Goat Care and Maintenance of Healthy Goats

Goat Care and Maintenance of Healthy Goats

Goats have to be one of the most entertaining farm animal to own. Knowing how to perform the required goat care is the most important first step to take, as you begin keeping goats.  All breeds of goats need some sort of hoof care, proper nutrition, treatment for preventing worms, and more.  Read on, for more information on goat care and maintaining a healthy herd.

Proper Goat Care When Raising Goats for Fiber

Two popular breeds in the fiber arena are Angora and Pygora goats.  Both are registered breeds with beautiful, soft fiber,  Their needs differ in some areas from other goat breeds such as the Pygmy and the Nigerian Dwarf, or Nubian, but all require certain regular health and wellness care.  The Angoras and Pygoras, though, require a shearing of their fiber once or twice a year. 

goat care baily pre shearing

We bred Pygora goats for a few years, but decided to cut back on the size of our herd so that we could maintain them all in good health. Now, we own ten Pygoras and they yield quite enough soft beautiful fiber for our needs. Pygora fiber is soft and fine and we use it to blend into our sheep wool.

Goat Care Fiber goat Pygora goat

The Pygora goat breed, that we raise, is a cross between the Pygmy goat and the Angora. This results in a breed that has fiber but a smaller size. The fiber on fiber goats, needs to be harvested at least once a year, but we prefer to do the shearing twice a year.  We found that not shearing in the fall leads to more matted fiber on the animal in the spring.  Pygora fiber is very fine and lends softness and sheen to a yarn, when blended with other fleece.

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Should you hire a professional shearer?

We spent many weekends each year shearing. We did get better at it but I would never say I reached a professional speed or quality. This is time consuming and hard on your back. Please keep this in mind before purchasing fiber goat breeds. The alternative is to hire a professional shearer to do the job. We went this route a year ago, and it has freed up so much time in our spring and fall schedules. Our sheep and goat shearer can do all of our animals (14) in one afternoon!

After shearing, sometimes, you can see lice living on the skin.  We treat for lice twice a year after each shearing by using Pyrethrin powder rubbed into the back area, along the top line. Another product that kills lice on the skin is Ivermectin Pour-On for cattle.

Hoof Trimming is Essential Goat Care

Hoof trimming needs to be tended to every other month. Starting early in a goats life, will help make this less traumatic but don’t be surprised if they still resist. The back feet, especially, seem to be an issue for our goats. Even the older goats do not like having me lift up and hold their back foot for a trimming. I think it is because they can’t see me back there and it probably is a fight or flight response. It helps to have another person stand by their head and distract them with a treat while you trim the back feet.

Goat Care goat care hoof trimming DSC_5521TCF
In this picture you can see the overgrowth of the hoof

goat care well shaped hoof DSC_5535TCF
A trimmed hoof should return the hoof to a smoother natural wedged sha

Using a Stanchion or Milking Stand for Hoof Trimming

Putting the goat on a stand helps by making it easier on the person trimming.  

goat care goat on milking stand for shearing

I have done a number of hoof trimmings by having someone else hold the animal still, while I trim the hooves. This requires a lot more bending and reaching but can certainly get the job accomplished. I look at the stand as a great tool to have but we went many years without owning one, too. Gather all of your tools and some treats before you get started.

goat snacks and treats to use when shearing and trimming
Some yummy treats for hoof trimming time on our farm, include honey nut cheerios type cereal, whole peanuts and apple and oat horse treats

goat care using cornstarch to stop minor bleeding

Some of the items I recommend having close by are, extra breakaway chain collars, the hoof clippers, yummy treats, an old rag to wipe mud off the hooves and a sturdy lead rope. Have a plastic container of corn starch ready, If you accidentally trim too close and cause a mild bleeding, applying corn starch will stop the blood flow. Then I apply a dab of antibiotic ointment and it takes care of the mishap. I have never had a serious problem occur after a slight nick of the hoof.

