Project Milking Goat

This week we celebrated two momentous occasions on the farm – the first being Cs birthday and the second being the departure of the goats to stud! C was exceptionally gracious about sharing her ‘special day’- no, who am I kidding,sharing isn’t a strong point in our house at the minute, with a resident ‘threenager’ and a baby learning to say ‘no’. Whilst C spent her morning helping King Thistle and Holly escape from a marauding T Rex I managed to disappear for an hour or so to load the goats.

The night before I had carefully checked Amy and Bernadette over to make sure they were fit to travel.  A last minute ‘mani-pedi’ hoof trim to ensure their feet were perfect before the off and I left them munching on their hay nets, oblivious to what lay ahead of them.

Fortunately they loaded very easily. I had anticipated all sorts of shenanigans, but no, they were exceptionally polite. Almost too polite…

The journey to the stud farm passed uneventfully. Sam (short for Sambucca) was waiting to greet us, legs jauntily angled as he posed over his stable door.

The girls were impeccably behaved whilst we unloaded them and sorted out the obligatory trees worth of paperwork. They settled into their stable without so much as a backwards glance at me, stuffing their faces with hay as if they’d never been fed before.  Slightly miffed at their lack of clinginess to me (but yet pleased that they had become such confident creatures) I made my excuses and left, fingers and toes crossed for a successful ‘holiday’ stay. Good news came within 48 hours of their arrival; the stud owner assuring me we shall hopefully have our first goat kids in April 2017. We shall get them scanned to check that they are carrying babies, and so we can make sure we feed them appropriately.

People keep asking why on earth we are wanting to start milking the goats. The reasons behind this are quite simple.  C had been suffering from eczema and tummy aches. Many trips to paediatricians and GPs had led to repeat medication and the same old dietary advice (more water, more fruit) . The treatment we were getting was coming up short, and C’s behaviour was starting to nose dive. Noise phobias, introversion and tantrums started to fill our days. When it came to the point that I was starting to avoid certain everyday activities because of the behaviour they might trigger from C I knew it was time to seek help elsewhere.

A friend of ours who is a behaviour therapist listened to my fears and the symptoms C was experiencing. She suggested trying to switching her milk from Cows milk to goats milk. She felt there may be an underlying Cows milk protein intolerance which was triggering the health problems and now leading on to the behavioural changes. Slightly sceptical but at the same time at the end of my tether with the NHS and ‘traditional’ thinking I headed straight to the dairy aisle and bought a bottle, just to try.  Within 24 hours, her eczema had disappeared. Her behaviour improved and her tummy troubles have settled. Miraculous!

Since we have made the swap I have properly looked into goats milk as an alternative source of dairy, to discover exactly why it doesn’t cause the same problems as cows milk.

One of the main reasons seems to be the proteins within it. Cows milk proteins, especially Alpha S1 Casein, are the substances most likely to cause problems in people. Goats milk contains much less of this protein, meaning people have a greater tolerance of it.  However, if you are allergic to cows milk protein (rather than just intolerant) you’ll probably have the same reaction to goats milk

Goats milk also has smaller fat globules than those found in cows milk, although the actual fat content in both forms of milk is almost identical. Smaller particles are easier to digest, making goats milk easier for our gut to deal with.

It also contains less Lactose than cows milk, obviously a win for those that are Lactose intolerant.

Finally, goats milk  doesn’t cause us to produce mucous, unlike cows milk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persistently runny noses can dry up almost instantly after swapping to goats milk.

Unfortunately goats milk doesn’t come cheap. A quick  calculation led me to think that raising our own goats to provide milk for the house would be much more economical (as well as fun and rewarding) than relying on shop bought produce. It would also give the girls another opportunity to experience ‘farm to fork’ with their food, and help with raising a different species. Of course, the initial outlay is quite a lot, with purchase, transport and stud fees, but hopefully it will start to even out soon!

 

 

Singing hawthorn

I have been back at work for a month now. 30 days that have passed in a blur of consultations and operations, laboratory results and medications. I have survived my first weekend on call, spending a whole 48hrs slightly on edge waiting for my pager to bleep. I have seen hamsters, doves, cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and even a bat. Some cases have been straightforward, some not so, and there have been a few ‘final goodbyes’ too.

It has been nice to be back, doing a job that I love but my gosh the weekends are needed! I have missed my mini farmers, I have missed the outdoors and I have missed my own four legged companions! Fortunately Saturday mornings come round quickly, and whilst the mini and not so mini farmers are breakfasting, I slip out to spend some ‘quality time’ with the goatlings.

They call to me as I put on my boots. My whispered hello is usually met with a volley of bleats, getting louder as I get closer. As soon as I open the stable door they are pushing forward, eager to be out. Lead reins attached we set off along the road, with the autumn sunlight casting our 10 legged shadow across the tarmac.

