To feed, or not to feed, that is the question:
Firstly hello. This will be my first ever blog and I thought I would start with food. Sadly not a lovely recipe blog with delicious images of hot comfort food or freshly baked warm apple crumble...
Instead I want to little look at the fundamentals of feeding Pygmy goats and our Cameroon Sheep - we also keep hens & horses and have a few delightful dogs and I use many of the same principles for all our animals.
Keep them fit, calm, happy, healthy and a steady weight and they will thrive and live a long and happy life without the need for too many vet visits.
The old saying 'killing with kindness' is rather more prevalent today - I notice overweight dogs, sheep, horses and goats very regularly at shows. Some people try and justify it by saying they are in 'show' condition - but the truth is that these animals are generally overweight and will suffer from ailments and problems that may not be seen - from painful joint problems to urinary calculi. Allowing our animals to become overweight due overfeeding, is in my opinion, irresponsible and unkind.
If we stuck to a natural and more simplified feed regime - then this would not occur.
Sadly it is not always that simple. We are surrounded with choice of bagged feeds, treats galore and lack of time. I am not blameless either - I have had a few of my goats become overweight overtime and that needed slimming down. It takes time, care, perseverance and routine. I have also had animals that require more in their diet due to lack of weight (mainly due to old age or illness) - but with careful consideration and trying hard not to 'just give a little more' because its cold or you think it is kind (remember - animals don't know portion size!), we can keep these wonderful animals healthy and happy.
Pygmy goats have a natural rotund appearance, as if they have swallowed a grapefruit or two! This is part of their body type and shape and does not necessarily mean they are overweight. If you are unsure - then remember that goats carry fat on their flanks and back. So feel for their hip bones. If you can feel them easily - they you are probably OK. If you have to dig around... time for a little less. Weigh them if you can! I have found myself on our bathroom scales - weighing myself, then holding a goat and subtracting the difference to get the goats weight! Not easy - as I loathe weighing myself - its too much reality in one go.
Try not to compensate by overfeeding. Spend time with them instead of just feeding them too much or treating them for no reason.
A dog will beg, but its not necessarily begging for food - its most probably attention. Your goat may bleat when it catches sight of you - but actually if you spent half an hour with them, playing, stroking or just hanging out with them, they would be happier than if you gave them a cup of food.
WHAT TO FEED?
Goats & sheep are ruminants and they are designed to forage for food for 16 - 20 hours a day. They need at lead 65% of their diet to made up of fibre - this could be a mixture of good grazing, hay, haylage, good quality straw etc.
Hard feed - its such a random term - but one that refers to the grain / bagged feed that you will give your animals. Less is definitely more - you feed less and your animals won't need the vet... Stick to the Rule - Forage & Fibre First.
If you do need to feed bagged food- we do daily - as it keeps the routine, allows us to check the herds and keeps the goats & sheep in tip top health. We feed a small ration to our goats all year round and increase it when they have kids or when the kids are weaned. The sheep also have a targeted feeding programme - depending on the time of year and the condition they are in.
NB - standard goat food is generally designed for meat & dairy goats - so will have a higher protein and oil content that Pygmy goats do not require.
We use the Small Holder Range - Pygmy Goat Food.
& The Small Holders Range Sheep Mix for our Cameroon Sheep
They are low in sugar and our goats and sheep do very well on them. They are a quality feed that contains high levels of the minerals and vitamins they require. I recommend that you weigh the food once before you feed them for the first time and work out what vessel / cup or scoop you know what the amount looks like per goat /sheep per day and then divide it between two feeds / 12 hours apart.
Do make sure that each animal receives the correct ration. They don't take long to eat it - so it may be worth waiting while they eat - just in case a greedy one tries to sneak off to eat his friends breakfast!
DO NOT GIVE SHEEP food intended for goats. Sheep can become very ill if fed feed or licks for horses or goats as they contain the incorrect levels of copper)
Older goats or sheep may loose weight but this could be due to a number of problems, but one reason could be that they have teeth missing and therefore cant chew, ruminate and digest the food correctly - the sharp molars in the back of the mouth are used to grind and if these are damaged, missing or are broken, then your animal will not thrive, may loose weight and also have compacted / un-chewed fibre in their cheeks. This can lead to choke. Not something you want- we once had a goat with severe choke and we nearly lost him, luckily he is still with us and now has a special diet, his cheeks cleared out twice a day by hand and is fed a high fibre soaked beet pulp (non molassed) and NO hay (he cant chew long fibre and all his food must be damp). He can still graze his paddock but we keep a firm eye on him.
To keep our goats and sheep in tip top health - we give them 24h access to a Chelated Rockies Lick in their outdoor shelter - and they lick it every day!
We have found that this is the best lick for general health and can be used for goats, sheep, cattle and horses. https://www.rockies.co.uk/products/agricultural-range/chelated-rockies/
A goat differs from a sheep as they are browsers and not grazers.
