Nary an Udder the Same & Goat Happenings

As I milk the does each morning, it is always interesting to note the differences in their udders. It’s something I have experienced for years, but I didn’t think about sharing it with you until recently. Goats, just like people, each have their own special peculiarities that make them unique. And since I milk my goats, one of the things I pay particular attention to is their udders. Many goats udders are very similar, but the group of does I have right now don’t share many characteristics, and because of that, I thought I would explain the differences and what I think about them.

I’ll start off with One Stripe, our old lady goat. She is now seven years old and has been with us since she was five months old. I think she is starting to slow down a little, but for an old lady, she is doing quite well. Her udder is getting longer as she ages. It also has more mammary tissue that the other does. The first year or two I milked One Stripe, her udder was much firmer and more congested than the other does. She didn’t have mastitis, but either she wouldn’t let me have her milk or the mammary tissue took up so much room, she didn’t have much. I have always wondered if that has affected the size of her udder. It still never completely empties when I milk her, but she is a breeze to milk. One Stripe’s teats are straight, easy to handle and allow a good amount of milk with each squeeze. She and I have been doing this together for so long that sometimes she will turn her head around and nudge my shoulder when she is ready to leave, but I’m not finished.

Copper is One Stripe’s two year old daughter. Copper’s udder is even, and holds a nice capacity. She does not have the longer, type of udder her mother has. The teats are even, a little longer than some, and also allow a good amount of milk with each squeeze. Copper is a taller, longer goat than the other does I have. I scoot my chair closer to the end of the milk stand to reach her udder comfortably. Copper was an accidental single kid in the middle of winter, so she didn’t have anyone to play with when she was born. Consequently, she came back to the milk stand with One Stripe while I was milking. She has always been very tame and easy to handle, if sometimes a little onery.

Cricket and Lady Bug are twin sisters that are one year old. They each had their first kids this spring. It is always interesting to see how a doe will turn out on the milk stand. Ivory, their mother, was a great milker so I had high hopes for these two.

Cricket started off with very small teats. She was hard to milk and not at all interested in letting her milk down. After a few days I remembered that Ivory started off the same way. That gave me hope that Cricket’s teats and udder would develop well during her first lactation. So far so good. She is definitely easier to milk, and she will let her milk down for me now. One of the challenges of increasing her milk production is having her son continue to nurse through the fence. With the work on the barn and the addition of pigs, available space for weaning is limited for now.

Lady Bug started off too wound up for my taste. She was not relaxed, but furtive and anxious. Now, after almost three months she has calmed down nicely, and is very easy to milk. Surprisingly, her teats are much larger than her sisters. They are not as long as One Stripe’s or Copper’s, but they hold a good volume of milk per squeeze, making her very easy to milk. For a first freshener, Lady Bug also has a very good quantity of milk, even though Easter is still nursing some through the fence.

We sold Penny, who is Copper’s daughter, to Faith back in April. I wish I had remembered to take a picture of her udder before she left. She is the first doe I have had that had two different size teats. Noticeably different. One side is much easier to milk than the other. At first I wondered if it was because her twin bucks were nursing more on one side than the other, but Faith tells me they have continued to remain different sizes. She doesn’t have any trouble milking Penny, and has adjusted to the different techniques needed to get milk from each side.

Every milker has a preference for the type of udder and teat they prefer to milk. I know I do. As time has passed and my experience as a milker has increased, I am now much more particular about the animals we add to our herd. If we are looking for a new buck, I ask to see the mother’s udder in milk or at least pictures of it. If it is pendulous, or the teats are large and bulbous, I pass. If the teats are small, or the udder is poorly attached, I pass. Since I plan to milk our does, I want animals that have the genetic propensity to produce healthy, well formed, udders and teats. I don’t have to have an animal that will produce a gallon a day, but I would like to have a decent amount per animals.

Speaking of bucks, when the vet was out recently working on our new pigs, we also had him work on Bill’s horn scurs. Bill’s horn burning didn’t go well before we bought him. We knew he had some scurs when we brought him home, but we have never had any that grew
out like this. Bill had rubbed or caught the sideways scur that had gotten pretty long, and ripped it away from his skull, which caused it to bleed a little. The vet takes care of these types of scurs with large landscaping loppers. Scurs on goats don’t generally bleed a lot because they don’t develop the same type of blood supply that a regular horn has. This was true for Bill this time. The vet applied some standard blood stopper powder for good measure. While we had Bill in hand, we also wormed him and trimmed his hooves. We hadn’t caught Bill in a while, but he is usually tame enough when we feed. You can reach over and pat and scratch him then. But when I poured out the feed and took him by the collar, he jumped up on his hind feet, hollered and fought valiantly to get loose until the vet could take over. I was very happy to turn him over to someone else. If you had been standing around, the dance Bill and I did would probably have been somewhat comical. Luckily, it worked out okay.