Using hoof clippers makes the job easier because they are shaped to trim hooves. I wear sturdy gloves when doing the hoof trim because the clippers are extremely sharp and animals make sudden moves! I also have used Fisker’s Garden clippers but the shape of the blade makes the job a bit more tricky.
For goat hoof trims I recommend this type of clipper

Maintain a Goat Care Hoof Trim Schedule

Keeping up with the hoof trimming makes the job so much easier. It is possible to bring a neglected goat back to some measure of good hoof health, but it takes time and dedication. I have missed a trimming and the amount of over growth is pretty amazing.  Plan to trim hooves at the minimum,  every other month.  

goat care and maintenance

Health Maintenance in Goat Care

Keeping goats requires that their health needs are tended to on a regular basis. In addition to making sure that you are feeding a quality goat chow to supplement any grazing, and providing fresh water each day, there are vaccinations to be updated and occasional de-worming medication that needs to be administered. The vaccinations given and the worming schedule is something that every goat owner should read up on and make their own decision about.

If Goats Leave the Farm….

If you are going to take your goats to shows, county fairs and other events, your decision may be different than mine on these matters. I do not want to sway you one way or another on these issues by telling you our schedule. One site that I do recommend you check out is FiasCo Farm’s website. Clicking on the link will take you to their options of schedules for vaccinations and worming. If you are interested in using herbal natural supplements, we are now using these from Biteme Goat Treats.

On our farm, we have what is called a closed herd. We have not been regularly adding to the goat population, and our goats do not leave the farm unless they need an unexpected trip to the vet’s clinic. Because of this, we do not have a quarantine pen.

goat care  sheared pygora goat

If you do plan to bring home new goats regularly, a quarantine or holding stall, would be a good thing to have. Waiting at least 30 days before allowing direct contact with your herd will give you time to see any signs of possible illness. When the new goats first arrive, worm them and include a treatment for cocci. Knowing what parasites and worms are common in goats in your area is important. Ask your veterinarian what parasite treatments they recommend.  Not treating parasite infestations can lead to anemia and death in the goat herd. 

Proper Feeding in Goat Care 

Goats should not have full access to feed concentrates.  Goats are very efficient browsers and can readily make use of many plants and growth on your property even if you don’t have grass pasture.  They will stand on their hind legs to reach the branches and leaves they want and have a high tolerance to plants that other species find toxic.  People often utilize a goat  herd to clear poison ivy as it seems to be a favorite food of goats, with no complications. Goats can clear up your pastures in no time.

Should You Add Grain?

If you keep your goats in a barn or a dry lot with hay feeding, you might want to supplement with a small amount of properly balanced grain.  The amount will vary depending on the size of your goat, but around a half a cup to a cup of grain per animal once a day is a good starting point.  Goats can colic easily from over eating concentrate feeds.  

Keep the feed in a metal trash can with a tight fitting lid somewhere that the goats do not have access to.  Voracious eaters, as most goats tend to be, will eat without stopping, so make sure you secure the feed.  Feeding hay should keep them happy and provide nutrition and roughage.  Fresh drinking water should always be available.

Feeding Fiber Goats- Special Copper Issue

The last thing I want to mention concerns feeding fiber goat breeds. If you should choose to raise a fiber breed of goat, their nutritional needs are more in line with sheep. For proper goat care remember that copper is toxic to sheep and fiber producing goats. When purchasing a commercial food, make sure you read the label carefully. The best choice is to feed Sheep and Lamb concentrate or a feed specifically formulated for sheep and goats in a mixed herd situation. This will eliminate the copper toxicity issue. Supplement your fiber animals minerals using the same care. You can read more about copper toxicity in sheep and goats here.

Keeping goats will certainly keep you on your toes. In return, your goats will reward you with endless amusement, goat cuddles, and possibly cute baby goats!

For information on dairy goats,and lots more goat info, please visit Better Hens and Gardens and Feather and Scale Farm

Look for my books that cover goat care, Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals, and 50 Do it Yourself Projects for Keeping Goats. Both books are available here, in our shop and on Amazon.

New!  I am now using this product.  (not an affiliate link, I just like to share the good stuff with you!)

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Goat Urinary Stones in Dwarf Goat Breeds

urinary stones

Goat urinary stones or calculi blockages in dwarf breeds of goats is more common than you might think. You may have heard this illness called water belly or obstructive urolithiasis. If you haven’t tried to help a goat with urinary stones, you might not be aware of the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments available for the suffering goat.

