Four Important Tips for Caring for Goats: A Short Primer

A glance at the calendar recently (and a timely Facebook memory) reminded me we’ve been keeping goats for six years as of this writing (5/2021)! That time has flown, and even with all the trouble and expense of having them, our farm and lives would be less without them. Not empty, just less 🙂

In this article I’m going to share the posts I put on Instagram and Facebook recently, in hopes that some of this information can help new or prospective goat keepers. I’m not a vet, so can’t give you all the tips for serious health issues with your animals, but I can share some things we’ve learned that has helped us care for ours, and allowed us to maintain a very healthy herd.

I’ll start this with a reality new goat keepers might overlook when they’re watching an adorable baby goat bounce about: Goats are a TON of work. I can’t put this lightly. Goats are often thought of as tough, self-sufficient animals, who you can drop in a field, and they’ll do all your mowing and brush-trimming. Nay. Domestic goats need good and consistent attention and maintenance, not just on themselves, but in their environs. These are animals that rely on their human guardians to provide adequate and safe… everything.

Goats are also expensive to manage, when you consider their care, feeding/watering, containment, shelter, transport, and overall maintenance. If you go cheap on your goats, it will show in the condition and health of your herd. Yes, “herd”.

Tip One: Plan on More than One Goat

Plan on having more than one goat. They are herd animals, so need other goats for companionship. The saying is, “An only goat is a lonely goat“, so if you’re planning on only one, please consider two or more instead, as they like to make decisions together and keep each other company when you’re not around. Happy goats are generally healthier, too.

Speaking of happy, it seems goats are most happy when they’re being a nuisance. They really love escaping and destroying prized property, eating plantings, trees, scrubs, vegetable and flower gardens. They will break into your areas where you try to safely stow food and grains, and they will breach any place you really want them to stay out of. They rub up on fences, vehicles, and pretty much anything you don’t really want them to. They jump of anything they can, and will poop in buckets you just refilled with fresh water, and they will pee in the very place you just raked out, and yes, they will pee on hay you just put out for them. Got something in your hand? They’ll harass you incessantly until they find out what it is, and if it’s edible for them. Need to work on something with tools, screws and wood? They’ll be right by your side, knocking everything over, spilling things and getting right in the way, walking on anything you need to get the job done. They literally have no concept of time, other than to disrupt yours, making tasks take longer than they ever should. They’re naturally curious and mischievous.

And we love them all the same. And I digress.

Tip Two: Watering is Crucial

 

Goats require plenty of fresh water-always. Goats drink between two and three gallons of water a day. This is especially true when it’s extra hot like it is in Texas right now. Even though urinary calculi in wethered (neutered males) and intact male goats can often be attributed to poor feeding, lack of fresh water leading up to this condition can contribute too, because they’re not able metabolize their food adequately.

Fresh water can be put in buckets and troughs, and during the hot summer months, it’s best to place those vessels in a shady area, so the water can stay relatively cool. During winter months, if you live in an area where freezing temperatures are common, you might need to get a de-icer for your water-holders and break any ice so they can get a drink.

Tip Three: Good Hoof Care

Because your goats are domestic, they rely on you for their care, which includes regular pedicures. If you have rocks

and granite on your property, consider yourself lucky! In the wild, they’ll seek those same things and other objects to naturally keep their hooves in good condition, but on our farm, we rely on hubby. @stephenbliley is awesome at keeping our herd’s hooves looking good and feeling grippy, so the goaties can jump and play with abandon.

When cleaning and trimming their hooves, you’re going for a certain look. Their pads should be visible when you check their feet, with the nail growth trimmed back, so it’s not folding over the pad. It might take a few days (multiple appointments) to get some goat’s hooves back in shape, so be patient and plan on a way to keep them happy while you do this work. We get each goat in the milk-stand and indulge them with some snacks, and that helps us maintain safer control over the process, as well as reduces the chances they’ll wriggle away before we’re finished!

Tip Four:  Quality Feed and Forage Options


This point is a often heated topic on goat discussion groups, probably because there is such a variance among the way people keep and tend their herds. Availability of certain food sources, finances, and actual land resources can all be a deciding factor on how people feed their goats. There are also people that don’t keep their goats outside in a barnyard, like we do, but instead have them as house pets. I can’t even.
 
Instead of me saying there is an absolute “best way” to feed your herd, I will share how we feed our own, and let you decide if that’s works for you, too.
 
