Deborah Niemann's Blog

June 22, 2017

goat constipation


In the past year or two I’ve suddenly started seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about goats with constipation. I’ve never had a constipated goat in my herd. Until recently, I had never even heard of a constipated goat. I started out my goat-raising education 15 years ago in Yahoo groups. I belonged to four goat groups back then, and I don’t recall anyone ever talking about this topic. Each group had a few hundred active members, many of whom posted questions and comments daily. Just to be sure my memory was not failing me, I decided to go back to those groups to see if I had somehow missed all of the conversations about constipated goats.


In one group, there was only one post that mentioned goat constipation in the 14 years that the group was active. A woman posted about how her assumption that her wether was constipated ended with having to euthanize him for urinary calculi. She wanted to warn other members that if you ever see a male goat straining, you should first seek treatment for urinary calculi, which can kill a goat within hours. Another group that was active for 18 years only had a couple of posts about goat constipation, mostly new people wondering how they’d know if they had a kid that was constipated. They were usually advised not to worry about it. When one person asked about an adult doe being constipated, she was advised to add wheat germ to her feed. A group that was active for 10 years had one cross-posted question that was the same as in another group. And one group never had a question about constipation in 12 years.


When searching various Facebook goat groups, there are some where constipation is discussed at least weekly. In others, it is mentioned once a year or less. So, why are there so many posts lately about this “problem,” which really is not a problem? I think it’s the goat owner’s version of med school syndrome — basically medical school students start to think that they are suffering from the diseases that they are studying. Yes, it’s a real thing. The more people talk about constipation in some of the groups, the more other owners think their goats have it. I saw the same thing in a chicken group with egg binding a couple of years ago.


Unfortunately a few years ago, a popular goat website published an article about constipation in newborns, calling it a “common” problem that can kill kids quickly. This post is quoted frequently in some groups. If I were completely new to goats and read that article, I might be a little paranoid about my kids’ pooping, but after having 550 kids here, and without a single case of constipation, I’d say it is not a common problem in newborns. Even if I had one tomorrow, that would mean it happened in 0.02% of kids. Unfortunately, that post mentioned no research or even anything in the veterinary literature.


It says that symptoms of constipation in a kid are a big, firm belly, not wanting a bottle, and standing hunched up with tail down. Those symptoms do not spell out a conclusive diagnosis of constipation or anything in particular. “Hunched up with tail down” is the classic posture that means a kid is unhappy and could be suffering from a painful disease or is simply cold, according to veterinary texts and my own personal observations. In Diseases of the Goat, Matthews says that a distended belly in a kid may be due to “prematurity, congenital abnormalities, alimentary tract defect, kidney defect, heart defect, high alimentary tract obstruction, pyloric obstruction, abomasal obstruction.” In older kids, it can be due to “abomasal bloat, ruminal bloat, mesenteric torsion, inadequate nutrition, and gastrointestinal parasitism.” An enema, which is the suggested remedy on that site, won’t help any of those problems and would simply make a sick kid feel worse.


According to Goat Medicine, second edition, by Smith and Sherman, the reasons for constipation in goats, in general, are intestinal blockage, pregnancy toxemia, coccidiosis, poisoning, liver damage, dehydration, or lack of fiber in the diet. In other words, it is usually caused by a serious medical problem that needs attention — or by a diet that needs to be corrected. Nothing in this list will be fixed by an enema. The 800+ page veterinary text does not mention constipation in newborns at all.


According to the newly released fourth edition of Diseases of the Goat by John Matthews, constipation is common in artificially reared kids “in certain herds” as a result of management practices that dictate too much grain and not enough water. In other words, dehydration and not enough fiber. He only mentions plant poisoning as a cause of constipation in mature goats. On the flip side, there is a 28 page chapter on diarrhea.


The word “constipation” is not in the index of Goat Science and Production by Sandra Solaiman. It’s hard to believe that all of the goat veterinary texts would ignore something if it were a common problem, especially one that kills kids quickly.


It’s obvious that humans have a lot of problems with constipation. In 2015, American spent $1.2 billion on laxatives, so some people just assume all critters have the same poorly functioning digestive systems. But it’s widely accepted that human digestive problems are due to diets that are high in artificial ingredients and very low in fiber, as well as food sensitivities, which are not issues with goats, assuming you’re not feeding them Twinkies and Ho Hos. However, a lot of people think constipation is “normal,” and that we have to make ourselves poop. This is not true with animals that are eating a natural diet. In 15 years, I’ve never had a single cow, sheep, goat, pig, llama, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or any animal on this farm get constipated.


Unfortunately, constipation is becoming such a hot topic that too many people are assuming that it’s a problem with one of their goats. In many cases, there is nothing wrong with the goat at all. One woman described a doe that was basically acting like a buck, arching her back and making weird noises, which can be common when they’re in heat. Another person had a buck that started thrusting when she was taking his temperature, which is also normal, yet the first person to comment suggested that the goat was constipated. Another had a young buck that was arching his back in a manner that is perfectly normal for a buck that’s trying to figure out how to start acting like a buck. “Arching the back” is sometimes the only “symptom” mentioned by people who think they have a constipated goat. Yet, goats don’t arch their back when they poop.