Once you’ve seen a goat that is in pain from a urinary stone blockage, you will think suffering is a mild way of describing it. We’ve had only one clash with this condition in a goat, and an advanced case in an older sheep wether, years ago. In the case of the sheep, we were unable to save him. With the goat, we tried different, more extreme measures and he is surviving and now thriving.

dwarf goats

Please read….

Before continuing, I want you to know that I am in no way giving you veterinary advice. In fact, in Trevor’s case, with urinary stones, in the end, we went completely off script. We made up a protocol that made sense to us as a last ditch effort. We gathered advice from other goat breeders and goat keepers. And we used a pain reliever/anti-inflammatory medicine for goats that had been prescribed for another animal.

Judge me all you want. We had a dying 14 week old kid on our hands that was in pain, screaming, and could only pass drops of urine at a time, due to the urinary stones. I thought his bladder might explode, because his belly was so tight. In our opinion, as long time goat owners and livestock keepers, it was time for a Hail Mary pass. We threw the entire kitchen sink at the little fellow.

And it worked.

Trevor’s Story with Urinary Stones

Trevor was born on another farm, about 14 weeks before we adopted him and his sister, Annabelle. The farm notified us that another little goat had just died from urinary stones. The farmer realized he realized he needed to trim his goat herd. He was looking to rehome the last two kids. I volunteered to take them.

The male kids had been wethered early to prevent any unwanted breedings. In addition to being wethered earlier than recommended, Trevor and the rest of the goats had access to a lot of grain.

Over years of research, veterinarians and other goat farmers have come to realize that early neutering combined with heavy grain feeding (especially improperly balanced feeds)leads to an increase in urinary stones. In the dwarf goat breeds, Nigerian dwarf goats in particular, the blockage is often fatal.

Does this Happen in All Goats or Just Dwarf Goat Breeds?

The condition is not limited to Nigerian Dwarf goats but the small size of these goats adds to the problem. Once a male kid or lamb is castrated, either by banding or surgically, the urethra growth stops. Castration before the urinary tract has reached full growth leaves a very narrow urethra, and increases the chance that calculi will block the tube completely.

Adding in excess grain feeding, to support growth or keep them happy, further increases the likelihood of urinary stones forming. The urinary stones can become lodged at any point in the urethra, causing partial or complete blockage.

urinary stones

What Are Urinary Stones Made Of?

Urinary stones are comprised of non absorbed phosphate salts. The main cause of urinary stone formation occurs when feed percentages of calcium and phosphorus are improperly balanced.

When small ruminants are fed a balanced diet combined with forage and hay, excess phosphorus is in the saliva, and excreted through feces. If grain is overfed, or is improperly formulated, and contains excess phosphorus, the excess ends up being excreted through the urinary tract. Lack of water can also play a part in urinary stones.

Now add in early neutering, thus stopping urethra growth, and you have all the pieces in place for a perfect storm. Bucks, rams, and females can have urinary stones, but have a better chance of eliminating the calculi.

urinary stones in dwarf goat breeds

Signs of Urinary Stones in Goats and Sheep

Trevor began yelling on a Sunday evening. Since his brother had died from urinary stones, I was watching for any symptoms.

Trevor exhibited the classic signs of urinary tract blockage. Having seen it in our wethered sheep, it was easily recognized. No fever was present.

The constant cries, the stretched out stance, and the rejection of food gave me a pit in my stomach. Other possible symptoms could be biting at their sides, swollen abdomen, straining to urinate, dribbling urine with no stream, and a swollen penis.

dwarf goat with urinary stones

First thing in the morning I called our livestock vet, and brought Trevor right to his office. The vet agreed with my non-professional diagnosis and examined Trevor. Unfortunately the blockage was not near the opening, or urethral process, of the penis. When the blockage is near the opening, a procedure can be done that snips off the urethral process.

I opted to have the vet insert a catheter to try to dislodge the blockage. This did not work since Trevor is so small. The smallest catheter was still too large. Dwarf goat breeds are very tiny.

The Vet’s Protocol

Trevor was started on a sedative in hopes that is would allow the urethra to relax and allow passage of urine. In addition, children’s aspirin tablets could be given for pain and inflammation. We watched for improvement.

After a few days, the vet said we could not keep Trevor on sedatives any longer and would have to rely on just the children’s aspirin to help manage the obstructed urethra.

