Tuesday 26 November 2013

Foot trimming : A goat pedicure

Fig.1. Seriously neglected feet a job for the Vet
Wild goats and the ancestors of our goats kept their feet in shape running and jumping on rocks that wore down the horny surface. But ours are on wet ground and soft bedding plus horn growth is stimulated by their protein rich diet. If the feet aren't trimmed every six weeks or so they become deformed and open to infection with foot rot. (Fig. 1)

When you are foot trimming single handed its not easy to take photographs so these rough sketches of what happens and what to do will have to suffice today.

Fig.2. Trim the edges of the claws and the heel so that the foot is flat
Goats don't like this operation so have to be restrained with a halter or a neck yoke. I use the milking stand so the animal is higher up, distracted by some feed and locked in the yoke. I try not raise the foot too high because its uncomfortable an unstable for the goat. Starting with the near side hind foot I clean off any muck on and between the claws. then I trim the edges of the horn with the foot shear to the point where the foot surface is flat (Fig.2). If the heel is overgrown then this needs to be trimmed flat too.

Fig.3. From all angles the underside of the foot should be flat
When all four feet are done the animal should be standing on the absolutely flat surface of each foot (Fig.3)

Friday 22 November 2013

Seed for a quickthorn hedge : "One for the rat, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow".

Hawthorn : Tough and hardy
Its well into November and probably the best time to collect hawthorn seeds; any earlier and they might not be mature, leave it any later and the birds will have had most of them. So this afternoon I headed up on to the hill to collect seed from local trees. Hawthorn is tough, it grows old on the thinnest soils in the most exposed places and of course its spines  make the established quickthorn hedge an impenetrable barrier to livestock.

The fence that John and I completed in the summer will probably last twenty years. When 2033 comes around the posts will have rotted at the base and it will need to be replaced.... not by me. A well maintained hedge on the other hand lasts hundreds of years. The plan is to plant a predominantly hawthorn hedge outside of the new fence.Three hundred metres of boundary fence will need over 2,000 hedging plants 40 - 60cm tall,, mainly hawthorn and blackthorn that cost about 70p each, the same as erecting the fence. I'll try to grow my own, it'll take three years to get them to the point of planting and a further three or four years to establish a hedge.That's a long time when you are 70.

Get the berries before the birds
The berries have to be soaked in water and then mashed up, this releases the seed from the fruit pulp. The seeds are then planted in a suitable mixture of leaf mould and sharp sand and left outside for 18 months to germinate. You have to be patient to do this.

There's an old farming adage about sowing seeds,"one for the rat, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow". In other words sow four times as many seeds as plants required. If I want 1,000 plants, have to sow 4,000 seeds. Another trip up the hill will be needed.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Start of another Shepherd's year : Our new Charollais tup goes in

The new Charollais tup went in with the ewes this afternoon (6th November). As you can see from the keel on the ewe he started work immediately.

This is ten days earlier than in previous years on the grounds that we'll be lambing indoors so the weather isn't quite such a problem and there should be earlier grass because the ewes will not have been out there eating it for three months before lambing.

When it comes to the lamb sales in August the lambs will be ten days older and that can make a difference in the sale ring, they are a bit bigger.

As you can see from the photograph this tup has a good meaty rear end and a long broad back all good points from the butcher's point of view. Charollais are also easier lambing, I'm told, because of the smaller head, we'll see.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Hard working goat - 650kg milk in 240 days

Its eight months since Pia kidded and started milking, during this time (240 days) she has yielded 650kgs of milk. Its quite remarkable for an animal weighing about 70 kg. If things go to plan she'll milk until the end of the year (300 days) and will have produced somewhere between 730 and 750 kg in her first lactation; three quarters of a tonne of milk.

Ideally she'll be dried off around day 300 and will have two months rest before she kids and starts milking again. The dry period is  an opportunity to lay down some subcutaneous fat because during the early weeks of lactation she cannot take in enough food to support production. The fat on her back is a store of energy to be mobilised when its needed.

On the graph you can see quite a lot of daily variation in yield. This is biological stuff, you don't get straight lines and smooth curves. Differences between days are probably due to; the quality and quantity of  forage and the weather; on cold wet days when they are outside the goats would rather stay inside their hut than go foraging so nutrient intake is lower and milk yield is lower as a result.

This is nothing compared with the yield of Moonlin Dialara in  an extended lactation ( over 300 days); she produced 5,478kg in her last officially recorded lactation reported in the BGS Journal last month.

Goodbye Raffles : Gone but not forgotten

It's a lot quieter in the goat house today. On Sunday Raffles went home to Sheildrum and his pal Cyrus. I cleaned out his pen at the first opportunity. Although I have got used to his odour I'm told the village can do without it. Before he left I rubbed him all over with a cotton rag and put it is a screw top jar. The, "buck rag" will be useful if we think one of the girls is on heat, one sniff of the rag should put things beyond doubt.

Hebe and Acorn have not come back on heat but we won't be sure about Pia for another week. Then they can go off to the Vet for a PD ( pregnancy diagnosis) with the ultrasound scanner and look forward to a busy time in early March.