I talk to pygmy goat owners, new and old, all across the United States and a couple outside. Recently I’ve begun to hear again, as has been a practice in past years,that many of the owners are making it a ritual to feed top grade alfalfa and lots of grain twice daily or more. The reasons it’s being mentioned are in conjunction with various problems they’re having, such as too fat (obviously), not getting pregnant (duh!), and being unable to get the babies out (yes).
These comments are the same old problem, different people, different time. When I started out in pygmies I went from exhibitor’s pen to exhibitor’s pen, noted what was in there, made up my own formula from that and figured that more was better. I had not yet realized that my slab-sided, shallow, fine-boned goats were just that, slab-sided, shallow, fine-boned goats. Now, this is a very hard lesson to learn.
We love our goats and at home they had looked like champions to us after looking at the show results in MEMO. Obviously, I was not feeding enough.
With great protests from my husband, I started feeding my goats “pure gold”. We had fumbled our way into pygmy goats by buying goats to clear the blackberry brambles off our property and whatever else they could forage on. We accomplished that and then started feeding alfalfa and oat hay as we heard that was the way to go. They paved the property with wasted oat hay and did okay on their alfalfa, but my husband was out there counting the stems left behind. “Don’t feed them till it’s gone” - the horse way - was the rule.
Well, I definitely knew that underfeeding was my problem, so went right into “Feed them up, they’ll win. After implementing the program that I figured everyone else who was winning was using, I proudly reappeared at the shows. I still never made the cut. I now had pygmies with long heads, long thin necks, under that pad of fat was the slab-sided goat with no bone and no width on the move or anywhere else. Oops! Time to regroup. Immediately I quit trying to figure it out on my own and started going to the established, and by the way, winning breeders in l982, being Bob and Nina Brown, Ni-Bo’s Pygmies; Barbara Murry, Moonshadow Pygmies; Tim and Laurie Norman, Silver Creek Pygmies; Marilyn Morse, Petite Amour Pygmies (not as established, but catching up fast); Carol Gates, Sycamore Shadows; Judith then Richardson, and asked them - actually bugged the heck out of them, with the help of my friend, Sandy Carlson, who had Critter Creek Pygmies and later also became an NPGA Judge, to find out what it was they were doing that we weren’t. We went home, ran through all the programs over and over (we thought we were very smart then and that when we put all the programs together, we’d beat them) but before we embarrassed ourselves again, we’d spend some time and start looking for the common thread.
Big surprise - to us, that is. We had been on the wrong track, bought the wrong goats.
That was the first thing we had done wrong. But if you are somewhat new you know it’s not easy to know what goats to buy from the small selection you can even find available. We thought we had scored when we found the registered pygmies, bought them, and gave away our beloved unregistered goats the year before. The second common thread was regular preventive practices, i.e., regular wormings, coccidia prevention (not treatment), regular inoculations needed to prevent goat diseases and then there were various leftovers on our notes, some used certain vitamins, others something else. Some said Bo-Se, some said none.
I feel extremely lucky as just at that time coming onto the scene in our area was Robin Skillman, DVM, recently graduated from University of California School of Veterinary Medicine at Davis, California, starting a mobile veterinary practice and had just enough patience for us to ask innumerable questions (probably over and over again as we did of the breeders), a mind like a steel trap and full to the brim, a love for dairy goats - laughed at our little pygmies, but learned to love them over the years and now spots on my property what I consider to be my best instantly, no matter what it’s doing or how far away. I just thought of a fourth common thread while talking about Dr. Skillman and that is a genuine interest in goats. The breeders shared their information and would sell animals to you and Dr. Skillman knew the nutritional answers and medical answers and willingly shared her knowledge.
Okay. Now all we had to do was figure out how we’re going to buy the right goats as we’d spent our wad on our wonderful registered pygmies, who still had no housing at my house, just a dog house here and there.
We put our heads together again. What was the common thread the winning animals of each breeder had in common? Their sires. Back to square one. To a man the husbands said no. Think, think, think. I came up with a solution, buy a cheap, cheap, lesser quality buck, but a twin to a buck on his way to a PGCH. Did that. But would that buck work with everything? No. Help! Back to the drawing board. If I can personally grant anyone entrance to Heaven it will be Barbara Murry. She leased me a buck I had loved as a kid, but couldn’t buy. Even if she just didn’t need him for a while, she still goes to Heaven because of the turnaround he made in my herd and Sandy’s.
We were on our way now. Sandy and I spent hundreds of hours honing this down to all the final answers. Only problem, we were both still married. The husbands had the idea that if there was any food left on the ground, there was no way they could be hungry and need anything more. Both of us had to kind of skirt the truth when asked what we were spending on feed, etc., but over time they got used to it. We just had to slip in the info a teeny bit at a time .
Everything was not perfect, but the consistency of the goats was starting. Their muscle and bone were developing and now we became competitors of each other, friendly of course, but tough competitors nonetheless, because we had done everything the same except starting with different does, which we moved on quickly if they didn’t meet our expectations. We probably made a lot of mistakes there because neither of us had any patience. We just wanted that picture of the pygmy we had in our minds to come out uniformly every time. Time has taught me to slow down and give them a chance. Then if I bought or kept the wrong goat, I’d get it out quicker than you could blink. It has worked for me along with a lot of luck.
