Returning to Innisfree

Managing More Babies Than Expected During Goat-Kidding Season

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One set of twins. Photo by Keba M. Hitzeman

Somehow, birthing season sneaks up on me every year. I know it’s coming, I know what I need to do to be ready for it, and inevitably, I think I have “just one more week” to get things prepared before goatlings or lambs start arriving. That phrase is the cue for labor to begin.

This year, I was slightly more ahead of the game than usual. I had converted an unused area in the barn into a large “maternity ward” where I would put all of the pregnant animals when it looked like they were close to birthing. I previously wrote about my intent to build lambing jugs that could be set up as needed in that area. The new lambing jugs didn’t happen due to several reasons — time to build them being the biggest one. I had panels and gates that I could set up in a nearby pen, and decided that would be fine for this year. It wasn’t ideal, but it would suffice.

There were some signs that the four goat does were getting close to birthing, so I moved them over to the maternity ward. And waited. And kept their hay and water filled. And kept waiting. For a month. So much for the signs of impending birth being accurate. Finally, I heard the sound of goatlings when I went to the barn for morning chores – twins! My herd matron, Athena, had a healthy baby girl and baby boy on February 9. Into the lambing jug they went, and over the next week, the other three does birthed a set of twins and two sets of triplets. I’m pretty sure they decided that 10 babies would be a wonderful Valentine’s present for me! That’s goat math for you, where 4 equals 10.

Only one of the mamas was not immediately a good mother, but a night of being separated from her babies convinced her that letting them nurse was a much better idea than being milked twice a day for me to bottle feed them. I do have one bottle baby, but his mama is a first freshener and wasn’t sure what to do with triplets. He is the smallest of the three and just wasn’t strong enough to push his way through his siblings to nurse. He is doing well though, and is still in with his siblings and mama. I’ve found that if the bottle babies stay with the family, they do much better than if I need to separate them completely.

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They are so cute! Photo by Keba M. Hitzeman

Fast-forward to this past weekend: Three of the four does are back in the large maternity ward area with their seven babies. I moved them over a period of several days to closely watch the mamas and make sure there wouldn’t be any fighting between them. It takes a day or so for them to get reacclimated to each other, and when you add in babies, they can get very protective, even to the point of harming the little ones that aren’t theirs. I’ve found that taking things slow is better for everyone involved. I’d rather take a week to get everyone back together than toss four adults and 10 babies together all at once and find hurt (or worse) babies.

Due to the low temperatures we’ve been having, we moved one of the heat lamps to that common area. I wanted them to have an extra bit of heat, but the goatlings haven’t been using the lamp very much, preferring to cuddle up next to their mamas or sleep all together in a big goat puddle. They also love to climb into the hay ring and sleep there.

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It's a goat playpen! Photo by Keba M. Hitzeman

Not every year is as smooth as this year was, so I’m very thankful for easy births, healthy babies, and good mothers. Now I’ll turn my attention to the Shetland sheep and start Lamb Watch 2021! Has baby season started on your farm or homestead? What babies will you have this year, either born on your farm or brought in?

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.

All GRIT community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

The Farmer’s Library: 8 Reads for an Expanded Land-Based Worldview

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My reading list has been expanding, as is always the case when I do a lot of browsing around on the internet, read a magazine article or book, or scroll through my liked pages and groups on Facebook. Several library systems near me have inter-library loan, so my first order of business is to find which library has the book available. I’ll browse through it, then decide whether to buy it or not. As much as I would like to buy all the books, space and budget dictate otherwise, leading me to make some hard choices. At times, the book is so obscure that it’s quite challenging to find for sale at a reasonable price — those are usually the books I’d like to have the most because of the great information in them!

Looking at the titles, you may correctly guess that some of these aren’t actually “reading books” but references or occasional-use books. Those get a quick read-through to familiarize myself with the contents, then it’s added to the appropriate section in our home library. Yes, our books are organized by content —  there’s no way we could find anything otherwise! Farming, history, cooking, fiber, general art, spiritual, herbs, sci-fi/fantasy, animals/vet — everything has a section, which means I only have to scan through two to five cubes of books instead of all of them!