The quarry field is a particular favourite of mine. A wide flat expanse of lush green grass greets us as we step through the double gates off the main road. To our left the cow track acts as a field boundary, snaking down into the valley to meet the stream. We bear left, heading towards the old quarry. The grass underfoot glistens with dew.

We pass the midden, adorned with a crop of inky blue fungi. A narrow animal track runs

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past the dung heap, footprints in the mud suggest hedgehog, as well as gulls and other birds. Badger and fox frequent this field too, snaffling up worms and rooting through dung bats to catch beetles.

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Behind the midden lies a dense patch of nettles and brambles. We skirt around it and head down into the hollow that marks the start of the old quarry. This is the spot where we sighted our camera trap, and we know that at least 3 foxes count this area as part of their territory. The camera also caught sight of one large badger, one large hedgehog and a murder of magpies who came to steal my fox bait.

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At the back of the nettles and brambles stands a hawthorn, squat and twisted from the onslaught of the wind. It is glowing with berries, and alive with birdsong. Warbling fills the air, crystal clear notes trilling and tripping out from the branches. I try to push closer through the tangle of weeds to get a better look. A small dark bird perches on a twig at the top of the tree. I can make out a handful of others flitting amongst the branches, but I can’t get close enough to make out the species. Black redstart perhaps? Or a warbler?

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We dip down into the bowl of the quarry, the goats picking their way gingerly down the muddy bank. They hate to get their feet wet! Beneath the trees is another world, dank and dripping with raindrops from the branches overhead. It is cooler down here, and the stench of fox is overpowering. I feel as if we are intruding.The goatlings leave swiftly, and I follow.

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We head back towards the gate, and I am aware again of the hidden history lying inches beneath my feet. Less than a hands breadth of soil covers the remains of a roman settlement.

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Credit Dyffed archaeological society

When the site was dug a few years ago the local archaeological society were quite excited.Amongst the expected shards of pot, coins, charcoal and beads they found evidence of a potential fort, or possible outpost of the roman army. A typical fortification, complete with substantial timber structures and even a roadway, which is amazingly preserved.

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Credit Dyffed Archaelogical trust

Until this site was excavated, archaelogists believed that the most western welsh roman remains were in Carmarthen.  I still can’t quite grasp the fact that over a thousand years ago a roman centurion may have stood in this spot and gazed out across this valley.

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If it hadn’t been for this fields role as grazing, these treasures of our ancient past may not have been so well preserved. Farming, especially small family farms, has an important place in the preservation of not only wild flora and fauna, but our culture and heritage too.

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We make our way back to the gate, the goatlings stealing mouthfuls of grass as we go. Back on the road we dodge the rush of Saturday morning traffic, mums and dads ferrying kids too and from soccer, leaving us to jump into the hedge as they zoom past. I feel like we have rejoined the ‘real world’ again, and quite a large part of me would like to step back into the quarry field, close the gate gently behind me and just keep walking, photographing and writing as I go. But that, well…it wouldn’t pay the bills now would it.

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Goatlings

October is on the horizon, the leaves are turning to orange, gold and red. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the goatlings arrived.

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Bernie through her gap in the hedge

Goats were not my first choice of new addition to the farm. We have been looking into animals that could help turnover some ‘scrubland’ and make it more suitable for the creation of a micro wildflower meadow. Initially I had thought about getting some pigs .  I ummed and ahhed, read up on housing requirements ,worked out where they could root, and decided pigs probably weren’t right for us at the moment. All of the planning had sparked a desire to expand the number of species we kept here on the farm. A chance discussion with a friend lead to us discovering that C was probably intolerant to cows milk (ironically).We started on a trial of swapping to goats milk to see if it would improve things for her. Within 24 hours of making the change, C was a much happier child. Coincidence or not, the journey towards our own small herd of milking goats had begun.

Don’t get me wrong, this decision was not made lightly, and it certainly wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘lets- go-and-buy-a-goat’ whim. Research was done, books were read, websites consulted. It soon became apparent that having one goat was not an option. They are social creatures, and should be kept together in pairs. I also found out that different breeds produce different amounts of milk. Some will give you enough to fill your milk jug whereas others will give  enough to fill buckets! Toggenburgs seemed like the ideal breed for us. Friendly, amiable goats with an average potential milk production.

Within a few days of starting my hunt I’d found a pair that seemed to fit the bill.  A farmer upcountry was selling his herd of dairy goat , amongst which were two 18 month old goatlings. He was very patient with our various questions and queries, and we decided a trip to see them was in order (with trailer in tow, ‘just in case!’) .

