Mastitis–What You Really Need to Know

Lady Victory’s udder as a five-year-old.

Right. Not something you lose sleep over, but you know it’s important to know what to do if it crops up. You think you’re doing what you need to in order to stay on top of it and keep your does healthy and your milk supply safe. Right.

I think those of us who own dairy goats or cows and supply milk for our families, and possibly customers, try to do our very best to make sure it’s safe and healthy, but that can lead to a false sense of security, too. That’s where I was until recently when, out of the blue, one of my very best does came down with a bad bug—one resistant to the usual treatment, and one that put her life in jeopardy. We still don’t know why it happened, so we’re doing what we can to get her through this and be sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Be sure your does’ environment is clean. Clean bedding is paramount, and whether you choose to bed them on hay, straw, shavings, or paper pellets, dirty bedding and manure needs to be removed on a regular basis. You don’t want to know what might be growing in that, so removal of soiled bedding is a must. Don’t go by the drop-knee test—use your eyes and your nose! Take a good sniff, and if you can smell ammonia in the air in their shed, it’s already damaging your goats’ lungs and setting you up for pneumonia problems. Get the offending bedding out of there! And, of course, your milking does are snuggling their udders right down in that stuff whenever they lie down.

Nap time!

What about outside their shed? The doe yard needs to be regularly scraped down, too, because they lie around there. It’s amazing how much chaff (dropped hay, leaves, etc.) and nanny berries can collect in just a short time. You’ll probably want to scrape or rake down the doe yard at least once a week or more, considering how many goats you have. All that turns into a sodden mess when it rains too. Yuck!

If your goats roam around your property to browse, they may like to dig nests in the dirt. Mine have a couple spots they love, and they excavate more dirt daily. This is probably all right (good luck trying to dissuade them), but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on it, just in case. Mine don’t like mud, but I have friends whose goats do.

The goats in one of their favorite nesting spots

The next item of consideration is your milking routine. You aren’t only trying to keep your milk clean here, you’re doing your best to stop the transmission of disease (1) from your goats to you; (2) from you to your goats; and (3) from one goat to another. You can get “bad bugs” from your goats, such as brucellosis or TB. Fortunately, these infections are rare in the United States, but they can happen. Be sure you perform annual bio-security screens on all your goats to be sure none of these diseases are present. The laws vary from State to State, so be sure to check what your state requires.

You can also give infections to your goats! True, most things don’t transmit between species, but there have been instances where people have unwittingly brought infectious agents home from work on their hands or clothes, and the goats have somehow picked them up. Most notably are a few cases of pseudomonas mastitis, where the owners worked in the hospital. The only thing they could think, even though this bacterium occurs everywhere in the environment, is they might’ve somehow transmitted it to their goats. Always be sure you change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water, or use hand sanitizer, if you think this could be the case. It doesn’t hurt to use rubber or vinyl gloves when you milk, just to be sure.

Unintentionally spreading disease between goats in your herd is very possible. If one has an outbreak, whether it’s goat acne, ringworm, or something much more serious, be certain to wear gloves while handling them and milking and always milk any affected goats last. Depending on the seriousness of the infection, you may need to house infected animals separately from the regular herd. You may also need to use separate utensils for their milk and to sterilize it before its next use. Use the utmost caution!

Belle’s fore udder before clipping. This is why you do it!

Examine your milking routine to see if you can improve it. Does’ udders should be clipped regularly to minimize the amount of dirt and debris that falls into the milk. Their udders and teats need to be washed with an udder wash solution and thoroughly dried with clean cloths (single-use paper towels are ideal) before milking, and possibly pre-dipped with sanitizer (there are dips made precisely for this). Always milk the first two squirts of milk into a strip cup and observe it for abnormalities. This habit will serve you well, as it will give you a heads up on any mastitis brewing. This milk needs to be discarded, because that is where dead bacteria (good and bad), shed epithelial cells, and dead white blood cells collect, due to gravity. You don’t want to drink that! IF you see any abnormalities in the stripped milk, immediately perform a CMT (California Mastitis Test). If the test shows mastitis, you need to contact your veterinarian to see what to do about it. He will most likely want to culture a sample of milk to see what’s going on before prescribing a treatment. Back in the milking parlor, you may want to discard milk from your doe if the CMT shows it’s abnormal. If it’s not, milk her out as usual. Be sure to use a good teat dip when you finish, because this protects the udder from infection. It sterilizes the teats after milking, killing any bacteria present and preventing them from gaining entry after milking. Research has shown it can take as long as an hour after milking for the teat canal to close completely. Be sure to have the feeder stuffed with hay for your does when they are milked, so they will remain standing for a while.