Another woman had a one-day-old kid that was standing hunched up with tail down and refused a bottle, and she assumed it was constipated — even though it was a dam-raised baby that had never had a bottle. Rather than working harder to get colostrum into the kid, she gave it multiple enemas, which is advised by that post. I have almost never had a dam-raised kid that wanted a bottle, even if it was on the verge of starvation. If a newborn kid is weak, the first thing you have to do is get colostrum into it, and you cannot expect it to grab an artificial nipple and start sucking. (You have to hold the nipple in its mouth while the milk drips and the kid swallows. If a kid cannot swallow, then you have to tube feed.) In this case, the kid was one of quadruplets, and it is not unusual for a kid in that situation to wind up starving because there are only two teats. Unfortunately the kid in this case died.


Then there are stories like the one I found in the Yahoo group from more than ten years ago where the woman assumed her wether was constipated when he really had a urinary blockage. In addition to making a goat very unhappy by giving them an enema, you are wasting time not figuring out what is really wrong with your goat — or what’s normal about your goat. Constipation should never be the first diagnosis you make whenever a goat looks a little off. Goat constipation is a very big deal on the rare occasion when it does happen. If you do have a constipated goat, it may have one of the very serious conditions listed above that would need veterinary attention. An enema doesn’t fix any of those problems.


Or you need to make sure that your goats have plenty of clean water available 24/7 and that they have access to enough hay and forage. Without enough water, they are also more likely to get urinary calculi, which is life-threatening. With too much grain and not enough forage and hay, they are more likely to wind up with serious rumen disturbances that can also be life-threatening. In fact, enterotoxemia, bloat, and thiamine deficiency are all well-documented conditions caused by feeding errors and are much more common than constipation.


And if you’re feeding Twinkies and Ho Hos to your goats, please just stop.


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Published on June 22, 2017 06:00 • 2 views

June 19, 2017

bringing home goats


Tis the season for buying goats! Since most goats give birth in spring, and because dam-raised kids can’t be sold until they’re two or three months old, now is the time when new goat owners are bringing home their babies. Here are answers to the most common questions I receive from customers.


Transporting goats

One of the things I love about raising goats is that I don’t have to buy an expensive trailer to transport them. Goats can easily be transported in dog crates. Two or three young Nigerian dwarf or pygmies can fit into a large crate, while two or three standard-sized kids might need an extra large. You can ask the breeder what size they are, to be sure, especially if they are more than four months old. If you are buying adults, you’d need a large crate for one ND or pygmy and an extra large crate for a standard sized. If you are buying a buck that’s old enough to breed, he should be in his own crate.


The crate can sit on the back of a pickup truck, but if it has a topper on it, be aware of how hot it might get in the summer sunshine when all closed up. Goats would be fine back there in winter, but if it gets above 100 degrees, it could be dangerous for them. The crate can also sit in a minivan or SUV, if it’s a plastic crate. You could use a wire crate, but be aware that if a goat squats to pee in a wire crate, they could wind up peeing on the inside of your vehicle. (Do I have to tell you how I know this?) You might want to set the crate on a shower curtain that’s been covered by an old sheet to absorb the urine so it doesn’t run off the shower curtain. It’s also a good idea to put straw or wood shavings in the crate to absorb urine during the trip.


If the goats will only be transported for a couple of hours, you don’t need to worry about food and water. If the trip will be three hours or longer, it’s nice to give them some hay to munch on during the trip. If it’s going to be four hours or longer, it’s a good idea to stop after a couple of hours and offer them a drink of water. Don’t leave water in the crate, however, because odds are good that they’d spill it.


Getting ready at home

Hay and hay feeder — If your goats will be spending the night in the barn, they need hay. If they’re living in a pasture 24/7, and it has plenty of grass, you may not need much of it, but it’s a good idea to at least know where you can buy hay, if the goats go through the pasture faster than you expect. You don’t want to let them eat the grass down to the dirt. Learn more about rotational grazing with this post.


In addition to reducing parasite problems that can be caused by feeding hay on the ground, you will also save a lot of hay by using a hay feeder. Goats are surprisingly picky about eating off the ground. If you put hay on the ground, they will eat far less than if it were in a hay feeder. It’s bad enough that if it is in a hay feeder, they won’t eat hardly any that falls on the ground.


Feed pan and grain — If you are buying wethers (castrated males), they really should not have grain. If you want to get some to use as a treat in the beginning, you can do that, but once the first bag is gone, don’t buy another one. Feeding grain to them increases their risk of urinary calculi. Bucks don’t usually need it either, for the same reason. Doe kids may or may not need grain, depending upon a variety of factors. It’s a good idea to ask the breeder if they have been feeding grain so that you don’t make any sudden changes in the diet. At most, they would need 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup twice a day. Does on the milk stand normally eat grain while they’re being milked, and most goat feeds recommend something around 1 pound of grain (feed) for every 3 pounds of milk produced, but check the bag for feeding directions. For more information about feeding pregnant does, click here.


mineral feederFree-choice goat minerals: Selenium-E (left) and Sweetlix Meat Maker (right)

Mineral feeder — Goats need loose goat minerals available free choice, which means you need a mineral feeder. Check out my post on Goat Minerals: Why, What, and How for more information on the importance of minerals and what your goats need.