Before I jump into our feeding routine, I need to share the no-no’s of goat-feeding. It’s important to really take a close look at your own property, before you get goats, so you know what potential food hazards exists. For example, delphinium is a beautiful plant featured in many-a-garden, but it’s deadly to goats! Even some types of crape myrtle and oak trees are not supposed to be consumed by goats. Just this week, I learned that Japanese Yews (and probably most yews, while we’re on the subject) are instantly fatal to goats. A goat keeper in the mid-west whose landscaper tossed over some yew trimmings to her goats – who eagerly ate-quickly succumbed to those very cuttings. She came back home to find better than 25 goats had perished because of this, with many others teetering on the edge. For several days, the cause was unknown, until toxicology and postmortem analysis showed poisoning from those yew branches. Just heartbreaking!

Knowing that there are dangerous plants, it’s good to read up and be aware. This is a good source for learning about toxic plants goats shouldn’t eat, and this source will allow a search, so you can find out if what you have is a threat.

Other no-no’s include corn, fruits with pits/seeds (like apples, cherries, peaches, apricots), as there is potential for fermentation in the rumen. Human and junk-food have no place in your goat’s diet, even though I often read threads about people feeding animal crackers to goats. This really isn’t advisable, as they don’t need anything in that cracker – flour, sugar, etc., is just not a good thing to give your goat. In addition, excess goat food/chow and grains can really do a number on your goat(s), and don’t even get me started on chicken feed! Even though they find these things delicious, they also don’t know when to stop, and it can lead to some serious issues, including scours, bloat, and even rumen disorders. An FYI on rumen: you know it’s working right when your goats are just hanging out chewing cud. 🙂

As for feeding, we give our herd free choice coastal or orchard grass, plus alfalfa for the does (females). In addition, we mix a sweet feed blend with oats and BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and give scant amounts to the wethers (about a 1-4 to 1/2 cup each daily) and does (females) get a cup twice daily along with their alfalfa ration, because they are intact, nursing babies and providing milk to us every other day. The remainder of their daily intake is field greens, weeds, brush, and branches that they browse on their own; this is their natural diet. Very occasionally we’ll give the boys some alfalfa before shutdown as a treat, but too much of a good thing can lead to urinary calculi in wethers, and alfalfa is very calcium-rich food.

Quality food and control over their feeding results in conditions you can actually see: their coats are shiny, horns and bodies are sturdy, and their overall healthiness is obvious, plus they’re alert and active, and don’t forget SASSY the entire day. 🙂

Our goats are important to us, so we really don’t skimp on their care or nourishment. They’re family. 💕🐐 Alfalfa cubes are another special snack, and I really prefer the smaller mini-cubes over the horse-size cubes. Goatie mouths are a bit smaller, do there’s less waste. 😁
 

Go Beyond the Basics

These are just a few tips, and this was really off the heels of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week. I hope these tips  have helped you if you’re new to goats, or just wanting to learn more about them. If you are considering getting goats, or are still kind of new to them, my suggested reading includes Pat Coleby’s book Natural Goat Care, and Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, both are great resources and are our go-to’s when we encounter an issue that’s new to us or we’re second-guessing a decision.

There’s a lot more to having goats than what I’ve outlined here, and while they’re wonderful animals, they do require good care, solid fencing, adequate shelter from the elements, and respectful treatment; they’re sensitive and have feelings, even when they’re being stubborn. Hit me up with questions! I love talking goats! 🐐

What’s In Your Soap?

Editor’s Note: I’ve created this outline of some of the most common ingredients I use in my soaps, so it can help you choose the product that your skin will enjoy most. This post will be added to, as I incorporate other natural ingredients along the way. This ingredients also apply to the lotions I make.

Before I even get started though, understand I’m not an authority on skin care, beauty or aging treatments, or skin correction and acne treatment – or anything in between. I’m not dispensing cosmetic or dermatological advice or telling you my goods are the way to improved skin condition or that using my stuff can alleviate your skin problems. There are a lot of laws surrounding making such claims, and because I’m not a factory/commercial soap producer, so I’m required to steer clear of such remarks.- Deb


The Simple and Dirty Job of Soap

Soap has a very simple task to do: cleanse the skin of dirt, soil, bacteria, sweat, and germs from the skin and body. Our basil-mint-2021hands come in contact with a lot of things in the course of our day, so sometimes we’re trying to remove things like paint, food particles, grease, ink, and the list continues. The point is soap is meant to help clean the skin. Soap is meant to help lift these things and then, with the help of water, wash them away. What should remain is cleansed skin, but never overly-cleansed skin. Overly cleansed skin can become dried out, creating cracking, rashes, hives, and so much more. When the skin is compromised in this way, things like infections, disease and other skin conditions can take hold.