As with so many other things, cleanliness and attention to detail is key to maintain good udder health in your herd. It takes study, and it takes work, but it will pay off in years of healthy production by your goats and peace of mind for you and anyone you might have as a customer.

On Self-Sufficiency

Being self-sufficient is a good thing, and probably a goal many of you have, but have you thought about what it means? What is your motivation: To save money, to learn how to do things for yourself and your family, to have better quality food, or to be more in touch with the natural rhythms of life? These are all good reasons, but it’s certain that it will require time and money you are currently spending elsewhere, doing other things.

What are you willing to give up to be self-sufficient? Many folks decide on having “a goat or two” in this process. That’s good; you’re thinking of producing milk, meat, and maybe butter and cheese for your family’s consumption, and it can be done. If the goats need to be milked, however, you may not be able to go out to dinner or take an evening class. You may not be able to go on vacation, because SOMEBODY must take care of them—you can’t just take them to the kennel. You may not have the money for some things, because the goats have a vet bill, or you need a piece of equipment, or to buy hay for the winter. Being self-sufficient to save money isn’t very realistic. For instance, butter costs around $4-6/lb. at my supermarket, but it takes around 11 gallons of milk separated for the cream (3 qt.) and several hours of work (milking, separating the milk, and running the churn) to produce 3 lb. of finished butter from my Nubian goat milk.

With goats, you must first decide if you have the time and money to spend on keeping them at all. You must have a minimum of two goats, so they can keep each other company, plus they need a clean, dry shed or lean-to and a secure pen for housing. They need hay, clean bedding, a reliable source of clean drinking water, and mineral supplements to be healthy. Then you will need to buy the goats.

My Kubik Rubik cream separator

What kind of goats do you want? The amount of room you have will determine whether you can consider full-sized, standard breeds of goats or if you need a small breed. Do you want them for food only, or do you want to do more, such as show them? Will they be a family project? How much money can you spend? It is not necessary to spend a huge amount for a couple nice grade does for milk, and they can even be shown if they are recorded with a breed association and don’t have horns. There are many outstanding grade goats out there, so don’t rule them out. You may “fall in love” with a purebred later, and that’s okay!

Figure on spending some good money on equipment you’ll need, too. You will need quality utensils that can be adequately sanitized for producing milk . Nickel and diming your way in only means you’ll spend more money in the long run. This means you’ll have to figure on buying a few good-quality tinned- or stainless-steel items. No, plastic will not do! If you want to make cheese, you will need to think of making or buying a good press, an incubator for yogurt, and for butter, you will need a cream separator and a churn. Since you most likely won’t need these items right away, you can save for them, as they are pricey. Plan on checking out yard sales, the reader boards at church, etc., auctions, the classifieds, eBay, and Craigslist for good used items before you buy new—you can save a bundle that way. That’s how I found my butter churn!

Then you will need to learn how to care for your animals, to handle milk properly, to make cheese, separate milk for cream, and how to make butter. It’s a steep learning curve. Make some friends in the local goat community and get to know your veterinarian. Take it from someone who knows; it takes time to learn it all and be good at it—and just think, one day you’ll remember when you used to just go to the supermarket and throw a few items in your grocery cart with scarcely a thought about where they came from or what it took to produce them! Gives you more appreciation about what it takes to put food on the table, doesn’t it?

Making Goat Butter (Using a Cream Separator)

As some of you know, I recently bought a 1-gallon Gem Dandy butter churn off eBay with a view of making butter from the excess goat milk we generate every day. It seemed like a good idea at the time. For one thing, I really dislike having to waste food, simply because I have neither milk customers nor animals to feed it to. I am also annoyed at being forced to pay more and more for butter every time I hit the supermarket. We use lots of butter, as we never (thank goodness) made the switch to margarine and Crisco—ugh! I knew the dangers of trans fats many years ago, and the only trans fats I’ve ever eaten were in food served by my family when I was a kid, or in restaurant fare.

In addition to eating butter as a condiment on bread or cooked vegetables, I use it for cooking and baking, too (along with extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil). I go through a couple pounds of butter every week (even more, if I’m doing Holiday baking). For example, the Betty Crocker recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies requires ½ lb. of butter (using no margarine), Peanut Butter Cookies need ¼ lb., and one two-crust pie uses ½ lb. of butter. Do a little baking, and you’ve used up your weekly ration before you know it. So, making my own butter can easily save me $12-20/week, considering that most brands at the local Safeway sell for $3.99-5.99/lb—depending on whether it’s on sale or not.