Bedding — Most goat owners use either wood shavings or straw as bedding in their barn. It soaks up urine, and the poop falls to the bottom. Price usually makes the decision for most people. We live in wheat country, so straw is cheapest for us. But if you live in an area that has lumber mills, you might find that shavings are cheaper. If you don’t have bedding, your goats will wind up laying in their own poop and pee, and that’s just gross.


Water bucket — Goats need fresh water daily. This is one reason it’s not any additional work to care for three or four goats than it is to care for one. Even if they don’t finish a bucket of water, you need to dump it and give them fresh water once or twice a day. If you see poop in it, it must be changed immediately. Goats won’t drink from a bucket that has poop in it. A two-gallon bucket is fine if you have only a few goats. Once you have five or six goats it’s better to get a second two-gallon bucket than to provide a single five-gallon bucket. It’s that poop thing. If a goat poops in a bucket, it’s always nice to have another bucket available for them, in case it’s still a few hours from chore time.


Milk stand — If you are buying a doe in milk, you need a milk stand. Do not even try to milk a goat without a milk stand. Very few does will stand in the middle of a barn and let you milk them, and it is not worth trying when you are new to milking, and you have a doe that’s a total stranger to you. Click here to learn more about milking a goat.


To learn more about goats, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Goats.


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Published on June 19, 2017 06:00 • 3 views

June 15, 2017


When you decide to start a homestead, whether in the city or country, it can be tempting to buy a few critters of every species that you can afford and that your property or home owner’s association will allow. But that may not be the best approach. Trust me on this. That’s exactly what we did. Within only a few months we had chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, and cattle. Within a year we’d added sheep and rabbits, and pigs came shortly after that. Some of these animals are definitely more challenging than others. So, where do you start?


Chickens and other poultry

pastured poultryNo doubt about it — chickens are the gateway livestock. I often say that if you can take care of a cat or dog, you can take care of chickens. Because most cities allow chickens, you may not even need to move. And because they don’t require a lot of space, they can easily fit into a backyard. If you go out of town for the weekend, you can fill up the waterer and feeder, and they’ll be fine until you return. Most neighbors are more than happy to collect eggs for you daily, especially if you tell they can keep the eggs they collect. For more on keeping chickens in the city, click here. If you’re worried that chickens will give you bird flu or give lice to your children, check out this post.


What about ducks or other poultry? Chickens are definitely the easiest. I do not recommend ducks unless you have a pond. No, the ducks don’t have to have a pond, but most duck owners are happier when their ducks have a pond. They do have to splash around in water and submerge their head, so they make a big mess if you try to use a chicken waterer — and they can’t submerge their head in that anyway. Do you really want to be filling up and dumping a kiddie pool for them every day? Do you want to be cleaning out a coop every day because of all the splashed water?


Turkeys are almost as easy as chickens. They have a slightly higher mortality rate as babies, but once they’re a couple weeks old, they are not much different than chicks. They do get a lot bigger than a chicken though, and some people find them scary.


Hair sheep

Ten years ago I did not understand why anyone would want hair sheep. Now we raise them. Back then we had Shetlands, and I said it made no sense to have an animal that will only give you one product (meat) when you could so easily have an animal that gives you two products (meat and wool) for the same investment of time and feed, other than an annual shearing. But then my daughters moved away, and the wool and roving began to pile up. Without my oldest daughter to market the wool through the Internet and fiber shows, it went nowhere. As much as I loved the Shetlands, I finally decided to sell them all. Within a couple of weeks, I had my three pregnant Katahdins, which naturally shed their coat, so they don’t require shearing.


One reason a small homesteader might prefer hair sheep is that sheep shearers are getting to be as rare as hen’s teeth in some parts of the country. And it’s almost impossible to get someone to come to your farm to only shear a few sheep. Our shearer had a 20-sheep minimum, which was not a problem for us, but that’s a lot of sheep for someone who just wants to feed themselves.


Hair sheep graze, so they don’t require additional feed in the summer, and you give them hay during the winter. You just need to make sure they have water available all the time, as well as good fencing, although they don’t challenge fences like goats and pigs.


Dairy goats

milkingIf you want to produce your own dairy products, goats are easier to handle than cows and produce more milk than sheep. Goats also eat less and poop less than cows, meaning less barn work. Although you don’t have to milk 365 days a year if you let moms raise their babies, you will have to be committed to milking at least daily after kids are sold or buck kids are weaned (to avoid unwanted pregnancies because they reach sexual maturity at only a few months).


You can make almost all the same cheeses and dairy products with goat milk as you can with cow milk. We’ve made cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, colby, gouda, and other cheeses totaling around 18 varieties. We also make yogurt and buttermilk. The only product I find disappointing with goats is butter because it does not have that “buttery” taste that cow milk butter has. It is also white, so I always felt like I was spreading Crisco on my toast.


