Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Organic goats?

I'm afraid one of my bucks is going to die. Almost every winter, a buck dies. I was very excited last winter when everyone came through with flying colors. I thought I had finally figured out the secret to keeping bucks alive over the winter. Temperatures have been falling below zero or hovering in the single digits for the past couple weeks, so I'm sure that was part of the problem. It's just amazing how fast a buck can do downhill though.

On Christmas Day, Tennessee Williams jumped the fence so he could be with the girls. That certainly doesn't sound like a buck who is anything but healthy, right? A week ago, another buck bumped into him very slightly, and he fell down. That is definitely not a good sign, so I brought him inside and treated him with Molly's Herbal Dewormer for a week, even though she only recommends three days. He was not improving, which was why we continued to give it to him. Today, I did a fecal, and the slide was covered with worm eggs, so I gave him Cydectin. I'm afraid it's too late, but we'll see.

Seeing how many worms he had, I was tempted to just give Cydectin to everyone, but I decided to run a few fecals first -- one from a buck and two from does. When those slides only had two or three eggs each, I repeated the test, thinking it couldn't be that different. Maybe I made a mistake somehow? No, repeating the test had the same results. Just in one spot on William's slide, there were more than 40 eggs, meaning that I didn't even have to move the slide to count more than 40 eggs.

Of course, the other goats are looking healthy, especially the does, so logically I should not be surprised to see only two or three eggs on the entire slide. I stared at the bucks a good, long time and came to the conclusion that the only thing that looks bad is that three of them are shedding from their face, which usually means they need more copper, so I gave copper boluses to those three.

A number of people have asked why I don't just let the weaker animals die -- natural selection, right? I never had a good answer for that, other than my own compassion. However, if there is such a thing as the "right" genetics for an organic farm, I'm starting to wonder if it's possible to achieve it. William's mother is Caboose, who is always the best conditioned goat out there, and she is one of the does whose fecal I tested. His sire's dam is Carmen, another goat who is always in good condition. His sire's sire, however, died during the winter when he was three. So, is 1/4 weaker genetics enough to doom a goat?

The other problem I have with natural selection is that our goats do not live in a natural world. In a natural world, they would range across thousands of acres. They might never eat grass that has been touched by another goat's poop. They certainly would not drink water from 100 feet below the ground, water that is full of minerals that can throw off the balance of nutrients. The high sulfur in our water is what causes our problems with copper deficiency. And who knows what other problems might be caused by our well water? In a natural world, goats would probably never eat alfalfa, and they'd eat a lot more browse than grass or grass hay.

Is it possible to raise goats organically? I'm starting to have my doubts.


SkippyMom said...

I think it is natural for you to want all your goats to live and not be weeded out by "natural selection" - I realize they aren't pets, but I find the idea of allowing them to die while not doing anything odd [and a bit cruel TBH]

You are doing the best you can with what you have and should be applauded for your efforts, not questioned IMO.

I hope they get better soon and you don't lose any of them. Hang in there

Laura said...

I don't know if it is possible to not deworm goats. Goats are the most susceptible to worms (sheep are next then dairy cattle then beef cattle.) Some breeds of goats are more susceptible than other.

My mom went to a couple talks about organic sheep and one said that they did get to breed for a flock that did not need deworming, but they culled something like 75% or more and could ONLY focus on worm resistance (wool quality, attitude, twining, ect. was ignored.) A vet also said that 25% of flock has 75% of the worms.

I personally do deworm my goats (I have Angoras and have had Alpines.) Kids and lambs and lactating does or ewes are more susceptible than bucks or rams so they get dewormed more often than my bucks.

I don't think it is right to just let an animal die, but you could cull or sell for pets the ones who are weaker.

Oh here is a web site that ha a lot of info on deworming http://www.scsrpc.org and here is a chart with the doeses of wormers for goats http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AnimalSciences/goats/presentation/parasitedewormerchart0104.pdf

If your buck is really sick I have a friend who kept a goat alive with yogurt (the goat got really bad worms and then would not eat and got so sick he lost his mohair.)Vitamin B compex can help -it won't hurt and if he is anemic you could give him an iron shot.Hope your buck gets better!

Michelle said...

I have read a fair amount of discussion on the various Shetland lists and blogs about selectively breeding for parasite resistance. It can be done and IS being done. It only makes sense that such a thing is possible in goats, too. First, you must realize, IF parasite resistance is located at a particular allele, that each goat parent contributes one gene each. So if Tenessee Williams inherited a "weak" gene from each parent, he could be 100% susceptible, not 25%. I couldn't just let a sick or weak animal die, but I would seriously consider not keeping any offspring from such an animal, knowing that they could contribute that weakness genetically.

Hope said...

As an herbalist myself I hate to hear when an herbal wormer has seemed to fail. In the case of your goat there could have been numerous factors in his having such a heavy worm load. In my part of the country (TN) we got heavy amounts of rain nearly all year long which resulted in my having to worm more frequently with my wormwood/black walnut hull wormer formula. I also treated the goats with an herbal immune support supplement as well at the same time. Of course this would get quite costly with a large herd but that is why we choose to keep our herd small (5-8 does 2-3 bucks).