 Favored Titles in the Farm Library

The Little House Cookbook was a gift from dear friends of ours. Our two families share many farming and lifestyle ideals, and we also share our books. And buy each other books for Christmas. This book is a recipe book of foods mentioned in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, along with excerpts from those books, and commentary by the author. I’m not sure what it says about me that I grew up eating not a few of these foods.

The Veterinary Clinical Parasitology and Shetland Wool Week books, again, not exactly “reading” books. To put a fine point on it, I got the VCP to learn how to run my own fecal tests for the sheep and goats, and this was the text recommended for that purpose. I’ll just leave it at that! And the Shetland Wool Week? A lovely annual that corresponds to the Shetland Wool Week festival in the Shetland Islands, which is definitely on my bucket list to attend. It’s full of articles about Shetland fiber and people, along with patterns using Shetland wool.

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Much Ado About Mutton (I think Shakespeare would enjoy the pun) traces the history of native sheep breeds in the UK and the role of mutton (meat of a sheep that is over two years old) in the UK and the world. It’s a fascinating read with great pictures and a nice recipe section. Mutton has a bad rap due to several factors, but prepared properly, is a delicious meat. Personally, I think it has a better and more developed flavor than lamb has. This book actually referenced another book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which I was able to get an abridged copy of from the library, but haven’t been able to find in an unabridged version. Well, I found the unabridged version, but I could buy a lot of fence supplies for what the sellers wanted for it!

Ten Acres Enough is a telling by Edmund Morris of leaving Philadelphia for the country life in New Jersey. As the title suggests, it can be enough to have ten acres of land. In fantastic detail, he chronicles the ups and downs of establishing a productive farm/homestead in the mid-1800s. Lots of good information that can still be relevant today for those who would like to do the same, and for those who are already living the “country life.”

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is a book about exactly that. This book came to my attention, along with Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule: African American Landowing Families since Reconstruction, during a virtual conference through the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. Leah Penniman writes candidly about her experience returning to the land, her commitment to ending injustice in the food system, the contributions of Black farmers throughout history, and what her farm is actively doing to network and train new Black and Latinx farmers. This is an excellent “how-to” book for small-scale farming that treads lightly on the land, and is an eye-opener to the disparities in farming and food accessibility. It’s a book that is uncomfortable to read, and vital to know about.

Wrapping things up, we have Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. I learned about this series of essays from a Farming magazine article, and the best way I can come up with to describe it is that it looks at modern agriculture through the lens of how farming is described in the Bible – how the land was to be treated by the people of Israel and how we treat the land today. It’s scholarly, a slow read, and asks if we can do better regarding our land management and stewardship.

Lots of learning with these new titles, but that’s how we grow! What’s on your reading pile right now?

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.
All GRIT community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

One Ohio Farm's Transition From Cattle to Wool Sheep Meets Mixed Emotions

Mother Cow With Calf In Enclosure

Photo by Keba M. Hitzeman

I don’t know that I’ve ever been through a transition that wasn’t painful in some way, either physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Change always hurts, even if it’s the right and proper thing to have done. So much discussion and agonizing over what is the right decision to make: Is the timing right? Does this need to be done now or can it wait? What happens after the transition is complete? How will this affect others? What do we do while the transition is occurring? All questions that are intensely personal and variable in their “right” answers, because your right answer may not be mine.

Our family farm centered around row crops and beef cattle for many years. Over time, people aged, equipment aged and became more difficult to fix, help was scarce. Machinery and cattle can be cantankerous and can hurt or kill people if full attention is not on the task at hand. Eventually, my parents decided to retire from active farming, sold the machinery, and hired a local crop farmer to plant and harvest the crops.

Reducing Our Cattle Herd

Hindsight being what it is, the cattle also should have been sold, but they had always been here (they came with the farm when my parents purchased it) and did a good job of keeping the pastures mowed. They were also nice to have in the freezer, so they stayed. A few times a year, we rounded up all the cows, sorted out calves to go to the auction barn, or took a couple of 18-month-olds to the butcher. The barn wasn’t set up for cattle sorting, so it was a task that took full attention to cut out the ones we wanted. At least the older mama cows knew the drill — they lined up at the gate to be let out. Unfortunately, some of the calves would try to cut the line and escape as well, leading to the poor soul on gate duty the unenviable task of trying to shut the gate as a mama cow plodded through, with a panicky calf attempting to squirt through the same space.

