Sunday, September 6, 2009

Animal husbandry; harsh realities and decisions

About six a.m. is when we are serenaded by a chorus of awkward adolescent roosters competing for the best crow. I would just smile, roll over and fall back asleep if they weren't waking the kids up. I've been enjoying sleeping with the windows open to the fresh cool air but this morning I shut the windows in a desperate attempt to muffle the racket, with minimal success. The Welsummer rooster pictured above left his fellow Welsummer flock to go live with the Ameraucanas and Sexlinks in the top mini pasture. I've been opening the two chicken coops in the morning and letting the birds free range all day. It has been so enjoyable watching them forage on the banks and hillsides. We have adult birds and the oldest pullets and cockerels in the main chicken house and then another batch of laying adolescents higher up on the hill in a hoop house on wheels. I think this guy needed his own space and flock. He left two other Welsummer cockerels and an adult Brahma rooster for a batch of younger birds where he is the top cock. Fortunately for him he is a nice looking guy so I think we will probably keep him right where he is at until we move this batch of birds into winter housing. Below is a photo of a different Welsummer cockerel and in front of him a Welsummer pullet. I find these birds so attractive. The hens are so pretty. I love their coloring especially through the neck and breast, yellows and pinks. I cannot wait till I find the first Welsummer egg of the year. I will photograph it so you can share my admiration.

I got around to jotting down some bird numbers the other day. We've had more losses than I would have liked. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent. We had thirty two Cornish crosses and lost three. Two disappeared and one was a runt that died. Out of thirty laying chicks that we bought we lost seven. One died as a baby chick, one got taken out by a raven, and five died as adolescents from unknown causes. Four of those were Welsummers, so I'm not sure if that was just a coincidence or if they are less hardy. We hatched five of our own chicks which remain alive and healthy.

Last year we had eleven layers going into winter. We lost three in the middle of winter, one in the spring and one this summer. We are down to, two Sexlinks, one Brahma, one Cochin and two Ameraucanas. We've been getting two to four eggs a day and the Ameraucanas have not been laying, although they were laying well most the summer. The Sexlinks by far lay the best. We almost get an egg a day out of each of them. They were the only birds that continued to lay in January. Lessons learned: 1. keep more birds than you really want; chickens die. 2. Heritage breeds are nice, variety is nice, but keep a good number of strong layers. Hence I am excited to say that this year we have eight sexlinks of which the oldest are beginning to lay lovely brown pullet eggs. We also have three Welsummer pullets, two Brahmas, one Delaware, a few new Ameraucanas and a couple of our own mutts. Making a total of at least eighteen new layers. Added to the adults gives us twenty-four layers. A very nice number indeed. Oh, and one female duck. That's right out of our four khaki-campbells one turned out to be a female. We are planning on keeping her along with one male.
And here is Xavier, looking in rut and a bit shaggy. I thought his coat would shed out like the does but it didn't. He is rather handsome in rugged goaty sort of way. He is very sweet. I feel bad for bucks because really all they want is attention and that is the very thing we try to avoid for about half the year. In late spring and early summer I can pet them and work with them somewhat. I make sure to keep up on their hooves before they enter rut. Now, I give Xavier his hay and grain after I do all the chores and then I come straight down to the house and wash up. As I sit here I can still smell the faint buck odor on the backs of my hands. It takes some serious scrubbing to get the smell off my skin and I didn't even touch him. In the winter I have a pair of carhart coveralls that are just for working with the bucks or taking the ladies in for their dates. I don't wear them for anything else, and they don't come into the house.

Xavier and Lew have been the buck duo since we first got them as bucklings. Over a month ago Lew developed a golf ball size swelling above his jaw on the side of his face. I thought it was just a bug bite or something. When we brought goats in from reputable herds in Washington I knew they were CAE free, and I assumed that they would be free of other diseases. I had never tested for anything, but I'd been thinking about doing so recently just to make sure. I called the vet and when she arrived we first took blood samples of all the does and Xavier. While we were looking at Xavier, Lew tried to come out and when we pushed him back in his lesion burst and puss went everywhere. Well, this was the worst thing that could have happened. As CL is not contagious until a lesion burst.

CL is a bacterial disease, the pus is the bacteria. The lesion is the bodies attempt to rid itself of the bacteria, it forces all the bacteria into one part of it's body in an effort to push it out of the body. The vet said that the location and size of the swelling was a text book CL lesion. Well I spent the day on the computer researching this disease. It is spread by goats with open abscesses. The puss falls to the ground and can survive for a long time and withstand extreme cold temperatures. The worse thing about CL is that it is highly contagious and there is no cure. The good news is that a goat can have CL and still live a quality life, the abscesses are the only symptom. If properly treated some goats have one abscess, and never have another. However, sometimes the abscesses are internal and cause other problems. Most sources suggested that once a CL positive goat was kept in a pen, never to keep negative goats in the same area. Removing the top two to four inches of soil and replacing it with clean soil was recommended.