Some people worry they won’t like the taste of goat milk. Although each mammals milk tastes slightly different, it should not taste bad. If it tastes “goaty,” there is usually a sanitation problem, although I have heard of a few goats that simply produced milk that tasted like that. Even after 15 years, goaty-tasting milk still makes me gag. But with good sanitation, that’s not a problem.


For more info on goats, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Goats.


Why not pigs and cattle?

In a word — size. If you are totally new to livestock, it is far less intimidating to get started with animals that do not outweigh you. We got Irish dexter cattle within a month of moving to our homestead, and I nearly had a heart attack more than once. I chose them because they were the smallest breed, but I quickly learned that there is not much difference between a 500-pound cow and a 1000-pound cow when it comes to handling them.


We started with Tamworth pigs but eventually moved to American Guinea Hogs because of size and temperament. Although the guineas do outweigh us, they max out at 250-300 pounds, so they’re not nearly as scary as a 800-pound hog or bigger.


You can’t have just one!

 Keep in mind that all livestock are prey animals, which means they need to be in groups to feel safe. This means you need a flock of chickens or sheep, a herd of goats, and so on. It doesn’t work to have a chicken, a sheep, and goat because they don’t speak the same language. They don’t eat the same food. Plus, it is not more work to care for three or four of a species than just one. They all need food and water daily, and even if the waterer or water bucket isn’t empty, it needs to be dumped and filled with fresh water to keep your animals healthy.


On the flip side — you also don’t need to start with too many animals. If you are planning on breeding, your flock or herd will grow faster than you think. Since sheep and goats usually have twins or more, your herd will more than double annually.


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Published on June 15, 2017 06:52 • 3 views

June 12, 2017

“Trees grow faster, with wider trunks. Shrubs and perennial flowers bloom more profoundly. Vegetables and fruit and nut trees yield more abundantly.” – Robert Kourik


[image error]How is this possible? In the quote above, the author of Drip Irrigation: For Every Landscape and All Climates is referring to the benefits of drip irrigation, compared to watering your garden by hand or using sprinklers. Kourik explains that drip irrigation is much more time and cost effective and helps to conserve water (studies have shown 50-70% savings) as well as fossil fuels. Additionally, he has found that crops grow better with drip irrigation and are less vulnerable to weeds and diseases.


Kourik turns what could be a very complicated and dry topic into an incredibly clear step-by-step guide for choosing and installing the different parts of a drip irrigation system. While it doesn’t cover every single drip irrigation option, the book focuses on those systems which Kourik has found to work the best. One of the most useful parts of the book is the illustrations which show every drip irrigation component and how they all fit together.


How much water do your crops need?

Have you heard that it is better to water less often, but for longer periods of time and more deeply? Actually, this is a misconception. Instead, Kourik explains that watering more frequently, but for shorter periods of time can actually use less water and produce healthier crops. And, he says that shallow watering is best. It is most important to water the top two feet of soil as this space contains 50% of all of the water and most of the nutrients absorbed by a plant.


According to Kourik, the simplest way to determine how much water your crops need each day is to use local evapotranspiration (ET) rates. The ET rate reflects how much water is lost from the soil and plant foliage and needs to be replaced through watering. Temperature, humidity, wind speed, and the percentage of the ground which is covered by the plant’s foliage is taken into account when calculating the rate. ET rates also vary in different seasons and climates, and you should be able to find out your local rates from your Cooperative Extension office or Master Gardeners. Using your local ET rates and the table below from the book, you can determine how many gallons of water your garden bed needs each day. 

For example, a 1×10 foot garden bed (10 square feet) will need 1.87 gallons of water each day when the ET rate is 9 inches per month. When plants are young and their foliage covers less of the ground, the ET rate is lower. Once their foliage covers most of the soil, you can use the total square footage of the garden bed border.


Different plants also have different ET rates as they conserve more moisture than other plants. Once you know how to calculate how many gallons of water your plants need per day, Kourik also explains how to determine how long it will take to water your plants using different drip irrigation systems.


Customizing drip irrigation for your garden needs

In addition to learning all of the key parts of a drip irrigation system and how to assemble them, you’ll also learn from this book how to:





Hide your irrigation system below ground or using mulch  
Install drip irrigation in planters, hanging pots, and other containers
Use drip irrigation for trees and shrubs
Use drip irrigation for raised vegetable beds, vegetable beds without wooden boxes, and row crops
Use drip irrigation and grey water (and its risks)
Use drip irrigation with cisterns, rain barrels, and other tanks
Control drip irrigation with different types of timers and controllers
Maintain, clean, store, organize, and winterize your drip irrigation system



As I’ve mentioned previously, I recently purchased land to begin my homestead. This spring, I planted a big garden and am now very focused on trying to keep everything alive and thriving! Many people have encouraged me to install drip irrigation, but I was intimidated by all of the different systems and components. But, after reading this book, I feel very equipped to select the right drip irrigation system and I’m actually excited about installing it!


Want to win a copy and learn how to select and install drip irrigation?

