Basic Goat Care
Taking care of goats is a major responsibility. One goat keeper correctly summarized it as, "Goat-keeping is a 365-day a year job. You cannot just say 'I do not feel like taking care of the goats today.'" While one can occasionally delegate the responsibilities of taking care of goats to a qualified individual, a goat-keeper cannot just purchase goats, put them in a field, and expect them to be okay. Goat keeping is a life altering decision that the whole family should be in favor of!
You should keep at least two goats. A single goat will tend to be lonely and call for companionship.
Goats should be kept in a suitable home that offers the goats protection from drafts (strong wind currents). A three-sided shelter is suitable if the home is deep and offers the goats protection from rain. An ideal goat home is not air-tight.
Fences must be escape proof and predator proof! It is very important to ensure that dogs and other wild animals cannot get into the goat pen. It is also equally important that you pay attention to the strength of your goats. Goats are the worlds most intelligent escape artists!
During warm months, flies may bother goats. Most fly traps are ecologically acceptable. However, fly traps are useless unless an effort is made toward cleanliness in the goat home and pen.
A goats feed, hay and roughage is very important to their overall health! A goats stomach rules it's life! You should choose an economical feed that you can stick with! Goats don't do very well with extreme or hasty changes in their feed. If you do decide to change foods, change it over a week period! We use multiple kinds of foods, such as Southern States and Blue Seal Foods so that in the rare case one or the other is out of feed, it won't be such a shock to the goats system! Keep all grain in rodent prrof containers, such as sealed garbage bins or in clean metal drums! Let them get to healthy roughage if possible but be very careful, there are page-long lists of plants goats shouldn't eat. Goats need hay, pick a good hay supplier. An alfalfa, clover, or other mixed hay usually will surfice! Goats are sometimes a little finicky! A haystand should be provided that is designed in such a manner so that the hay will be kept off of the ground, with care given to ensure that goat kids cannot climb into it. Hay should be stored in a manner so that it does not touch the ground. For example, pallets, plastic, or wood can be used to protect it from the ground. Hay that is left close to the ground for long periods of time is likely to become moldy. Also try not to feed new cut green hay, it can cause bloat.
Goats need clean water everyday, all day! You can use troughs, pans, or clean buckets, preferably raised off of the ground a few inches. The bucket must be kept clean, as goats will not drink dirty water, or from a dirty bucket. Goats prefer cool water during the summer and they enjoy warm water when its cold outside to help warm up their tummies!
Goats should have baking soda and powdered minerals available on a free-choice basis. If you have questions about what to get feel free to ask! They usually carry these types of things at feed stores!
Goats, like all animals, need good care. A new goat owner should locate a Veterinarian who will treat goats, for many practices are limited to the care of cats and dogs. Medicine for small animals is different than for large ruminants. Therefore, try to locate a veterinarian who specializes in large ruminants, such as cows and horses. Most goats need to receive a yearly tetanus and extrotoxemia vaccine, although each region's requirements are different. Kids in selenium-deficient areas are usually given Bo-se shots by their Veterinarian. There are other things you may need a vet for. I do know of a few vets that will care for goats, but you should definitely have a good goat medicine book on hand! A good book can be a life saver.
Goats also need to be treated regularly for Internal Parasites (worms). Parasites quickly become resistant to dewormers if they are used continously! You should vary your wormer pretty regularly. There are different kinds, such as Safeguard, Ivomec, Cytomel, and also Herbal Dewormers you can get from Hoeggers Goat Supply.
Also, goats generally need their hoofs trimmed once a month. This is a relatively simple and quick procedure. I am willing to give lesson on hoof trimming if you would be interested when you pick up your goat! Thanks!
Basic Chicken Care
Feeding. Make sure your feeder is rated for the number of chickens you will be keeping, or that it holds enough weight in feed to feed your chickens. When you begin to free-range your hens, theyll eat less feed.
