One of my least favorite parts of having animals is taking care of their water- especially in winter. I know I shouldn’t complain- we’ve had a very mild winter here up until the last week or so. And I don’t have to hike down to the stream to break ice and drag up water for the entire household! But collecting icy water containers, thawing them, refilling and subsequently splashing them all over yourself can be just so stinkin’ cold.
We don’t have any running water near any of our animals right now, so any thawing or refilling has to happen inside the house at the moment. The upside of my morning rounds is that I get a little exercise while I hike back and forth! However, hike or no hike, the animals need fresh water.
So, here’s my current winter water routine, for better or worse- as well as some improvements that I hope we can implement before the season is over. This post contains affiliate links.
Chickens– Right now, I’m just thawing and refilling a small water container in their coop on a daily basis. BUT we really need to break out the homemade waterer my husband made them last year. He took a five gallon bucket, drilled holes in the bottom, attached water nippers, and put an electric water heater inside. It was beautiful. We never had to thaw their water once that thing was set up. If you prefer to skip the DIY process, you can buy a pre-made heated waterer here.
Rabbits– Each morning I remove the rabbits’ bottles and bring them inside. I fill up a five gallon bucket with hot water and let the bottles thaw in there while I tend to the chickens. This doesn’t take too long, but you can purchase heated water bottles if you prefer a more automated system. If it were me, I’d rather spend a few minutes thawing than $50 for two water bottles. 😉
Goats– After giving the rabbits their bottles back, I was carrying over the bucket of water to pour into the goats’ frozen water tub. Then I would try to chip away the remaining ice with a shovel. However, I found that as the weather got colder, this work became more and more in vain. The bottom of the tub was always solid ice, and I only added to what I would have to thaw the next day by pouring more hot water on top of it.
I finally got smart and just started bringing the goats a big kitchen-bowl full of water each morning. That’s much easier to handle- and to thaw out if it gets frozen. Of course, an electric water heater for their tub would also be an option.
We don’t have a perfect system down yet, but at the very least we know there are options available to make our watering chores more a bit easier.
Here’s some more reading on fresh water for your animals:
It’s not like you don’t have enough to take care of.
Are the animals really worth the work?
Can’t you buy milk for less than it costs to keep a goat?
Chickens stink. Are you sure you want them?
While there are a lot of folks who support and desire the acquisition of backyard chicken flocks and homestead dairy sources, there are just as many who think it’s wacky and impractical to keep these types of animals. Why would you keep a “farm animal” if you don’t live on a farm? There are several reasons why we prefer to keep our lively mini-farm bleating and clucking outside our doors, rather than to house domestic animals indoors.
The first reason is usefulness. Some people like to keep a dog or cat. We like to keep animals that help to feed us. Both my husband and I are “dog people”- that is, we like dogs and think they’re wonderful companions. However, we feel that at this point in our lives, we can’t justify the expense of feeding and caring for an animal that doesn’t give us something practical in return. Not only do our animals feed us, they are also scrap-consumers and free compost producers. Pretty cool.
The second reason is cost. We used to spend about $30/monthly on litter and food for our two cats (who have since changed ownership). While we enjoyed having them, it was an extra bill that we didn’t need. We now spend about $15/month on our goat’s grain, and we get milk in return. (Usually. 😉 The crazy goat is calming down and increasing supply a bit.) We spend about the same on organic chicken feed monthly, but we also get wholesome eggs to feed our family daily. For the same cost as two cats who peed on our furniture and tried to scratch the baby, we now keep animals that significantly lower our grocery bills.
The third reason is cleanliness. While chickens and goats aren’t particularly clean animals, their mess does stay outside. I don’t mind cleaning a coop out every few weeks. I do mind a smelly litter box in the laundry room.
The fourth reason we like our farm animals is that they bring us closer to our food sources. I love knowing where my food comes from, and it can’t get more local and hands-on than our backyard. There’s something deeply satisfying about being involved in raising your own food.
Finally, I like that our kids will grow up around these animals. I think that any animal can teach valuable lessons to children- responsibility, carefulness, and dealing with life and death, to name a few. But I particularly like that our children will have the chance to contribute to our needs by caring for these animals. It’s not just walking the dog because he has to be walked- it’s gathering the eggs so we can make pancakes together, or milking the goat so we can have a fresh glass with our breakfast. Not only do they learn responsibility by caring for the animals, they also become valuable providers for our family by completing their chores. (This is all in my head, as they’re not tall enough to reach the nesting boxes or strong enough to deal with the goat kicking yet… but you know. Eventually.)
