Written by Fat Toad Farmer Judith Irving
Last time I wrote our blog in mid-March, it was a week or so after most of our kids had been born and I was reflecting on all the ways these small, young critters and their moms communicate and stay together.We are now racing towards the end of May and what a difference two months make in the life of a doeling. As I did chores this morning, I watched this tribe of kids, who now weigh between 25 and 50 pounds (having started at 6-9 pounds), careen around the barn at what seemed like 20 mph, resembling a gang of street kids feeling the exuberance of youth and energy.
Here’s what they have learned how to do in two months:
- Eat hay and grass. When you keep kids with their moms, they actually learn these skills right away. It’s not uncommon to see a 2 day old gnawing on hay, observing the big goats around her. We put the goats out on pasture about 10 days ago (had to wait until the grass was tall enough), and the kids immediately knew what to do – heads down, munch, repeat until bored, which would be approximately 5 minutes.
- Eat grain. We set up a “creep feed” for our doelings about 3 weeks ago – this means they have a small space they can squeeze through to get into the holding pen and eat grain after their moms have been milked morning and night. It’s important that these doelings have good nutrition and calorie intake throughout their first six months because we would like them to weigh 80 pounds or more come October 1st when breeding season starts.
- Nurse – oh right, they knew that from the get go, but they still love it. A few years ago, when we made the decision to keep kids with their moms, we thought “Hey, they’ll just naturally stop nursing at some point”…not. They would happily nurse forever. So we now wean them starting in June. That means separating the whole tribe from their moms for at least a month. Pssst – don’t tell them …they get very upset.
- Avoid electric fences – obviously this is a high priority learning item. Some learn this by touching their little noses to the electric fence that is in the barn area. I think some just learn by being told in some mysterious way in no uncertain terms by their moms “Keep away from that unless we tell you it’s been left off and then we’ll all bust through it”.
- Socialize with us – we put a very high priority on convincing these little girls that we are the good guys. We spend time with them every day. We want them to be comfortable being handled for such things as hoof trimming and milking. Does that mean that each one comes bouncing over to us when they see us, saying “Pet me! Pet me!”? Nope. They all have their personalities and some are more shy than others and remain immune to our kind and generous advances. In time, they will come around.
The next six months will bring many new “learning opportunities” to these little girls – as mentioned, learning not to nurse. And then there’s that breeding thing that will start in October. But don’t tell them about that either…they are way too young!