Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Natural Rearing of Goats



Susun S. Weed, herbalist

In my life-long pursuit of learning, I have encountered many ideas and opinions about health, healing, and herbs. I read widely and I have chosen to study with women that I admire.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross was my first mentor. She taught me to value emotions, especially anger. She would not teach us until we had sung together. Jean Houston declared herself my mentor in the 1980’s, nearly thirty years ago. She taught me to entertain rather than teach and to always look for the story in addition to the facts. She, also, refused to teach us until we all sang together. (Did you notice that I began class with a song and invited you to sing along?)

Juliette de Bairacli Levy is another woman who has had a profound influence on my life and my teaching. When I encountered her book, Common Herbs for Natural Health, in the late 1970’s, I had already been working with herbs and herbal medicine for more than a decade. Juliette revolutionized the way I saw plants and set the patterns for my work with animals. I was fortunate enough to meet her not too long after I read her work, and she was soon a dear friend. I became, and still am, her publisher.* She left us in 2008 and is missed by many.

Juliette modeled for me a fiercely independent woman who fearlessly roamed the world, children in tow, avidly seeking natural ways of living and healing. The life I have created on my homestead follows in her footsteps, and the footsteps of a dear friend of hers, and role model of mineL Helen Nearing. With their guidance, I have lived the Simple Life and raised my animals with Natural Rearing for the past forty years.

I don’t vaccinate my goats for anything, not even tetanus.*** If your goats are around horses, if you castrate with elastics or a knife, or if you dehorn the goats vaccinating for TETANUS is wise. If you need to feed a lot of grain greater than 40% of the total ration. I would advise vaccination for Clostridial perfringens Type D. (Meg Smart)

I don’t dehorn my goats. I don’t free stall.

I don’t separate the kids from their mothers.

I don’t breed until a doe is more than a year old.

I don’t breed every year.

I don’t have my goats in a fenced-in pasture.

I don’t worm my goats on a schedule or use chemical wormers.

In order to keep my goats naturally, I study Nature. I re-wild them and myself.

I continually ask myself what would happen in the wild, while keeping firmly in mind that my goats (and I) are the product of thousands of years of domestication. Because I keep a closed herd and don’t go to fairs or shows, and because I started with a disease-free group of goats, and because I can’t do it myself, I have no reason to immunize or vaccinate my goats against any diseases. In nearly forty years of keeping goats, fewer than ten percent of my deaths have been from any cause other than old age, and none from a communicable disease. (Nearly all of my goats live to be 13-15 years old.)

I love the way the horns look on my Alpine goats. None of the reasons I’ve heard for dehorning make sense for me since I don’t take my girls away from home. The kids learn fast to stay out of the way of the horns. (I have seen them scooped up with the curve of the horns and neatly tossed over the back. They bounce.) My oldest goats keep well back from horn smashing. An elder doe was horned hard on her side some years ago in a struggle over some apple leftovers from cider pressing. (Yes, I set out four tubs, but they fought over one of them nonetheless.) She was certainly hurt and she died about two weeks later. But she was fifteen years old!) The woman who introduced me to dairy goats had an aggressive doe who beat down the wall between her and the next goats and ripped that milker’s vagina. These are the only accidents I have seen in nearly half a century of taking care of horned goats.

* As Ash Tree Publishing I keep many of Juliette’s lesser-known titles in print including Nature’s Children, Traveler’s Joy, Gypsy in New York, Spanish Mt. Life, and Summer in Galilee, in addition to her beloved herbal, my favorite of her people books: Common Herbs for Natural Health.

Because they have horns, each goat must have her own stall. We gate the stall when she has a kid (to keep the kid in or out, as we wish) and remove the gate, clipping her onto a short tether, when she doesn’t have a kid. My herd is small. My target number is seven goats. Right now, I have six milkers and five kids. (Two are does; I’ll keep one or both of them.)

We are careful not to play with the kids in ‘horny’ ways. When they butt us, we push them away by placing a hand on their chest, or we walk away.