In addition to giving me a free copy to review, the publisher of Drip Irrigation has agreed to give away a copy of the book to one of our blog readers in the United States. So, check out the giveaway instructions below. Be sure to use your real name when leaving a comment so that we can match it up with your entry in case you win. You’ll have one week to respond with your address if you win or we will draw another winner. Make sure to check back on the website when we announce the winner and check your spam folder so you won’t miss our email!

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Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.


This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Thrifty Homesteader will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support.


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Published on June 12, 2017 06:00 • 2 views

June 8, 2017

milking donkeys


For those with food sensitivities who are unable to drink cow, goat, or sheep milk, there are other alternatives. In addition to milking her East Friesian sheep, Angelia Silvera of Gods Blessing Farm in Niota, Tennessee, started milking donkeys more than a year ago because of her health problems.


“Donkey milk has healed my stomach and digestive issues, and cured food allergies so I can eat many foods I thought I’d never enjoy again,” she explains. She originally bought donkeys as guardians for her poultry, and then she ran across information online about milking them. She had two pregnant jennies, and after they had their babies, she started milking them. She now has five jennies and a jack for breeding.


Since donkeys have not been selectively bred as milk producers, they don’t produce a lot. Standard size and mammoth donkeys give about a quart a day, with miniature donkeys producing less. However, “with careful and creative management I was even able to get a quart a day from my 40-inch, small standard jenny.” They can maintain lactation for eight months to a year.


Angelia has milked sheep and goats in the past and said that their teats are similar. Miniature donkey teats are about the same size as Nigerian dwarf goats, and the standard and mammoth donkeys have teats more like the standard sized goats.


Although donkey milk has too little casein in it to be used for making cheese, it can be used in cooking and to make soap.


In addition to using donkeys for milk and as livestock guardians, they can also be used for riding or pulling a cart or farm implements, making them a multi-purpose addition to the homestead.


This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living, second edition.


Angelia also happens to be one of the presenters at the HomeGrown Food Summit where she’ll give you more details about how she milks her donkeys and uses their milk!


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Published on June 08, 2017 05:00 • 2 views

June 5, 2017

polled goats


The genetics behind what causes a goat to be polled or blue-eyed is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in the goat world. It starts with a simple misunderstanding of what dominant and recessive mean when we’re talking about genes. A lot of people think that recessive equals rare, and that dominant means that if a goat has the gene, their kids will have it. In other words, they think that 100% of offspring will have a dominant trait. Those definitions are incorrect, but that explains why some people say that blue eyes and polled genes are recessive. They are, in fact, dominant in goats. Here is the definition of dominant, according to MedicineNet.com:


Dominant — A genetic trait is considered dominant if it is expressed in a person who has only one copy of that gene. A dominant trait is opposed to a recessive trait which is expressed only when two copies of the gene are present.


In other words, if a goat has a dominant gene, that gene will be expressed. So, if a goat has a gene for polled or blue eyes, that goat will be polled or blue-eyed. A goat cannot be a carrier of a dominant gene if it does not express that gene. So, if you see an ad for a horned or disbudded goat that “carries” the polled gene, the seller is either misinformed or dishonest.


Horns and brown eyes are recessive

I don’t normally say “never,” but … Two brown-eyed goats will not have blue-eyed kids. Two horned goats will not have a polled kid. Once in awhile you will hear that two disbudded goats had a polled offspring, but it’s pretty well accepted that when that happens, it points to human error. If one of the grandparents is not polled, it could mean that the breeding records are incorrect, and a polled buck bred the doe. But if one of the grandparents is polled, it means that the person who disbudded one of those parents made a mistake.


If you raise polled goats, you know that some kids can keep you guessing about their horned status for a week or two — sometimes even three or four weeks with does. Bucks are pretty easy because if they’re horned, you can normally feel the horn buds at birth. We have only had one horned buckling whose horn buds were not obvious at birth. I don’t think we have ever accidentally disbudded a polled goat, but it’s easy to see how someone could do that, especially when they’re new.


On the flip side, because horns and brown eyes are recessive, there is a 25% chance of having a brown-eyed kid from two blue-eyed parents. There is also a 25% chance of having a horned kid from two polled parents. This is assuming that the parents are heterozygous. If one of the parents is homozygous for one of those traits, then all of their offspring will have that trait.


Homozygous and heterozygous

The reason that only 50% of kids from a polled parent will be polled is because most (if not all) polled goats in North America are heterozygous. A heterozygous polled goat has only one polled gene because it had one polled parent and one horned parent. (You could also get a heterozygous polled goat from two heterozygous parents. See blue-eyed chart below and substitute “polled” for “blue eyes.”) A homozygous polled goat could have two polled genes because it had two polled parents. The same is true for blue eyes.


Each parent will give each kid one gene for eye color and horn status. Let’s use eye color in this example. If a parent has brown eyes, then it has two brown eyed genes, and it can only give each kid a gene for brown eyes. If a parent has blue eyes, and it had one brown eyed parent and one blue-eyed parent, then it is heterozygous for blue eyes. It can give its offspring either a blue-eyed or a brown-eyed gene, and each one happens about 50% of the time.