Feed your pullets a high protein feed (20% protein or greater) until they begin laying eggs. Then change their feed to a 14% - 16% protein feed. Most farm supply stores sell both Start-and-Grow and Layers Mash feeds. Make sure your feeder is at the right height to help keep them from wasting feed. Adjust the top rim of the feeder so that it is level with the hen's saddle (lowest part of her back).
Water. Your waterer should hold enough water for three or four days. You will need to change the water everyday, but you want to make sure they dont run out. Hens drink more when its hot and the heat evaporates more water. Fresh water is paramount to healthy chickens.
Egg Collection. Collect Eggs every day. Hens usually lay during the morning hours (before lunch). Most people collect eggs in the late afternoon. However, on hot days collect them before the temperature gets too high. When eggs sit in the nest at over 90 degrees for more than a few hours, the whites become very runny. The eggs are still okay to eat, but they dont look as appealing in the bowl.
Fresh Grass (if you plan to use a chicken tractor) Move your Henpen every third or fourth day to provide fresh grass for your hens and to give the soil a rest. Hens love fresh grass and the more they eat the better their eggs will taste. Fresh grass also produces eggs high in antioxidants. Remember, whatever she eats you eat!
Chicken droppings are very high in nitrogen. But too much manure can burn your grass. Allow the chicken manure to work into the soil by moving your Henpen every few days. In dry seasons some soak the ground where the Henpen sat before moving it. That helps to break down the larger pieces of chicken droppings and work it all into the soil where it becomes great fertilizer. Your entire lawn will be much greener if you move your Henpen from place to place.
Parasite Control. There are two primary parasites you need to know about when keeping hens: intestinal worms and mites.
Intestinal worms in hens are very rare, especially in small flocks like the ones in your Henpen. They are usually carried in by wild birds. My philosophy is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And its easy to do. We worm all of our hens on the first day of each month.
Heres how to do it. Take the drinker away from the hens the night before so theyll be thirsty in the morning. In the morning, mix two tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar into one gallon of water (make sure when you buy Apple Cider Vinegar is has "with mother" on the label). Pour it into the drinker and hang it in the Henpen. Let them drink the mixture all day. In the evening pour out the rest and fill the container with fresh water. (Dont rinse the container before putting in fresh water. The residual vinegar water will help control algae but not harm your chickens. I recommend adding a few drops of Apple Cider Vinegar to the water every time they fill it to control algae.)
Mites are rarely a problem in small backyard flocks. I like to keep it that way. Mites not only carry diseases, they literally eat your hens alive. Mites live on the bottom side of the roosts during the day and climb up onto your hens at night while they sleep. All night long they bite your hens and suck blood from their bodies
usually around the vent area. It is both painful and dangerous to your hens. Mites can kill a hen in a matter of days.
Mites have to breathe just like you and me. So to kill mites you simply smoother them by cutting off their air supply. On the first day of each month (when you worm your hens), paint the roosts with vegetable oil. Slather on the oil very liberally. The oil runs down around the bottom of the roosts where theyre hiding, and smoothers them.
We bought an inexpensive paintbrush at Wal-Mart and the Great-Value brand of vegetable oil. Unlike petroleum oils, vegetable oil is not toxic to your hens. My dad always used Linseed oil, but its expensive. Vegetable oil seems to work very well for us.
Alternative. Another preventative (and curative) measure for parasites is the use of diatomaceous earth. DE is expensive, but both organic and very effective. Do a google search and you'll learn a lot of neat stuff about this stuff.
We put a few ounces of DE on top of the feed once every month (when we worm our hens). They eat it and it kills all the bad little bugs in their systems.
Another usefull preventative measure is to put DE into "dusting boxes" made from plywood. We built dusting boxes 14"X14"X14. Put a lip around the top inside (to keep them from thowing out so much DE) and put about three inches of DE in the bottom of the box. The hens will love it.
Lighting. Hens lay less eggs in the winter time. Not because of the cold weather, but because of decreased light. As the days get shorter, its mother natures way of telling hens to stop producing eggs. After all, if they hatch chicks in December or January its not likely theyll survive the cold. Aint Mother Nature smart!