What We Did

At this point, I was not feeling very optimistic about Trevor’s prognosis. While he was not continuously crying, the urine was only drips now and then.

I began massaging his abdomen, from the bladder towards the penis. Often this helped release some additional drops of urine.

Apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons per two gallons of water) to help acidify the urine and help break up the urinary stones. 1 teaspoon of ammonium chloride added to the water to further acidify.

urinary stones

Drench twice a day with a mixture of water, ammonium chloride, and apple cider vinegar. (12 ounces water, 2 tablespoons ACV, 1 teaspoon of ammonium chloride) From this I pulled 20 cc into a drench gun, administered twice a day to further acidify the urine.

At this point, Trevor still had a very poor appetite. Vitamin B complex was given orally according to label directions. Administered once per day. This helped him regain his appetite and he quickly began eating more forage.

And One More Thing

A goat owning friend offered me some prescription Banamine. This pain reliever is often used as a medication for urinary stones. My vet preferred his decision to use the sedative, Acepromezine.

I gladly accepted the gift of Banamine from my friend. At this point, there was little left to try and if the Banamine didn’t help Trevor, I was prepared to euthanize him. This was no life for a baby goat.

Goat Urinary Stones in Dwarf Goats

Do You Believe in Miracles?

I do. I think that the Banamine pushed Trevor’s condition into healing status. By the second dose of Banamine, Tevor’s swollen abdomen and distended bladder reduced noticeably.

I also think that the other measures we were following helped keep Trevor alive and comfortable enough to keep eating. Trevor continued to improve and is now weeks past the initial illness.

What now?

Trevor will always be more susceptible to bouts of urinary stones. Because of this there are some strict protocols in place for Trevor. These protocols might save his life, and they pose no risk to Annabelle, the female goat in the same stall.

Frequent water changes. During the cold spells, room temperature water is brought from home for their bucket.

2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar added to the water at all times.

Ammonium Chloride salt added to the balanced grain ration. Also, the grain amount is kept to no more than 3/4 cup a day, split into two feedings. At this time ammonium chloride is no longer being added to the bucket of water.

Fresh hay is always available.

urinary stones in dwarf goat breeds

Future Care and Prognosis

The protocol in place is no different than what should have been happening. It became more important than ever, since Trevor is predisposed to urinary stones. I was using ammonium chloride and ACV with our goats and sheep but honestly I was not adhering to a strict schedule. I am now making sure all of our small ruminants are given a top dressing of ammonium chloride each day.

Right now, Trevor is a happy healthy playful kid. That makes all we did for him during his two week acute illness worth it.

Urinary Stones and Holistic Approach

I have no scientific study data that what we did for Trevor had any impact on his survival. My instinct tell me it did. The Banamine might have pushed him over the edge to complete healing but the rest of the measures kept him alive and fighting.

I also believe there is great power in the healing touch. Because we handled Trevor twice a day, talking to him, syringing fluids and massaging his abdomen, he felt loved and cared for. Animals as well as humans are responsive to this. I believe our efforts gave Trevor the strength to fight.

I hope you never have to experience urinary stones with dwarf goat breeds or sheep. If you do, I encourage you to call your vet at the first signs of difficulty or pain. Wait until 16 weeks to neuter males. Give ammonium chloride with grain. And go with your gut to a certain extent. Holistic methods may be unproven but that doesn’t mean that these methods are not worth a try.




Grow Natural Dyes for Wool Crafts

grow natural dyes

You can grow natural dyes for wool in your back yard garden. As farm folks at heart, it’s natural for us to prefer do it yourself projects. The winter often finds us leafing through seed catalogs, planning our gardens for spring and summer. If you also love wool, consider adding some seeds for dye plants to this year’s garden plots. While this article will concentrate on how to choose plants that grow natural dyes for wool, quick searches will yield more information regarding dyes for other fibers, such as cotton and linen.

You may be familiar with some of the following plants that grow natural dyes, and not realize that they had this potential use. Other’s will be new to your garden choices. Surprisingly, some are often considered invasive weeds, that is until you see the beautiful color the plant yields for your yarn.