Making butter from goat’s milk is a bit more complex than using cow’s milk. The cream in goat’s milk will eventually rise to the surface, just as with cow’s milk, but not as readily, nor in the quantity it does with cow’s milk. Because fat globules in goat’s milk are smaller and more fragile than those in cow’s milk, it’s easier and more efficient to use a cream separator to skim it off. Fortunately, I knew that and had already bought a separator from the Ukraine through Amazon. I even already knew how to use it.

My Kubik Rubik cream separator

My separator is a 50-liter hand crank model sold by Kubik Rubik through Amazon, and I paid $138 for a new one in 2014. It now sells for $155. The parts which contact the milk are made of food-grade plastic or stainless-steel, and I really have no complaints, though the instructions are hard to wade through. If I hadn’t had a similar DeLaval separator years ago, I don’t know that I could’ve figured them out! Most of the cream separators you find advertised on regular goat equipment Websites are electric models—but they handle far more capacity than I needed and cost much more than I wanted to spend. That’s why I went the cheapo route and bought the hand crank version. How I wish I could’ve found a DeLaval like I had 40 years ago, but alas, they have all been recycled into planters or non-functioning museum exhibits.

Thankfully, once you DO decipher the instructions, the separator is easy to operate. Just be sure you’re turning the crank up to speed before you open the plug in the milk bowl, or you’ll have water or milk running all over the place. I usually run the morning milk through (about 4-gallons’ worth), and it takes about an hour, between setting up, running hot water through to warm up the machine, running the milk through (requires filling the bowl several times for 4-gallons of milk), and then running more hot water through to help clean the machine. Then you must take the separator apart, rinse, and wash everything in hot soapy water to remove the cream left on the machine parts. It looks sort of like white rubber at this point. I usually get 1 ½-2 quarts of cream from 4-gallons of goat’s milk from my Nubians. The skim milk can be used as you would non-fat milk.

Finished butter in the butter churn

The next step in making your butter is chilling the cream. It will need to sit in the refrigerator at least overnight, maybe even longer, to be cold enough to run through your butter churn. You must be sure the cream is cold enough, or it won’t get past the “buttery whipped cream” stage. Aside from that, your churn is going to whip the cream into butter for you, and it will only take about 20-30 minutes. Do you really need a churn? I would say yes, unless you only plan on doing it once or twice just for fun. Although it is possible to make butter with your blender or Kitchenaid mixer, you will find it’s a sloppy, messy business. Even with the splatter shield, you’ll need to tent the mixer with at least one bath towel, and it will be wringing wet before the butter is done. The nice thing about using a churn is that the cream is in an enclosed jar and none of it is splattering all over you, the counter, and the floor. I tried making butter with my Kitchenaid once, and that was enough for me. Another point of note: if it’s a really hot day (as it frequently is where we live), you can place your butter churn in a large bowl filled with ice water to help the process along.

Butter (left) and buttermilk (right)

Once the butter forms in your churn, it will be obvious—you will see a big clump of butter floating in buttermilk inside the churn—and it will look like butter, not buttery whipped cream. If it still looks too creamy, churn it bit longer or set the churn in an ice water bath (as described above) and churn longer. Once the cream has become butter, unplug the churn and drain off the buttermilk. Once the buttermilk is drained off (and you needn’t discard it—it can be used for cooking), you will need to rinse the butter several more times, using very cold water, until the water you pour off is clear. Remove the butter from the churn, put it into a separate bowl, and press the remaining water out of it using a large spoon or spatula. Continue until you have removed as much water as possible, because you do not want your butter to go rancid from any buttermilk that might be left behind.

Rinsed and salted butter

Butter spread into the loaf pan

Congratulations—you now have butter! Be aware that goat’s milk will give you white butter—there is no carotene in goat’s milk; it’s all been converted to pure Vitamin A. You must add yellow food coloring or Annatto (a vegetable dye commonly used in food) to have yellow goat butter. Cow’s milk will naturally give you yellow butter. If you want to use it for cooking, you don’t even need to salt it, though probably you will want to add salt for table use. My 1-gallon butter churn gives me between 2.9-3 lb of butter to a batch. I add ½ tsp. of salt to this, and it seems perfect, but you can salt to your own taste. I mix the salt into the butter in my bowl, using my hands—as the Barefoot Contessa says, “clean hands are your best tools.”

