Oh hey.. Hay!
Thanks to Mimi and Chai Chai for their follow up comments/questions to our goatie problems this week. I'll try and cover your questions here as they are good info for everyone. Chai Chai we have a funny story about Icelandic sheep... heh heh we'll get to that one day. But for now, feel free to throw in what you know! And you aren't butting in.. an open discussion is the best way to learn.
Mimi asked about why folks don't milk sheep as often as goats. Folks do milk sheep – but not as often, especially in this country. One pal I know milked her not-a-dairy-breed sheep and loved it. They got about 6 cups of milk a day and declared the milk sweet and delicious...and enjoyed by the household...yep, even the kids.
But here is why we don't have sheep and why I'm not packaging up a big old slab of sheep's milk cheese and sending it out to Mimi.... we don't have pasture for them. Ay, pasture...there's the rub.
The only way we can keep this little sustainable farm project ….well, sustainable is to feed the critters as much as we can with what we've got. Hence our farm motto: Get out there and free range because its FREE! And right now we have brambles and not pasture. Goats are browsers and eat bramble. Sheep are mowers (grazers) – they eat hay/grass/pasture.
Sure we could build a new barn for sheep and buy hay for them... but it would be a loosing proposition for our sustainability....and an expensive hobby. Once we get most of our wooded lot cleared we can get some pasture going and the first inhabitants will be sheep. I love all that goes with them: lamb chops, leg o' lamb, lamb kabobs, grilled lamb burgers, lamb on a spit.. all those wonderful things.
So sheep eat what we don't have, they also (apparently) don't produce as much milk as the goaties do (we'll get over a gallon a day from Debbie once she gets cranking), and also, frankly... sheep are kinda dumb. Goats are crafty no-good-nicks, for sure. But they aren't entirely dumb. In our barnyard we kinda need the critters to at least be able to manage themselves and from what I know, sheep need more hands-on than goats.
So that's why we don't have sheep. But its not for lack of trying. I readily confess the sin of coveting my neighbor's flocks. This old timer down the way has beautiful sheep... and if I could only have the speckled and spotted ones, friend, I'd be the happiest girl in the county. Sometimes, I drive by his pasture full of sheep... real slow... and wonder if I was fast enough to run out there and grab one of those fluffy, lovely, heavenly sheep... sigh... But alas, I'm stuck with the goats. For now.
So now what was the matter with that silly goatie, Debbie? Well as near as we can tell it was either a bellyache or a vitamin deficiency. As trivial as it sounds, either one if these was enough to kill her dead within a day or so. The remedy was pretty much the same for both maladies – give her vitamins...and different hay.
And so hay. What the hey with hay?
Honestly hay kind of eludes me. There is about a billion different variety of hay and all animals need different kinds. At this point an honest farming website would bore you.. I mean.. provide you with an extensive overview of how the goat's digestive system works. And then it would admonish you to run right out there and become a hay expert. I'm not doing that...mostly because I regard hay like I do car mechanics. I don't particularly care how the flux capacitor works.. or what the cardboardmeter does.. I just want to get in and drive. And so I'd rather cut to the chase with hay and here is what works for us:
First, we don't cut our own hay. Mostly because we don't have the equipment nor the cleared land so we are kind of at the mercy of what is available by other hay raisers. Now, if I were my buddy who has a beautiful tractor (altho I have strongly hinted that a real man would have a team of oxen) I'd make my own hay...while the sun shines of course. And I would grow an alfalfa mix of hay for the goaties.
In short, milking goats need a high protein hay which means it needs alfalfa in it. Not stems of grass-like stuff like what you'd find by the side of a road in a shed for $4/bale. We did not have alfalfa hay over the winter because we weren't milking. The hay we had was good 'nuff for over the winter with all the grass like stuff and no alfalfa.
But when Debbie was making milk for her babies she needed a higher protein and she couldn't get it from the hay we had. I hoped that beefing up here bagged food would help with the protein until we could get better hay later in the spring. This didn't work at all and gave her one or both problems of a bellyache and a vitamin deficiency.
The remedy was to treat her for a bellyache, provide her with vitamins, and get her more protein-from-hay.
Initially we treated her bellyache (gas and/or too much acid) with mineral oil (up to 35ccs forced down her with a big non-needle syringe). The mineral oil removed some of the gas problem, and in addition we gave her some typical colic remedies to help with her bellyache... we walked her around, made her take molasses in warm water, and gave her baking soda.
Unfortunately neither we, nor the neighbor's, had the vitamins she needed. What Debbie needed, specifically, was vitamin B1 which is available in an injectable form alone via a vet prescription or as part of a “vitamin B complex” solution available at the feed store. Seeing as how it was after 8pm on a Saturday, we only had the human form tablets of a B complex which wasn't perfect but would work.
Now at this point, “real” goat owners would be shrieking and telling me what an idiot I am for not having this all on hand...or for not calling the vet out. Go ahead and send an email.. I'll delete it.
But when you are over 45 minutes each way from town...and everything closes early around here...and when you do your own vet work sometimes you have to make stuff up on the fly.
So we did what we could which was to grind up the tablets, dissolve in water, suck up into a non-needled syringe, and forced her to take in orally. The key was that she needed a specific amount of B1 for her rumen (part of her digestive system) to function. The tablets gave her just enough to keep her out of trouble.
These things at least got her up on her feet.
