Things go wrong. It’s a fact of life. I have always found the rewards of farming–particularly livestock farming–to far outweigh the downsides of it, though. I never could understand how easily people would give up and sell out. Until now–and there’s nothing easy about it.
This birthing season has been frustrating and discouraging, to say the least. It is frustrating to see how “backyard” goat raisers, who often have ill-bred goats, give little thought to their goat’s nutrition or state of health, don’t make an effort to attend births, don’t necessarily even make an effort to know each goat. I recently toured a lady’s farm who didn’t even know how many goats she had (over 90). Yet, they often seem to have so few problems with their goats. Now, granted, they wouldn’t know if they did have stillborns and such, but hopefully you see my point. Then, there’s folks like us, who invest in quality, carefully bred goats, do their best to ensure good nutrition, excellent health, and timely maintenance care, personally know each goat and personality, and so forth. Yet, despite our efforts, it sometimes seem we suffer problem after problem.
I would never give it up, simply because I know the value of their milk for my family. There have been days recently when that simple fact is what keeps me going. We got into goats initially because it was so much cheaper than paying our monthly part of the cow milk share, which boiled down to $8 per gallon of milk. By the end of last year’s milking season, we were valuing our milk at roughly $4/gallon, which was a huge savings–especially if you consider that raw goat milk shares around here are worth $16/gallon. Then, having faith that this kidding and milking season would work out at least mostly as planned, I dried up Lilac and Sara in anticipation of this season. For 3 months, we had to buy milk again (from a willing friend with goats). Then Lilac kidded, which cost an unexpected vet bill. Things got going well finally, and Onyx kidded, and though I had a few concerns, everything seemed to be going OK. A few days before I started milking her, Lilac and Sara left for their new home. And Onyx went downhill. At first I got less than 2 lbs of milk each morning from her, despite her history of being an 8 lb/day producer. Within a few days, the milk tasted horrible, and we determined she likely had sub-clinical mastitis, as well as the potential for clogged milk ducts due to her year of being dry (before I bought her). Running out of time and ideas, I finally agreed to my mentors advice to use the antibiotic infusion “Today” to see if it would help. In addition to a bunch of homeopathic treatments at the same time, we finally got her back up to par, but while it softened her udder, the amount she produces has not increased at all.
So, here we are, 6 months into not having a dependable supply of milk (I even had to bottle feed Onyx’s babies for several days during her treatment), over $3000 in the red in terms of goat expenses, and no clue what to expect next. Thankfully, I had the foresight to freeze milk during our surplus time last year, and that is getting us through now, as long as we ration severely. We have not had the luxury of yogurt or cheese in months, and miss it greatly. Being dependant on your animals for your food items really gives you a whole new appreciation in times of plenty!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, of 3 rabbit kindles this season, only 1 survived. I have no explanation other than they eat the same hay as the goats. One was a first time mom, but not the other. It is just aboslutely disheartening.
The good news is, we seem to have figured out that the problems are indeed nutritional based. For some reason, the goats only want to eat kelp that is very fresh (as in, just put in their feeder). Once it’s a day old, most of them would rather not eat it, therefore they were not getting the nutrition I thought they were. Secondly, and more important, we have concluded that our hay is the main culprit of all these problems. Thanks to the drought, we know the hay was of lower quality, but since they imported it from out of state, we couldn’t find exactly how they grew it and had to take the seller’s word for it. The foremost theory we have come up with is that the fields were likely fertilized with some type of superphosphates, and the abscense of dead insects (unlike my last, much better batch), implies they used pesticides. These can work together to bind up nutrients, making the nutrients inaccessible to the goats’ bodies for utilization. As a result, we have added a few more supplements to the free-choice “buffet,” as an experiment to see if the girls can make up for the loss in nutrients from the hay. We have added a selenium/vitE powder, yeast, and organic iodine, in addition to their kelp and minerals. I have also started giving the pregnant girls periodic doses of Vit A,D,E, and B12 gel, all of which are water-soluble so any excess (which I doubt they have) will just be peed out. So far, they have shown little interest in the supplements, except for the yeast, which they love (full of Vit B). The frustrating thing is just not knowing. Something is lacking, and they seem fine–sleek, glossy hair coat, good appetite, you name it, until they kid. The stress of kidding seems to send them over the threshold, and they quickly go downhill. In the mean time, I have learned a big lesson about buying hay! Goats do not thrive on just any hay–even if they seem to like it–despite what folks tell you!
Then, just when I start to feel like I can’t handle another stressful kidding, God blesses us with success. More on that later. The little successes though, and the knowledge that farm life does get better with experience, are the reward that keeps the farm going.