This is when ingredients matter the most.

 To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health. – USFDA

A great deal of commercial and factory soaps are made with detergents, petroleum products, and preservatives, so while they may cleanse the skin, they can also have the ability to dry the skin because natural, necessary oils (oils meant to protect the skin for external penetrants) are stripped, leaving the skin almost raw, but definitely vulnerable. Ever take a shower and come out feeling itchy? That’s overly dried out skin, and maybe resulted from a poor soap choice for your skin.

Using detergents, solvents and petroleum ingredients will certainly keep the price of off-the-shelf soap low, but the cost is high when you consider the potential damage and added skin conditions that might be created.

I couldn’t help wonder if sometimes these commercial soaps are made expressly with the intent to strip the skin, creating the need for some other product the manufacturer makes to correct the issue their soap created in the first place…hmmm. Naw, they wouldn’t do that, would they?

I’ll state this simply: things you put on your skin can have an impact on the way your skin feels and its overall health. I know plenty of folks who use regular soap from the store, and their skin seems just fine. I also know others who suffer with all kinds of skin issues, and a commercial soap, with its detergents and chemical surfactants are too much for their skin to take. I’ve seen this result in many things: the slathering on of all types of lotions and creams; the use of anti-itch medications and topical solutions; exfoliating to the point of breaking the skin out even more; the use of oils and other emollients in order to restore some kind of relief.

What if this discomfort originated in the very soap they used to wash their skin?

My Own Soaping Journey

When I started making soap 5 years ago, it was out of necessity. I needed to do something with the milk that we were accumulating as a result of all our rescued goats! So, from the beginning of my soap making adventure, I was creating goat milk soaps. They weren’t always the prettiest, but once we began using them, it was the only soap we would use in our home. And the psoriasis my husband had on his elbows and face started going away. And our skin just felt better overall, even in the dead of winter when your skin can normally get scratchy. Nope. No more of that.I (like many other goat milk soap makers I respect) formulate my goat milk soaps from scratch. I never (and will never) use “melt and pour” soap (a pre-made soap product, where you add other things to “make soap”) because I want total control over the ingredients in my soaps, and I have developed a specific standard and base recipe I don’t stray from. I take into account several things I expect from every batch I make:

  • The soap should cleanse gently, but thoroughly
  • It should contain as few ingredients as possible, and they should be natural
  • It should have a visually aesthetic appeal when possible
  • It should be scented thoughtfully, but not over-powering-ly so (is that a word?!)

All of my soaps are made with goat milk from our farm (in place of water, which from the house tap could include chlorine and other water treatment facility remnants), and olive oil, coconut oil, lard, castor oil, sodium hydroxide, tussah silk, and salt. From there, I either scent it with cosmetic-grade, phthalate and palm-free fragrance oils, and or essential oi(s) and dress it up with some natural mica, zinc, clay, or herbal colorants. No sulfates. No waxes. No dyes. No preservatives.

Some soaps I make are very simple in nature, only varying by scent. Others include additional ingredients that provide some extra slip or exfoliation. Below, you’ll find a list of the extras I add, and some common things said about said ingredients. I’ll let you be the judge on how they work in your cleansing regimen. 🙂

The Ingredients I Choosepecans_and_pecan-shells

Activated Charcoal: Said to be a skin detoxifier, it’s also reported to have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. I add it for these potential benefits, as well as its natural exfoliating characteristics. In addition, I use this as a colorant.

Alfalfa Powder: Rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, this ingredients can help with dry skin and gently aids to detoxify and exfoliate the skin.

Avocado Oil: With anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, plus a dense house of fatty acids, this ingredient has the potential to help skin against free-radicals. It’s known to sooth the skin and potentially help with healing and elasticity, due in part to its high-concentration of Vitamin B and biotin.

Beeswax: A natural humectant, this ingredient helps skin maintain its crucial moisture by creating a breathable barrier against the elements. Rich in antioxidants, beeswax is known to help heal skin and even wounds, and is a reputed anti-inflammatory, as well as having anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.

Bentonite Clay:  A good choice for overly oily skin. Research has shown this clay used as a gentle detoxifier and exfoliant for the skin, helping with troubled or sensitive skin. It’s also known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also great for adding “slip” in the soap, which makes it nice for shaving. Used also as natural colorant. A 1995 study showed it effectively helped treat poison ivy!

Calendula Powder: Known for being an anti-inflammatory and providing antibacterial benefits to skin, it can be helpful with troubled skin and can potentially help with healing rashes, wounds, itchy or scratchy skin, and even insect bites.