How to Select the Right Seeds for Dye Gardens

When choosing seeds for any garden project, check your gardening zone for compatibility. The plants will thrive if given the right environment and care. Most of these are easy cultivars, meaning they thrive even if you think you have a black gardening thumb.

grow natural dyes

When growing a plant that has a tendency to “take over the garden, such as mint or madder, plant in a large container to restrict spread. Consider the variety of colors that you are planting. Having some that produce primary colors will eventually yield a rainbow of colors by over dyeing and combining dyes.

Easy Growers for the Dye Garden

Marigolds

Marigolds walked me through my very first natural dye experiment. The color from marigolds is potent and growing these beauties is easy in most areas. I collect the flowers as they begin to wither and let them dry on a screen. When completely dried, I store the flowers in a bag until I have enough to create a dye pot of golden yellow color. All of the species of marigold will yield dye color. The result will vary depending on the amount of yellow or orange flowers you collect.

grow natural dyes
Marigold

Growing marigolds helps repel annoying garden pests. As a companion plant they often keep pests from eating your produce. The bees and butterflies love gardens full of marigold blooms. Marigolds don’t require much of a green thumb to grow. Sun is preferred and not too much fertilizer please.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus or Rose Mallow is easy to grow. I found plants growing wild on the edges of our property, so I am guessing it is also spread by birds. The plant adds a lot of blossoms to your garden, and grows into a tall bush.

The link below opens to a printable version of my hibiscus dye recipe for dyeing wool yarn.

Gather the flowers and use fresh or dried for later. I usually gather flowers from my dye plants as they begin to dry or wither on the plant. I enjoy planting flowering species for both dyes and to give the pollinators a reason to stop by my garden.

grow natural dyes
yarn color from dried hibiscus petals

Dried Hibiscus can also be purchased, as it is sold as a tea. Make sure you are purchasing only dried hibiscus petals. The color from hibiscus is a wide range of pinks and lilacs. Mordant your wool fiber first for best color staying power.

Solar Dyeing with Hibiscus Petal Dye

My favorite way to process wool yarn with hibiscus petal dye is the solar dye method. Using very warm water to start, and keeping the dye bath in the sun for a few days prevents over heating the dye. Reds and pink natural dyes are susceptible to turning brown if over heated.

Zinnia

Zinnias yield soft yellows, tans and lighter browns. It’s funny to think that all the vibrant color of the zinnia in the garden creates such a soft dye pot of color. Zinnia dye requires twice as much flower material as weight of goods to be dyed, 2:1, so be sure and plant a large patch of zinnias!

grow natural dyes

Coreopsis

Once you grow natural dyes from the garden, you will want to expand! At least that’s how it worked for me. Birds and pollinators love the flowers. Save the blooms as you dead-head as you can use these dye flowers fresh or dried. Both the annual C. tinctoria and the perennial versions can be used to grow natural dyes. The plants aren’t too particular but they do appreciate a sunny location and well drained soil.

grow natural dyes

Rudbeckia -AKA Black-eyed Susan

This is one I am still collecting flowers in order to try. Other dyers report that the black eyed susans will yield a celery or light green color on wool. You will need a good crop of flowers though as it is recommended that you use 1:1 ratio of weight of flowers to dry weight of yarn. Gage Hill Crafts has a good tutorial about the process.

Rudbeckia
Rudbeckia

Hollyhock

Plum, purple and dark red dyes can be found in dark hollyhock blossoms. Plants are biennial, so don’t expect blossoms the first year. Hollyhock dye can also be processed in a cold dye bath overnight.

Grow Natural Dyes from Herbs

Mint

You see green, but the primary color derived from a pot of mint will be yellow. Since mint is so prolific, it’s easy to harvest a pot of mint for a dye bath. To change the yellow to green, add a teaspoon of iron, (ferrous sulfate) to the dye bath after straining out the plant material.

purple dead nettle in the basket yields a strong yellow which can be modified to green with a small amount of iron in the after bath.

Other forms of mints often grow wild as invasive weeds. Purple Dead Nettle is a variety of mint that can often take over your yard. Instead of composting the weeds, make a dye bath for wool yarn. For best results when dyeing with mint, leave the yarn or wool in the dye pot overnight.

Rosemary

Two large bunches of rosemary branches will create a large dye pot with plenty of color for wool yarn, when simmered for a couple of hours. This was a beautiful soft yellow color on wool.