Next, you will need to spread and press your butter into a mold. You do not need to buy a fancy silicone or antique wooden mold for your butter. Line a loaf pan with a sheet of waxed paper, and then spread the butter in it using a spatula or a large spoon. When you’re done, you can place the pan with the butter in the fridge so it can set up. Once it hardens, you can easily cut it into rectangles, weigh it out, and package it for use on the table or in cooking. Keep it wrapped in waxed paper in the refrigerator, or even freeze it, if you don’t intend to use it up soon.

Am I glad I decided to make my own butter? Yes, though I didn’t realize how much work it would be. I’ve made all our bread for years, so I appreciate the difference between homemade and store-bought food—homemade is always better! I’m certain I’m not saving any money, considering all the time and effort, but I’m also not having to just pitch that milk anymore, either. Another big plus is the satisfaction derived from eating a slice of homemade bread, spread with homemade goat butter, and homemade apple butter or preserves. If you’ve never done it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

So Long Folks! It’s Been Fun

This is my last blog post on the Camp Creek Enterprises Webpage for Imnaha Nubians. I reluctantly decided not to renew my domain name, because the page–for all the work and fun I was having putting it together–just wasn’t generating enough traffic to be worth the time and money. I DO intend to continue with a blog and may eventually publish the Imnaha Nubians information on another Site, but for now, it’s Sayonara. For those of you who wish to stay in touch, Imnaha Nubians does have a Facebook page. Hope to see you there!

Coping with Loss


One thing I’ve regretfully had to learn through the years is not to take any of my friends for granted. That includes the animal as well as the human ones. Each of us sails through life from one day to the next, plans and goals for what we hope to achieve dancing in our heads and oftentimes giving little thought to what tomorrow might bring instead. It may bring something very different than what we’d planned. This was brought home to me this week when we unexpectedly lost a couple of our goats.

Imnaha GRD Shine On Janette at 5 1/2 months

One was a yearling first freshener who was a granddaughter of one of our foundation does. She was a sweet, unassuming little doe who went about her business without complaint, and she went into labor right on cue on her due date. Two kids were delivered in reasonable order, but she was still straining and didn’t look like she was done. Sam thought she was just passing her placentas—she was a smallish yearling and had already delivered two kids, after all, but I didn’t think she was finished. Come morning and she was still straining and no placentas yet! Well, doing an impromptu Caesarian on the spot was out of the question, as was hauling her 37 miles to town in the back of the truck so the vet could take a look. Finally Sam and I reached the conclusion there was only one humane thing to do, and that was to put her down. Sam found during his post mortem that she had a huge buck kid lodged in full breech position, so short of doing that Caesarian, there was nothing else we could’ve done for her.

The second one was our biggest and best buck kid from one of our very best does. Mom had received her annual booster shot a month-and-a-half before she kidded to insure the kids got full immunity in her colostrum, and the three kids got all the colostrum their mom produced. I do have extra in the freezer just in case, but we didn’t need it. In addition, the little fellow had received his initial vaccination shot against enterotoxemia and tetanus, too. Imagine my shock when I went out to feed him and his siblings their afternoon bottles and found him curled up in the hay shed looking groggy. Went to pick him up, and he was listless and floppy. Well, that wasn’t normal! Sam and I took him into the milk room to check his temperature and vital signs so we could call the vet. Then we packed him onto the back porch/utility room and installed him in the bottom part of our dog crate that was lined with shavings, so we could keep an eye on him. By this time he’d cried out a couple of times and was obviously a very sick little puppy. The vet really didn’t have many suggestions to offer, so we gave him what we could. It didn’t help, and four hours after I found him down, he left us. Sam and the vet both said it could’ve been one of a number of things, but in terms of symptoms it was classic enterotoxemia. If it was, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently.

The buck kid standing in the photo is the one we lost.

So, today I’m trying to proactively deal with losing these two animals. Life goes on as before. I still have two wonderful kids from the little doe, plus I have the sister and brother of the little buck we lost. Chores and feeding must be done, no matter how sad you are, so I guess you reflect on how you could’ve done better, gather up your tears, and move on with what you have left. R.I.P. little ones. I’ll see you when I get to Heaven, but I won’t forget you in the meantime.

What’s on Your Agenda?