As my husband and I took over the operation, one of our first jobs was reducing the herd. At its max, there were over 30. We were able to shrink that to under a dozen mama cows. We found a market for custom-butchered beef sides and stopped taking the calves to the auction barn, which was increasingly a loss for us — lost time, lost money. After a couple of scary incidents involving panicky 18-month-old cattle, the next change was to take them to the butcher as yearlings. A little smaller, yes, but a less dangerous process to get them cut out of the herd, loaded, transported, and unloaded. Our customers didn’t mind at all.

Removing All Cattle from the Farm Operation

Some health issues, a hospital stay, and the realization that those health issues were going to be chronic sealed the deal. We needed to get out of the beef business. While our customers were saddened at not getting our pasture-raised beef anymore, they did understand the reasoning. The safety of the humans and the animals was a priority, and if safety for man and beast couldn’t be maintained, change was needed.

That decision was the easy part. The biggest question in my mind now was, who is going to buy these cows? Everyone wants calves, but not many people want the animals that give you the calves. Many people would say take them to the auction barn. That was the absolute last of last resorts. These were cows with years of calf-giving left in them. We would exhaust every other option first.

I set our price, listed them on Craigslist, and waited. And waited some more. And started to fret, which doesn’t do a bit of good, in case you were wondering. And then got a text from a man who was interested. He came, we discussed things, he came back with a trailer, wrote me a check, and they were off to their new home. Let me tell you how much stress fell from my shoulders as I watched that trailer pull out of the driveway!

Transition to Sheep and Goats

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Photo by Keba M. Hitzeman

We now have Shetland wool sheep, and Kinder goats. What else would we need to change to make the farm more conducive to these smaller animals? We’re working out the pasture arrangements we want, since sheep and goats don’t eat as much as cows, and certainly don’t tear up the ground the way cows do. That means the sheep and goats can be on the larger pastures longer, and we can also make temporary pastures in the “in-between” spaces that were too small to graze cattle.

The barn has been reconfigured to be better suited to small ruminants. Large pens are being subdivided, welded wire was attached to the tube gates so the little beasties can’t squeeze through, and the hay feeding areas were redone. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, and I’ve had to redo some things as reality didn’t match my expectations, but things are running smoother than they did last year!

I’ve been asked when our transition will be complete, and my answer is usually some variation of “when they put me in the ground.” We continue to learn, discover better ways to do things, or that we don’t want to continue doing a particular thing. I guess that means that the transition is never done, which makes for an interesting, if sometimes exhausting, way of life. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate for locally raised and produced products, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a certified Organic farm, where she raises Shetland wool sheep, Kinder goats, and a motley crew of chickens. Find her on Facebook and Instagram. Her fiber arts are at The Studio at Innisfree. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.

Growing Great Garlic

bowl of garlic cloves

The bulbs that "made the grade" for planting. Photos by Keba M. Hitzeman

We are big fans of garlic on the farm. Until recently, we would purchase our winter supply from a local farmer friend in one of those pretty garlic braids. It was good hardneck garlic, full of flavor and a bit of heat. He grows many rows of the stuff, enough for his family, plus extra to sell at the virtual farmer’s market, and I got to thinking about how difficult it would be to grow it myself. The answer: not very difficult at all!

Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic

In the few years that I’ve been growing our own garlic, I’ve learned a lot. One of the first things was the differences between garlic types. There is hardneck garlic, which has the garlic cloves arranged around a central flower stalk, and softneck garlic, where the cloves are jumbled together, and there is no central stalk. I found that the large hardneck cloves peel easier than the smaller softneck cloves, which was the biggest selling point on planting my own hardneck garlic. Peeling 8 to 10 small cloves for one recipe definitely taxed my patience.

After settling on hardneck garlic, I started buying as much of their garlic as I could get my hands on. Large cloves will grow large bulbs, so I only saved the largest three cloves from each bulb, leaving plenty for our cooking and eating over the winter. I decided to plant this year’s crop in one of my raised beds. It has the best and softest soil and is protected from the chickens, which is very important since they will eat just about everything green they can find during the winter.