Carrot Powder: Rich in carotenoids (reputed for wound and skin healing), amino acids and antioxidants, this ingredient is a soothing and extra-gentle exfoliant. It’s used also as a natural colorant.

Castor Oil: A humectant, this oils is known for its moisturizing abilities. It’s said to increase production of collagen and sooth irritation in the skin.

Coconut Oil: Rich in caprylic, capric, linoleic, and myristic fatty acids, this oil is considered a emollient and known for creating a great lather, and being a gentle cleanser, and being packed with antioxidants.

French Clay: Known to help soothing acne-prone skin, and help with skin inflammation and painful breakouts. Provides a nice “slip”, so good as a shaving soap. Gentle exfoliating and detoxifier, I also use it as a natural colorant.

Goat Milk: Loaded with so many great things, including alpha-hydroxy acids, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E, along with minerals, such as copper, iron selenium, and zinc – and seriously, the list goes on and on. Terms like “anti-microbial” and “anti-inflammatory” properties are likely a common reason why good quality goat milk soap is sought after by people who suffer with skin conditions of all kinds. Because it contains large amounts of butter fats, fatty acids and amino acid, it’s also said to keep moisture in the skin, both during washing and after. Comprised of 15% caprylic acid (an important tissue-developing fatty acid), goat milk helps create a protective barrier on the skin. Even raw goat milk on the skin feels soothing, no joke! I’ve had customers say: “It’s so slick, even though I’m rinsed off!” That’s that barrier, doing it’s job and protecting the skin against drying completely out!

Hibiscus Powder: Rich in alpha-hydroxy acids, this ingredient is a gentle and natural exfoliant and has been said to help with uneven skin tones, while working to protect the skin’s elastin. Also used as a colorant.

Kaolin Clay: Used to offer gentle exfoliating and detoxifying qualities, this clay comes in a few different colors and can be used as a colorant.

Marshmallow Powder: Purported to help promote new cell growth in skin, this ingredient is added to provide a soothing and moisturizing benefits during cleansing. In shampoo products, it’s said to be a detangler.

Nettle Powder: Said to be an astringent, nettle is known for having anti-inflammatory properties that can be potentially helpful with rashes, insect bites, and other common skin maladies. I use it also as a colorant.

Colloidal Oats and Oatmeal: A skin-calming and soothing ingredient, oats and oatmeal can offer relief from irritation and itching. A gentle exfoliating item, it can help reduce excess oil on this skin, and some have said it reduces wrinkles and dark circles around the eyes. I use it in soap for the gentle calming and exfoliating it provides for skin, along with the light tan color and specks, which add some visual interest in some soaps.

Olive Oil: Used to make all of my soaps, it’s one of those expensive ingredients in my soap because it takes up a lion’s share of the oils in my recipe. Olive oil has a low pH and is hugely rich in antioxidants and known for being an anti-inflammatory. Revered in ancient Greece and Rome, in now modern times, it’s an extra gentle ingredient for cleansing, being both moisturizing, and soothing to the skin.

Pecan Shells: Probably an ingredient you don’t see in soap every day, this finely-ground item offers a bit of exfoliation. These shells were gathered and ground right here on the farm.

Pumice: Porous and lightweight, pumice is the product of volcanic lava. Added to provide extra exfoliating strength for cleansing extremely dirty hands, or cleaning the feet.

Shea Butter: Highly concentrated with fatty acids, this ingredients is considered an emollient, so is said to help trap essential moisture for the skin. It is also said to have healing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Titanium Dioxide: This naturally occurring ingredient works mainly as a colorant (white) in my soap. You’ve seen it’s cousin zinc oxide (also non-comedogenic) used in creams or lotions and offering sunscreen properties.

Tussah Silk: Adds a bit of silkiness and added lathering properties to the soap, and can add some shine to an otherwise dull soap.

 

Harvesting and Preserving

Last week I had shared a picture of some guinea fowl feathers and globe amaranth, and it got me thinking about our mindset, come Autumn. globe amaranth guinea feathersI gather feathers throughout the year because I find them to be beautiful and full of vibrancy that can live on in other ways. The same is true for seeds, herbs, flowers, nuts, pine cones, and even branches. Ordinarily, this time of year marks a beginning for colder, shorter days, and in times of yore, it meant you needed to store up food stuffs for the winter. And if you’re trying to live a little more in harmony with nature and Mother Earth, it is true, at this time, and all through the year.