The journey to fetch them went smoothly , although it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Eventually we met the farmer, and after a few extra questions, a quick ‘pre purchase’ examination and the obligatory paperwork we became the owners of our very own herd of dairy goats. As is often the way the return trip was much quicker, and we pulled back onto our yard before night fall. With out any bother we unloaded the goats and settled them in to their new quarters, leaving them in peace to tuck in to their tea.

Despite not having been handled for over 6 months, Amy and Bernadette have settled into life on the farm without any problems. In fact, if Monty Roberts were to see the three of us out and about he would probably agree we have already ‘joined up’. On walks around the fields, we travel in unison. I speed up, they speed up. I stop, they stop.

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join up

When they are grazing they form two points of an invisible triangle whilst I act as  the third. I no longer bother with lead ropes when on our sojourns, as I have learned how far they will go from me.

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Amy does ‘tricks’ for food. Bernie does not.

Ash and sycamore are favoured browse, bramble leaves are an ‘if we must’ snack. Apples are snaffled, and cereal mix is rationed as they would gorge on it if left to their own devices.

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If they could, they most definitely would. And then they’d regret it.

My favourite part of getting to know a new animal is watching their individual personalities unfurl. These two are like chalk and cheese. Amy is gregarious, happy to bask in human company and follows me around like a faithful Labrador. Bernie is fiercely independent. She’ll go, but only when she wants to. The other morning we walked the boundaries of the croft, a  large field above the farmhouse. Bernie found a gap in the hedge, and picked her way to it, snatching mouthfuls of browse as she went. I called her away, and she followed me as I continued the walk. We crossed through into the adjacent field, and Bernie shot off ahead of me, and bounded back through that gap. She knew exactly where it was, and she wanted to cross through it. No amount of cajoling or coaxing could get her back through. In the end I gave up, and started to walk into the middle of the field. Fortunately amy followed, and reluctantly bernied hopped back through the hedge, and joined our train.

Having said that, I do have my uses.As far as Bernie is concerned they are limited to  scratching anywhere she can’t reach and providing food that she can’t reach.

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One of my uses

The eventual goal is to get the girls to milk, which will require them to have kids. I have started looking for a suitable Billy to, erm, ‘enhance’ the herd, and I can’t wait for the pitter patter of yet more tiny hooves. It will mark an exciting new chapter in the farms future. Fresh, pasteurised goats milk anyone?! Not to mention cheese…and soap!!

ANIMALTALES

Autumn Calving – The pitter patter of tiny hooves!

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I’m not really sure whether Autumn has arrived or not because the weather is all over the place. One minute we have blustery winds and torrential downpours. Next sticky, summer heat. Whatever the weather there is still work to be done and the start of September marks the beginning of our calving season.

At the farm upon the hill we run what is called a ‘block calving’ herd. This means all our pregnant cows will deliver close together in a short period of time. Most of our calves are born in the Autumn months , although some may arrive slightly later or earlier than planned.One tricky part of calving cows is that there is no strict timetable! Calves can be born at any time of the day or night, which can lead to some very late nights and early starts waiting anxiously to make sure everything is going ok. Other dairy farms work on a year round calving system, where calves are born through most months of the year.

For a cow ‘Maternity leave’ starts 2 months before she is due to calve. At this point she stops producing milk . This is an important step to get right as it allows the cow to get ready to deliver her calf, and helps to protect her against some illnesses that can occur after calving ( e.g ‘Milk fever’, ‘ketosis’)

Calving time tends to start with a slow trickle of births with perhaps one or two calves being born every day, or every other day. However things soon speed up, until there are lots of baby calves running about!

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Calving is an exciting and nerve wracking part of our farming calendar. We look forward to meeting the new calves and enjoy taking care of them from their very first breath. Most of the time the births are straightforward and we are able to leave the mother cow alone to do as nature intended. Unfortunately things can and do go wrong with labour (If you watch One Born Every Minute you’ll have an idea of the things that can happen !) and sometimes we do have to lend a helping hand. This can be really rewarding, and although it is quite often a long, hard and messy process (just like human labour!) we  feel privileged to be part of the process.

Straight after the birth we like to leave mum and baby in peace. We offer her food and plenty of water and let her get on with cleaning her calf and feeding it. The first feed, Colostrum, is ‘liquid gold’. It is full of nutrients and antibodies. It is very important that the calf gets this within the first few hours of life, as they are born with a naïve immune system.The colostrum provides them with protection against infection .If the calf is weak or her mum is unable to care for her we will step in to help.

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Another important thing that we do soon after birth is dip the umbilical stump in iodine. This keeps it nice and clean and helps prevent against infection.

The calves come off their mums after a day. This enables the cow to go back into the herd again. The calves are kept together in small  groups , with special shelters and an outdoor ‘exercise’ area. It is fun to watch them playing together, and sometimes they can get up to alot of mischief! They are quite inquisitive, and tend to use their tongues to explore new things .

