Saturday, June 28, 2014

Making it Work....Animals on the Homestead

Let me preface this with this disclaimer:

My view on the stewardship of animals may be different from yours.  That is ok.  I respect that.  I ask you to please respect my views as well.  Although these posts are meant for encouragement and information, this one in particular isn't all sunshine and rainbows.
Well, with that I jump into my next topic, animals.  It was going to be on homeschooling, but after an *AwEsOmE* conference this weekend I wanted some time to digest the immense amount of information that was shared with us.  And since this topic is very, very much in the forefront of our family's minds I thought I would write on that.

This is my view on animals:  God designed and made them.  He put man (humankind) in charge of them.  We are stewards of them.  They are here to glorify God, show God's handiwork, to help the earth in it's cycles, and to help men.  Being a single income family of ten, we can't justify spending $100 for a vet visit on animals, generally speaking.  What I mean is, if they break a bone, then sure, we will go and get them fixed up.  But if an animal gets sick, we try to fix them up at home.  In the past, long before our wee homestead, we had faced vets that wanted us to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars in tests, with uncertain outcomes.  Some of those were on cats that we 'rescued'. We do not have the ability to pay for uncertain outcomes.  We care deeply for our animals, and as such we try our very best to give them the best we can to *keep* them healthy in the first place.  This past week showed that we have failed in this area this year.  A mix of having a new baby, lots of rain, and lots of extra outside activities.  We learned our lesson that prevention is truly the best approach!!

Just like the health of my family I am always trying to learn more about the health of animals.  Because when you actually need that information, there is usually little time to act.  I would encourage anyone starting a homestead that you do your research first.  It's a lot more fun to learn about feed, or housing your animal, but learning what to do should they become sick is just as important.

Over the years we have dealt with many a sick animal.  We've had a few sick chickens die over the years, and each time we learned more and more.  We have been slowly building our animal medicine cabinet.  This 'medicine cabinet' contains conventional and alternative medicines.  Just like with my family, I prefer to treat our animals with natural means first.  The exception to this is when we need to worm our goats.  I have yet to be successful in keeping to the weekly herbal schedule to be chemical dewormer free.  That is my goal though.

We've added diatomaceous earth, some herbs, and an injectable antibiotic to our stash of goods.  The most important thing to do when an animal gets sick, is to act quickly!  I can not stress that enough.  Goats can go down FAST.  I've had friends go out for the morning feeding, nothing noticeably wrong, only to go out mid afternoon to find a dead goat.  Usually the first sign of one of our animals being sick is their lack of willingness to eat.  Sometimes they will just eat some of their food.  For those with goats you know that any goat who isn't inhaling their food is cause for concern :-)

Since worms are a problem with goats, particularily during certain times of the year (I find the early spring and early fall are more problematic), you will want to have an action plan in place before you even get goats.  I have heard that the herbal remedies are effective, but they must be given weekly....every week!  We are learning that we need to rethink our feeding routine as the goats were trying to nibble up any remaining chicken feed after they had been fed.  Goats get worms from the ground.  

We have been known to baby chickens.  We had our whole flock, save the newcomers who brought the disease with them, come down with a very deadly illness.  I would say half of those who gave their advice said to cull them all.  The other half said to try to save them, but they had all lost at least 75 to 90% of their flocks!  We did all we could and didn't lose any!  But it took a LOT of time to care for them.  

But really, the best medicine isn't medicine but prevention.  Learn the best way to keep your animals healthy to begin with.  But sometimes that isn't always possible though.  Our neighbor has a wonderful set up for his goats.  For years he never even had to deworm his goats.  Never had a need.  And then a couple of  years ago all the goat owners in the area were plagued with huge worm outbreaks.  He was surprised to come home to a dead goat.  And two weeks later another dead goat.  All because of worms.  We can't possibly be prepared for every scenerio, but learn the ones that your area are more prone to, and pray that you can learn on a gently curve there after!

I know this post has been a bit hap hazzard.  I apologize for that.  On father's day we lost one of our best milkers, Lilly.  We had an outbreak here on the homestead, with what is looking like coccidia.  That is what the tests are showing so far.  We had about 5 goats come down with it, all the rest got over it, except Lilly.  Some of the kids (baby goats) are dealing with it as well, but are doing well thus far.  And this is where prevention is much better than treatment!  This year I failed to keep on top of the things I know that can interfere with our animals' health.  Not intentionally!  But, learning the hard way is, well....hard :-(  But we press on, knowing that we are doing the best we can, and are making the changes needed.

In an attempt to make this a little more 'step by step', here are the things that I feel we, as keeper of animals, can make things work:

::  The health of your animals all starts in your planning before they even arrive to your homestead (or house/apartment...).  Why are you getting that particular animal?  Which animal or breed is the best for your environment.  Case in point, we had a man call us after seeing our ad for the baby goats we are selling.  We welcome newbies, but this one has NOT done his homework.  The conversations went along these lines:

Man:  So can I keep the goat in a pen?
Hubby: (*knowing* that goats need a *goat* companion) Do you already have a goat?  They need a goat mate to keep them company.
Man:  Well we have a dog.  Can the goat be kept in a pen?
Hubby:  What kind of pen?
Man:  It's a dog pen, the goat will be in with our dog.  It's about 10 feet by 10 feet, concrete floor, with a dog house.

There are so many things wrong with that situation it isn't funny!  This man clearly does not know anything about goats.  Again, I welcome newbies, we all have to start somewhere, BUT you need to know what you are getting into when getting animals.

