Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ah stress... and I don't just mean the type of stress induced by job interviews, although I am experiencing that as well, now, too. I mean the type of stress we induce in our goats when we do things to them that they ain't real happy about.

I mentioned we went to the Cream of the Crop sale recently and brought home two mature does and a doeling. We received in the mail a letter thanking us for attending the sale and announcing it would be a different weekend next year. I can guarantee that is going to cause some stress around here, because the kids had fun dressing up and going to the Halloween festival in Corydon, and if there is no Halloween festival, they are going to have a much dimmer view of travelling 8 hours each way to go to a goat sale. Just last weekend we dragged them to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference, and while the speakers were very good, the venue, in our minds, was not as good and the food was not like it was last year. Of course, the food last year was a hard act to follow. I still can see it - mountains of colorful locally grown sustainable veggies, greens, and main dishes. I'm not at all a cook but it was so amazing I was inspired to learn how to make one of the dishes - purple sweet potato hash with chorizo (using Stokes Purple sweet potatoes from Stokes County, our home, no less). Wow. This year, well, it was just... food (except the lamb on one of the farm tours was absolutely top notch). Here is picture of the farm house where our food was served. The farm is in the RTP area and produces Animal Welfare Approved lamb, and they know how to cook it, too.

I did get to pipe up in one of the seminars when a speaker said he thought it would be difficult to mob graze with goats because of their small size and I was able to tell him about our "moving pens." We didn't exactly mean for it to work that way, but when we put three hungry mature does in a pen made of four goat panels, they can mow the enclosed area to the ground and trample the rest in one to two days. There is the additional nutrient added from any leftover hay if we've fed any and spilled kelp. We are finding that after we slide the goats to the next plot, the old one grows back like a well kept diverse grass pasture. If someone wanted to convert a field overrun with poison ivy and brambles into a horse or cow ready pasture, all you'd need to do is put 3 to 5 goats in one of these pens and slide it from spot to spot daily or every other day around the desired pasture area and then wait for the regrowth. It's pretty darn amazing. I really need to get some before and after pictures of it. And the only one it stresses is Chuck because he slides the pens and then turtle shells the shed on his back to its new spot each day. But I digress...

The other part of the Cream of the Crop letter reminded all the buyers that these goats, even if they didn't show it, had been under a lot of stress. They had the stress of the move to the sale, the stress of the sale itself and being exposed to all the other goats, sights, sounds, and different climate, and then they had the stress of the trip home and adapting to the situation at that new home. This leads me to a discussion on how we, personally, treat new arrivals to the farm. I can't make anyone who buys our goats do exactly what I do - and they may indeed have a better way because I sure don't have all the answers, but we have based our quarantine procedures on the article Dr. Sparks wrote for the Goat Rancher on stress (which I wish I could find right now) and also on our experience with koi, the Japanese colored carp.

I had read discussions of how new goats need to adapt to the germs and whatnot on the new farm. Any parent with a human kid in day care or school knows all about this concept. Our kids may be healthy, but then we send them off to school and they comingle with other kids bringing in their germs, which are no big deal to them, but that are new and novel to our kids' immune system, then we combine it with a little stress from the social aspects of school or change in the weather, and voila... sick kid. Our experience with koi looked more at the equation from the other direction. With koi, it is vitally important to quarantine, because not only are there a lot of strong, treatment resistant parasites out there (sound familiar?) but there are some viruses that don't show up until the water hits a certain temperature, and mean almost certain death for your entire pond. For someone with show koi, the losses may not only be sentimental as koi are pretty intelligent and some become beloved pets, but also can be financially staggering. Imagine an avoidable virus wiping out a pond with five to ten $10,000 apiece fish (yes, I said $10,000, which is not even enough in some cases to buy a koi that might contend for Grand Champion at a decent sized show). Even though our koi were worth much less financially, they were both expensive to us and loved by us, so we absolutely quarantined. We had been known to quarantine some koi an entire year in a smaller but equally filtered system.

I am not suggesting that goats need to be quarantined quite so strictly, but if I bring in bred does from a sale, I do keep them in a separate group away from my other does until after they kid out, and often until after they wean their kids. I've made an investment in those does, and I know not only that they could bring in parasites and pathogens that could adversely effect my bred does, but that my does could have parasite and pathogens that could adversely effect them. We all know that does are mean as snakes, too, and why on earth would we intentionally put them in a situation where we know there is a darn good chance someone will get the kids beat right out of them, or even just get beat on at all when they've already been through a stressor? Sparks' article mentions there is a period after a stress where that goat's immune system is still depressed and it is more susceptible to parasites or illnesses it could normally withstand. Of course, pregnant and lactating does have a suppressed immune system just by definition, but even a buck or open doe will be less able to stave off health problems after a stress event. If I could find the article I would quote verbatim, but I can recall Sparks referring to weaning, illness, and moving goats as major stressors. I can't remember where immunizations and deworming fell on the stress scale, but I don't know a goat that likes it (except most do like this herbal we use and eat it from our hands like a treat). He mentioned that it took 30 to 45 days, if I remember correctly, for the immune system to bounce back and normalize. Therefore, we should wait at least that long between stressors to avoid breaking the goat down to a point that something that should be a minor setback becomes, at worst, one that can't be overcome, and we have a dead goat or one ruined for future productivity.

I try hard to allow that sort of recovery time, but sometimes it just isn't possible and sometimes we get in a hurry. We usually get a hard lesson when we get in a hurry, and that gets us back on the right track, albeit with the wind knocked out of our sails somewhat. Today, we put a buck in with two of the does we brought home from Cream of the Crop because we are trying to juggle hoping not to lose an entire breeding season out of these mature does with not having them kid too late in the spring with allowing them a period of rest and adaptation after being brought home from the sale. They've been healthy for the three weeks we have had them, so I hope we won't regret this decision. I know Ace seems pretty pleased with it.

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