Thursday, March 17, 2011

Farm Journal: Kiss Me, Kate!


With her mother's permission, Kate the Kalf eventually came close to check me out and to let me pet her soft, furry body.
 A portion of this article on Kate appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, March 19.

“Beware of the Ides of March” says a soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play of the same name.   

This quotation rang true at Windshadow Farm yesterday, only it was a happy event rather than the very bad one it was for Caesar.

The day started out like any other routine morning at Windshadow Farm where Ron took care of the goats and Suzanne walked around the barn to greet the animals.  When she approached the buffs pen, she couldn't believe her eyes.  There, in the middle of the herd was a little calf with its mother, M-131, next to it.

She calmly walked over to Ron and said in a soft voice:  “There's a calf.”

Ron was busy giving the baby goats' their breakfast of mothers' milk.  When the babies suckle on their multi-nipple milk bucket (called a lamb bar), they make a lot of noise.  Ron thought he heard Suzanne say “there's a cat,” so he didn't think anything of it.

Kate nonchalantly takes in her new surroundings with M-131 on alert.
Then Mike Sullins, who was working on the milk parlor at the time, suddenly shouted:  "Ron, one of the buffalo just dropped one."  Such man-talk got him moving quickly to the buffs' pen.  Then, when Ron saw the calf, Mike noted that he was in shock.

Ron knew some of the buffs were pregnant because the vet had just pregnancy checked them.  However, they weren't supposed to be due until June or July, so this was indeed a surprise.  

"Water buffalo are different from cows," he said stoically.  

Perhaps they are a little more deceptive, too.  Nevertheless, when they are as big as these girls are, it's difficult to see whether or not they are carrying an extra load.

Little Kate easily took to feeding very well and filled her belly with life- giving colostrum from M-131.  Colostrum is the first milk the mother gives after birth.  It contains high amounts of fat, nutrients and most importantly, the antibodies that protect the newborn from infectious disease.

Ron milked M-131 in an open stall since the buffs' dairy parlor is not yet completed.  Kate stood next to Ron during the milking, which calmed M-131 and allowed Ron to be "trusted."  This trust is imperative, especially when you're working with a 1,250-pound mamma-buff.  She is producing a lot of milk, so it will be stored frozen and used for feeding calves in the future.


Ron also has 200 pounds of "BuffGro," a special milk extender/replacer formulated for dairy water buffalo that he ordered from Grober Nutrition in Ontario Canada . (Grober specializes in milk replacers for domestic and  exotic animals.)  Water buffalo milk is unique in that it has a butter fat content ranging from 9-12 percent and 20-24 percent milk solids.  Some producers can temporarily substitute lamb or kid replacer, but a specifically formulated replacer is best.  We need to have the replacer on hand in case we can't get enough milk to feed the new calves.

Today was the first opportunity I had to go to the farm to see this little 80-pound bundle of joy.  She was casually and nonchalantly resting next to the wall with her mother nearby watching over it.  All the other buffs had been cleared out of the pen so they had their privacy and space.

The little girl is a bit goonie-looking with her long ears that are out of proportion to her face.  She has big circles around her eyes and she cranes her neck upward to look at what's in front of her.  The big girls do this, too.  She has long legs and from time to time makes a jolting dash.  Sometimes she looks like a deer.  Sometimes like a puppy.  But as all babies, she is adorable.

I tried to coax her to come close to the railing so I could pet her.  I was curious to see what she felt like.  After a couple tries, she did come.  She is soft and furry, just like the goats.  And very sweet.

Suzanne named the calf Kate, after her own mother, who died in December. 

Seven Baby Brothers Adopted
Seven bros (six sired by Tiger and one by Sundance) will be petting goats at Boulder Ridge, so we will be able to see them when they're fully grown. I would have liked to keep the brown one, one of the first ones born but city neighborhoods haven't approved keeping goats yet.
Today was a big day in the kid pen, too.  Seven of the 13 boys were adopted by Dave Hoekstra for his new venture, the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park.  The park opens in May and is located in Alto, near Grand Rapids.  It will feature a petting zoo and the boys will surely be a main attraction.

Dave also has an animal-moving business and he is the man who moved the Kleins' animals to the new farm last October. 

Truth is, these goats are indeed very lucky boys to have this chance to go with Dave.  Children will love them at the petting zoo and when they're not “working,” they will play, eat, and sleep.  What a life!  However, in order to prepare them for this new life, they had to be castrated.
Dave and Ron load the carriers

Because male goats are so randy, malodorous (especially during breeding season), and difficult to manage, if they are kept, they are castrated for easier handling—and so they won't inadvertently breed.

Castration is a fairly simple, painless and sterile process that takes only two seconds to perform.

For example, Dave sat down on a chair and held the kid's legs firmly while their backs rested on his lap.  This allowed Ron easy access to the goats' testicles, which he snipped off with a special disposable surgical scalpel.  Each kid yelled with all his might but this reaction was more about discomfort at being held rather than the cut.  None of the boys cried afterward, nor did they seem hurt or concerned.