Planting: Timing and Tips

I think of garlic as a balance of sorts to the traditional garden. Most vegetables are planted in the spring, grow all summer, then are harvested in the fall. Fall-planted garlic is planted in late September or early October, grows until the frosts come, restarts growth in the spring, and is harvested in mid-summer. Soft, well-drained soil and good sun are needed for the best growth.

Planting is simple – poke a hole with your thumb, drop the garlic clove in flat side down (the flat side is the root end and the pointy side is the growing end), cover, and mulch with either straw or leaves. I like to use a good layer of straw but have had success with leaves as well. If you’ve planted softneck garlic, that’s all you need to do until next summer! If you’ve planted hardneck cloves, you will be treated to garlic scapes in the spring. These are the flower heads, and will need to be cut off before they bloom so the plant sends all its energy into growing a nice fat bulb and not a flower. You can use garlic scapes in cooking, and they have a mild taste.

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The bulbs have sprouted through the straw and leaves

Harvesting and Curing Homegrown Garlic

As the weather warms, the leaves will start to turn. The rule of thumb that I was told is that the garlic is ready to harvest when about half of the leaves turn brown. If you wait much longer, the bulb will start to shrivel up. Gently pull the bulbs from the ground and brush off the dirt. It doesn’t have to be squeaky clean, since the “food” part is inside the paper. Hang bunches (or braid them together) in a warm spot with good ventilation for a few weeks to cure them, similar to curing onions. I have a drying rack made from hardware cloth and scrap wood that I put on our back porch worktable — this works great to cure onions, garlic, and potatoes.

Storing Seed Garlic for Next Year

And now the process starts all over again! As you enjoy your homegrown garlic, set aside the largest cloves for planting at the end of summer. I keep my “seed garlic” cloves in a cool, dark place to cut down the amount of shriveling, but haven’t noticed any reduction in germination between shriveled and not-shriveled cloves. If you have a farmer’s market near you that sells garlic, that’s a great way to try new varieties. Plus, you will know that those varieties will grow well in your area.

I learned that from experience: I bought a lovely-looking variety that was not suited for our southwest Ohio weather. I got a harvest, but it was nowhere near what it should have been. Trial and error is definitely a part of gardening.

Have you grown garlic before? Are you a spicy or mild garlic fan?

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.

Preserving Riverside Property for Wildlife on a Family Farm

Vintage Photo Of Williams Prairie 

A picture taken around 1910 of what was called “Williams Prairie” and is now my farm. Pleasant Hill History Center photo shared with the author.

Our farm is bordered on two sides by the river. I have a picture taken around 1910 from the bluffs across the river from our farm, and the difference between then and now is shocking — there are hardly any trees along the riverbank. When my family purchased this land in the 1960s, mom and dad decided to take “good crop ground” out of production to allow Nature to do her thing. As unpopular as that decision was with pretty much everyone except my parents (and none of these other people were paying the mortgage, so you can guess how much attention my parents paid to them), it was the right decision.

This new buffer between the crop ground and the river reduced the amount of soil erosion from flooding, and the local fauna now had safe places to live and work. As the woods have grown and expanded over the last 50 plus years, we have become home to goodly numbers of deer, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and a few foxes. We see red-tailed hawks, Cooper hawks, goshawks, buzzards, herons, geese, ducks, and occasionally bald eagles in the sky.

Owning Riverside Property

There are a few drawbacks to living next to a navigable river, including the regular flooding of the fields — a major problem if it floods after the crops have been planted — and the occasional boater not realizing (or ignoring) that the land is not part of the river. We’ve had to approach people who decided to camp on our property and light a fire, which can turn into a dangerous issue very quickly in the wild woods.

Even with these drawbacks, there are so many benefits to having the river as a neighbor. The crop fields next to the river have a constant water source because the water table is so close to the surface. In a drought year, this can be the difference between harvest and nothing. Allowing the trees to return has made the riverbank sturdier and less likely to erode, which keeps the land where it should be. The woods and river are a peaceful area to relax and recharge, and a great place to see some of the critters that live alongside us.