While we are fully aware that our little patch of ground and the few creatures that live here are nowhere near a full functioning farm, we enjoy keeping our handful of “farm” animals. They help to meet our basic needs, while still providing entertainment and wholesome work for all of us. Even though they’re not as common a choice as a dog, cat, or fish, I think we’ll keep on keeping them for now.
Do you own a backyard farm animal? Why do you keep them?
This post is a follow-up to my recent post, Learning to Milk a Goat. You can head over there if you want to commiserate with other folks who have ended up with many a hoof in the milk.
The lady who sold us our goat warned us that she hadn’t ever been milked much, and that she was older and stuck in her ways. She told us about her habit of trying to sit during milking. She told us sometimes she didn’t like to get up on the stand, but would do it with a little patience.
In my eagerness, however, I bought the goat at an extremely busy time in our lives and decided we would just figure out how to do it. Needless to say, by the end of the various milking disasters during week one, I was laughing a bit maniacally and asking why it was we wanted a goat again.
I kept likening it to when you’re learning to nurse a new baby: there’s just no way around it. You’ve got to figure out how to feed this kid or they’ll starve and you’ll end up with mastitis. Likewise, this dam’s kid had already been sold, so she was relying on us to get the milk out, and it just had to be done.
Sometimes it was a goat rodeo trying to get Leslie into the barn. Sometimes it took multiple tries to get her secured in the stand. Our milking sessions started out done as a family, with Tim holding Leslie’s hind legs while I tried my hardest to aim the milk into a bowl that I protected with life and limb.
To be fair, maybe we were the difficult ones and not her. In reality, we were both just new at milking and we each had our struggles.
Regardless, we’ve had Leslie almost a month now, and I’m happy to say that it’s gotten much better. With time and practice, milkings have become relatively peaceful times that can be done solo, with only minimal protests from the beast.
Keep in mind I’m still a very new goat owner. We’ve picked up some pointers that have helped us to be more successful with milking our goat, but we are by no means experts. Take my advice with a grain of salt, and find out what works best for you. 🙂
1) Develop a friendly relationship with your goat. Goats do not like to be picked up and carried, or chased after (not naming any preschoolers’ names), or frightened by your sudden dives while trying to catch them. Not speaking from experience here, mm-mmm, not me. They much prefer if you’re sweet and quiet and patient and gentle with them.
2) Become a goat whisperer. (Related to #1.) Find out what floats your goat’s boat. Our Leslie likes to be brushed, to be scratched behind the ears, and to have the gentle pressing of my head up against her side while milking. Maybe all those touches remind her of her kid- I’m not sure- but they seem to calm her down.
3) Create a calm milking environment & remove distractions. It doesn’t take a lot to freak our goat out. We have to make sure the neighbor’s goat is out of the stall during milking (she likes to compete for the grain ration), and that if our kids are with us that they’re being relatively calm and quiet. Taking multiple flash pictures like I did on this morning probably isn’t a good idea either.
5) Find a safe and gentle way to prevent kicking. The hobble: a gentle restraint that holds your goats legs together so she can’t kick. I heard about these amazing things through this helpful milking article, and tried to order one the same day. Surprisingly, it was difficult to source one that would fit a dwarf goat, and even if I was able to I would have to wait a while for it to be shipped. Not cool.
Then I read about making your own hobble out of household materials. I didn’t want to use rope for fear of rubbing on Leslie’s legs, but I thought a nice soft strip of old jersey t-shirt would do the trick. Here’s what ours looks like off the goat:
Her hooves would go through the little loops and they would be slid up over the “knees,” (because I don’t know technical terms yet), and the big loop would go around her back legs above the knees twice, making sure to thread it under itself in between loops so it stayed in place. Actually, we tied it on that way each time- we weren’t normally slipping it on pre-tied, but this is what it looked like after being tied. (If that makes any sense. Do you see why I don’t write crafting tutorials?)
After about a week of using our homemade hobble, we were able to begin weaning her off of it. Now I just keep a hand nearby to gently but firmly hold her leg above the knee if she tries kicking:
6) Give her rewards. Leslie loves a banana. We’ve also tried carrot and celery. Some goat owners give sunflower seeds regularly. (Here’s some more treat ideas.) As she’s learned to be more cooperative during milkings we’ve stopped giving her so many treats, but it was helpful for bribery in the beginning.
7) Be patient. Consider that your goat’s temperament has a lot to do with how your milkings will go. Don’t be a perfectionist. Realize that sometimes you’ll have to end the milking before you’ve gotten every last drop. Sometimes your milk will be spilled. But with patience and practice, things might just get a little better!
Experienced goat owners: What advice would you give a milking newbie to set him or her up for success?