Some of our original Wyandottes

As long as I’ve lived on a farm—and it’s been a good portion of my life, it never ceases to amaze me that you must always be prepared to shift gears at a moment’s notice and take off running in a 180-degree direction from what you were doing. You might think you know what’s on the agenda for today, but it almost never fails that something else entirely will co-opt your time. Stuff happens, and you have to deal with it, at least if you raise animals. Sometimes, too, trees fall over, or there’s a flash flood you hadn’t counted on. Owning a farm calls for flexibility.

This point was illustrated yet again this morning. Sam & I went through our morning routine as usual, feeding, milking, and cleaning up. It was pouring rain, though, and it was obvious that the shed for the bucklings wasn’t up to its task any longer. Bear in mind that these are three bucklings I raised for my nephew and they are weaned and ready to leave. They have horns, because he wants to train them as pack goats—apparently pack goats need horns. They were ready—or I should say I was ready—for them to be gone two weeks ago, but they’re still here, so they needed their own place separate from the other goats. Those horns! None of our other goats have horns, and I was really tired of getting stabbed in the backside, too. Anyway, instead of doing any number of other things he’d lined up to do, Sam had to upgrade the bucklings’ shed this morning.

Okay, that done, we had brunch (nobody ever eats “breakfast” around here, unless it’s grabbing coffee and a cookie or a banana on the fly). Sam had to work today, so he got cleaned up, changed his clothes, and we both walked to the door as he prepared to leave.

We no sooner got to the back door than our two roosters ran past. There were two roosters, because one of our hens raised three chicks last fall and two turned out to be cockerels. The coyotes had nabbed their old man, and we were in need of a new rooster, so both of them grew up. They had been coexisting, more or less peacefully, so we didn’t feel pressed to get rid of the extra one—until today. Today, however, it was a battle to the death, and they were both exhausted and bloody. This had all happened, by the way, after we went inside after doing chores, while we ate brunch.

Well that was too bad, but we had no choice but to deal with it and hope Sam would not be late to work. The reality is we have these animals to provide us food. We give them the best life we can while they are with us, and we appreciate them, even love a number of them, but that is their main purpose. We are not Vegans. Now I have to pick and clean a chicken today, but at least the little boys won’t have to learn the back stroke. I wonder what will happen tomorrow?

Worm Wars

Yes, it’s that time of year, when many of us are beginning to think about dealing with our animals’ parasites again. Does are kidding, our kids are running around exploring their big, new world—and it won’t be long before the daily temperatures reach 55⁰ and parasites become active. Of course, you’re already having to deal with the ones that spent the winter dormant inside your pregnant does, just waiting for the flood of hormones to wake them up and make them go crazy—they’re hungry after their long winter’s nap, after all.

The J-B Maid Marian and kids at six years of age

There has been a huge shift in thinking about how to best deal with the internal parasites inhabiting our livestock over the past five years or so. Routine de-worming of everybody is out, as is the rotation of anthelmintics (de-wormers). Isn’t it amazing what you can learn with a little bit of research? Come to find out that the recommendations of not many years past actually increased parasites’ resistance, and we’ve found ourselves on the verge of a disaster, not unlike the one we’re facing with antibiotic resistance. Isn’t it funny, too (in a not very amusing way), that what works best in preventing the build-up of parasites and resistance to the de-wormers we use to get rid of them is good, old-fashioned management?

It’s news to many of us, though we really ought to know better, that our animals have developed their own resistance to internal parasites, and that resistance is inherited. Look at your herd, and you will recognize right away the animals that are bomb-proof—nothing ever fazes them, and they never get sick. They are always doing great! Then there are your “Typhoid Mary” types. No matter what you do, they are always just bumping along, one hoof away from disaster. You spend more time doctoring them and taking them to the vet than all the rest, and chances are good that their kids are just like them. Fortunately, most of your animals will be in the average group: They are fine most of the time, though occasionally they will come down with something or need treatment. The good news here is that if you get rid of the sickly ones and their kids, your overall herd will be much healthier—and you will save time and money.

Kingfisher and the herd

There are many good management tools you can use. Never feeding on the ground and having good hay feeders that keep animals from contaminating their hay with feces and urine will go a long way. So will pasture rotation. Keeping manure cleaned up around your outbuildings and in your pastures helps as does making sure water containers cannot be contaminated with manure and are scrubbed regularly.

