Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Training a Goat to Spin

I went out and spent a long time with the girls prior to training, simply because the weather outside was beautiful.

finishing soon.....

Monday, March 12, 2012

Training a Goat to Shake

Well, its day two of my training experiment. I got started rather late, and I wanted to use a different treat than carrots, since we went through them too fast. Plus they stained my finger tips orange. So I dug through our fair supplies, looking to see if I could find that bag of liquorish treats they really liked. I was successful, but there was a lot less than I thought. Maybe a handful at most. But the small pellets would be ideal rewards. Full of flavor but small enough to use as a small reward and not to fill them up.

So I went out with my new treat in my pocket, and Lissa was ready and waiting at the fence as soon as I was there. I let her out, and she went wandering around first, chasing the chickens a bit like she liked to do. But then I pulled in her focus and said "touch!". It delighted me that she remembered! She touched my hand and quickly looked for her treat. She was not disappointed.

I went through the touch exercise for a few minutes to make sure that she had it down pat. I tried "stay" again, and got some progress, but wasn't getting too far. Still, I worked on it for a bit, but I could tell she was getting bored with it. So I moved on.

"spin" was next on my list of ideas. At first I tried it with me standing stationary and getting her to rotate a bit. She dug her heels in and refused to budge. I forced her hips around a bit, then clicked. She started being slightly less resistant, but not enough to make much progress. So I tried to show her what I wanted, by walking around, next to her hip, in a circle. This did work better than the original idea, but still she would rather stand still and try to follow me around without moving more than her head.

I went back to "touch" for a bit while I tried to brainstorm how else to do "spin". At one point, Lissa was the one who figured it out for herself. It was not the spin I had imagined, but I noticed that because we had started with the "touch", Lissa was very willing to elaborate on that rather than to start fresh with something else. So I started having her follow my hand. She was VERY good at this. The only problem was she tended to get distracted when she came to the pocket she knew the treats were in. And she often times believed she deserved a treat, whether or not she did the trick properly. But soon I could get her to go almost all the way around me before a "click" and a treat. We'll need a lot more training to get it so that she can do it without direction, but I think she's up to it.

With all this training, I soon ran out of the liquorish treats, so I grabbed a handful of chicken feed (non medicated layer) which I knew she loved. We went back to working on the "follow" move, which she was also VERY good at. This trick sprouted from her loving to follow me when I tried to back up, so I led her around the field, and as soon as I stopped, she did too. So she got a reward for that.

We worked more on "spin" and "touch" and then I decided to try "foot". This was another difficultly, because rather than understanding to lift her foot, she'd reach down with her nose to touch my hand and then expectantly look for a treat. After a little while she was getting frustrated and kept pawing at the ground. Which I decided was close enough. "click" treat. She couldn't quite connect the treat with the action, but she was getting better. I decided to end on a good note with a few more "touch". Then I used "follow" to get her back to the pen.

I grabbed some more hen pellets for Rosie and pulled her out of the pen. I put a leash on her this time, because she was very impatient and would wander away. She too remember the "touch" "click" treat, which made me very happy. But it was soon apparent she wasn't as fond of the chicken food as was her mom and Lissa. So I scattered the rest for the chickens and got her some real grain. This got her attention much better.

After refreshing with "touch" for a bit. I decided I would try and teach her something that Lissa couldn't do, since she was more interested in my affection than the food. I started teaching her "foot" tapping the back of her knee with my clicker hand. When she lifted her foot or shifted her weight from it, I quickly "clicked" then treat. She was better at it than Lissa, but never quite lifted her hoof without prompting. That'll be for another day.

Eventually not even her own sweet grain could keep her interested for ever. She eventually decided it wasn't worth paying attention to. So I let her wriggle and fight the leash for a bit, since she had less training with it, then led her around in a few patterns with it before putting her back in the pen.

I decided it would be best to focus on one major trick per goat, and then build off of that. For Lissa, it'll be "touch" since she's very fond of that. For Rosie, I plan to use "foot" and maybe eventually build off that to some more acrobatics. I haven't decided for Pheobe what would be best for her. Working with Rosie and Lissa tired me out, so I didn't work with her today.