If one of the parents is homozygous for blue eyes, that means that it has two copies of the blue-eyed gene. It received a blue-eyed gene from each of its parents. Because blue eyes are dominant, and because this goat can only give its kids a gene for blue eyes, then 100% of its kids will have blue eyes.


Unfortunately, you don’t know if a goat is homozygous for blue eyes at birth unless it came from two homozygous blue-eyed parents. If kids have one homozygous and one heterozygous parent, that heterozygous parent could have passed along its gene for brown eyes, but because brown eyes are recessive, the kids will all have blue eyes. In fact, half of the kids will have a recessive gene for brown eyes and half will have two copies of the blue-eyed gene, so although all kids will have blue eyes from that breeding, half will carry a gene for brown eyes.


blue-eyed goatsThree out of four kids (75%) from this genetic combination will have blue eyes.

This chart shows what will happen if you breed two heterozygous blue-eyed goats. That means each parent has one blue-eyed and one brown-eyed gene. One-fourth of the kids will have blue eyes with two genes for blue eyes, which means that when they are bred later in life, all of their kids will have blue eyes because they only have blue-eyed genes to give. Half of the kids (25% + 25%) will have blue eyes with a recessive brown-eyed gene, and 25% of the kids will have brown eyes because they got a brown-eyed gene from both parents.


Why are polled goats less common than horned?

The predominance of horned goats may have as much to do with human nature as goat genetics. In the 1940s and 50s, there were several studies done on polled genes in goats. They concluded that when two polled goats were bred to each other, there was a higher rate of hermaphrodites or intersex goats. It also raised the question of whether there might also be a terminator gene in female goats that had two polled genes because one study showed a very high percentage of male kids when two polled goats were bred to each other.


There were 1,362 kids in the 1964 study, so the number was quite significant. In the group where a homozygous polled buck was bred to a heterozygous polled female, 86 kids were male, 28 were female, and 26 were hermaphrodites. Even if you assume that the 26 hermaphrodites were originally females, it is still a lot less than 50% female, leading to the terminator theory. In other words, female embryos died. This turned off most people to the idea of polled goats — even though the studies clearly showed that breeding a polled goat to a horned goat had no such outcomes. In my early years of goat breeding, twice I came across older people who were switching from a larger breed to ND goats, and they were adamantly opposed to having any polled goats.


Unlike cattle and sheep, where you can find entire breeds of polled animals, there are no polled breeds of goats. In fact, there are no polled herds of goats. However, as more new people get involved in goat breeding, and they hate the idea of disbudding, polled goats are becoming popular once again. There have even been groups on social media, such as Yahoo and Facebook, where determined breeders are breeding polled to polled goats and reporting their results. The challenge with polled goats is that the location of the polled gene is very close to the gene for the determination of sex, so although the number of polled goats could certainly increase drastically, it’s unlikely that polled goats will ever become more common than horned.


polled goats


Keep in mind that when you are talking about odds, 50/50 does not mean that every other goat will have horns. Over the long haul, you will get 50% polled goats if one of the parents is polled. But you will have some years with more or less than that. One year I had a doe that gave birth to quads, and they were all polled. Another year, I had a polled buck that sired nine kids, and every one of them was horned. Believe me, we were really starting to second guess ourselves towards the end! But the next year he made it up for with more than 50% polled kids.


Hopefully, this explanation — and the charts — have helped to shed some light on this topic and clear up some misconceptions.


For more information, you can also check out the website for the American Goat Society, which also has an explanation of the polled gene in goats.


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Published on June 05, 2017 06:00 • 3 views

June 1, 2017



If you’ve ever wanted to attend a homesteading conference but couldn’t leave the homestead, then you’ll be excited to learn about Marjory Wildcraft’s Third Annual HomeGrown Food Summit, which is happening entirely online. Even better, you can watch for free!


What can you learn?

How to make compost in 18 days
How to keep critters from turning your garden into a buffet
How to buy the perfect greenhouse the FIRST time
Urban farming
Tree pruning
How to grow vegetables three times faster than usual
How to grow 75% of your food in only 10 hours per week
How to milk donkeys
Organic methods for controlling insects
Making your own herbal medicines
and so many more!

Marjory has lots of connections in the natural living, permaculture, and sustainable living community, and she’s recruited an amazing lineup of speakers — Joel Salatin, Geoff Lawton, Sally Fallon, Sayer Ji, Justin Rhodes, Hannah Crum, Diana Rodgers, and a lot more! I’m incredibly honored to be included among the presenters, and I’ll be talking about how to choose the right livestock guardian for your farm or homestead.


There will be 40 sessions total, and you’ll be able to watch them 24 hours a day for 7 days starting Monday, June 12. There will also be an encore day when the most popular videos will be aired again. Click here to register and get your free ticket. You’ll receive an email every day of the summit, giving you the schedule of talks that will be available that day. I’ve signed up and tuned into both of the previous summits. This year, I’m especially looking forward to “24 of the Most Useful Wild Plants” and “Crickets — The Superfood of Sustainability.” Yes, I said crickets. I had the chance to try some two years ago when I was speaking at a conference in Canada, and they’re actually pretty awesome and versatile.