BTW I am afraid I do not like Molly's formula because she omits DE (diatomaceous earth). I also add flax seed to our grain mix year round as well.

For your sick buck I think the recommendation of yogurt was very sound as the probiotics would certainly not hurt him. I would also recommend a good immune support herb such as Oregon grape root, echinachea and astragalus.

I had a young buckling near death earlier this year with a heavy worm load and the EST as well as the herbal wormer pulled him through and he is now an awesome buck.

I wish you well and will say a prayer for Tennessee's recovery!

Chef E said...

Wow what a dilemma you have, and I have wanted a goat in my retirement. I hope it all works out!

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks for all the thoughts. I guess I just got lucky with my Shetlands because their resistance to parasites is amazing. The only ones I've had to deworm are the ewes that are 6-7 years old, and then I just had that one lamb die this year, but that's it. And I really felt responsible for him because I accidentally rotated them onto a pasture at the wrong time. Even then, only two of 26 sheep were affected by that pasture.

Hope, What's EST? And how much echinacea would I need to give him? I only have tea bags of it, so I'm not sure if that would be enough. And I don't have the others you mentioned, but I do use DE. I even put some all over his body, in case he had lice, although I couldn't see any. I figured it wouldn't hurt him.

goatlady said...

He need molasses or red cell for the anemic. magic or revive if not eating. Hope he makes it.

Henwhisperer said...

Put the DE right in with grain or offer it free choice. I use it on my horse, though being as she is the only horse, she doesn't have a worm issue. I wanted to know what DE was like, so I used it myself for a month in the spring. Mixed it in with water and drank it. On one of the list groups I used to belong to there was a 75 yo man who gave full credit to DE for his good health.

We had a ram drop dead one January. It was a problem, for sure. Dragged him out to the back of the property near the woods. Over the course of the winter he was totally consumed and his wool used by nesters. The neat thing was that when May came, a circle of daisies grew right around where his carcass had been.

Tammy said...

I know nothing about goats, but I do raise sheep. My thoughts on 'survival of the fitest' are similar to some of those stated. How could a person let some of their animals die, just because their resistance is lower? If you keep them in a contained area and fed this and that, the animal can't compensate as they would in a natural setting--moving around and finding what they need. I just can't see how that could be done, when we are charged to be good stewards and caretakers of the land and our animals. I agree also that if a person chooses that route then either selling or humanely ending the animals life would be the best option. I raise Shetlands as well and they are pretty hardy and most of them handle worm loads well. I do worm young lambs faithfully though as you can lose one before you even know there is a problem, and I have restricted pasture room. They tend to go on to be fine as adults with only occasional worming needed. Also you can breed resistance in all you want, but as you are aware it really comes down to management of your land and resources -- if forced to graze on pasture that is worm infested, in the right conditions I imagine the whole flock could go downhill quickly. I thought the comment from Laura regarding the breeding for worm resistance was interesting in the fact that that was the only trait they could focus on to get a good result. Anyway...I'm sorry about your buck and hope that he makes it. There could also be some underlying illness or stress that caused the shift in the worm load balance, since everyone else is doing so well. Great discussion on this.

Anita said...

Hi Deborah! I have two Nigerian Dwarf does. When I first got them I used Molly's herbal wormer, but I've recently switched to Kat's herbal wormer from www.firmeadow.com. I like her system better and have had outstanding results. Good luck with your little guy!

Twwly said...

We had to use a chemical wormer recently. Mollys Herbal was NOT working. We also use dio earth. And copper supps, and and and and.

I have several neighbours with organic sheep/goat ops, and when animals get sick, they almost always die. And if they don't die on their own, they get some help It's survival of the fittest for the sake of the flock.

Cruel? I don't know. Life is cruel if that's the case. You don't have to torture something to death, you can be humane about it and depending on what the illness is, you may still be able to eat the animal. Sure, you can sell them as pets, but that's not always an option, and frankly it can be the MOST cruel option since most farmers I know with pet goats out here just tether them to veal huts for their kids amusement and forget about them. Less cruel to just kill it.

I have some other neighbours with larger farms or family members with different non organic farms who will take and treat the sick animals (therefore making them no longer organic) in order to save them. Otherwise, most of the time, they die.

Twwly said...

Just going to add that we also rotate our pasture, but we have a long period of winter (nearly 6 full months of winter last year) and they are in their shed for most of that time. We keep it as clean as possible, but there is only so much you can do, eh.

I don't know what the answer is, but I feel in my heart of hearts that good stock is important. Vital. What happens if poor stock gets bred, even if only by accident? You have more problems. More to potentially contaminate your flock with. More to potentially have to cull.

You decide to keep domesticated animals and you have to make a conscious decision about a management, which can and will include decisions about the end of life before you would have ordinarily "called it". Culling has it's place, IMO.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

I do put DE in the feed sometimes, but I've had really mixed results. I was giving it to a couple bucks in the fall, and one kept declining until I gave him chemical dewormers. I've also offered it free choice, again with mixed results. And I've even tried Shaklee's Basic H, but some goats really don't want to drink the water then, so that's a problem.

It's frustrating because this buck's dam is one of the most well-conditioned does I have, and she's one of my best milkers.


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