That brings me back to the subject of those de-wormers. Unfortunately, not many are cleared for use in goats, because little research money has been devoted to goats until very recently—this despite the fact that goats are extremely important food source livestock worldwide. Because of this factor, you will need to consult often with your trusty veterinarian (what would we do without them?) to learn what to do. Most likely, your vet will recommend starting with a routine fecal flotation test to see what parasites are present. Then he can recommend a course of action. Nowadays you may find yourself having to use two separate anthelmintics given together several days in succession and then a follow-up de-worming after another fecal is run to catch the parasites that are left. It’s not fun for anybody, but it must be done if your animals are to remain healthy and produce up to the level they should—otherwise you are throwing money away on a daily basis in feed costs and more.

Just remember, you have plenty of company, and yes, it IS worth it! Your animals will thank you by being the very best they can be, and they will give you satisfaction and peace of mind.

Winter Weather Report

Anne & Belle’s kids: Annika & Andy; Cap’n, Cherry, and Crystal

We continue to cope with the weather here in Northern Antarctica—I mean, Imnaha. Sheesh! How long can this cold snap go on? Every morning I look out my window to see the thermometer stuck at 2 degrees. If it makes it to 12 or 14 during the day I count myself lucky. Man, I’d love it if it warmed up to freezing. I know I say I won’t complain about mud when it thaws—but I know I will. Nothing is ever perfect, but I’m really tired of hauling hot water from the house for the animals to drink three times a day.

On a brighter, happier note: We have kids! Even though most of our does did not cooperate and are due to kid in April, May, and even June, we did have three come through, presenting us with three lovely doe kids and three bucks. All are healthy, happy, and hungry, and we are very pleased with them, too. They are really active, so I can tell you exactly what “bouncing off the walls” sounds like. It’s been so cold, we kept them in our utility room on the back porch for several days before transferring them outside to a larger area in one of our outbuildings. They will move on from there to a larger kid pen in the does’ Quonset once it warms up a bit, hopefully within another week or two.

Silver Belle’s kids from Amador: (L > R) Crystal, Cap’n, and Cherry

The rest of the goats seem to be coping well with the weather, though they spend most of their time eating hay or cuddled up together ruminating, rather than hiking up on the hill to forage. It’s just too cold for that! When I let them out of their Quonset this morning so I could feed and milk, there was one huddle of five with their noses all pointing into the corner. A couple had managed to scrape up a little hay to sleep on (they do have shavings for bedding on top of rubber mats, so they aren’t on the ground), and the others were huddled together in the opposite corner. The bucks were nestled down into the bedding in their shed, too. As soon as I show up with the warm water, I get mobbed.

Fortunately, the three does I’m milking are doing well—today is our first DHIA test day of the year, so I’m collecting milk samples to send off (we’re on Owner/Sampler-AR 40), in addition to weighing milk. One doe (Queen) is on her third lactation, one is on her second (Silver Belle), and one is a first-freshener (Lady Anne). Annie, in particular, is exceeding my expectations and looks as though she will do as well as her older sister Jane—or maybe even better? Annie came in with a really lovely udder, plus she is very well-behaved on the stand. She tends to leak a bit if you show up late to milk, however, so that keeps me on my toes. Udders are all still hairy, too, since I declined to clip them until it warms up. Right now they need all the protection they can get.

In the meantime, I need to update the information on PCdart so I can enter our test data. It’s a good time to update the goats’ individual health pages, too, with dates for booster shots, hoof trims, etc. from this past month, so I don’t get behind. Nothing is more daunting than getting behind on any kind of chore and having to catch back up. Think I’ll do that with a cup of hot chocolate!

Stay warm!

Cap’n & Andy with Annika behind

Cherry & Annika

Coping During Cold Weather


Laddie on the hill in his winter turn-out rug

Well. Here we are, a week-and-a-half before Christmas, and it was -4⁰ F. outside when I got up this morning. Why is this important, you may ask? Because today I am really wishing I had bought those heated buckets and an armload of heat lamps last summer when it was still warm. Isn’t hindsight wonderful?

Thankfully, it is nice and sunny out, and there’s no wind, so the animals don’t appear to be suffering from my lack of foresight. They even seem to be enjoying the sun after it snowed all day yesterday—though a few of them are shivering a little. All of them look really furry, like little bears, and they are very hungry on days like this!

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry overmuch about the goats or horses being cold. A little shivering during cold weather is normal and serves to generate heat. Ruminants generate a great deal of body heat digesting their hay, so as long as they have shelter from wind and rain, they will be cozy and warm most of the time. I had actually put one of my dog’s fancy quilted winter coats on one of my older goats yesterday, because she’s been a bit down and not eating as usual. Since it didn’t have leg straps, it kept twisting around her middle as she moved, so I finally removed it this afternoon. She looked at me as if to say, “Thank goodness you got rid of that thing!” Then she ran through the gate to go eat off the haystack.