I also decided not to work with them too long each day, so that they wouldn't get tired of me too quickly. Lissa was obviously willing to work longer, but I also didn't want to spoil their supper. We'll have to see once again what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Training a Goat to Talk

So after debating and debating what I'd like to do with my life, I went over all the different things I like to do. I am insatiably curious about the mind and how it works. I love animals. I'm really good at working with people. So I was wandering around the internet looking for something to catch my interest, when all of a sudden, I had an epiphany! I will study to become a psychobiologist! Basically, I get to work with humans AND animals, in both research and practice. I'm now looking forward to working in a research setting discovering new things about animals and their behavior, OR at a zoo making sure that animal habitats are perfectly designed to keep them happy and healthy/working with the breeding program OR working with traumatized kids using animals to break the ice and pull them back from the brink!! :D :D

So now to this post, not just about my epiphany (and if I were you, I'd remember my name). Today I felt the inspiration of my future career coursing through my veins. I'm currently reading the book "Alex and Me" about the smartest bird in the world, an African Grey parrot named Alex. This book gave me the courage to start what I've been daydreaming about for a while; training!

And though I have to pick one of four kinds of animals to train, the decision was easy. First to knock off the list was my hermit crabs; they work too slow to ever train, plus I've never actually seen them eat..... Second knock off, the chickens. They're all fine and dandy, but their life expanse is short and my mom would rather them focus on laying eggs. Third choice, one of my three cats; but in this case I'd have to buy treats and a few other supplies, plus work with one where the others wouldn't disturb it.... Someday I'll train them too.

SO I decided to train (drum roll please) MY GOATS!! And I'm going to document each day that I work with them, so that if I end up with my goat circus (I'm crazy I know) I can publish a book after retirement and make even more money.

Today is day one of my "Training a Goat to Talk" escapade. I prepared my supplies eagerly; a clicker, and three carrots chopped and separated into three different cups. So easy! Though I found myself almost impatient with how long the carrots were taking to chop.

Next step was to go outside and dive head first. I reminded myself to not be too expectant on the first day; way back when we tried to clicker train my dog, I skimmed the book and recalled the first step was to train the animal that the clicker sound meant a treat. So I decided to work with my herd queen Lissa first.

I pulled her out of the pen and amid the chickens and hay, I started clicking. At first, I just fed her the tiny bits of carrots I had chopped (tiny pieces means small reward but more encouragement time). She however was curious about the clicker in my hand, so began to touch that hand with my mouth. An idea came to me, and I ran with it. Each time she touched my hand with the clicker, I clicked, and gave her a treat. She got to the point of touching one hand and quickly bouncing to the other to find the treat. I moved my hand around and she reached and stretched to touch it before going back to the other hand for the treat. Occasionally she'd look for the treats in my pocket, but mostly I was able to keep her focused. I soon added the command "Touch!" to the training, and now I would (try) to say "touch" before she touched my hand, click, and then give her a treat. I tried working on stay with her, but that engagement ended quickly so I stopped and went back to "Touch". When I ran out of carrots from the first cup, I put her back in the pen.

Pheobe should have been next, but she shied away from the gate when I opened it, so I grabbed Rosie instead. Rosie was one I was worried about a bit. She was the baby after all, plus she never really took much of an interest in food apart from grain. But she took to the carrots perfectly and soon I had her ears pricking whenever the clicker sounded. At the same time, I found her easily distracted, and occasionally she'd wander away. I never forced her to come back; she wouldn't go far without the rest of the herd. Instead I called her, and each time she came back to me I clicked and gave her a treat before continuing. She picked up the "Touch" command very quickly, but was obviously struggling to hold her attention on me. But soon enough she finished her carrots, so I put her back in the pen once more.

Finally I grabbed Pheobe, and by grab I mean that literally, seeing as I had to drag her out of the pen. But once she was out she remembered she had seen me with carrots and followed me willingly to the center next to the pen. She, like her daughter, picked up the "click/treat" process quickly. BUT she had an even SHORTER attention span than her daughter, and it wasn't long before the treats didn't interest her at all (which I found surprising considering that she loves food). So, not wanting to force her and knowing she was still getting used to frequent human contact, I put her back in the pen.

But I still had half a cup of carrots left. So, I pulled Lissa out again. She had been paying careful attention at the fence line, so I figured she wouldn't mind working again. I reminded her about the touch trick, and then decided to see if I could progress her further. Instead of clicking each time she touched my hand, I waited. At first she would touch my hand then go look for the treat. When she didn't get one, she'd go to touch my hand again. This time, I'd say "touch" and click when she did. It took her a few tries, but she learned that unless she heard the click, she wasn't going to get the treat. So she started holding her nose on my hand waiting for the click.