Other Grow Natural Dye Options

Weld

Weld and Japanese Indigo are easy to grow additions to your dye garden. Learn how to harvest and process Indigo before cutting the plant because it needs a fermentation process in order to obtain the beautiful dark blue dye.

Weld, Reseda luteola , produces a clear yellow dye from the leaves and flowers of the plant. It does best in a sunny location but will tolerate partly sunny spots. Growing your own source of primary yellow supplies you with options when over dyeing with indigo or possibly woad. I found good suggestions on growing weld, harvesting, and saving seeds in this article.

Japanese Indigo

Japanese Indigo, Persicaria tinctoria, grew very successfully in my garden. I ended up with quite a lot of material. The first process I experimented with was the Ice Water Bath process. This method does not produce the deep indigo shade you might expect. The color is more of a sea green or pale mint. In order to harness the expected indigo blue, read up on the harvesting and fermentation vat method of creating indigo dye.

Persicaria tinctoria

While it is time consuming to grow indigo, harvest correctly and process the leaves, the beautiful blue dye is worth the effort. The pretty pink flowers of the indigo plant are a great addition to your cottage garden. Indigo spreads so consider planting it in a large container.

Nature Works Together when You Grow Natural Dyes in Your Garden

Once you have your dye garden your journey with natural dyes is just beginning. The possibilities are limitless, with mordants, modifiers, and even the different seasons bring to the artist. (if you want to learn the basics of natural dyeing, read this post) The beautiful colors from your garden grown dyes will complement each other, just as nature works together. Growing your own dye plants will bring beauty to your garden and then to your wool crafts.




How to Fix a Muddy Chicken Run

muddy chicken run

Rainy seasons are necessary but what do we do with the resulting muddy chicken run? Are you tired of muddy eggs, messy coop floors and slippery chicken run?

I’m not going to sugar coat it. If you have an extremely muddy chicken run, it will take some labor to return the run to a better state. You will have to correct the grading and the drainage. The good news is, once you do it correctly, it’s much easier to avoid a muddy chicken run.

muddy chicken run
the flock spends more time inside the coop if there is rain and mud. You will have to clean up more often if they stay inside.

What causes the Mud

When rain sits on top of dirt. And then more rain. It’s been raining a lot lately. Add in chicken manure, coop bedding and spilled feed and you have a disgusting muddy chicken run mess.

Drainage issues– When the ground in the chicken area builds up with bedding, dirt, spilled feed, straw, etc.  It should be regraded and returned to a somewhat gentle slope towards the downward side of the yard.  Natural drainage should be worked with when ever possible. Some folks use a tiller to stir up the dirt and make it drain better.  If they start making a whole lot of racket with that thing I can guarantee we won’t produce any eggs that day!

Run off – directing the run off away from other pens, and areas where it can cause more damage is important.

Grading Problems

Often grading issues are to blame for muddy coops.  In our coop, the yard has a lot of built up bedding both from mulch and straw and from the coop itself being cleaned out.  The flock loves to sift though the leftover bedding but if it’s left on the ground for long, it builds up.  Re-grading is a big job but after a few years of the coop staying in one spot, it may need to be done to avoid a muddy chicken run.

Possible Fixes for a Muddy Chicken Run

Trenches to divert the water

Stone for filtering

Regrade the area

Fill material – adding well draining material to low areas to keep water from accumulating will help  avoid standing water issues. Well draining material can include wood chips, or small pebbles or stones. If you use stone or pebbles the area can be covered with wood chips for a softer ground and a well draining area.

Interim Fixes 

Straw

Adding a layer of clean straw to the chicken run, cleans off the chicken’s feet before they walk back into the coop.  Adding a nice nest of soft straw to the laying boxes will also help keep the eggs cleaner.

Add a Board Walk or Porch

We have used pallets with the boards close together, and also wide plank boards as a platform for the chickens to walk on before entering the coop. 

Call a Tree Service

Occasionally we find a tree service that has some fresh pine tree grindings.  I love his. The ground up trees smell great, and the chickens get a snack too. Pine needles are a healthy treat that helps with respiratory tract health.