We plan to turn One Stripe and Cricket in with Bill on July 1st, to begin our first breeding cycle. We hope they breed sometime in July to give us December babies. This will allow us to have plenty of milk through the winter. We tried this last summer, but Bill wasn’t mature enough to handle this responsibility at the time. If our breeding plans are successful, Cricket will dry up around the end of August or early September. One Stripe has already been dried up. Since she is older, I wanted her body to have a break before she becomes pregnant again. I will continue milking Copper and Lady Bug until late December or early January when One Stripe and Cricket are in milk again.

We will breed Copper, Lady Bug, Patch and Easter in November. This will provide us with the larger supply of milk in the spring so we can begin making next year’s cheese supply. Well, that’s the plan anyway. We will see how it goes.

We still need to butcher our older wethers. We hope, cross your fingers, to get that done in the next week or so. It will be nice to have our own meat in the freezer again. I want to figure out how to make a very simple jerky from our ground chevron. Most of the recipes I have read have more ingredients than I want to use. If you know of a very simple recipe that does not use liquid smoke or any sweeteners, I would be interested in looking at it. I would like to use little more than salt and pepper, but I don’t know if that would work or not. I need to do some more research on simple jerky recipes.

The over abundance of rain this spring and early summer has also caused an over abundance of worms this year. I have had to worm the goats more than usual. Even Pearl, our Great Pyrenees, has had difficulty with worms which she has never had before. The vet said the weather this year has caused a tremendous flush of worms for all of the animals he sees. It’s something good to learn and be aware of as we continue to learn the nuances of our location. We have been here seven years and in that time we have had two years of serious heat and drought and two years of incredible rain and flooding.

We continue to see our goats as vital to our homestead. They provide us with milk which we make into kefir, butter and cheese. The by product of whey is then fed to the chickens and pigs. The dog and cats also benefit from the milk everyday. The goats provide us with meat and the other animals with nutrition through the organs, fat and scraps from our table. We enjoy our goats. They are a good farm animal. But more than that, every animal on our homestead is here for a reason. They all have jobs to perform, and if they don’t meet the expectation or need that we have, we don’t keep them. Regardless of how much we may like them or want them, if they don’t perform adequately, or exhibit an undesirable behavior that we are unable to alter, then we don’t keep them. Some we eat, some we sell, some we give away with full disclosure of why we are getting rid of them. 

Homesteading is our way of life. Soon we feel it will be our survival. We continue to increase our skills, so that hopefully, we can depend on what we know, what we have, and what we can do, to see us through the hard times that will soon be upon us all. We would encourage you to do the same.

Until next time – Fern

Shopping for Goats

We went shopping for goats today, came home empty handed, and wanted to share the reasons why. Our trip was about 170 miles round trip and took about four hours. When the gentleman asked what we thought and Frank told him we were going to pass, he told us he was sorry we had wasted a trip. Frank told him it was not wasted, we got to visit the whole way. Isn’t that neat? There is not much Frank and I would rather do than spend the day with each other whether we are home or on the road, so today has been another day well spent.

A few days ago I found an ad on Craigslist that had the potential for adding some new blood into our herd. We called and set up a time to make the trip. The gentleman wasn’t much of a phone talker, and just recommended we come look. I should have tried to ask a few more questions. 

One Stripe

We went to look at a Nubian doe that had black and tan quadruplets. I have always liked black and tan goats, but we have only had one, and she was an excellent specimen of a milk goat. She had a nice thick, long body, she was big and had great babies. Even though my favorite goat at that time was more of a big belly kind of goat, just because she was friendly, kind of like One Stripe. All of this leads to the confirmation of the animal, the type of body structure they have which will add to a herd and not bring some unwanted traits.

Google Images

The first thing we noticed about this doe was her udder. Now that I have learned more about milking and udders, I have realized that there are many subtleties that can add or detract from the performance of an udder over the short and long run. Although this doe’s udder was nice and full, and she was able to feed all four of her babies, it wasn’t well attached. By this I mean that the ligaments that attach the udder to the body wall were more narrowly spaced allowing the udder to swing or sway side to side when she walked. This is not a desirable characteristic for an udder at our farm. Over time it will break down more quickly allowing the udder to sag, sometimes all the way to the ground.