Pygmy goats love to nibble on all sorts of leaves and hedging - hawthorn, brambles, willow, apple leaves, hazel etc.
If they are not in a paddock with a mixed hedge access, then you can also give your goats and sheep a variety of herbs (ideally a little access to hedgerow and leaving docks uncut and some nettles in their field etc is first choice.)
Dried herbs can really help with your animals health & digestion - and since we have limited their ability to roam and nibble all the bits they would choose to eat, we also incorporate dried herbs into their diet to assist general health, ailments and any problems as they arise.
Prevention is better than cure.
There is no substitute for calling your farm vet when one of your goats or sheep is unwell - and using targeted worming programme (worm only AFTER a worm count from your vet - we do not believe in general worming).
But keeping the health of your animals in good shape with a suitable diet will hopefully mean that you don't need to call the vet very often!
Here are a few of the herbs / general we keep in our cupboard for our goats, sheep & chickens & horses.
Mint - great for general digestion and especially after bloat. It actually helps with the absorption of nutrients into the gut. Good for older animals who maybe need to extract a bit more from their food.
Blackberry Leaves - allow your goats to nibble on bramble leaves and if you don't have any in your hedges - you can buy these dried. These are fantastic for urinary ulcers (which overweight goats and sheep can suffer from).
Cider Vinegar - a must have in your store cupboard - I add it to the sheep, goat, horses and chickens water. It has an array of beneficial qualities - it contains many vitamins, minerals and enzymes, in particular phosphorus which is good for goats and sheep. It helps strengthen the immune system, improves digestion, and balances internal pH. When added to water, it helps keep the water fresh and stops the green algae growing in water buckets / troughs. It is also believed to increase milk production and reduce / assist with mastitis and it can decrease urinary calculi (more prevalent in male goats and sheep) and has even believed to increase the possibility of female kids supplemented does (female goats that we are breeding from). Quantity: we feed a tablespoon per litre of water for all animals or for a stronger strength is 1:5 (1 vinegar to 5 water). One goat wanted to drink it neat when he was ill. Although he only did this twice. I trusted his instinct.
Garlic - as we all know garlic has amazing anti-fungal and antibiotic properties. You can feed them as a fresh clove per day to your goats or crush them into feed or simple just place a few of them in the water for the chickens / sheep (and change them weekly). The benefits of garlic are endless - its a great natural food to stop them getting worms! Its also good for arthritis and is a natural antibacterial.
Black Sunflower Seeds - packed full of minerals - great for giving to the females after they have given birth to kids / lambs - it is meant to increase butterfat in the milk.
Parsley - try and grow this yourself! Its easy and the sheep and goats love it and it contains vitamins A & B and is good in cases of rheumatism, arthritis, acidosis and for diseases of the urinary tract.
Dandelion - great for general health - just try not to mow your paddocks and it will grow naturally! - you can buy the dandelion root if you need to add it for a poorly goat or sheep - they will eat it if they need it.
Milk Thistle Root - this can be in powder form or herb form - a great liver tonic and I give it to my animals after any course of antibiotics.
Cleavers - sticky bud / goose grass - animals will naturally seek this out and eat it when they need it. It generally grows near nettles, up hedges, walls etc. Great cleanser of kidneys / liver and for the lymphatic system. Rich in vitamin C. Also good for itchy animals. Chickens & dogs love it too. No known side effects if they eat lots of this plant. Dried or fresh.
There are many more herbs that I use / have used in the past. The main thing is to think - would this have grown wild in this habitat - therefore would my animals have found it and eaten it.
If you need any advice or want any help - do just get in touch and we will do our best to assist.
In summary - To Feed, or not to Feed.... I would say - everything in moderation and do not feed your animals to make yourself feel like a better person.
Feed what they need, when they need it and they will be happier and live longer.
Keep your Pygmy goats and Sheep contented with plenty to do and don't skimp on good quality fibre. For instance, know the difference between good hay and bad hay.(never feed your animals dusty or mouldy damp old hay - they will become ill as moulds that present in feed and hay may contain mycotoxins. If an animal ingests food contaminated with mycotoxins, it can damage the liver and kidneys, changes in oestrogen levels have also been noted and it can also be associated with some neurological disorders.
Buy the best hay you can that has not been rained on while being made and has been stored in a ventilated shed.
Choose the best you can afford and stick with one brand of bagged food.
Do not chop and change brands depending whats on offer at your local feed merchant.
Feed a good mineral lick appropriate to your domestic animal needs.
and remember... Domesticated animals thrive on routine.
Damp autumn & winter is almost upon us. Lets make sure that we look after our precious animals well and if you know your animals - you will notice when they are poorly or something is wrong.
May the sun keep shining for a bit longer!
Tanya & the boys. x