The kids are born where their mother thinks best. Most of the time that is in her stall, with the door closed, but at least once every five years or so someone decides it is best to deliver herself outside. I do my best to note the signs of labor and to check in frequently enough to be of service if there is any problem. In forty years of keeping goats I have had to take a goat to the vet to be delivered once. (It’s quite the story; we saved both kids.) I also needed a vet’s help when a goat gave birth to her uterus along with her kid. (Of course I was in France at the time.) (She gave birth to my current lead milker two years later.) I have had still-born kids five or six times. I have had kids who failed to thrive twice. I keep shepherd’s purse tincture in the barn and dose any doe who seems to be bleeding more than a trickle. I keep blue cohosh around for the rare time I think labor needs some help. Every doe who has just given birth is offered five gallons of warm water with a cup of molasses added; most drink the whole bucket.

Kids stay with their mothers night and day until they are three to four weeks old. Then we shut them out of their mother’s stalls from around 5pm (when the goats go into the barn) until we milk at 9pm. Once the kids are six weeks old, we separate them from late afternoon through the night and reunite them with their mothers after the morning milking. All kids have access to their mothers during the day for their entire lives. Once in a while a doe is nursing a kid while still suckling from her mother. (We have some triplets, though not many; we eat the smallest male of the trio before it is a week old.)

By waiting until the doe is over a year old to breed her, and by breeding only every second or third year, I am once again following nature, not modern goat rearing methods. These choices give me a big goat who is capable of producing a lot of milk for a long time; and that’s just what I want. It is not unusual for one of my does to give half a gallon a day in her third year of lactation. My lead milker is feeding a doe kid and still giving me a gallon of milk a day.

For the health of my herd and my own health, I am a herder. That is, I don’t put my goats into a fenced enclosure; I herd them. I milk at 9am and let the goats out of the barn when I am finished with my kitchen chores (straining and refrigerating the milk, dealing with the cultures and ferments we have going, washing up, making cheese or yogurt as needed) or no later than noon. My goats and I wander over my sixty acres and the adjoining 350 acres belonging to those who live on all sides of me. The goats rarely visit the same spot two days in a row – unless it’s autumn and they are glutting themselves on acorns.

Nature smiles on roaming rather than eating always in the same places. Roaming keeps the parasite cycle broken. And roaming gives my goats a wide choice of edibles. (I nearly had a heart attack one day when they ate a plant that I think of as stopping the action of the heart. It did make them very very sick; but they stay well away from it now!)

I love it that my goats eat a variety of vegetation. I maintain that the best herbal medicine is raw goat’s milk because it is predigested herbs. This morning one of the kids spent fifteen minutes eating plantain leaves and flower stalks. They eat raspberry leaves; good for reproductive health. They eat dandelion and chicory; keeps the digestion strong. They eat poison ivy; it makes their coats sleek and keeps me from reacting to it when I consume it in the milk. They eat roses and red clover; both are fertility enhancers and allies in keeping a good supply of milk coming.

Keeping animals the Natural way is fun, intimate, engaging, and best done on a small scale. Re-wilding myself and my animals keeps us all in optimum health.



Susun S. Weed, herbalist

Since my animals are generally in excellent health, the primary health care that I give is to help them when they are injured. And as I’ve kept a variety of animals for more than forty years, I’ve had the opportunity to deal with both minor and major problems. The local herbs in my yard have provided me with all the medicines I have needed to tend to those problems, large and small. I never hesitate to seek help when I need to use a drug (see Sweetheart’s story), to get a hi-tech diagnosis (see Diana’s story), or to do something I don’t know how to do (like put a goat’s udder back into her body).

Sweetheart the goose was ten years old when he was attacked in the middle of a cold winter night by something toothed. His armpit (wingpit?) was entirely ripped out, down to the bone. I couldn’t even guess how many other wounds he was hiding under four inches of down.

Since I was fairly certain there were puncture wounds that I couldn’t see, and thus couldn’t tend to, I took him to a local vet for a shot of antibiotic. Then began the three-month-long process of healing and restoring healthy confidence to my Sweetheart. Nourishing herbal infusions, especially comfrey, raw goat’s milk yogurt, constant warmth from the woodstove, and loving attention from many – which went under various guises such as praying for him, lighting candles for him, doing Reiki for him – were the simple means we used to return him to vigorous health. (He lived another seven years and had more healing adventures.)