After the operation Dave put them in a carrier and then loaded the carriers on the back of his pick-up truck.  They looked a little bewildered about what was happening.  So much has already occurred in their brief two weeks of life.

Male goats are usually used for meat although one or two in a litter might be selected to be breeders. 

Sometimes the boys are kept as pets like Dude was last year.  Wethers (castrated male goats) are very gentle and not aggressive.

Sometimes they may serve as "indicator wethers" where they help the farmer determine if the does are in heat or not.  Lil Man was castrated for this purpose two years ago.  In this case, the farmer uses a Ritchey nipper or an emasculatome to permit some small level of testosterone to remain.

The Sullins Kids
The Sullens Kids near the lamb bar.
The other six boy-goats will be adopted by the Sullins family as part of Jessica's and Tempest's 4-H project.  Jessica often comes to the farm to help Ron with various chores.  They will raise the boys with the help of her brother, Michael, who wanted a pet goat.  Before the boy-goats leave the farm, however, they, too, will be castrated.

Michael knew immediately that he'd named his goat, the black one with the pointed ears, Smokey.  Tempest is still undecided about hers and Jessica is still generating ideas for names for the other four boys.   

Ron has mentioned that the Jessica, Tempest and Michael are very good with all of the animals and that Michael calls himself  "buffalo boy." 

This is an exciting adventure for the Sullins family—and again, a lucky break for these boy-goats.


Big Time Pen Cleaning
"Buffalo Boy" helps clean the goat pen.
With all the action of birthing goats, the goat pen needed some cleaning.  That's what Jessica and her mother, Tina, and I worked on today with some help from Mike's backhoe.
Michael helped a little, too, when he wasn't inspecting his father's construction work in the milk parlor.  Farm kids learn the value of work at a young age and everybody works!

Jessica and Tina fill the backhoe with rich and juicy compost.
 It is difficult cleaning the goat pen because it has been divided into several sections including the birthing stall, three kids' stalls, and the feeding area.  So there are lots of nooks and crannies to get around. 

On the other hand, the buff pen has a bigger area with bigger chunks of manure to pick up.

Barn cleaning is a dirty job but it has to be done on a regular basis because it helps to control parasites and infectious disease.  Ron spends about three hours a day doing it, so when we volunteers come around, he greatly appreciates our help.  Besides, manure is the stuff that makes the garden grow--and the food taste good.  (I have to keep reminding myself of this fact.)

The goat area is completely cleaned twice a week and the buffalo area daily.

Mike takes out the compost.  Note the front wheels of the backhoe.
We'll be getting some new equipment to speed the process, namely a manure bucket for the tractor that will allow taking bigger bites ("ugh") of the manure pack. 

But cleaning the barn on this farm is nothing like cleaning the barn at Dancing Turtle Farm where the stench from the goat and buff droppings was quite pungent and wet.  The floor of this new barn remains remarkably dry due to the air flow and it was designed for easier scraping. 







Misadventure Strikes the Rookie Again
One of three kid pens where the seven bros resided.
Before the Sullins arrived, I cleaned out the kids' pen where the seven brothers resided.  I felt a little like a hotel chamber maid after guests leave their room. One group out and clean the room for the next one.

Typically, Ron puts straw in the kid pen with kitty litter under it to absorb the wetness. This stuff can be included with the rest of the compost because it is made out of clay.  However, you must be careful the goats don't eat it because it could make them very sick.  This fact led to another misadventure in my life as a rookie farmer and goatherder. 

In order to do all this cleaning, I put all the goats outside the barn into the dry lot so they could feed and sun themselves.  I closed the barn door but didn't know enough to lock it.  While I was away for lunch in the house (Suzanne has been a gem to provide us with some delicious food when we're working), those clever and determined girls got back into the barn.  And were they having fun!  Ha, they had gotten away with something!

Fortunately, I had moved all the tools out of the pen and locked the gates that open to the rest of the barn.  If I hadn't, the goats would have gotten into the grain, the construction area, the buff pen and everywhere.  This would have been very dangerous for them.  

The goats love grain and if they had gotten into it, they would have eaten way too much (they do not have a satiation reflex), filled their rumens, and become very sick.

So this was another lesson in Farm Gates 101.  It's been a long time since I've made a gate mistake.

Playing with the Kids
Before I get to work for the day, I usually say hello to the animals.  With the new kids around, this is a particular pleasure.  Here I am pictured with some doelings.  Just ain't nothing like having new kids on the farm (except when they poop inside your jacket as one of them did today).

As a bonus for the doelings (but without a photographer to capture it) I got down on my hands and knees and let the kids climb all over me.  They loved it and I did, too.  After all, that's what aunties are for!

We still haven't named the girl kids and it will be difficult since so many of them look alike.  Stay tuned.

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