::  Not only is every area different in terms of potential problems, BUT there will be differences within your own land.  We learned this the hard way as well.  Are there drainage problems on your land?  Too much shade, not enough shade?  Do you have any poisonous plants that you need to take care of before your animal comes to live on your property?

::  Talk with other animal owners.  I've talked a ton with a friend of mine who owns goats before we got ours, and over the years.  I have a friend who talks with me about chickens as they are just getting into them.  Don't do this alone.  You can avoid a LOT of mistakes or problems before they happen by talking with others about their experiences.

::  Decide how you are going to handle problems when they do come up....because they WILL come up.  For us our first action is natural alternatives if I feel we have the time to use them.  Otherwise I reach for the conventional treatment.  Animals have the ability to act normal until they are VERY sick.  Other animals "know" when an animal in their herd is sick.  They may try to 'do them in', or neglect or avoid said animal.  So when an animal shows signs of sickness, the animal quite possibly has been sick for some time (or had the development of the illness going on for a long time).

::  You can't possibly buy all possible products in anticipation of a possible problem.  Know that your medicine cabinet will grow over time.  But talk to others to see what they recommend they keep on hand at the get go.

::  Become observant.  This will be a *great* skill in keeping animals.  If you can get to the animal before they are "obviously" sick, you will have a much better outcome.  Learn how your healthy animal acts in different situations.  Observe their body language. Observe what healthy looks like in regard to their eyes, coat/feathers, feet, skin, mouth, etc.

  As an example, I knew something was wrong when our male goat started shaking at feeding time.  Everyone thought it was the cold weather (he has a short coat and it was winter time), or thought he was just really excited to get his food.  That didn't sit right with me.  He didn't do it at other times, and it was only a light tremor.  But I just knew something wasn't right.  Everything else was looking fine, so we took a wait and see approach.  Well, weeks later, and almost about to die, we realized it was tetanus!  (The vet didn't think it was tetanus either, so sometimes you just have to go on your gut feeling).  We ran out to get the medicine, and within 2 hours he was showing signs of getting better.  To this day he's a little "off" from that experience, but he is alive, active, healthy and gives us lots of cute baby goats (mostly females at that!).  By "gives us" I mean his contribution to the whole process :-)  Ha, ha!

::  When you have an animal go down do all you can to learn *why* they did.  For example we had our goats come down with coccidia this past month.  The vet said for us to schedule a meeting so they could come out, test, and then give us a program for worming and medication.  A lot of people we interact with will leave it there.  Thankfully they also wrote to us that they will evaluate our property to figure a plan for our herd to keep this from happening again.  You want to know how and why your animals got sick, so you can change what the circumstances that got them sick in the first place.  Medications are only a stop gap.  They can get your animal back to health, but they will not keep them there if you don't address the source of the problem.

::  With the above being said, there are some natural supplements/foods that can be given on a regular basis to help your animals become more resistant to the germs/worms that they encounter in their environment.  I encourage you to look into such means as they will pay dividends in the long run.

::  Animals take time.  It takes time, energy, and money to keep them healthy.  But it will take time, energy and money if they are sick, with the unpleasant possible outcome of a dead animal.  With this recent experience of losing our goat, I know that I NEED to make it a priority to make their herbal remedies on a regular basis.

::  Animals need housing.  Look into what you have on hand, what will work for your number of animals, the make of your land, and how you believe you will be feeding them (your routine).  After NOT doing that, I can point out a lot of things I would change to make things work better for us now.  But, again, some things you can only learn during the experience, not beforehand.  Ugh.  We've had to do things on the cheap.  This means we have some not so lovely structures on our property.  Maybe over time we will be able to improve them, but for now we have to make them work.  Once you have your animals living in their housing you will be able to see any shortcomings.  One thing off the bat I can say....make sure you have natural light that can reach inside their housing.  Sunlight is natures disinfectant.  Use it!!!  If you have poor drainage, find a way to make it better.  Germs love wet, dark areas.  Not only can this be in the housing, but outside of it as under their water buckets.  We got one of ours off the ground, but the chickens jump up on it.  That means we need to put "buy chicken waterers" on the grocery list soon.  Chickens will drop dirt into the water from their feet.

::  Don't be afraid that you won't get everything right from the beginning.  You probably won't!  But don't let that stop you.  Be open to learning.  Be open to having to change things up.  Think outside the box.

::  Enjoy the process.  I won't lie, that can be hard to do at times.  But when I see what I've learned and the things my children have learned, it has been worth it.  Even if I have to rewash half my laundry because someone let the goats into the area where the laundry line is!  Oy.

There are so many aspect of animal care (as evidenced by the number of books out there on the subject) that I can't possibly touch on them all.  I hope this list of ideas and some of our experiences can help others.  If you have a question about how or what we do, don't hesitate to leave a comment.  If you have some great ideas of how you have handled some of the situations I've talked about above, please share!  I would love to hear about it. 

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1 comment:

JES said...

Thanks for sharing all this information. We also share your philosophy on animal raising... I would have to agree with you that the best cure is prevention and observation is EVERYTHING with the animals on the farm. You can not just throw out feed and walk away, you need to check out the gang and make sure no one looks like a deadbeat out there. We lost our first baby goat to tetanus a while back and it is heartbreaking! It happened when we castrated it. We found out later that all the neighbors give them antibiotics when they do it because there is a high risk of infection. We try to shy from meds but sometimes it is necessary... I would also like to invite you to our weekly Monday link up. I think your posts would match it well! Have a wonderful week ~ JES :)

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