Like goats, horses also generate heat from their digestive process, though they are not ruminants. They are uniquely adapted to cold weather, having wonderful coats that keep them warm and dry. Their guard hairs and undercoat fluff up to form an insulating layer of warm air next to the skin, and their hair growth pattern naturally sheds water so it doesn’t penetrate their coats. In addition, the hair on their rumps is denser, so it is more protective when they turn away from the wind. As long as they have plenty of hay to eat and shelter from wind and rain, most will not require more protection from the cold. They can also tolerate standing in cold temperatures, because their lower legs and hooves do not have a large number of exposed blood vessels that lose heat to the air.

You will note I said animals must have shelter from wind and rain. Those two elements will quickly cause an animal’s natural defenses against the weather to fail, and they can die from hypothermia, no matter how healthy they are. Shelter doesn’t have to be fancy. A good run-in shed where they can get out of the wind and rain will usually serve them adequately. In addition, any shelter needs to be well-ventilated. If it is closed-up tight, dangerous levels of ammonia fumes from decomposing manure, urine, and bedding can cause severe lung damage from pneumonia. Take a good sniff when you walk through. If you can smell ammonia, it’s even worse down where they goats are. Closed buildings housing ruminants such as goats also build up a great deal of condensation during cold weather, unless they have a good flow of air. Ever been rained on indoors? It’s not a good thing, either, and shows your air quality may not be up to snuff.


The goats in an earlier run-in shed–nothing fancy, but very comfy!

What about those horse rugs and goat coats you spent a boatload of money on? You probably won’t need them, unless your animals are clipped (some horses do need various types of body clips during cold weather to help them cool out after strenuous work) or they have to spend time outdoors in the rain (i.e. you live in Seattle—I used to, and horse rugs were invaluable during bad weather. I would far rather throw my horse rugs in the washer occasionally than have to deal with rain rot.) Having a good winter coat of hair, being accustomed to the cold, and being healthy and well-fed are the best defenses your animals have against bad weather. Putting blankets on animals that don’t need them can even be detrimental, because it will cause them to overheat and then chill when the blankets are removed. At the least, blankets and sheets weigh down their hair coats, so they may not be as warm.

Aside from horses needing protection because they are clipped or they live under a waterfall, the main reason why horses are blanketed is to keep them CLEAN! It’s true. They love to roll in the dirt—or mud—anytime they can. Sheets and blankets can save a humongous amount of grooming time. That equals more riding time for you.

All livestock benefits from having warm water to drink during frigid weather. Having heated buckets will save you a great deal of time chopping ice without the hazard of using a bucket heater, or the effort of hauling buckets of hot water from the house. It will also mean the animals drink more, so they don’t become dehydrated. Alternatives include using insulated, covered buckets, and some of those are good. Just remember, regardless of which system you use, any exposed wiring must be covered so animals can’t chew on it. Be assured that, goats and horses being the curious critters they are, they WILL chew on wires if they can.

Infrared lamps are a good idea too, because they do not heat the surrounding air, only whatever they are shining directly on, such as animals taking shelter beneath them. This can be a real help when temperatures are as extreme as I encountered this morning. The animals using them will not become overheated, as they might with blankets, or suffer bad air, as in an enclosed building, plus they will naturally move away from the heat if it becomes uncomfortable. Very young or old animals will especially benefit, because it is more difficult for them to regulate their body temperatures. Your animals will be warm and have fresh air at the same time.

One other useful idea during frigid weather is to feed smaller feedings of hay more frequently. The animals will actually eat more than if you fed more but less often. Since having lots of good bacterial action in their guts will help keep your animals warm, it’s something to strive for. I realize many people won’t be able to do this, as you must be away from home during the day, but if you can, it will pay off. Try to make sure you’ve got enough hay on hand to make it through any bad weather, too. Nothing is worse than having to haul hay during a blizzard!