Hera the goat kid was about ten weeks old when we found her down, rigid, and apparently dead. Close examination revealed a weak heart beat and slow respiration. Her tongue was purple and hanging from her mouth. I feared she had eaten something poisonous, though I couldn’t guess what. My land is free of mountain laurel, the frequent culprit in goat poisonings in my area. I mixed several tablespoonfuls of slippery elm bark powder with fresh warm milk from her mom and dripped it into her mouth, stroking her throat to encourage her to swallow. An apprentice offered to sit up with her, feeding her, and stroking her throat all night.

Slippery elm is renowned for absorbing poisons and saving animals’ lives. It certainly worked for Hera. Though she was blind, she survived her misadventure. We continued giving her slippery elm mixed with her mother’s milk, and she regained her sight two weeks later.

Diana the cat was twenty years old when she lay down in the warm spring sun to take a nap. If my student, J, had turned on her car engine, Diana would have heard her and jumped out of the way. If J had left at the end of class, the noise of our voices would have alerted her. But J was embarrassed that she was leaving early, so she tried to be quiet. She let out the clutch and rolled her car backwards down the hill – and over the cat, breaking her pelvis into pieces.

The vet x-rayed her and suggested surgery. I was aghast, convinced she would not survive it. I took her home and made a warm nest for her. I brought her dishes of warm milk every hour. I put comfrey leaf infusion in the milk; I put echinacea tincture into the milk. When she refused it twice in a row, I fed it to her with a dropper.

The local Reiki master is a cat lover in general and a Diana lover in particular, so she dropped by whenever she could (often several times a day) to administer Reiki. Our intention was to allow her pelvis to resume its normal shape, which we knew it remembered at a cellular level. It did. Comfrey and love, goat’s milk and faith healed her enough to allow her to jump up on the table four months later. (Diana died the following winter of pneumonia.)

Herbs That Deal with Injuries:

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flower tincture or ointment is everybody’s favorite home remedy for injuries. Apply lavishly as needed.

Plantain (Plantago species) is a back-yard weed with miraculous abilities to stop itching and hasten healing. Use fresh or as an oil/ointment.

Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) bark is nourishing, absorbing, and rebuilding to mucus surfaces of the digestive system. Powder works best.

St. Joan’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) oil and tincture ease pain.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) heals internal as well as external wounds.

PLANTAIN is not a banana, but a broad-leafed weed of lawns and city sidewalks. Plantain is found in profusion from the tropics to the arctic, and from coast to coast. Both Plantago majus and P. lanceolata are common throughout North America.

Whether the itch is from dry skin or bug bites, chafing or nervousness, eczema or rubbing, eveyone needs plantain, the anti-itch miracle. Dogs that chew at flea bites get instant relief from plantain oil/ointment or applications of fresh macerated leaves. All are safe to ingest and stop itching fast fast fast. Plantain also stops bleeding. It is a fine pain reliever. And it hastens healing. “Plain plantain,” who advocates peace, is the child’s first plant. It is so empowering for children to be able to reach out and pick a plant to help themselvs; it is even more so when they can reach out and use that same plant to help heal their cherished pets.

Plantain ointments are easily available. They are even easier to make. Instructions are in my books as well as at my website:

But don’t hesitate to use plantain fresh. Just chew and apply to all injuries, including deep cuts, bullet holes, barbed wire wounds, abrasions, and bruises.

SLIPPERY ELM has such a mild demeanor you would hardly guess that she is such a powerhouse. I use powdered slippery elm bark mixed with honey and rolled into boluses which can be swallowed (animal) or allowed to dissolve in the mouth (human). I also mix it with fresh milk to form a gruel that can be as thick or thin as I desire. I have fed this gruel to struggling newborns from a dropper. It can be fed from a bottle to weanlings with diarrhea.

Slippery elm bark powder stops diarrhea, often after one dose. It ends constipation. It absorbs all poisons from the gut. It ends food poisoning. It restores weak young ones. It adds a little extra to the bottle for the needy. I adore slippery elm.

Slippery elm bark powder is available at most health food stores. Buy it in bulk.

ST JOAN’S WORT is one of my favorite plants. I use both the oil and the tincture to allay a variety of problems. Also known as St. John’s wort, this sunny yellow flower turns into intense red remedies that allow us to safely use the energy of the sun. Hypericum perforatum graces fields in the northern half of North America from Virginia to Nova Scotia, northern California to Vancouver.

