Merging Herds

Over the years I've had goats, I have acquired them mostly in twos and threes.  A single goat can be totally overwhelmed being put into a herd of 6 or 8 goats especially if they are young.  Bernadette was the only goat I acquired as a single but she was a full grown adult and used to being in charge.  That was also before I recognized the value of a month's isolation from my herd.  Bernie just integrated herself into the pecking order by decreeing she was top of the heap and she managed to maintain that position her entire life here.  When I've gotten little ones like weanlings, I have always gotten at least two so they have a buddy during the isolation period and a friend when they get to the larger herd.  The largest group of goats I've added to the herd at one time was four bucklings from Lisa Shell at Kai Mohair.  Three of them were little guys, weanlings, and one was a yearling.  That was a nice grouping.  They had been together at Lisa's, at least the weanlings had, and they worked their way through isolation and introduction into the larger herd as a supportive group of buddies.  All of the dairy goats came in twos from Nancy Whitbeck, my dairy goat friend who used to live in Simonton but now lives in Maine.


All of the goats I've gotten were either young ones, weanlings or yearlings, or young adults who were strong and fit and could take care of themselves.  My current new additions are much older and I'm not convinced they can take care of themselves.  My three new does are Star, Millie and Morha.  As you know, if you've been following my blog, Star is very old at 16 years, Millie is her daughter and Morha is unrelated but has lived with Star and Millie for most of her life.  Millie and Morha are 8 years old which is not ancient but is certainly older middle age for goats.  The three lovely ladies spent a month on a pasture at the other side of the property from my existing goat herd, then nearly a month in the barn.  During this second month the girls were given ample opportunities to get to know the existing herd through a sturdy fence.  They could talk to each other, sniff each other and touch noses across the fence.  Neither herd was particularly interested in the other so I figured it would all be fine.

This past Monday morning I decided it was time to start mixing up the herds.  How to do that?  The girls form a united front when my dog, Sadie, takes an interest in them.  They literally stand shoulder to shoulder, usually with Star in the middle.  With this in mind, I decided to try first with Harvard and Gloucester.  The boys were friends with each other, adults but not very old and on the smallish side.  Fitz is much larger than all the other goats and tends to have a bit of an attitude so I didn't want to use him.  Orion is very standoffish, has the largest horns of any of my goats and is a crotchety old man despite his young age so not him.  Yes, Harvard and Gloucester it is.

I let the boys into the barn pens and found plenty of chores to do in the barn for the next 30 minutes.  I swept and filled water troughs and tossed out hay all the while watching carefully how everyone interacted.  There was a certain amount of head butting but not more than I expected.  After the first 15 minutes there was head banging posturing but not any head banging.  Millie was the first of the girls to come up and want to sniff the boys.  Both Millie and Morha were very careful that Star was not left alone.  I though it was adorable.  Ok.  This is working out well.  I wandered off to do other chores but kept checking on the group.

About an hour later I was back in the barn to check on them again and I realize Millie is hunkered down in the corner of one stall with a trickle of blood coming down the side of her head.  Well, crap.  A broken horn.  She probably did it in the first few head butts but by this time she was feeling it.  I called the vet and arranged to take her in that afternoon.

A broken horn that doesn't bleed is no problem at all.  You can just trim off the broken end and go on.  No need for anything else.  Blood, however, changes everything.  That means the horn has broken close enough to the head to have broken the blood and nerve filled cavity.  Now there is more pain and the very real possibility of infection.  So off to the vet's we went.  Dr. Ridlen, my wonderful vet, pointed out what I had already surmised.  Millie's horns were very fragile.  He said she was fixing to break a horn one way or another with or without getting acquainted with the rest of the herd.  In the end we cut off both of her horns at about 4" from the top of her head.  Both horns were cauterized and she got a dose of antibiotic along with a spray coating of Allu-spray to protect the wounds and some fly spray to give her some relief from the inevitable flies.  Now she has short stubby horns that are bright shiny silver.

As you might expect, Millie was not at all pleased by any of the process.  She didn't like being caught or put into the goat box.  She didn't seem to mind the drive too much but she hated the lidocane around her horns, the big loud machine that cuts the horns, having her horns cauterized or any of the sprays.  But the worst of all was the shower with the hose.  Goats hate water and having to endure the outrageous indignity of getting hosed down was just the end.  She sulked all the way home and for the rest of the day.  I've tried to get a picture of her shiny new horns but no chance.  She won't let me get close enough to her to take one.

We will keep the boys away from the ladies until Millie's horns heal fully, probably about two weeks and then try the dance again.  In the mean time, Millie is eating happily, grazing as she chooses although she isn't any friendlier.  I think she is working out how to scratch her back with the new stubby horns.