does, she did OK, though she had a tendency to chase our little doeling.  I think it was in a playful way, though at times it was hard to tell.  After a while, she relaxed, and everyone got along fine.  We then sold that doeling, and someone gave us a boer doeling for meat.  The first time I turned Shiloh out with her, I had forgotten to do proper introductions through the fence.  I just turned them out.  Shiloh instantly put her tunnel-vision sights on that little doeling, and took off after her in a much more aggressive way.  Thankfully, I was there, shooed Shiloh away, and took the doeling back out.  They haven’t been together since.  Whether Shiloh would have hurt her, I don’t know, but there is no doubt in my mind she could have if she desired to.  By what I have read, this can also be an issue with kidding season.  Donkeys have been known to reject and kill new kids, and others have been known to steal kids from the does in a nurturing way (but which can still be fatal if the kid can’t nurse). 

Finally, a donkey’s desire is to protect itself and its immediate territory against primarily the canine species.  So, should a fox or other dog-like predator come near it, it will do a great job chasing the predator away.   If the predator chooses not to run, things could get very ugly while the donkey shows it its permanent, eternal place.  No, I have not seen Shiloh do this, however, I have seen one of my former mustang mares do it (many times), and it wasn’t pretty.  I have, however, seen the same look in Shiloh’s eye though, so I wouldn’t put it past her.  This may sound like a good thing, but what it means is that the protection is limited to only those animals near the donkey.  The donkey happens to enjoy hanging out with our goats.  If the chickens choose to stay close, they too, are protected.  Most of the time, however, the chickens and donkey couldn’t care less about each other, so they wind up on opposite ends of the pasture, with the chickens left vulnerable and wide open to attack.

I was really debating this fact until recently.  I was standing in my kitchen, working at the sink in front of the window that overlooks the pasture.  Shiloh, Stallion, and the chickens were all out there, near the center.  Suddenly, I heard a commotion, saw all the chickens running toward the coop, Shiloh’s ears were erect, and then she suddenly took off at a full gallop in the opposite direction, towards what she was looking at.  Now, if you know donkeys, you know donkeys seldom run.  Whatever it was out there, she was going after with purpose.  I ran outside, and based on the body language of the other animals, am convinced the fox had entered the side of the pen Shiloh ran to, and she effectively ran him off before he got a chicken. 

A few days later, however, I observed a similar scenario, but this time, the chickens were grazing at one side of the pasture in a wooded area, while Shiloh and Stallion were at another end.  I heard a commotion, saw chickens run, and then saw the fox darting back and forth, as a he chased a chicken running for its life.  I bolted out the door, screaming at him like a mad woman, and ran him off.  All the chickens were OK this time, but interestingly, I noticed Shiloh at the other end of the pasture, just observing.  In this case, I am convinced that the fox was far enough away from her and able to use the trees to hide somewhat, that, although she was fully aware of his presence, he did not pose a direct threat to her or her immediate territory, and therefore, she did not chase him.  Had I not been there, I’m sure he would have gotten a chicken. 

So, to summarize, I think donkeys can make great guardians in some situations, and lousy ones in others.  If the primary predator problem is canine-related, donkeys are good.  If the pasture is wide open space, where the donkey can see the predator coming a ways off, they are a good option.  If the livestock they are protecting can be properly introduced to the donkey, they are probably a good option.  Finally, if you can find stock that is bred from proven guardians, or are willing to adopt a BLM burro (which have been known to excel at guarding), then you increase your chances of success.  It is certainly not something to take lightly though.  Even a small standard donkey is big and can inflict a lot of damage on a new herd overnight, if, for some reason, it does not accept that herd or individuals within that herd. 

As a side note, I know of several farms that use llamas for guarding.  Based on what I have read and heard, llamas have a lot of similarities to donkeys.  I know of at least one farm that uses emus to protect poultry with some success.  I have not tried either, however, and cannot give much info there.

We decided to really do something crazy this week!  S gave me the go-ahead to invest in an almost breeding age, purebred, Alpine doeling!  I am so excited!  We drove a couple hours north yesterday and picked her up.  I have been working toward this for the last few months.  And she is such a pretty color!  Don’t you think?

I am basically in charge of our budget, and since S has made a rule that every animal has to pay for itself somehow, it is my job to figure out how.  Because of our big move coming up in 2 years (YAY!  It’s only 2 years away now!!), I have been aiming and calculating how to sell out my crossbreds and move towards my purebred Alpines and Kinders between this fall and the end of 2012, at the same time trying to make the goats fully pay for themselves in milk and income, with a little meat on the side as a freebie. 

I lined up a bred Kinder doe a few months ago.  We will be bringing her home next month.  Then, I found a few leads to purchase some high-quality Alpine doelings next spring.  God willing, if our kid crop from Sara and Lilac turned out well and the Kinder doe proved to be a good milker, then I would be able to sell Sara and Lilac’s kids and one of the two does in milk in order to pay for the pure Alpines.  There were just two problems with that idea. 

First, if I bought a young doeling, I would have to bottle-feed (around here, most high-quality breeders pull the babies at birth, and sell as soon as they are disbudded), then I would have to feed and raise her until NEXT fall before breeding, then another 5 months until kidding.  I truly don’t have time for bottle feeding if I don’t absolutely have to.  So, it would literally be around 14 months before there was any chance she would earn her keep.  At that point, if anything went wrong, I would also be running really low on time to find a replacement if I needed one. 

Secondly, we ran out of milk this year.  OK, not completely, but still…due to circumstances, I realized I need to have at least 3 does milking come next winter, so I have a back-up if anything goes wrong. 

So, I decided to keep my eye out and ears open for a better opportunity.  I also decided to pray about it.  I had kinda forgotten that part previously.  I prayed and asked God to lead me to the goats that we needed and would work best for our family.  Then, I stumbled upon this little doeling.  She was bred by a relatively new farm who is just a few years ahead of us, but with similiar goals.  They seek out excellent foundation stock, test for disease, show when the goats are old enough to ensure they are on track with the qualities they desire, and also stay small and sell the extras.  In this case, this girl’s sire is the farm’s only Alpine buck, so although they wanted to keep her, they don’t want to breed back to her sire.  Her grand-sire is from the same top breeder as Stallion (though he and Stallion are unrelated), and I am very familiar with his characteristics.  He has several * milkers in his lineage, and has produced some excellent daughters.  I am not as familiar with the grand-dam’s side, though there are good linear appraisals and up to 4* milkers within 3 generations.  Her dam received an excellent rating and took reserve grand champion of junior does at her first show.  

So, for the price, I think I am getting a really good deal.  It is a bit risky since she is unproven in any way, and the farm is not well known yet, but I’m hoping that she will be an excellent start in my purebred herd.  If all goes well, then she will soon be bred to Stallion, and their babies will hopefully be top-quality milkers!   

Thanks to many of the behind the scenes details, hopes, blessings, etc. involved, the kids agreed we should name her “Faith.”  So, Faith it is.  I’ll be submitting the registration papers tomorrow.  I just feel so incredibly blessed by all God has given us and allowed us to experience and learn this year!!

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