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All the calves are fed with milk from the herd initially, then powdered milk. We also give them fresh water and solid food from day 1, but they won’t take much of this until they are 3 weeks old.

We are not an organic herd so this means that we can give our calves medicine to keep them healthy. Antibiotics are only ever used when appropriate and as a treatment for poorly calves. We use vaccinations to protect the calves against viruses and bacteria that could make them very ill.

As Autumn turns into Winter the weather can get quite cold. Although we don’t usually have snow it can be very windy and wet. When the temperature outside drops we give our calves an extra layer of protection in the form of jackets! A cold calf is much more likely to become sick. The jackets also help to keep them dry too.

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We keep all of the calves on our farm. The girls (heifers) will eventually go back into the milking herd at around 2 years of age.The boys (bulls) are raised for beef and will stay with us until they are around 12 to 16 months of age.

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Calving is a really, really busy point in the year. It goes by so quickly, and can be quite tiring and restrictive. We tend not to stray too far from the farm in case we need to help a cow give birth. No doubt any plans we make in this period will get turned on their head as things can change within minutes. One minute nothing is calving then everything kicks off at the same time!! However it is more than worth it in the end. All our efforts go into making sure our animals get the best possible start in life . A happy, well cared for calf will become a productive cow that will have a long and healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tick Awareness

What are ticks?

Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of a host animal. They are ‘haematophages’; they like to eat blood. When it comes to finding a meal ticks aren’t particularily choosy, and will feed off dogs, cats, humans,livestock and wild animals.

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Once they have attached themselves to their host they feed until they are engorged and then drop off.

The Big Tick Awareness project was launched last year. Run by the University of Bristol this study enlisted  the help of veterinary clinics, owners and pets to shed light on the spread of ticks and tick borne disease in the UK. Of the thousands of dogs that participated, 1 in 3 dogs were found to be carrying a tick. They also produced a map showing the risk of ticks across the UK. The results are astounding -Ticks really are everywhere!

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      Map showing tick risk areas in the UK.               Picture credit : Big Tick Project

Traditionally ticks like to lurk in areas with bracken, long grass and woody areas. Urban dogs with little access to these areas were considered less likely to be at risk. The big tick project has shown this is no longer the case. Ticks are now widespread across the UK, with the study showing little difference between infestation risk in Urban or Rural pets. City parks

Why worry about ticks?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be bitten by a tick, you’ll know it isn’t a pleasant experience. Apart from the irritation factor and swelling around the bite site, ticks can also carry diseases which pose a risk to both human and animal health.

Tick borne diseases:

Lymes disease (also known as Boreliosis): This is a bacterial infection that can affect people and their dogs. In dogs signs of this illness include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Sometimes it can even result in kidney failure.

The symptoms in humans include a fever and flu like aches and pains. It can also cause joint, heart and nerve damage.

Babesiosis is an emerging problem in the UK, with an outbreak occurring earlier this year in Harlow, Essex. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Babesia canis. Signs of infection include red urine, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eye), fever. It can be life threatening.

There are treatments available for these diseases, but recovery may be a long, slow process. As such, it is much better to try and avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place.

How do I know if my dog has a tick?

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Tick’s swell after feeding and are much easier to spot. Photo from www.bigtickproject.co.uk

Examine your pet regularly. Start by  checking around your pet’s face, ears and legs for any lumps, before moving on to the rest of their body. This can take a while, especially if your dog is large or very hairy!

If you find a lump, have a closer inspection. It is important to distinguish between ticks and other lumps such as skin tags or warts. If you look really closely you will be able to see the ticks legs close to the skin.

Ticks are easier to spot when they are swollen after having a meal, and in the early stages may be as small as a poppy seed! Hopefully you won’t find any, other times there may be a single tick, or several. One dog in the 2015 Big Tick Project had 200 individuals removed!

What do I do if I find a tick?

Don’t panic!

You need to remove the tick ASAP, as transmission of disease from an infected tick may take place within the first 24-48 hours. If you feel confident in doing this, great! But don’t worry if you don’t, ask your vet or vet nurse for help. They will be happy to assist.

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Tick remover

The easiest, safest way to take a tick off is by using a tool specially made for the job. These can be found online, at your vets or pet shops. They are relatively cheap and designed to hook around the tick’s body and then detach the tick by twisting. This technique avoids leaving bits of the tick attached to your pet. Leaving mouthparts can result in painful swellings or infection.

Avoid using tweezers to grasp or squeeze the tick. This can cause it to release saliva  and potentially pass on any disease it is carrying to your pet. Likewise, don’t try to burn a tick or pull it off.

How do I prevent ticks from biting my dog?

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’!  Talk to your vet and get advice on which product will suit you and your dog. Thanks to the wonders of science there are many different tick prevention methods available, including spot on solutions, collars and chewable tablets. More information can also be found here and here.