Our family fits the latter scenario: we preserve and harvest all year, in one way or another, and it seems perfectly natural to us. At this very time, Stephen has been working on our pond area, clearing overgrowth and preparing fallen and thinned timber to be used as fencing posts around our barn.

pie-pumpkin_instant_potWe preserve pumpkins every fall. I use my Instant Pot these days, (15 minutes on high pressure) and stuff in a pie pumpkin, and scrape out the goodies and freeze in 14 ounce portions. If you ever stayed at our Airbnb, you will have had our Hop & Hen Farm pumpkin bread, and this is what it was made with – pumpkin I had preserved! Better yet, those plastic bags get cleaned and reused for other things, even re-freezing some other foods.

If you follow along with me on Facebook or Instagram, you already know I make various goat milk cheeses, but I also make goat milk yogurt and paneer, and Stephen has been making goat milk ice cream. Yes. And it is awesome!  This week’s yogurt, for example, I flavored with almond oil, and sweetened with honey from our own beehives. The remaining whey from this process is saved for bread and roll-making, and sometimes we give it to the chickens, so they get that extra probiotic boost. I’ve spent two years finally arriving on my preferred method for making yogurt, and it works perfectly for our home, and is much the same method I use to make soft/spreadable chevrè. Culturing at room temperature overnight, with a bit of vegetable rennet, I get a perfect yogurt with enough body to be drained goat_milk_yogurtand prepped with whatever flavors I like, including adding fruit. This goes on all year long, as we’re fortunate to have a dairy goat (awesome Annie) who seems to not want to stop milking!), but you could do this even with store-bought milk.

Doing these little things might not seem like much, and for some, it seems overwhelming. It appears to run counter to all the conveniences we’ve become so accustomed to (or trained to as consumers?), but if anything, I keep finding myself grateful that I can do these things for our family. I like knowing a bit more about what goes into what we use and consume. I like knowing how things are created. And I like discovering my own ways for improving that process a little more each time. Does it take a little more time than just buying something? Of course, and likely initially, as you start learning about it. However, there is some great comfort knowing I can make these things with my own hands and preserve things for later use, any time I want. There is also some great financial savings, being able to produce what you need whenever you need it, in some cases with very little or no money!

Harvesting and preservation need not be just food items, and definitely doesn’t need to be complicated. Mending cloths preserves items that still have life in them. Using a service like Poshmark can get your cloths into the hands of another person happy to have them! Reusing glass jars, or other items that still have usefulness is an easy way to start thinking about how you can harvest all year long. 

I hope you start to find joy in some facet of this seasonal pursuit, so much so that it starts appearing easy throughout the year. Sending you goat kisses from our farm to your home. – Deb

 

 

 

The Secret Power of an Ordinary Soap

Even though soap’s invention dates back to the times of the Babylonians, it’s use and form has changed over the centuries to suit the times. Additions of certain oils, either animal or plant, infusions of herbs and teas, and even grinding it down to flakes to make it multi-purpose, soap is a very versatile substance. Since ancient times, variations of soap have been deployed for cleaning everything from cooking pots to statues, but at its most basic foundation today, soap is a cleanser for the skin.

Ask any small batch soap-maker today, and they’ll offer you a litany of reasons why theirs is the one you need. The truth is, most will do the job, and that is, to clean off dirt and rid the skin of the germs and microbes that might be there. Left unfettered on an unwitting human host, these germs and microbes can blossom into full-blown disease, which can harm not just the individual, but for those with which they come into contact. But here’s the good news: according to the CDC , washing the hands with soap is one of THE most effective ways to remove these harmful residues from the body.

Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin.  Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed . – CDC

Given it’s such a simple thing to do, why not wash regularly and often? Some will complain of drying of the skin when washing frequently, and that’s where a good quality soap stands apart from the regular bars. A simple soap, with recognizable, pure ingredients can be your skin’s best defense, not only against harmful germs and microbes, but can possibly decrease the drying and cracking of over-washed skin. Follow your washing with a high quality lotion or cream, and your skin will be kept healthy and soft in between cleanings.

And just a sidenote: there is quite a bit of misinformation about “anti-bacterial” soaps. The CDC ruled several years ago that that term could not be applied to household soaps, and could be only relegated to true healthcare-grade soaps and cleansers, as well as sanitizers of that nature. If you’re unable to get an actual hand-washing done, hand-sanitizers are a fine interim method for keeping germs in check, but are still no replacement for a thorough hand-washing, as sanitizers still don’t lift the grime from your body.

Need help with a good technique for hand-washing? Soap enthusiast Alton Brown provides a great and fun video on its finer points, in addition to discussing why bringing your own soap on the road is a good idea!