While we’re at it, don’t neglect taking care of yourself. All the preparation in the world won’t be worth a nickel if you haven’t got good protective clothing for working outside in the cold. This includes a good quality waterproof, insulated jacket with a hood (my Original Mountain Horse Jacket is worth its weight in gold), a couple of good hats to pull down over your ears, a couple pair of gloves, preferably leather or neoprene with a thermal lining (such as Thinsulate), some good insulated boots (believe it or not, the best I’ve ever worn are Mudruckers) to keep your feet warm, and some good quality boot socks (Smartwool is great). You’ll want to invest in a couple good pairs of long johns, too! And why a couple of each? Because you’ll need an extra set for when one is wet or in the laundry basket.

Lastly, don’t forget to care for the wild creatures that share our space. You don’t have to go off the deep end, but having a clean source of free-running water will help many animals, and some bird and suet feeders will go a long way to help our little feathered friends when there’s snow on the ground. They are pretty good at rustling up a meal on their own most of the time, but many birds (not all migrate) die of exposure during very cold weather.

Have a wonderful winter holiday—and stay toasty!

P.S. There’s nothing like a nice warm drink of your own when you come back inside. I occasionally enjoy an Irish coffee, and here’s how I make it:

Pour about 6 oz. hot coffee into an 8 oz. coffee mug. Add 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar and a jigger (+/- 2 oz.) of your favorite Irish whiskey (I like Bushmills) and stir. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and enjoy! Time to make? About 2 minutes!

If you’re a non-alcoholic person, I also love a cup of hot Chai topped with whipped cream. You can buy good readymade Chai or make your own from one of the great tea blends from the supermarket, such as Market Spice Tea or Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice tea (my two favorites). Keep some made-up in the fridge and microwave to heat. Otherwise, it’s always hard to beat good, old-fashioned hot chocolate!

Training Youngsters


Imnaha King’s Lady Charlotte on the milking stand at 6 weeks (her sister Anne is behind her). At this point, she’s only getting a handful of grain once a day.

I was reminded this morning while doing the milking chores just how powerful setting goals can be. Everything we do builds on a foundation of what we’ve already done and ends up making those goals either easy or difficult to meet.

As an example, take the job of training does to get onto the milking stand and quietly allow you to milk them. The first part is easy. Set a bucket of grain up there, and they will quickly learn they need to get onto the stand to eat it. Oh, they will try eating out of the bucket from the floor, but it’s awkward. Much easier if you get on the stand. So okay, first item accomplished. Next they need to allow you to touch them all over without coming unglued and kicking you in the head. This one usually isn’t too hard either, as they’re so busy gobbling down the grain in the bucket that they couldn’t care less what you’re doing back there—as long as it isn’t painful. There are a few that are ticklish (or whatever) and never really settle down, but you must be persistent. They absolutely must learn that you ARE going to touch them, no matter how much they object, so they’d better get over it. The sooner, the better for all concerned. You will want to be sure any ticklish doelings are happy with this part before they kid, because they are the ones who will give you grief if they aren’t! This phase lasts up until the last month to two weeks before kidding. By now there will be enough of an udder visible through all the hair back there that you’ll be able to do their “kidding cut.” I clip their tails, bottoms, back legs above the hock, and udders, so that when kidding happens, they will be easy to clean up. It also makes it much easier to milk them with all the hair shaved and out of the way, not to mention less dirt and hair falling in the bucket.

Belle's fore udder. This is why you want to clip!

Belle’s fore udder. This is why you want to clip!

If you’ve given them a show clip the summer before and they are used to being handled all over without objection, the kidding cut will be a piece of cake. You can then snap photos of those cute little “baby udders” to post on Facebook for all your admiring friends. You will find that training them to the milking routine will happen very easily also, and though they may kick a few times, normally they will settle down after a few days max. This is because they know “Mom” is going to do what she’s gonna do, no matter how they feel about it, so they might as well give in. During all the months before now, you’ve established this pattern of behavior with them.


Imnaha King's Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months)

Imnaha King’s Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months). Nope, she’s not clipped!

It may seem easier to let them all just run with their mothers and not handle them until you must (and it is for a while), but it really isn’t in the long term. I don’t know about you, but nothing is more exasperating than trying to teach a grown milking doe to be hand-milked. Here you bought this lovely three- or four-year-old doe, and she’s never done anything but nurse kids. Hmm, little did you know that she was one of The Rockettes! I have done it but I can tell you I never will again—no matter how much I like the doe, because it isn’t worth the frustration of having to deal with this mess. Doing a little with your youngsters every day in a gradual, step-by-step training scenario is key to having a happy, uneventful coexistence. Then you can relax and enjoy milking chores without having somebody kick the bucket over on a regular basis. You can also feel confident that, if and when you sell them, their future owners will enjoy them, too.