Revised Advice

With more than twenty years of experience and countless hours devoted to researching backyard hens, I consider myself something of an expert and I’m confident giving advice. I don’t feel the same about goats. Although I write about Pip and Caper, my knowledge is limited to these two individuals and the seven years that I’ve had them. Once in awhile, though, I pass along something that I think is helpful or fun. From experienced goat keepers I got the idea to give Christmas trees to the goats to chew on. I’ve been giving the boys pine trees for years now. Some I cut myself from the back woodland, some I get after Christmas when people drop their trees off at the town DPW.

Yesterday I heard from Liz, a reader who like me, has a small flock of hens and discovered that chickens are the gateway drug animal to pet goats. This past year she added three wethers to her backyard. After Christmas she gave her goats their tree. Not long after she noticed them urinating frequently. The pee was rust/neon orange in color. She called the vet, who did blood work. The next day the goats were dribbling pee while walking and were clearly in pain. Fortunately for these goats, they live near Tufts Veterinary School and Hospital, where they were admitted. Meanwhile, Liz went over their enclosure with a fine-toothed comb trying to find the culprit. That’s when she noticed that the trunk of her Christmas tree had a stripe down it – the tree had been coated with a color enhancer, which is toxic to animals. The tree had been bought at Lowe’s, and with their assistance Liz was able to trace it back to the farm, who helpfully told them what the chemical was so that the goats could be treated. Thankfully, the goats survived with no permanent kidney damage.

These goats are alive because Liz was observant and knew when to get help. Some symptoms – like orange urine – are enough to jump to action. By the way, those goats were fortunate that Liz and her husband were willing and able to pay for the vet care. It came to thousands of dollars. They are not wealthy people. Anyone who keeps pets know that there are hard monetary choices to be made. Not everyone can or should bankrupt themselves to save an animal. (A topic for a post unto itself.)

I’m grateful that Liz shared this experience with me. Although the advice that I passed along to give pine trees to goats remains sound, it’s not complete. I’d now say to only use pine trees that you cut yourself. There are toxins lurking everywhere in commercial products (which is a scary thought, isn’t it?) I’ve revised my previous post and hope that the word will get out. Please share this information with any goat keepers that you know. Thank you.


A Weekend In California

Steve does volunteer work for the Computer History Museum. He’s helped them to collect oral histories of some of the seminal people in the creation of our information age. Three pioneers of the digital revolution were honored at a gala a the museum on Saturday night. We used up our frequent flyer miles to go. It was a short trip, just Friday afternoon to Sunday after lunch, but we managed to fit quite a lot in.

Most people on vacations go shopping. Me, too. But I like a certain kind of shopping. Feed and tack stores! Luckily for us, some of the Fellows of the Computer History Museum were involved in creating the internet and our ability to type feed store into a cell phone and find places like these:


farm feed


I got a present for a friend who keeps an eye on Tonk while I’m away, and some cookies for Lily, and a new toy for Scooter. That’s my kind of shopping.

We were east of the San Francisco Bay area, which means that the skies were bright blue.

blue sky


They’ve recently had rain, and so flowers were in bloom everywhere.



On Saturday morning we strolled the paths at the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. I’ll let the photos tell you how amazing it is to walk among these giants.


steve on path

redwoods up



The redwoods aren’t the only special ecosystem in that part of the country. Nearby is a very unique environment called the Sandhills.



We even got to see and hear the unique Acorn Woodpecker! (But I didn’t get a photo.)

Then it was on to Santa Cruz to the aptly named Natural Bridges State Beach.




Look closely at the arch and you’ll see it’s a favored spot of ocean birds, including pelicans.

Then turn around and look towards land. The hillside is covered in flowers, and the rocks covered in creatures like barnacles and chitons.




Look even more closely and you’ll find tide pools with fantastical anemones.



On Sunday morning we had just enough time to go to a more serene and less wild place, the Japanese Garden in Hayward. It made me realize that the Beast is still just a youngster. She could get even bigger!

koi pond


It was so still that I was able to take this photograph of the koi swimming through the trees reflected in the water.



On the way to the airport we were able to squeeze in visits to two more stores, one a tack shop where I picked up some new reins for Tonk’s bridle.



And one was a classic feed store. It’s chick season everywhere. I wish this place was near me. I’d pick up a few. What a great selection, there are Iowa Blues, Campines and Leghorns, and they’re vaccinated for Marek’s!



I’m back home where the sky isn’t quite as blue, and it’s not quite as warm, but it feels like springtime (finally!) and it’s time to plant the lettuce.

Goat Vaccines

Dr. Sarah is coming this afternoon to give the Goat Boys their spring shots. Thank goodness for vaccines. They get a yearly rabies shot. Last year a rabid raccoon came up to our back door. We were able to remove it without incident, but the situation could have been disastrous. Knowing that all of our animals were protected alleviated a lot of the worry during that incident.


The Boys also get vaccinated yearly for Clostridium perfringenstype C + D. There are diseases that arrive suddenly and are fatal, this vaccine protects against one of them. We’ll also collect a fecal sample to check for internal parasites. So far we’ve only had a mild infestation once, which was cleared up with ivermectin.



While here, Dr. Sarah will vaccinate the dogs for leptospirosis. My dogs are at risk, as they drink from natural water sources that are frequented by wild animals.


A farm call by a vet is a small price to pay to keep Lily on the job and the goats healthy.

Shell-less eggs

I’ve been waiting for this to happen. My White Leghorn, Twiggy, who has been an over-achieving layer since the age of 14 weeks, and who has produced almost non-stop for the last three years, is finally having laying issues. This is inevitable with such birds, it was only a question of when and how.


In order to create an egg shell, the hen first has to digest food that contains calcium, then lay that calcium into her bones, then reabsorb the calcium into her blood stream, which brings it to the shell gland, where it is used to form a shell. As hens age, even when they get enough calcium in their diet, this system becomes less efficient, the shells thin, and eventually the hen can’t make them at all. (Note the two

in the above photo. One contains oyster shell, the other grit, both of which are essential for good digestion and the health of your laying hens.)

Twiggy is still laying almost daily. Her body produces a yolk, which gets surrounded by a white, and then gets encased in a membrane. But she’s not making a shell. As soon as that shell-less egg is laid, it breaks, and Twiggy reaches around to eat it.

eating egg


Twiggy’s bottom is a mess from this.

dirty bottom


As long as that membrane forms, she’s still able to expel the egg. That’s good. At some point, though, the yolks and whites will not be able to pass easily through the reproductive tract. They’ll solidify, get infected, or back up and fill the body cavity. This is not an unusual scenario.

So far, though, Twiggy is okay. I know because Twiggy is active and eating and drinking normally. She doesn’t strain or look distressed while in the nesting box. She’s fully integrated into the flock. No one bullies her. If she was weak, they would.



Twiggy’s comb remains a vibrant red. I think she’s rather pleased that she’s making her own daily snack.

I don’t know how long this stage will last. We’ll just have to let her be and see.


Cure for the Common Cold

Are you finding it hard to shake a cold? Aches and pains, chills, cough, congestion?

Here’s a cure:

While you have a fever, do exactly what Scooter does.



When your temperature gets back to normal, but you still feel rotten, take one of these:



Stand with the horse’s warm fur on your cheek and the sun on your back.


You’ll feel better. I guarantee it.