As anyone who has watched nature shows knows, there’s a lot of organisms out there that we don’t think about or see. Some creep us out, like bed mites, and the creatures that live on our eye lashes, and those parasites found in Amazon rivers that find their way into your urinary tract. Eww.

Farm animals also have critters living in and on them. Some are necessary, like beneficial bacteria in their intestines, and some can kill. Worms and larvae can decimate a flock and fell your goats. There are chemicals that you can spray and dust and feed that will protect your animals.

Some farmers worm on a regular basis. When I managed a horse farm, we were on a rigorous schedule of various products. My dogs are on monthly heartworm pills. (When I was growing up, my dog died of heartworm. I’m grateful for the products now available!)

But, since these chemicals are strong enough to destroy the parasites, they also have the potential to harm the host, so, for my small backyard menagerie, I have a different approach.

The coop runs and paddock are on virgin turf. The last time they were used for farm animals was probably around 1890. It was unlikely that the soil harbored parasites. But, every time I bring in a new animal, or visit a friend’s farm and then wear the same clothes in my backyard (I should disinfect, but don’t, it all seems so benign at the time), I run the risk of introducing harmful pathogens and parasites.

My first line of defense is that I’m fanatical about keeping my coop runs and paddock clean. There’s no manure build-up to host eggs and larvae. I provide the flock with food-grade diatomaceous earth (see the blog archives for more about this.)

Instead of worming as a preventative measure, I take fecal samples to the vet. The vet tech looks at it under a microscope and lets me know if there are any parasites, which ones they are, and what I should use to get rid of them. The goat fecal cost $25, which is worth it. Yesterday, it came back negative, so I don’t have to spend anything on medicines.

I’ve had the chicken manure tested, too. All healthy so far.

Have you thought through a preventative health schedule for your animals? That old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” still rings true.

(I decided to spare you the photos of round worms, bot fly larvae and chicken gape worms. Do a google image search if you’re curious!)

Before and After

The temperature wavers between just below freezing and just above, but it keeps on snowing. The snow is heavy and sticky. It should be called “slushing.” Everything is sagging – electric lines, branches, and my mood. I’m surprised we still have power.

This is what my favorite tree looked like this afternoon.


I feared that it would break under the weight of the snow. So I shook it.


It shed some small branches and last year’s robin’s nest, but it sprang back to shape. I should have before and after pictures of me – I went from dry to snow-covered. This is not the sort of snow that slides off my jacket, or flutters down. It whomped me and got under my collar. But, it was worth it. The tree is a “Fox River Birch.” It has the most gorgeous bark, and every year wrens and robins make their nests in it’s branches. Tomorrow I’ll have to go shake the Chinese Beech trees in my backyard. They’re twice as big. I’ll have to wear protective headgear. Maybe my son’s fencing helmet?

The Weather

We had three days of a “January Thaw.” The snow near the goat barn melted enough that I was able to rake up the manure and wasted hay.

goat maid

The yellow buildings behind me are my neighbor’s garage and pool shed. I’m sure they appreciate the clean-up!

January thaws never last, but this one was shorter than usual. I blame the seed catalogs. When I get one of these in the mail, the weather always takes a turn for the worst.

seed catalog

How do they know that I’ll be holed up inside, dreaming of spring, and will place much too large of an order?

Yesterday it started to snow one of those heavy, wet, impossible-to-shovel snows. This is what the hawk netting over the HenCam coop run looks like.

snow on netting

Candy, of course, is delighted. This is exactly the sort of snow she likes. It’s dense enough to hop around on.

Candy in snow

The goats are not so pleased and prefer to stay inside. But, I think a bit of fresh air and movement away from their hay manger would be good for them. I know how to get them out. I’ve been teaching them tricks. They jump up on these overturned planters when I say “up, up!” For a bit of sweet feed, they’re even willing to do it in the snow.

boys on barrels

What you can’t see are their little tails, wagging at high speed. They enjoy doing tricks. They are so pleased with how clever they are, and they love their goat chow rewards.


If you’ve watched my goats at all you know that they love to eat. All the time. That means that they also poop all the time. (Goat people call these pellets “nanny berries.”) The goats even poop while eating. Yesterday I had planned to take a fecal sample to the vet to have it checked for worms. It’s important to keep a goat’s intestinal tract parasite-free. Some people worm their goats on a regular basis. Since different drugs kill different species, they switch between products. It’s rather hit-or-miss but effective enough on an annual basis.

Pip and Caper arrived here already de-wormed. Their paddock is virgin goat territory. So, instead of hitting them with a wormer, I’ll pay for a fecal, find out exactly what is (or isn’t) inside of them, and only treat for that.

At least, that was the plan. Yesterday I pulled on my boots and my coat and grabbed a plastic bag. It was cold, but I didn’t bother with gloves. After all, how long would I have to wait? The boys are pooping machines.

They were very happy to see me. They were out of hay, and let me know it. I gave them a flake. They ate. Then they asked me for treats. Then they butted heads to show me what big, rambunctious boys they are. They didn’t poop. It started to snow. I waited. They chewed their cuds. They had a drink of water. I waited. They put their front legs on my coat and asked me to play. My hands got cold. The wind blew the snow around. I waited. No poop.

Forty minutes later, I gave up and went inside to warm up. Caper was sorry to see me leave.

caper in door

I’ll try again tomorrow. If you see me standing in the stall, you’ll know what I’m waiting for.

Everyone Shares

First thing in the morning, we toss a handful of cracked corn into the chicken’s pen. In the winter we give the girls a little extra – it provides extra calories to keep them warm. Also, since they’re not out foraging in the dirt, the corn gives them something to scratch for. Scratching is an innate behavior and necessary for a hen’s well-being. Rabbits don’t scratch, but Candy joins the girls anyway.

Candy and two hens

It’s not that Candy thinks she’s a hen – in fact, I’m convinced that she thinks that she’s far superior. But, like many animals, being part of a community is as essential to well-being as food and water. Candy enjoys being in the company of hens.