Anyway, weve found a way to trick Mother Nature. Or at least the hen anyway! By providing supplemental lighting, hens will continue to lay eggs all winter long without any decrease in production. Light stimulates the hen's pituitary gland, causing them to begin the process of producing an egg. (By-the-way, it takes 25 hours from the stimulation of the pituitary gland to the laying of an egg.) Hens need 8 hours of dark and 16 hours of light to stay happy. (Good eggs come from happy hens!) Always supplement their light in the morning, not in the evening. Allow them to have a natural sunset every evening. Theyll go to roost in a natural way. (Chickens are near blind in the dark. If you suddenly cut off the light they may find themselves stranded.) Set your timer so the light comes on in the morning.
Cleaning. My mother always used to say Cleanliness is next to Godliness. That was usually on a Saturday morning when she needed help cleaning the house! Well, cleanliness is certainly next to good-neighborliness! Keeping your chicken pen clean is important
more than just for your neighbors happiness.
Clean out your chicken pen every 6 weeks (or whenever it begins to stink). Eggshells are porous. They breathe. That means they will begin to take on the smells and odors of everything around them, including chicken manure.
Dont panic! You wont be eating any chicken manure! When a hen lays an egg, she puts a coating of a natural antibiotic on the egg to keep out disease. (Remember, her goal is to hatch that egg
yours is to eat that egg!) The natural antibiotic protects the egg from things like salmonella. If you wash the egg, you wash off the natural antibiotic, opening up the possibility of getting sick.
Before you clean your chicken pen, move the hens to a safe place. A dog kennel works great. Give them some fresh water and a little feed to keep them happy.
Once every year or so, disinfect your chicken pen with bleach. After cleaning it out, mix one cup of bleach into five cups of water. Spray the entire inside of the henhouse with the mixture. Spray as much of the inside of the run as you can reach. Let it dry with the doors open for no less than 4 hours. Once the bleach smell is gone, return your hens to the pen. This is preventative maintenance that can save the lives of your hens. We disinfect our big hen houses this way every time we rotate a flock. A few dollars and a couple of hours of time can save us thousands of dollars in sick or dead birds.
Free-Ranging Your Hens
Hens are natural foragers; they love bugs, worms and grass. They would much rather eat from the buffet in your backyard than the layers pellets you put into their feeders. And frankly, the buffet is far more nutritious than the layers pellets. The higher the protein in their diet the better the eggs they lay.
Eggs from free-ranging hens are chalked full of antioxidants and nutrients. Compare the yoke of a free-range egg to that of grain-fed egg. Theyre brighter, firmer and much tastier than their counterparts. Once youve had a fresh free-range egg, youll never see store bought eggs the same again!
How do you free-range your hens from your Henpen? IF you have a fenced in yard or plenty of space for them to roam, or it your neighbors dont mind hens scratching in their flower beds and gardens, free-ranging is simple. But
you have to bid your time.
Hens are very habitual birds. They like to roost in the same place every night. They like to lay eggs in the same place every day. So, if you want them to roost in your Henpen every night (where theyre safe) and lay eggs in your Henpen every morning (where you can find them), you have to train them. Its much easier then you think.
Getting Started. Start free-ranging for only a few hours each day. Dont give them the whole day
they may forget where home is! If the sun sets at 8:00 in the evening, let them out at 6:30 or 7:00 for a few days. You can sit and watch them forage and scratch. Its kind of fun. Within a few days theyll know where home is. Then you wont have to move your pen nearly as much
or clean it out nearly as often.
Dont let your hens out of the Henpen for two weeks. Move the Henpen from place to place every few days
but dont let the hens out. Within two weeks theyll grow accustomed to roosting in the Henpen and laying eggs in the nesting boxes. Then, after two weeks, simply open the gate beneath the henhouse and let them out.