Copper a week before she gave birth

A well attached udder should be widely spaced between the legs and up to the belly area. It’s hard to describe in words. Frank described it to one of his friends using a paper sack analogy. A well attached udder would be like an open paper sack that is wide open. A poorly attached udder would be like a paper sack that is squeezed closed at the top, like you were going to blow it up and pop it. The actual area of attachment to the body is much smaller.

The second thing we found out about this doe is that she is a polled animal. Polled meaning that she was born without horns. There are folks that will tell you that some goats are just ‘naturally’ polled, but we are of the opinion that any goat that is natural will have horns. Another problem that occurs among polled goats is that if you breed two of them together you may end up with a hermaphrodite. A hermaphrodite is a goat that has “both sex organs and sterile“. The gentleman had bought this doe from a lady that had all polled goats.

The next issue we noticed is the way the kids were disbudded, or dehorned. The gentleman’s disbudding iron did not have the right tip and he had burned all the way across the top of the kids’ heads. Even so, the horns were still growing out.

Copper’s ear before we fixed it.

And the last thing was the ears. The doe’s ears were turned over sideways, similar to this picture. This can be corrected when the goat is very young, just like we fixed Copper’s ear. One of this doe’s kids had one ear that was the same way.

We wouldn’t have bought the doe because of her udder alone. A pendulous udder is not a trait we want in our herd. We had a doe named Red that was born here and was a great milker. I milked her for two years, then one day as she was walking out of the barn I realized that her udder was swinging from side to side much more than any other doe. As I

Red taught us why we don’t want horns & about pendulous udders.

watched and really looked at her, I realized that her udder was not widely attached like the other does. Then I really looked at her. Sometimes when you are used to something you don’t always ‘see’ what is really there. Another instance of that was the first goat we had born with parrot mouth. I always knew this goat looked a little different, but it took a number of months for me to realize what it was that was creating that difference. These are the ‘ah-ha!’ moments of learning, and I am grateful for them even when they lead to an undesirable decision. The goat with the pendulous udder we sold, pointing out this deficit to the buyers. The goat with the parrot mouth we butchered, not wanting to pass on a deformity in our herd or to anyone else. The doe today, we did not buy, even though I would really like to have some black and tan goats. 

This gentleman also had a billy goat today that we wanted to look at. He was solid black, which is unusual, a solid, nice looking animal. His draw back? He had horns. That was an instant decision. No horns at our place, so no nice big, black buck. Then as we stood and visited for a minute, the buck started backing up and putting his head down in a stance that indicated he would like to butt something or someone. The owner indicated the buck liked to ‘play’, not a behavior we care to have in a buck when that ‘play’ can

Teddy was a great looking animal with some bad behaviors.

hurt someone. The buck was separated in an area by himself. The owner said he put a couple of the baby goats in there with the billy for company, but he just chased them and chased them around, so he had to take them out. The only time this billy was allowed around other goats was during breeding time. All in all, what I saw in this goat was one that was not socially adapted to being with other goats or people. So, even if he had not had horns, his behavior would have prevented us from buying him. We learned a lot about unwanted buck behavior from Teddy, who was a very nice big billy and the father of Cricket, Lady Bug and Penny.

It takes time to ‘learn’ an animal, whether it is a chicken, dog, cat, goat, or any other animal. Time is a good teacher. Having friends, neighbors, or other folks with the same type of animals can help a tremendous amount. Observing and studying your own animals can teach you a lot. Over the years we have made our fair share of mistakes with animals. Buying some on impulse. Trying to ignore bad traits, or think somehow we can overcome them by some magic. It never works out. We just end up dealing with someone else’s problem, and it’s never worth it in the long run. 

If you are starting out or looking for new animals, research all you can, talk to everyone you can, don’t overlook flaws that will cause you troubles and listen to your instinct. Then you still may end up with an unforeseen problem. But if you do, learn from that as well, and in time, you will end up with the herd or flock you want. Healthy, productive and content. We have been blessed with stewardship of this small spot of earth in southeastern Oklahoma, and we give thanks for that every single day. Even when we didn’t get to bring home a few more goats.

Until next time – Fern

Growin’ Kids

The kids are growing like weeds. They have become used to being penned up at night on occasion to provide us with more milk. The horn buds that were burned are starting to come off and leave a nice smooth patch instead of the unwanted horns. Most of the kids are now very friendly. Ivory’s twin girls are still rather stand offish, but I hope that improves with time. All of the kids have taken a liking to the new feed ration we are using and are grazing well with their moms. They are a great looking herd and we are pleased. 

We look forward to getting a new buck soon and will introduce you to him after he arrives. We will also show you how we manage a new animal before they are allowed to integrate into the herd. There are always new happenings when it comes to raising livestock. Stay tuned.

Until next time – Fern