Bet you thought I’d never get back to the main point. You can’t overfeed a pygmy to a PGCH, except in the rare case, and then if you do it probably can’t breed or can’t kid and bucks get too lame to breed from carrying all the weight at very young ages. In fact, back in the earlier eighties there were a lot of bucks just getting their PGCH, and then they were dead, and for a variety of reasons. That was the reason the NPGA Board of Directors made the current rule for a buck obtaining a PGCH; one leg under a year, the next between one and two and the final two after the buck has reached his second birthday. Bucks had previously been able to get their first leg as a junior and the two remaining legs, three legs required at that time, after their first birthday, so lots were finishing at one and a half and the rest usually by two. The Board’s intention was that bucks being looked at as “ideal” by obtaining their PGCH should have longevity and a strong production record. I don’t know if it was that they were being overfed to win, but it happens a lot less that a two-year old buck drops dead, at least not in our area and that I hear about in other areas.
My personal experience is that Merlin will be ten years old in October, l996, has close to l50 offspring, and is still taking care of his harem - slower to be sure and with a slight limp on one front leg - but thinks he’s maybe a five year old. I don’t know how goat years compare to human years, but possibly like dogs, so he thinks he’s thirty-five instead of seventy. Back to my point.
Finally after several years, but roughly eight to nine years ago, I had my system for breeding, feeding and maintenance. I have typed it up and shared it with many, told them to change it to their specifications for their area and check with their vets. It works for me. I have only retyped it once, this year, as Dr. Skillman had some additions/changes she preferred and had probably actually told me about previously but I wasn’t listening, so I revised some of it, but just finitely, and those changes were vaccination timings, Bo-Se timings. Nothing else.
We were recently treated to a backyard clinic with Dr. Skillman put on by our local club and one of the statements she made that I found invaluable was that in her practice, whether it was with goats, pigs, llamas, horses, etc., and in her goat world (she breeds and shows Alpines) was that the winning animals and the animals that she did not see with problems in her practice were the ones the owners had an established program and stuck to it, year after year after year. Whew, I’d done that. It does work. It just takes time. You can’t overfeed them to anything. They do require routine maintenance and a commitment of time from their owners. It’s a lot of work, but if you don’t reach out in all directions at the same time (as I did early on) and ask questions, listen to the answer, and then work it out to a plan you can live with, you will be ahead, far ahead and you will have healthy long-lived animals and a lot of winners. One important thing we do in our area is share information and ideas, especially with the new pygmy people so the animals don’t have to go through all the unhealthy practices.
Stick with me. Reread the beginning of this and I’ll tie it together. Personally for me I feed once a day. Goats yelling at me once a day is good enough. I feed only the best quality alfalfa I can find and the grains suggested by, again, Dr. Skillman formulated with the appropriate minerals required by goats and sheep, therefore eliminating the everlasting question of what to supplement with. It takes time to work out the amount needed to keep them constantly developing as they’re young, or pregnant or nursing or worst of all, a buck of any age, without passing the dreaded fat level, but there is that amount. Trust me. That goat is still the goat it was born at. Extra food doesn’t change that, too little does. A good maintenance program is vital and assures that your pygmy can attain the potential of it’s breeding with the right amount of everything, including exercise. I am very lucky that my goat areas are acres and parts of acres and not pens. If you don’t have the room for them to move, adjust the food.
When I sell a goat I provide my schedule and tell - actually try to order - the buyer to stick to it no matter what anyone else says because it works for my herd. They can do what they want or what works for the other goats they own. People buy from me for the full potential I can offer to them and I want to enable them to reach that potential. It must be working. At least fifty percent of my customers a year are repeat customers. So ask questions of the successful breeders you have gotten your goats from as to what works for their herd, talk to your vet and adjust it for your area.
I started writing this because it just scares me to hear the same overfeeding problems we heard years ago, and thus the same problems from fat or overconditioned goats. Actually I had been grumbling under my breath until last night when talking to a friend and fellow breeder in the area and she had just taken in some goats to kid out for someone else and was concerned about one of them that was obese and pregnant, due in March, and had already been cut down from three feedings a day to two, and that she was going to just take it off grain all together.
Now, this doe has been tested and luckily is pregnant, but a drastic nutritional change may not be a good idea for a very pregnant doe. That started me thinking of all the stories I had recently been hearing about weight and the problems it causes. All of this is cyclical. We hear about the weight scare. The pendulum swings. Everyone panics and puts their goats on a diet. I think this is a result of not sharing information and my primary interest is that the pygmies get the best care possible because they deserve it and that the quality improves every year - quality not bulk - otherwise we’ll all get bored with the same old competition and wander out of pygmy goats.
This article was first written in January of 1996 and appeared in the next National Pygmy Goat Association MEMO. Since a lot of people said at the time it was helpful to them to read, thought I'd just put it up here for all to read.
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