Wood Chips

Not the fine sawdust.  The squarish chunks of wood sometimes used on playgrounds. Continue reading for more about why wood chips are a great choice for chicken runs

Bales of Pine Needles

We recently found a local supply for bales of pine needles.  These are more common in certain parts of the country than others.  This is a great cover for muddy chicken runs.  

muddy chicken run

What Not to Use in a Muddy Chicken Run

I have seen pine shavings and sawdust used on top of the run but this rarely works out well.  The shavings just don’t stick around and the problem is often worse after these things are added to a muddy chicken run.

rocks and wood chips help with drainage in the chicken run

Why I Recommend Wood Chips for a Muddy Chicken Run

Honestly, I don’t just recommend using wood chips for a muddy chicken run. I recommend using wood chips all year long. Wood chips are much better for chickens kept in a run, and not just because they help with drainage.

Wood chips break down slowly over time. The chickens will sift through the wood fiber, finding insects that are helping break down the organic wood material. The wood chips contain quite an ecosystem and the chickens can naturally fit into the plan.

muddy chicken run

And more benefits…

In addition to providing a healthier ground cover than plain dirt, the wood chips provide exercise as the chickens scratch. Keeping them occupied helps control any pecking order issues too.

And finally, the wood chips help clean the chickens feet, so they track in less mud and chicken poop when they enter the coop. This helps keep odor to a minimum and keep the eggs cleaner in the nest.

After the Rains End

When we had a particularly bad year of rain and the run was awash in mud, we pushed the mud off to the sides of the run. The chickens had made a trench along the fence while digging for insects. The mud was sent back into the trenches. It was a tough job and not one I wanted to repeat. So we made plans to improve the run and bring in better draining ground material. The muddy chicken run had to go.

How to fix a muddy chicken run and keep it from occurring again.

Cover Part of the Run and Add a Roost

Adding outdoor roost bars gives the chickens somewhere to perch when the mud is a problem. If possible attach a tarp over the perch so that the area can be used during rainy times, and stay drier.

using wood chips to control mud in the chicken run

Leaving the mud to accumulate makes everyone cranky.  The flies seem to enjoy the mud a lot which is kind of annoying because chickens don’t like them very much.   It really is best for everyone if the mud is either controlled or taken care of somehow.  

muddy chicken run

Dear Diary

This post was originally written from a chicken’s point of view. Hope you enjoy the following excerpt from the chicken diary.

Our dear Mother Nature has it a little messed up this year.   The saying goes, “April showers bring May Flowers”.  This year she has sent us May showers.  It is actually more than showers and I am tired of my beautiful black and white feathers getting wet.  

We try to explain…

The humans are quite perturbed.  I almost feel sorry for them.  Usually, I don’t because we are here doing all the work. Laying eggs, digging up bugs and worms, and various other gardening chores and all they do is stop by to watch us work.  We toil and they take the eggs and run.  But that’s not the point.

 They are trying to give us a dry chicken run around our coop but the rains just keep falling.  Rain on top of dirt makes mud, eventually.  Add in a little chicken poo that isn’t cleaned up and wham, you have some potent mud.  Some of us don’t mind the mud. Other’s run through it quickly to get out for free range time and then run back into the coop full speed.  And yet we still track in big globs of mud on our feet.  

Continued…

Let me write down some suggestions in hope that the humans will see this notebook while snooping, I mean cleaning the coop. The ideas in this article does help the ground we walk on stay in better condition. When they bring in more straw or pine needles for the walking area. Of course we have to scratch them out of the way.  But they try.  It’s all we can ask I guess.  

It helps to not add the soft shavings from inside the coop into the chicken run.  Also, we are glad to have some outside roost bars that we can perch on under a tarp so we don’t have to stand around in the mud. 

muddy chicken run




Can Goats Eat Christmas Trees?

can goats eat Christmas trees

This is the time of year to ask, can goats eat Christmas trees? Many of us will have spent hard earned dollars, purchasing a fresh cut tree from a local tree lot. After the tinsel and ornaments have been removed, using the tree as a food option in the barnyard can add value to the money spent on a fresh cut tree. So can goats eat Christmas trees? What about sheep, cattle, and even the chickens?   The genus Pine contains a lot of plants, some not even true pines. Yew is not in the genus of Pinus, (its actually a member of the Taxus genus).  Yew is often confused with pine but can cause toxicity and illness  in most animals.