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I think I may have mentioned this already- oh, just maybe once or twice ;)- but we got a goat about a week and a half ago to go live in our neighbor’s barn and be a buddy for their one remaining goat. (I know, I know, I need to update my “about” page now…)
We had talked about and researched goats for a while, but I think that there’s just really no way to be properly prepared until you have one. It’s kind of like adding another child to your family in that way. Now that Leslie is home with us, we’ve been navigating the goat learning curve.
Overall, goat care has been fairly straightforward so far, and largely relegated to morning and evening tasks: a bit of grain during milking, fresh hay in the stall, lots of green browse to choose from, and fresh water to drink. That’s not so hard. But milking is really where the rub comes in.
There’s LOTS of “how to milk a goat” videos and tutorials online. But nobody really goes over what it’s like when the goat doesn’t just jump up and hold still for you while you do the deed.
You see, in order to milk the goat, I have to get her to the milk stand. Some days she makes this really easy by sitting there waiting for us at milking time. Other days she prefers to go to the far end of her paddock and wait for us to come get her. And on her particularly moody days, she digs her hooves in and refuses to walk. Tim is generally better than I am at getting her where we need her to go, but she’s fickle- so you just never know how she’ll react to either one of us.
The first day she got “mule syndrome,” as I call it, I gave up after a while and went to get my husband to coax her into the stall. The next day, I tried playing mental games with her. Maybe if I walk behind her, she’ll think walking into the stall is her idea, not mine, and she’ll like that better. It kind of worked. Another morning, J walked behind her with a stick (don’t worry, he didn’t whack her), and directed her towards the stall. That was even more effective. I think I’ve got a young goatherd on my hands. (Which is ironic, because our last name means “goat herder!”)
Once we get her into the stall, we’ve got to get her on the milk stand. When she would refuse to jump up, we’d have to do periodic “resets” by walking her around the stall once or twice before convincing her that it was now a new day and it was, in fact, okay to jump up on the milk stand now. And of course, there was some bribery with goat treats like carrots and bananas. She’s finally getting better at getting on herself, because she’s learned that she gets to eat her grain ration while being milked. (And who doesn’t want her grain ration?)
Then, there’s the milking part. This doe had kidded several times before, but had never really been kept on as a milk goat. When she was milked briefly, she was machine milked. Since we didn’t have a machine when we bought her, I learned how to hand milk.
We eventually got into the swing of it, but she still had little patience for my still-slow-milking pattern. She liked to demonstrate her lack of patience by sitting in the milk. Or stomping in it. Or kicking it over. Or kicking me or my husband. And complaining loudly.
Sigh. Our first several rounds of milk ended up on the floor of the stall instead of in our fridge.
We found some tricks that helped to calm her while milking. First, we try to create a quiet, soothing space so she feels at ease and lets down more easily. Secondly, her previous owner suggested “hugging” her middle while milking- and that did help to steady her a bit. When she resisted that, my hubby would gently but firmly hold her back legs while I milked. (I think I need one of them there hobble-thingers that Homestead Lady talks about in this post.)
(The real goat-milking hero in our household is my hubby. Tim is holding Leslie’s legs firmly while I attach the milker. And he’s wearing V. And he’s good looking, too.)(J helping out with brushing Les during milking- another calming technique we’ve learned.)
We ended up buying this battery powered goat milker (affiliate link) from Dansha Farms, because it’s what she’s used to being milked with. While I like hand milking better (the same way I prefer hand kneading to machine mixing for bread), it IS faster and more efficient. Plus, we figure this will make it easier for our potential goat sitters to do the milking while we’re away.
Our last learning curve has been scheduling milking time. Generally, about 6:30 a.m. & p.m. have been working well for us for milking. But with both of us involved in music and teaching activities in the evening, we’ve had to fudge it a few nights. A late milking makes for a full, unhappy goat- and as a mom who’s nursed both of her (human) kids, I can definitely relate to her sentiments. We’re trying to find the best consistent time for all of us.
So the goat learning curve has been steep- but not impossible. We’ve still got a lot to learn! I’m trying to talk to other goat owners and read goat articles. I joined a “goat health and care” Facebook forum. I’ve started a goat Pinterest board. And please, kind readers, if you have words of wisdom for these goat newbies, DO share them with us! We’ll take all the help we can get. 😉
But when I open up my fridge to find jars of fresh, sweet, creamy whole milk- even with a bit of cream on top- it makes the learning curve totally worth it. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction I get from participating in getting my food as close to the source as possible- and milking your own goat is about as close as you can get for dairy products.
Dear Leslie, we will learn together. We will get to be friends. We’ll make this thing work. Right? Right!!!
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