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Current picture of the river and field area - what a change from the early 1900s! (Google Earth)

Stocking Wilde Turkeys On a Farm Property

Many years ago, one of the local wildlife agencies installed a wild turkey flock on our farm. For the next few years, we would see them out in the fields, picking through the debris and doing the things turkeys do. At one point, we found out that turkeys really can fly, and they were flying back and forth across the river, maybe splitting the flock? For a long time after that, no turkeys were heard or seen on the farm. We assumed they either flew across the river for their permanent home, found somewhere else to nest, or had all been eaten by the coyotes. I saw maybe a dozen hens with a few toms out in the field last year — they were back! I never really heard them, but it was nice to see that they had not all disappeared.

This year, I got to see just how well that flock was doing. At least two dozen hens and toms wandered into view at the edge of the cornfield one morning! Now it was a morning I would not have expected to see much wildlife out. It was in the high 30s to low 40s, but windy, and the overnight freezing rain had turned to blowing rain. But there they were, pecking around on the ground, preening, chasing each other, and flapping their wings.

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I was not expecting to see this many wild turkeys! (photo by Keba M Hitzeman)

After a while, they moved along to the driveway, loitered there for a half hour or so, then slowly made their way down our driveway towards the road. They crossed over the state route and disappeared into the neighbor’s field. We went out later, and they had utterly vanished.

Whether they are nesting on our farm or were simply passing through, it’s always enjoyable to see our wild neighbors. We intentionally provide habitat for them, and sometimes, you don’t know if your efforts are providing a benefit. Mornings like that one make me think we’re doing something right!

Have you let an area of your farm or backyard “go wild”? What wildlife (birds, insects, mammals, etc) have you seen? Have there been any new species?

Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.

The End of July and Thinking of Winter

Photo by Unsplash/Amelia Bartlett

It’s the end of July, which for me, means thinking about winter and everything I need to do to prepare for those days of semi-frozen mud, wind chill, and not being able to put on enough layers to stay warm for more than two minutes outside. And that’s assuming we get a proper winter – it’s been hit or miss on the “winteriness” of Ohio winters for several years. Granted, I don’t fancy slogging through knee-deep snow to get to my beasties, but I do appreciate the extended freezes that kill many of the insects that would plague man and beast during the next summer.

I’m pretty sure that every farmer, whether growing a crop or raising animals, has a list of Things To Get Done Before Winter. Not going to lie, my list is always longer than the time I have to complete it. I tend to overestimate my abilities/strength/motivation to complete projects and underestimate the time needed. A farmer friend gave me some distressingly true advice – take the time you think you will need to complete a project, add 1 to the number and the next period-of-time word. So a project I think will take 2 hours, schedule 3 days. 3 days? Make that 4 weeks! I’m telling you, it’s been accurate more often than not, in my experience!!

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Several projects in sight in this picture! Clean out the old hay and fix the hay feeders are two of them. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

Off the top of my head, here is my unofficial list of Things To Get Done Before Winter: clean the old bedding from the barn. Set a new fence to keep the animals out of the creek (and give them a new pasture on the not-creek side of that fence). Collect all of the sheep panels and corral panels that have been used for temporary pastures. Install a gate across the old horse feeding area in the barn so the sheep can’t get in there. Pull off the cattle panels from the hay feeding area and reattach them with chains (I made the mistake of using the U-shaped nails, then realized I wouldn’t be able to open them up to clean out the old hay...sheesh...). High mow all the areas around the buildings and the fruit trees. Get my pottery studio up and running. Put the garden to bed, finish the new hugelkultur area in the perennial garden. Haul an astounding amount of brush to the brush pile. Reassemble an old snap-together plastic shed for a sheep shelter. Set a really long fence to separate a hay pasture from our “back to nature” ground. Send any remaining fleeces off to the fiber mill. Finish graveling a walking path. And that’s just the outside projects I can think of!

stack of green fence posts
We have the materials on hand for fence installation, but then it got hot and humid. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

Looking at that list, many of those projects can be done solo, and, even using the above-mentioned time adjustment, can be completed in relatively short order. The “big deal” projects can be scheduled so there is help available. My next task (very difficult sometimes!) is to stay focused on each project long enough to finish, which means pacing myself, taking the breaks I need, and staying hydrated. There’s always a large element of self-care necessary in farm projects – taking longer to finish a project safely is better than pushing too hard and not being able to finish that last little bit. I’m confident (overconfident?) that I can get these done before the end of November if I don’t try to do them all at once! The weather is always a factor, too – if this hot and sticky weather keeps up, I’m stuck with only being able to get a couple hours of work done in the morning and a few hours in the evening. Breathing gets difficult from about 10:00am – 5:00pm when it’s hot, sunny, and humid. But there is plenty to do inside as well, so there’s that.

small trees in yard
 These little trees don't need to be in my yard - time to mow! Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

What’s on your Things To Get Done Before Winter list? Any projects that just “gotta get done” before the weather changes?