Many of the popular varieties selected as Christmas trees can be used as a food supplement in limited quantities. The White pine, and Scotch pine are common along with the Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir and the Blue Spruce. With any edible, I never recommend over feeding. Illness can result just from the upset in the diet routine. Stick with the old adage of everything in moderation.

can goats eat christmas trees
photo credit Glen Miller

Can Goats Eat Christmas Trees and Receive Health Benefits?

Pine needles provide trace nutrients, antioxidants, minerals, and forage. Trees should not replace the normal forage, grain or other feed material. Pine is good for intestinal worm control and high vitamin C content. Some varieties contain higher amounts of Vitamin A, too.  In addition, the activity of chowing down on a tasty novelty, interrupts the boring days of winter and eating only hay.
 
Not only can goats eat Christmas trees, but the chickens will enjoy either nibbling or playing with the pine needles and branches. The entire Christmas tree can provide a wind break in the chicken run, and an activity center for bored chickens. If you live in an area that doesn’t get very cold, the chickens will find insects among the tree branches too. 

What Problems Can Arise?

Pine needles can cause abortion in cattle, if eaten in varying quantities. Although cattle and sheep and goats are all ruminants, the absorption mechanisms in cattle seems to have more of a problem with pine. Problems seem to be documented with certain plants in the pine genus. Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and Monteray Pine have documented incidents of causing premature birth and abortions in cattle. The Yew is another member of this group that can be extremely toxic.  Horses and ponies can colic from too much pine. 

can goats eat Christmas trees

What Amount of Pine is Safe?

Can goats eat Christmas trees if toxicity is a potential issue? one tree per small flock of ten to twelve animals isn’t enough to cause toxicity issues. Goats eating nothing but pine bark, branch tips, and needles, every day can lead to toxicity and abortion, along with other health risks. Cattle seem to be more susceptible to pine toxicity. What I have found concerning toxic plants is this. In truth, it’s like so many toxic plants on lists. They’d get full before they ever had any toxicity issues. Or they’d have to eat it for a long time period. If the toxic plant is the only choice, the ruminant or chicken will eat it. If there is plenty of other nutritious food available, the animal will not normally choose to eat the toxic plant. In short, a small amount of pine Christmas tree will add nutrients and not cause harm to your flock.

pine boughs
photo credit Glen Miller

 Can Goats Eat Christmas Trees from Sale Lots?

What about the toxicity of man-made products applied to Christmas trees. This is a topic that always comes up when talking about feeding fresh cut trees to livestock and poultry. Some large retailers still apply a fire retardant spray or a colorant to the trees. Ask your seller about this. This article shares that the fire retardant spray is a green color that can be seen on the trunk and some of the branches. The tree may appear to be a brighter green than you would expect. In any case, ask questions and inspect the tree carefully if you are planning to feed the tree to your farm animals.  

pygora goat

 We try to avoid chemicals of most types when caring for our farm animals. I was surprised to read that this Virginia Cooperative Extension report suggests that the colorants and sprays are no more harmful than household chemicals! I sure wouldn’t feed my goats any of those household chemical cleaners either!
 
Check with your seller before assuming that a tree is all natural.  If you buy your tree from a small independent lot, they should know where the trees came from and how they were prepared for sale. If you cannot be certain, don’t feed the tree to the goats, sheep and chickens.

Common Pine Varieties Used as Christmas Trees

White pine, scotch pine, Fraser fir, and other varieties commonly found on the tree lot can provide nutrients to your goat, sheep and chicken diets. Some varieties may be more desirable than others. Sheep tend to dislike the scotch pine needles due to the more prickly nature. Goats are not usually as tender in the mouth and may not discriminate as much as the sheep.  

After feeding the tree to the barnyard animals, the trunk and branches can be recycled further into wood chips. The wood chips can be added to the garden area, or the poultry run to cover muddy areas.    Goats, Sheep and even the chickens, can help you recycle the Christmas tree and keep it from ending up in the landfill. There are healthy nutrients in the tree and feeding it to your barnyard animals is safe in occasional small doses. Pine needles are healthy for humans too. Try a pine needle tea for what ails you with a winter cold. For more ideas on recycling the fresh Christmas tree, look here.

For more goat care info including information on goats and Christmas trees, check with Feather and Scale Farm.

can goats eat Christmas trees