As we talked about here the next morning Debbie was standing up, was hungry, and pooped perfectly. These are the indications of a not-dead-doing-pretty-good goat. She really wanted more baking soda so I emptied my trusty box of Arm & Hammer into a tub for her and sprinkled a small handful of grain in it so she could find it. Her interest in the baking soda indicated to me that she needed more assistance to be tip top.
I had to choice of driving 45 minutes each way to the feed store that MIGHT have the injectable form of B vitamins (for animal use) or I could swallow my pride and drive to Walmart where I knew they had human-use B1 tablets. You know how that ended up – me, walmart, anger and donuts.
We gave her the B1 tablets per the Tennessee Meat Goat article every 6 hours during the first day. Then gave it a couple times a day for the next several days. Now she is right as rain.
The tricky thing about her belly problems was that the standing wisdom is to give really grassy, dry hay to get the rumen going. However, thats contradictory to the third problem that resulted from all of this which was we needed to get her milk production up..which requires really lush alfalfa hay.
See why this hay thing drives me nuts? Its a balancing act and where farming meets art...and a lot of "mommy intuition."
We called around for alfalfa hay and luckily the local feed store had two folks advertising on their board. I also had some options on Craigslist. But local was better so I called.
On a side note, there are two kinds of hay people. Old timers who know what they are doing. And city folks who are selling it on behalf of their farming relatives – who don't know anything and frankly, most times don't have a sense of humor.
My first call was to the relative who didn't have a sense of humor, nor did she understand that a frantic gal calling first thing in the morning for hay was a kind of farm emergency. It was an easy proposition: May I come and give you money for a couple of those green block-thingys over there? Answer: yes or no. Of course it was a 20 minute call and it ended up that no she couldn't make that decision and could I call back tomorrow? No. No, I could not.
Call number two where I had to leave a message. But since decent farmers are always outside working I expected to leave a message and get a call back. Which I got....and the message they left (because I was working outside) was something like this:
(Background noise clearly indicated he was in a barn)
“Hello? Hello? Is this damn thing on? Ma? Ma? I can't hear on this fool thing... Hello? Is this Ohiofarmgirl? This is Ed callin' about yer hay. Sure come on out. Just drive up the country line road until you get 3 miles before were the old Shaylor place burnt down 4 years ago. We are the white farm on the north side. I'll be out here feedin' until 5:30.”
I knew then I had struck gold.
We got in the truck and drove like the wind. We found Ed alright. And he was a vision. An old timer to be sure – hard core. He came lumbering out of the barn, muck boots, carharts, and old knit cap..the works. He stopped and spit on the ground and said, “Now, what can I do ya fer?”
I explained the situation with Debbie and he said to follow him on back into his century-old barn and wait. So we did as he climbed up into the hay mow and called down, “Now you kids stay right where you are.”
And just a few feet from us, out of the sky fell a bale of loosely baled hay that landed with a poof as a cloud of alfalfa leaves flew into the air like confetti. The Big Man and I stood transfixed and just like we had seen fireworks both sighed “oooohhhhh.”
From above Ed called again, “Don't move, coming down!” And another bundle of joy fell from the sky. I put my hand on The Big Man's arm as the alfalfa cloud settled and said softly, “Isn't it beautiful?” There was a tear in my eye... it was that heavenly. Green and fluffy, full of lovely leaves, smelling like everything green you'd ever imagined.... it was remarkable.
It was at that point I wished that Ed would adopt me.
The old timer made his way down the ladder and we handed him some money after he helped load the bales into the truck. We talked a bit about the goat and he gave some advice about mixing the good hay with our current so we didn't set poor Debbie to bloat. We told him how worried we were that she wouldn't produce the quantity of milk that she did last year and said, offhand, that if she didn't well it may be the BBQ for her.
He looked at us stunned, for a minute, then softened and at that point I believe Ed wished we would adopt him.
He laughed and said that you don't hear that much from “young folks,” which frankly made me love him any more seeing as how we feel pretty old most of the time. He went on to say that he doesn't meet many 'honest farmers.' And, he said, the people who come to buy his 4H lambs are so removed from their food that they don't understand why he doesn't name his sheep... the truth is, most of them end up going to market. I could tell that we made a new friend and that he appreciated seeing us “young kids” taking up farming.
I know from being around the old timers that they don't see a younger generation of farmers anymore. Most of their kids have left for other professions and they are a dying breed. Its a shame really, on a lot of levels. There is so much knowledge that is being lost, so much tradition that is fading away... and sadly so many of those spectacular century barns and huge farms going by the way side and becoming subdivisions. And farming has been outsourced and institutionalized and not particularly for the better. People have lost the ability to feed themselves. Old timers like Ed know this is a tragedy.
Most “younger folks” wouldn't take the time to ask guys like Ed what he knows. They might scoff at his work clothes or his rough nature. But not me. The Big Man doesn't even really flinch anymore if we are driving along and I tell him to “Pull over! I want to go and talk to that guy.” I get out of the truck, big smile, stick out my hand and announce “Say, friend. I was wondering....” And in 20 minutes I'll learn more from that guy about soil, hay, cows or whatever than hours of sitting here alone researching it on the internet.
I mixed the hay for Debbie just like Ed told me...and the next morning she had an udder full of milk and I swear she had a smile on her face. Thanks Ed, you sure did help us out. I'll be seeing you again....he has sheep you see, and I'm just the gal that needs some.