By Jennifer Ashawasegai
Not all hay is created equal. That was news to me last spring when I took my young Billy to the vet. Billy was on a rich diet of goat ration (grain) and protein rich alfalfa hay.
I’m very glad I caught that real quick, or Billy wouldn’t be here. Since I didn’t know that goats were ruminants (four stomachs) when I brought home Billy, I knew even less about their diet. I had brought home a few square bales of alfalfa hay for my buckling (young male goat). On a visit to the vet, Dr. Gaw questioned me on the type of hay I was feeding Billy. When I answered her, she raised her eyebrows and told me he should be eating good quality, first-cut hay. That hay has much less calories and protein. It was a good thing he was still a kid, or there could have been trouble. If left on the alfalfa hay, Billy could have bloated to death!
Food is not the only thing to be wary of when raising goats. There are worms, parasites, hoofs to trim and dis-budding or de-horning to consider. When conducting my research into the latter concerns, I learned that dis-budding/de-horning was apparently a controversial topic among goat farmers. This is different than what I have observed: it’s less controversial than what’s more convenient. Typically, according to my observations, dairy goats are dis-budded or de-horned and meat goats are not.
Leaving the horns on or choosing to do away with them is a matter of ease when handling. Dairy goats are handled often and milked, so horns aren’t a good idea because they’ll get tangled in milking equipment or they’re just a pain to work around. Most meat goat farmers will leave the horns, which are a benefit since the horns serve as “handles” when working with them.
I decided to have polled goats (without horns) simply because I didn’t want them getting tangled in fencing or anything else for any length of time and also because we have grandchildren. However, so far, I’ve brought my goats to the vet to have them dis-budded or they’ve been disbudded by the farmers where I purchased them. The day is becoming inevitable when I will have to do this process myself.
I’ve also had to deal with medicating goats that got sick from parasites and also have given them booster shots myself, which is also not another favourite part of caring for goats. I’m squeamish when I get a needle. Try to imagine sticking one into an animal that screams. That’s right, goats are notorious wimps and scream really loud when being subjected to anything uncomfortable!
Speaking of uncomfortable, hoof-trimming is another necessary part of goat care. Some farmers lean the goat against a wall and trim the hooves with hoof trimmers or a hoof knife, others may lay them down and trim. Goats aren’t fond of being manhandled like that, and since I don’t have very many goats, I take a much more genteel approach. I take them out of the barn one at a time, give them a small bowl of grain and trim away! Since they know what’s coming, each one gets excited about hoof trimming day!
Jennifer Ashawasegai is a freelance journalist and citizen of Henvey Inlet First Nation who decided to start a hobby farm at her Alban residence.
She is a previous winner of the Debwewin Citation for Excellence in First Nations Story-telling