Now, someone always asks about this — what if you can’t watch the day of a specific presentation that you wanted to watch? Or if you live in the middle of nowhere like me, sometimes the Internet is so slow that it’s impossible to watch a video online. The whole summit will also be available for purchase so that you can watch whenever you want and as many times as you want.


Click here to see the full list of speakers and topics and to register and get your free ticket. If it’s anything like previous years, I’m sure there will be plenty of great talks worth watching.


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Published on June 01, 2017 05:00 • 2 views

May 29, 2017

cob oven


Because we don’t have central air conditioning, we try to keep our house naturally cool during the summer. That means we cook indoors as little as possible. Through the years, we’ve used a modern grill on our deck and then we added a solar oven. Ultimately we built a cob oven. The main thing I love about having a cob oven is that it gets us one step closer to self-reliance. There is no electric or gas bill associated with us using it. The wood comes from our farm.


Cob is a traditional building material made of clay, sand, and straw. It creates a thermal mass, which absorbs heat from the fire, then stays hot for several hours. It doesn’t have a chimney, as the smoke billows out the door. After the fire has been going for a couple of hours, the coals are traditionally raked out. The door is placed on the oven to let the heat equalize for a few minutes, then we place the food in the oven for cooking. The temperature is usually in the upper 300s, although it has been more than 400 a couple of times. Sometimes, instead of raking the coals out, we simply push them to the side if we want our food to taste smoky. Since we have hickory trees on our farm, we use the hickory wood so that we can have real hickory smoked chicken or ham.


The base of the oven was built on a concrete pad. We created a ring of bricks and then filled the open space with empty bottles. Then we filled the space between the bottles with sand. We covered the sand with a layer of clay, which created the oven floor. The bottles insulate the oven from the earth, so the oven will stay hot longer.


To create the cavity that will be the inside of the oven, we created a large mound of sand, which was later pulled out when the dome of the oven was hardened. The dome is made of three layers. The first layer is a mixture of sand and clay. The second layer contains empty glass bottles for insulation, with sand and clay between them. The top layer is clay, sand, and sawdust. After it dried, and we’d used the oven for a few months, we added a layer of lime plaster with fabric dye for decoration. The oven needs to be protected from hard rain at all times. For now, we put a tarp over it when it’s not in use, but eventually we plan to build a shelter with a roof over it. This will also make it nicer for us to use it when it’s raining or extremely hot and sunny.


homegrown and handmadeThis is an excerpt from the second edition of Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living. Pre-order an autographed copy of the book by June 1 by clicking here, and you’ll also receive two bonuses! I’ll email you a coupon code so you can enroll FREE in my online soapmaking class that will start in June (regular price $27). You’ll also receive a 25-page recipe supplement for more ideas to prepare your homegrown meat, cheese, eggs, and produce. My publisher says I should have books in hand by June 7, so your credit card will not be charged before that.


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Published on May 29, 2017 06:00 • 2 views

May 25, 2017

[image error]During my cross-country farm tour last fall, I stopped by Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Iowa and was overwhelmed by their amazing heirloom seed collection and the many other resources that they offer. So, I was excited to read Seed to Seed, which was written by one of SSE’s seed researchers – Suzanne Ashworth. At Del Rio Botanical near Sacramento, California, Ashworth conducts seed research and sales, runs consumer and restaurant supported agriculture, and leads workshops about organic gardening, seed saving, and other topics.


Something that stands out about this book is that Ashworth has grown all of the 160 vegetable varieties included in the book as well as tested all of the storage and seed saving techniques herself. She only included seed saving techniques which were successful over several seasons and techniques which were supported by published literature. Seed to Seed is a comprehensive and foundational reference guide for small-scale vegetable seed saving.


Easiest Seeds for Getting Started

Compared to insect- or wind-pollinated plants, Ashworth explains that self-pollinated plants are the easiest to work with when getting started with seed saving. Self-pollinated plants contain both male and female flower parts within the same flower. Considered to be “perfect flowers,” they do not need insects or the wind in order to be fertilized. Examples of self-pollinated plants include peas, beans, endives, peanuts, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, and malabar spinach.


Seed Storage Tips

Ashworth covers seed cleaning methods – wet processing, dry processing, and hot water treatments – in great detail as well as seed cleaning equipment. She says that high temperature and high moisture are the two greatest threats to maintaining vigorous seeds. To prevent seeds from losing their ability to germinate, Ashworth offers the following seed storage tips:



Containers for collecting seeds: Collect seedpods in woven or bushel baskets, paper bags, feed sacks, or cardboard boxes. Collect seeds from moist fruits or berries in plastic buckets. To avoid mixing seed varieties, do not reuse the bags or boxes.
Maintaining temperature and humidity levels: The sum of the temperature (degrees F) and relative humidity should not exceed 100. Maintaining humidity levels is especially important to keep microorganisms from harming the seeds.
Containers for storing seeds: Airtight glass or metal containers work best for storing seeds. The jar should be kept in a dark, cool, and dry place with steady temperature levels such as an underground root cellar.
Long-term frozen seed storage: If seeds are dried to about 8% moisture, then they can be frozen and stored in an airtight container. Use color-indicating silica gel to dry the seeds. To do so, place each seed sample in a labelled paper packet and place all samples within an airtight glass jar. Weigh the seeds and packets, and then fill the jar with an equal weight of dry silica gel. The gel, will change color from deep blue to pink as it absorbs moisture from the seeds. After 7-8 days, the seeds will reach their optimal moisture level (6-8% for peas, beans, and corn and 4-5% for smaller seeds like peppers and tomatoes). Remove the seeds from the jar and store them in another airtight container (without silica gel) in the freezer.
Bringing seeds out of frozen storage: When its time to plant, take the jar of seeds out of the freezer and allow the jar to reach room temperature before opening the lid. Expose the seeds to air for a few days before planting.

