Now that four years have passed since we first began operating Peeper Pond Farm, we have gained a lot of experience keeping goats—more than twenty months of it to date. Throughout that time, we have successfully bottle-fed and raised four kids to adulthood, treated and vaccinated our goats for numerous ailments from bloat to coccidiosis, trimmed their hooves, mucked out their barn, milked them and processed the milk into many useful dairy products. The only major elements of goat-keeping we have yet to experience is breeding and birthing. Now that we have decided we can manage the costs of our dairy operation at a very limited (homestead) scale, we have taken the necessary steps to begin the breeding and birthing process with Essie and Snowball.
One month ago, I took the first step by giving Essie a Cystorelin vaccination. Cystorelin is a drug used to prevent the growth of cysts on goat teats that can emerge during pregnancy. The cysts can make the process of milking a goat painful and unpleasant for the goat, resulting in a reluctant milker. I have learned from a number of my goat colleagues that Oberhasli goats (such as Essie) can be prone to these cysts. I decided it would be a wise precaution to vaccinate her ahead of her planned pregnancy to avoid any potential impacts on her kids. Snowball is a dwarf-Nigerian goat, which makes her less prone to teat cysts, so I elected not to treat her.
The second step began today with the arrival of a dwarf-Nigerian buck (Little Bit) loaned to us by Dale and Merrily Carroll. He will be spending the next two-to-four weeks with Essie and Snowball in the hope that he will breed with them. Dwarf Nigerians, unlike the larger goat breeds, can be bred throughout the year, while Essie comes into heat only during the fall months beginning around August and ending sometime before the end of the year. Since the normal pregnancy term for goats is approximately five months, Essie’s limited breeding times ensures that she will give birth during the warming winter and spring months, which allows the kids to mature during summer when temperatures and food supply are most conducive to survival. Dwarf Nigerians frequently give birth to more kids (upwards of four or five kids per birth), which increases the potential for survival if birthing occurs prior to the coldest months.
Oberhasli does, like Essie, can be difficult to breed, especially when the buck is smaller than she is. However, she did successfully mate with a dwarf Nigerian buck in 2017, and Little Bit, despite his name, is the taller of the two dwarf-Nigerian bucks the Carrolls currently own. If all goes well, Essie will have one or two cross-bred kids, which a number of my goat colleagues refer to as a “mini-Oberhasli,” although I don’t know if that is an officially-recognized classification.
When I first considered the nature of our dairy goat operation prior to our retirement, I explored local options for artificial insemination of our goats. We used this high-tech breeding practice on my childhood dairy farm operation in New Hampshire. We always sold our male calves to other dairy farms that chose to raise their own breeding stock or for veal. My adoptive father was far more interested in strengthening his herd’s milk productivity through selective breeding as a way to increase our milk sales income during a time when wholesale milk prices were declining. Even with the added expense of artificial insemination, I remember the disappointment my father expressed when one of his prized pure-bred cows failed to produce to his expectations. He would often relieve his disappointment by saying, “That cow would be worth more to me in the freezer (as a supply of meat) than she ever will in the milk pail.” However, he never gave up his faith in the promise of artificial insemination to improve and enhance his dairy line. To a large degree, he didn’t have any choice. Our farm didn’t have enough land to support any more cows than he was already milking.
We also did not want to raise bucks (male goats)—not because we were seeking to improve our milk supply through selective breeding, but because bucks are the source of strong odors that most people who think goats are “nasty” object to, and because we felt we didn’t have enough room on our farm to house them separately. However, when I evaluated the cost and effectiveness of artificial insemination for dairy goats, I quickly lost my initial interest. It was far too expensive for us to justify for such a small herd. The fact that Oberhasli does often fail to respond to artificial insemination breeding (thereby requiring repeated insemination attempts) didn’t make the approach more enticing. Our solution was to either bring our goats to a breeder or bring a buck to our goats for a quick romance. In the long run, it was the most cost-effective and practical solution to our special needs and limitations.
When Little Bit finally arrived in the early afternoon, Essie and Snowball weren’t sure what to make of him. The trio danced around the goat pen ramp like a goat merry-go-round for several minutes before they decided to get acquainted. Little Bit sniffed the girls and Essie tried to head-butt him several times to establish her dominance over the trio. Little Bit just shrugged it off. He knew who would eventually be calling the shots in this romance. Eventually, Essie showed more interest in him and appeared to be deciding he might be good for something after all. We can only hope it will be a match made in heaven.
We wish to thank Dale and Merrily for allowing Little Bit to visit our farm and perform his services. If all goes well, we will be welcoming a new generation of kids to our farm, all of which we hope to sell to local 4-H kids who want to raise goats for their spring and summer projects. Most of all, I look forward to the resumption of my daily milking chores and our rewarding supply of farm-fresh goat milk. Producing our own supply of milk is a good way of shielding ourselves from any future Coronavirus supply interruptions and gives us more control over our own food supply. That is a peace of mind that is difficult, if not impossible, to come by in modern society and is one of the reasons why we promote the virtues of self-reliant living and our traditional lifestyle folkways here at Peeper Pond Farm.