Not The Mama, But I’m Now The Mama

goatlings on cinderblock
A rare shot of my goatlings standing still! Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

There are weeks in the early spring that can be utterly exhausting. Sometimes things go as planned, and life is very good. Life is still good when things don’t go according to plan, but I get a lot less sleep and need a lot more caffeine to keep the ball rolling. Or, in this case, keep the milk flowing.

Breeding animals can be fraught with peril. There are so many things that can go wrong, from the health of the male and female before “the deed,” to the mama’s needs during gestation to keep that baby growing, to the birthing process itself. And once the baby (or babies) is here, things can still go awry. Ideally, even a first-time mama will recognize the squalling creature behind her as her own progeny, clean it up, and help it find the milk bar. Less ideally, mama needs some persuasion to let baby nurse for the first few times, then realizes that this is how it should be. And then you have those who want nothing to do with the life they’ve just brought into the world. They may clean it, “talk” to it, and even let it snuggle up to them to sleep, but when baby heads to find milk, that’s just too much. This is when I bring out the bottles and milk replacer, and start losing sleep.

(As an aside, I’ve had this happen to experienced mamas – they will be fine for years, then one year, nope, that baby isn’t mine, and you can’t make me nurse it. I don’t know what causes this “no thank you” switch to flip, because the next year, the same animal will be the best mama ever. Any thoughts on this phenomenon?)

Photo by Unsplash/Roma Kaiuk

The first day, I tend to feed every 2-3 hours, getting colostrum into the lamb or kid. This “first milk” is so important to give the lamb antibodies and “wake up” its immune system. After 24-36 hours of multiple small feedings, I start mixing lamb milk replacer in and space the feedings to every 4 hours for a week or so. I’m keeping a close eye on how much each lamb or kid is eating to determine when I can increase the time between feedings.

As long as the mama isn’t trying to hurt the baby, I will keep them together, because after the first week to 10 days, the lamb will start nibbling at the hay it sees the adult eating. I’ve separated the lambs before, and in my experience, it takes the lamb longer to realize that hay is food when it doesn’t have an example to watch. Sometimes separation is necessary, but I avoid it when possible. It’s so satisfying to watch the lambs and kids as they start eating hay – another hurdle in the “baby to adult” marathon has been cleared!

For weeks two and three, feedings slowly switch from 4 times a day (8am, 2pm, 8pm, 2am) to 3 times a day, which works out to 8am, 3pm, 10pm feedings. I can sleep through the night again! I also add probiotic powder to their milk to keep them from getting scours. They still might (at least in my experience they do!), but the effects can be lessened by keeping that good gut bacteria working. By this point, they sometimes start drinking less milk from a bottle because they are eating more hay. Again, keeping a close eye on their development and growth is critical to make sure nothing bad is happening – are they pooing and peeing? Are they alert, playing? It’s not a chore to “have to” sit and watch them after they have their bottle to check their condition. Running and jumping babies are just so fun to watch!

goatling in motion
That blur to the left of the top picture is what the goatlings usually look like, and the bottom picture is where he came to rest for a snack! Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

The question of weaning is one of those hot-button issues – when to wean and how to wean will depend on your situation. I tend to wean slowly because I worry about them getting enough to eat, even when I can see by their round bellies that they are getting more than enough. Mine will be weaned by the time the flock is put on their spring pasture, if not before. Beating the same drum– observe and adapt as the lambs and kids grow. Sometimes 9 of them are ready for weaning off the bottle, and that tenth one still needs some supplementation, even after they are on pasture.

goatling in hay
Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

Bottle babies are a lot of work but give great rewards. My bottle-fed sheep and goats are the friendliest of the flock. Sometimes too friendly because they associate me with food!

What are your tips and tricks for raising bottle babies?

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

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