St. J’s tincture, made immediately from fresh flowers, stops spasms, allays pain after surgery, counters infection, and kills a wide variety viruses including papilloma, herpes, and HIV. A dropperful for each 150 pounds of weight is a good starting dose. In the case of spasms, the dose may be repeated at fifteen minutes intervals. In the case of viral infection, the dose is best given every four to six hours.

St. J’s oil eases pain fast. It is especially restorative after surgery. It relaxes muscles and helps nerve ending heal well. Many mysterious skin problems are solved by frequent applications of the infused red oil of Hypericum.

St. J’s tincture and oil are available wherever herbal products are sold.

YARROW has been used for thousands of years to heal wounds. It became known as “soldier’s wound wort” during the Civil War, when it was used to prevent infection during battleground amputations. Some claim its botanical designation – Achillea millefolium – honors the Greek hero Achilles.

Yarrow is a superior pain reliever. Fresh leaves macerated and applied to an injury stop bleeding in seconds. It is said that the gypsies revere yarrow because it saved the life of a chief whose arm was ripped off by a horse. The tincture is also hemostatic, but not so quickly. Internally, it quixotic, sometimes stopping bleeding, sometimes seeming to encourage it.

Yarrow is a superior anti-infective externally. It has been shown to kill hundreds of gram- positive and gram-negative bacteria. Applied as soon as possible, either fresh or in tincture form, yarrow prevents infection perfectly.

Yarrow is a superior wound healer. Yarrow contains substances that help a wound close rapidly and without scar tissue. A poultice of the fresh leaves is ideal.

Yarrow grows in open fields throughout the temperate regions. Only the white variety is medicinal. Colored cultivars have too much volatile oil for safe use.

Yarrow is sold at most health food stores, both as a ready-made tincture and as dried leaves and flowers.

ESSENTIAL OILS seem to be natural, but they aren’t. True, the words “natural flavor” refer to compounds made in laboratories, not to compounds extracted from plants. In this sense, we could say that essential oils are natural, they are concentrated from plants in laboratories. But this is not what most people think of as “natural.”

I define a drug as something that does not grow out of the ground and cannot be made in your own kitchen. Thus, essential oils are drugs. Drugs, as we know, are highly. Drugs, as we know, can instigate other problems while countering the initial one.

Essential oils are hormone disruptors. They suppress the immune system. And they kill gut flora. Not just when taken internally, but when used externally or when we breathe them in. Like drugs, essential oils are handy, powerful, and easily available. Like drugs, essential oils are rarely made in earth-friendly ways.

Using herbs brings us closer to our roots, helps us reconnect with Nature, heals the planet as well as the being. Herbal medicine is people’s medicine.



  1. I don't have goats unfortunately, but I do have cats and dogs and welcome this information - thanks so much.

  2. Thank you for such a webpage, I am looking for diary goat breeders that use natural rearing methods. The first book that I got about goats was when I was 13 and it was by Juliette Levy. Reading it was quite affirming to me and left a big impression upon my life as well as confidence or stubbornness... I still have the copy and now have goats once again! I read as much as I can about goat health but always find my way referring back to her book, really a prodigy.
    If anyone knows people who use natural rearing for farm animals, specifically dairy goats, I would appreciate the info: wildbluewest@gmail.com.

    And thank you for keeping Juliette's books in print!

  3. Love the page, love the info. I too keep goats and let them live a completely free and natural life...no dehorning, why should I, they were designed with horns so let them grow horns, and like you I have no problems with them. The only exception is the male, he was dehorned before I got him, to be honest they made a mess and I have to regularly check that everything is ok. I did consider separating this years kids from their mothers to wean them, but noticed that the mothers were doing it themselves anyway, and I had also noticed an increase in milk yield, so again, let nature figure it out and don't force issues.

    The one thing I have learned in my time keeping these wonderful creatures is that they never conform to rules. I read what I can then generally toss it out when my gang decide the info I read is not applicable in their case :) I'm also pleased that they respond well to changes, my initial three were cast offs from another farm, not used to human contact but now have become quite tame and in the case of the male, demanding in attention, more like a dog than a goat LOL.