In the remainder of the book, Ashworth describes the major vegetable families and 160 different seed varieties, including pollination techniques and growing recommendations. The book also includes a list of seed saving advisors in each region of the U.S. as well as seed saving organizations both in the U.S. and abroad.


If you’d like to reduce your reliance on the garden seed industry, save money by not having to buy seeds every year, grow seed varieties which have been passed on from previous generations, and contribute to preserving special varieties, then seed saving is likely for you and this book can help you get started!


Want to win a copy and learn more about seed saving?

In addition to giving me a free copy to review, the publisher of Seed to Seed has agreed to give away a copy of the book to one of our blog readers in the United States. So, check out the giveaway instructions below. Be sure to use your real name when leaving a comment so that we can match it up with your entry in case you win. You’ll have one week to respond with your address if you win or we will draw another winner. Make sure to check back on the website when we announce the winner and check your spam folder so you won’t miss our email!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.


This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Thrifty Homesteader will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support.


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Published on May 25, 2017 06:00 • 2 views

May 22, 2017

solar oven


Five years ago, we bought our first solar oven, and I talked about our experience on my Antiquity Oaks farm blog. We were in summer cooking heaven. Until then, our only cooking option for keeping the house cool in summer was to use our grill outside. But once we bought our solar oven, we were able to bake meatloaf, lentil loaf, roast with vegetables, brownies, rolls, and more. There were a few challenges. It only really worked between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a day without clouds. The max heat was close to 300 degrees, although it was usually around 270. Still we loved it and used it. We didn’t care that it only worked during the summer because our goal was to keep our house cool during the summer, so it met that need.


solar ovenA couple of months ago, I was contacted by Paul Munsen from Sun Ovens International, Inc. He asked if I’d like to try out their solar oven, and I jumped at the chance — mostly because I thought it would be cool to have two solar ovens. After all, sometimes you’d like to have a roast for lunch and brownies for dessert. So, Paul sent me a Sun Oven in exchange for an honest review. As a veteran solar oven user, I did not expect any surprises, but I was wrong! Going from our original solar oven to the Sun Oven was like upgrading from your grandmother’s car to a zippy sports car. We are able to use it twice as long during the day, and it gets about 100 degrees hotter. You can also crack open the door and use it for drying herbs.


We used it a couple of days ago for drying freshly cut chives that didn’t sell at the farmer’s market. Then it occurred to me that you could use the Sun Oven for reheating leftovers. Did you know you can “boil” eggs in a solar oven? No water required! In fact, what’s really exciting for those of us with our own fresh eggs is that they are easy to peel without tearing up the egg white.


My biggest complaint about our original solar oven was storage when not using the oven. It broke down into four parts: oven, reflectors, and two rails that the oven sat on. It was difficult for one person to carry all of the pieces at once, and it was left in a heap in the basement over the winter. The Sun Oven all packs up neatly in a little case with a handle so that you can carry it with one hand.


No doubt that a really thrifty homesteader can build their own solar oven, and many people have done that. In fact, the first one we bought was basic enough that I know my husband could have built one just like it — but building a solar oven never made it to the top of our 378 item to-do list.


If you clicked on the link and read my Antiquity Oaks blog post from five years ago, you’ll see at the end that I said I’d be posting on this blog in the future after I had figured out solar cooking better. But I’ve never done that. I’ve honestly never felt like my knowledge of solar cooking was advanced enough that I could educate anyone on anything more than the basics. So, I was really excited when Paul from Sun Ovens offered to do a free webinar for my readers. He’s the one who told me about “boiling” eggs in the oven, and he has a bunch of other ideas and tips for solar cooking. He’ll discuss 13 ways you can use the sun year-round on your homestead, including:



the fundamentals of solar oven cooking and how you can use the sun for all sorts of benefits year round
why food cooked in a solar oven doesn’t dry out or burn
how to dry herbs while preserving nutrients
using a solar oven for uncommon uses like pasteurizing potting soil or sterilizing water

The free webinar will be held at 7 p.m. central time, Wednesday, May 24. It will last about an hour, and there will be a chance for questions and answers. Click here to register.


Also, everyone who registers will receive a free 120-page ebook, Emerging From an Emergency. I’m really looking forward to this webinar, and I know I’ll learn a lot. Hope you’ll be able to join us.


 


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Published on May 22, 2017 11:34 • 2 views