At Scalawag Farm, we feel there are a handful of practices we engage in with raising our animals that set us apart from larger conventionally managed farms. While we do not cast judgement on any one else for the decisions they make on their farm, we want to simply illustrate that we have come to some of these decisions for this primary reason: we do not want to cause any kind of unnecessary stress to an animal, unless it cannot be avoided for the greater health of the farm and business. The key word here, obviously, is going to be “unnecessary.” We ultimately reserve the right to determine what is and isn’t necessary for our business and our animals.
One question that is often raised for us is why some of our goats have horns and others do not. Simply put, any goats born on the farm here are not going to have their horns removed, a process called disbudding. The process of removing the horns from a young kid involves restraining the animal and using a hot iron device to prevent any horn growth. There is plenty of debate in the goat-rearing community about what is safer — keeping horned goats or risking the trauma and stress of disbudding. For some, the decision has been made for them; to show goats competitively, they must be disbudded — something that we will never understand, and also the main reason why we would never show our own goats.
In our experience, we have never had a situation where a goats’ horns were causing any kind of problem — either for themselves or by being used on another goat or human — that wasn’t solvable without any stress. Meanwhile, we have purchased goats — numerous times, in fact — where a goat was disbudded, but whose horns were growing back in. Often, when this happens, the horns will grow very atypically, which can lead to unintended breakage (extremely painful) later down the line, or they can grow in such a fashion as to cause the animal more discomfort. Yes, we have had the occasional young goat get stuck in metal panelling — but this is not fatal, and because we spend so much time with our herd, we always attend to the problem before they have been stuck for long. Goats are, after all, quite vocal when they are displeased.
We also have chosen to dam-raise kids here. This simply means that we allow our does to raise their kids until about 8-12 weeks of age. The main reason some farms wouldn’t do this is to maximize the amount of time the does are spent being milked; obviously, if they are raising their kids, it is best to allow them to keep all their milk. In our experience, the kids end up being much more well socialized to their herd, and grow quite fast and successfully.
On the other hand, we are left with a smaller total volume of milk from a lactation, and we have to spend more time to socialize the kids to humans. The greatest advantage to bottle-raising kids is that you end up with goats that absolutely love humans from their earliest days. In a couple of cases, we have been forced to bottle-raise a kid because it was too weak at birth, resulting in us having to care for the animal during its earliest days, which typically leads to their mother rejecting them. in 2023, we had a set of 6 bottle babies, three of whom had to spend time in the house because they got too cold not long after being born. These little sweeties still greet us and follow us around whenever we are near.
As our herd size grew, we realized it was no longer sustainable to mix our own feed from locally produced grains. However, we still avoid mass-produced pelletized grains, thanks to the good folks at new country organics, an organic livestock feed and supply company based out of Virginia. Luckily for us, they produce a well-balanced whole-grain ration formulated for goats, which is what we use for a our lactating mums, as well as for the occasional treat for the rest of the herd. In late 2023 and beyond, we plan on included a supplement of alfalfa hay into their diets, replacing previously relied upon alfalfa meal or pellets.
We hope that people learning about our farm understand that we simply base this humane-rearing decisions on our experience. We believe strongly that the best way to raise these animals is to provide an environment that reduces stress at every opportunity, and we pay very close attention to what they have access to and what they’re eating, so that we can ensure the long-term health of each animal.