"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Self-Administered Supplements (Separating the Sheep from the Goats)

Goats need regular mineral supplementation, just like cows and horses do. For cows and horses, you basically just buy a salt-lick. These are cheap, available everywhere, and formulated for cows and horses, the most common and highly valued livestock around. You can get medicated and unmedicated salt-blocks, you can get them in white, red, blue, green and grey, and in every size from five pounds on up to fifty. 

Most farm stores also carry sheep minerals. Usually these are in the form of a fifty pound bag of loose minerals, rather than a solid block, and are meant to be poured out into a trough and left for the animals to nibble on as they choose. For the first several years I was here, I thought these were adequate supplements for goats, as well. Sheep, goats, what's the difference, really? In every livestock book out there for the smallholder, goats and sheep are lumped together as "small ruminants." Even the vet does the same thing, for example advertising a "small ruminant" workshop every spring. Usually, these things are geared more toward a sheep than they are toward goats. 

Goats are... well, the "goats" of the farm world. They are the low animal on the totem pole. Few veterinarians are trained specifically in goat care (if you don't believe me, take a sample of opinions from any ten goat owners). Farm stores seldom carry items targeted for goats, be they hoof-trimmers, disbudding machines, or feed and minerals. The prevailing attitude towards goats seems to be that they are tough, independent animals that don't really need active care; just throw them some hay and whatever you have and they'll be all right. 

It is true that goats are often shockingly neglected. I think it stems from many people not even knowing what a healthy goat in the prime of life actually looks like. Dairy goat breeds are supposed to have short, sleek, shiny coats - not shaggy coarse hair. They ought to be pleasingly plump, with visible hipbones, but no sharp projections anywhere. Their hooves ought to be dainty and short, not long and certainly not curled or chipped. At all times, goats should be active and sprightly, never lethargic or weak. 

In order to maintain this good health, one of the things they need, it turns out, is a mineral supplement formulated specifically for GOATS, not for sheep. Goats need a higher level of copper in their diets than do sheep (http://www.extension.org/pages/19383/goat-nutrition-copper#.U3wKeF6BlQY) and if fed sheep supplements over a long period of time, they will become copper deficient and susceptible to parasites. Parasites are a complex problem in goats, with many more factors in play, but copper levels are an important one. I learned this the hard way. 

For a long time, after I initially requested it, my local feed store carried Purina Goat Minerals, and my goats loved it and ate it up with relish. But for some reason, since we returned from Mexico, Purina Goat Minerals are no longer available locally. My store didn't carry any goat minerals at all and tried to sell me sheep minerals again, but I insisted that they get me some goat stuff. What they came up with (I misremember the name and do not choose, at this time, to walk out to the barn and take a look) is presumably perfectly adequate from a nutritional standpoint, but the goats don't like it. In order to get them to eat it, I have to mix it with grain and molasses. 

The goats seem, however, to have found another source of needed minerals. I often let the goats out to browse outside of their pasture on sunny afternoons, and whenever I do, the first place they go is the fire pit. While I can't make much of an educated guess about the chemical composition, much less the copper content, I can say that the goats eat up the wood ashes with alacrity. Yesterday we burned a bunch of scrap wood and cardboard that was lying about the place, and the ashes left behind must have been delicious, because the does were fighting each other for the best spot. 

I'm not worried that they might poison themselves, because we don't burn treated wood, plastic, or other trash. I'm only a little bit concerned that I am not providing them with enough loose minerals, or else they wouldn't be so crazy about the fire pit.