I would have liked to test the puss or his blood to make sure that he actually had CL. However, it would take two weeks to get the results back. Meanwhile we had no place to put Lew. Most sources I read said that a lesion of that size, shape and in that location was almost certainly CL and that it was redundant to do blood tests. Our problem was that the lesion had already burst between our two buck pens. For the afternoon we had Xavier in the inside pen and Lew in the outer pen, but we only have electric run on the insides of their fencing to keep them from rubbing and pushing from the inside. Lew was pushing in from the outside wanting back in with Xavier. On the day all this happened we had a bulldozer rented and two friends up from southern Alaska helping with the dirt work and taking down trees for the new addition. If I had a place to quarantine Lew I would have done it, but we didn't. The possibility of putting up a quick fence somewhere else on the property was tempting, but would have brought all other progress to a halt. We had the vet put Lew down and we used the bob cat to drive him up and bury him in a deep pit that we had been filling with stumps. We cried.

The hardest thing about the decision for me was knowing that Lew could still have lived a happy life. The downside was thinking of Lew living on his own, Xavier needing a companion, makes three boys total. The bucks eat a lot when they are full sized and each shelter in the winter has a heat lamp, water heater, electric fence, (dollar signs). Keeping a quarantined, CL sick pen was a possibility. The other problem was that when the vet tried to clean out his wound Lew freaked out and there was no restraining him. He was pissed. And so I was also trying to imagine what it was going to take for me to try and keep his wound drained out and clean without knocking him out each time. Or having an internal lesion causing problems and not knowing what was going on inside of his body. I felt that I was making the best decision for my entire herd. But in essence the damage was already done. His lesion had already burst on our ground. The biggest mistake I made was not testing the puss after we had put him down just to make sure. At the time I thought it was pointless as we had already put him down. But in retrospect it would be nice to know for sure whether that is really what he had.

Where do we go from here? Well, good news: the herd tested clean for CAE, CL and Johnnes Xavier is still in the buck pen and may have been exposed to the bacteria. I did go out the same day everything happened and clean all surfaces, gates and fencing with bleach water. But we will be testing Xavier again in the spring. We are also moving him out of the area and up into the stall and pen where the does are currently located. We are going to keep his current pen and stall available in case he should get a lesion. Meanwhile, we will be breeding him to most of the does this fall. Even if he was exposed to the bacteria he will not be contagious until he has an active lesion so the risk of our does getting CL from him is non existent.

Zanzibar and Zoro. Before the vet came out to look at Lew a goat owner contacted me and thought I'd be interested in one of her Lamancha bucks. I pointed out that I already had two and that was enough. Well by the end of the week I had one, and I emailed her again. At first I was suspicious as to why she was selling him as she had just bought him and shipped him up this spring. Turns out she raises a couple other breeds of goats and had bought two Lamancha bucks but only had a couple Lamancha does, and only needed one buck. I had a brief amount of time to make a decision as she was bringing up some goats for our fair show and could bring him along. After talking with her and emailing his previous owner we decided to buy him.

We brought Zanzibar home and put Maggie's buckling in with him to keep him company. We knew that our buckling was very nice and we'd been putting off wethering him because he was out of Lew and our strongest doe. We were not planning on keeping him because he is related to four out of seven of our does. Three of our adult does have daughter's from Lew in the herd. Using Xavier this fall will give us more does that we can breed to Zoro. Maggie's son was two months younger than Zan but bigger, longer, stronger. We decided we'd better keep him too as you never know what is going to happen next. And now we three bucks! Xavier is going to be so excited to have Zan and Zoro for company as soon as they are big enough to withstand his affections. If Xavier gets a lesion we'll put him back into his previous pen and go from there. Meanwhile I am hoping to do more research and look into other immune boosting benefits for Xavier and possibly a CL vaccine for the rest of the herd. Whew.

We have a lot of fireweed growing on our banks. It is a weed, but oh so pretty. Especially this time of year at the end of it's cycle with a few remaining violet pink flowers and cotton candy seed tufts. The goats and chickens like it, and I know that it is good for them. A local herbalist told me that she puts it in a custom tea blend for her partner. It is good for male health. I dried some last year intending to make Dustin a tea blend, but ended up feeding it to the chickens mid winter instead.

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