Scratch and Treats
The most commonly-made mistake in caring for your hens is giving them too many treats! Scratch and treats should be given very sparingly. Would you give your children three big pieces of pie half an hour before dinner? Of course not! But, you might
give them one piece after dinner
if they eat all their vegetables. The same practice is good for your hens.
Just like children, hens need plenty protein and vegetables to grow up healthy and strong. Whats worse, if you give your hens too much scratch or treats theyll stop laying eggs!!! They MUST HAVE protein to produce eggs. Dont upset the balance by giving them handfuls and handfuls of treats.
Alternative Treats. Give your hens the lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves you would discard. Theyd love that spinach and green beans your six-year-old wouldnt eat. They love hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. (Well, maybe not Chevrolet
but you get the point.) They can have almost any table scraps. They love worms
worms are, well, meat. So, give them the extra hamburger or rib-eye or whatever meats are left over. (Careful with the fatty stuff.)
My wife likes to cook up an entire box of spaghetti noodles or full rice-cooker full of rice to take to our hens. (But
remember, were treating 500 plus hens
not just six! Dont get carried away!) They come running across the pasture every time we pull up in the truck. They have great memories!!!
I know a teenage girl who owns a Henpen who takes her hens a bowl of Cream of Wheat cereal every morning before she goes to school. Her hens sit on her arm and eat it right out of the bowl! Talk about spoiled!!! Theyre the tamest hens Ive ever seen!
WARNING! Be careful in giving hens scraps that are seasoned or spiced. Garlic, peppers, seasoned salt, onions or any strong flavor will flavor your eggs. So, keep it bland. And, NEVER give your hens uncooked potato peelings. For some reason they cant digest potato peelings. Imagine what jalapenos would do for your eggs.
What to do it you give them too much scratch or treats. I get two or three calls a month from people who have given their hens too much scratch or treats and now they have no eggs. What to do?
First, stop giving them so many treats. They will be unhappy with you but, like children, theyll live through it and be all the better for it later. Give them large quantities of protein to balance out all the treats you gave them. The best source of protein is meat. Worms are meat. Dig up some earth worms and throw them to the hens. Cut up some hot dogs and bologna and throw it to them. (They might even think theyre treats!) Do this for two days, then go back to strictly layers mash for a few days. That should put them back into egg-laying mode again.
If youve been free-ranging already, its not likely theyll stop laying if you over treat them. But, too many treats leads to fat hens. Fat hens dont live as long and dont produce eggs as long.
Hens who are fed only layers pellets and occasional treats can sometimes start laying eggs with brittle or soft shells. The cause of this is a lack of calcium in their diet. Free-range hens rarely have this problem. Hard shelled bugs (like ladybugs and beetles) are full of calcium so the hens get all they need from the bugs. I supplement my hens diet with oyster shell. Its cheap and easy to use. Put it in the henhouse next to the clean out door as a free choice food. Theyll instinctively know when they need it and go get it.
Another important supplement for hens is grit. What is grit? Grit is gravel. Thats right! Hens eat rocks! If theyre free-ranging theyre probably finding all the grit they need while they forage for food. We supplement ours anyway. We put ground granite in the henhouse next to the oyster shell. Its a free choice food and theyll eat it as they feel they need it.
This is probably a good place to say a word or two about medicine. We market our eggs as All Natural eggs. So, we would never give our hens anything that isnt all natural. However, were not cruel enough to just let a hen die if she gets sick.
We have found an All Natural oil remedy that works very well. Its called VetRx. You can get it at almost any farm supply store. I know Southern States carries it. Its a mixture of natural oils. Whenever a hen gets sick our first response is VetRx. We pull her out of the flock and put her in the hospital in my wood shop. We drop three or four drops into her beak each day for a few days. They usually recover and are returned to the flock.
However, if she doesnt get well, we inject her with 1 cc of Tylan 50 each day for a few days. If she recovers now we cannot return her to the flock because she is no longer All Natural. We nurse these hens back to health and sell them to a fellow who has a large flock of hens that are not All Natural. She goes on laying eggs and living a happy life on his farm.