Of course, with her big appetite and willingness to learn, she soon devoured the last of the carrots. So I bid the girls adue and came inside to proclaim my first day of success. I'm excited for this project, and can't wait to see what I can train the girls to do. The sad part is that I'm only home for a week. I guess that'll be a good start, then every time I come home for a weekend I'll have to work with them to refresh their memory. By summer, they should be ready to REALLY buckle down and train :D :D

Tomorrow will be a good test to see if they actually remember anything from today... I'm not sure how good a goat's memory is . . . .

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't have to be rich, to be my girl

Pheobe the Nigerian Dwarf came to us just after the new year, when we picked her up from a man about an hour or  so away. Ever since Lissa's twin sister Amara died, we were worried that our queen would be lonely. Actually, she began to think she was human, but still, it couldn't be all that fun to be in a big pen and a big barn all alone.

So I did a random search on CraigsList on a whim, and saw a wethered Nigerian Dwarf for sale very cheap. It was perfect! He wouldn't eat much, but he'd keep Lissa company and only need a bit of care. I called to see if he was still available . . . but he'd been sold already.

But it occurred to me that a ND was the way to go. It'd be difficult for my mother to manage a new larger goat all on her own in the middle of winter, but a little goat would be hardly a problem. So I went around on CraigsList again, searching for just the right goat.

Four Nigerian Dwarves were available in a nearby town. Two does, a buck, and a wether. We decided very quickly to get one of the girls, and soon we were off to pick her up. When we got there, we were faced with the decision whether to pick the sunny gold doe, or the chocolate brown. I tried to eyeball them all over, and see which one had better show form. But it was hard to tell under their winter coats and skittish nature.

Finally, we decided on the sunny gold girl, because she was just so pretty

So we brought the girl home, and I already knew her name was going to be Pheobe. It took some arguing with my mother, but eventually she agreed that the name really fit the little goat.

"Fifi" as we nicknamed her, was very shy and skittish. We had to corner her to pet or hold her, and getting her to STAY in her stall proved a problem within the first few minutes. But she instantly stuck like glue to Lissa, who also seemed rather interested to see another goat around again. Though Lissa remained possessive of "her" home, lil' Pheobe didn't seem to care that she would always push her away. It was like she had adopted her as her surrogate mother. And she would stand her ground against Lissa, going up on her hind legs to better reach her penmate's head.

It was a surprise to discover that Pheobe had been kept in with the buck that the man had also owned. Which meant she was most probably pregnant. Which worked just fine with us, since Lissa was also pregnant. The two grew huge and fat together, Pheobe grew so wide she had trouble making it through into her stall at times.

Fifi popped first, giving us two lil' babies, a boy and a girl. We named them Thor, who would later leave the farm with Lissa's buckling Maximus, and Rosie, who we decided to keep from the moment we saw her.

But the reason I made this post was because I wanted to talk about the crazy amount of improvement Pheobe has done. Before being within five feet of her was a chance miracle, but now, she'll come right up to me and my mother. For me, she'll even stand to be loved on, and seems to really enjoy having her sides scratched. If new people come to the pen, she becomes her shy self again, but only until they leave the pen, then she'll be right up at the fence saying hello.

Today I found "Fifi Marie" (all of our does get the middle name Marie) to be the most sociable I've ever seen her. I stayed out in the pen with the three girls for a good hour or two, and Fifi was at my side almost all of the time. At one point she even laid down next to me. And she most especially loved to have her food swollen sides rubbed and scratched after a good long grazing session.

The change in her is so incredible, I just had to talk about it. Its a little sad to think that Pheobe and Rosie will be the only NDs we ever keep (though maybe we'll have a buck someday too), it also makes them all that more special.

Today I also brought Rosie Marie with me in my car to go get some hay for the girls. On the drive there (about 15 min) she lay down in the passenger seat, content but obviously on alert. When we got there, she panicked at first when I got out of the car, until she realized I was coming around to get her. She wasn't very happy to be left on her feet, and soon enough I had to pick her up and carry her with me inside. The people who worked there were excited to meet her, especially when she started bleating because I had to put her down to pay. On the ride home, I let her sit on my lap, and though it made driving difficult, she seemed to be a lot more reassured. Towards the end of the return trip she clambered off and over to the passenger seat where she laid down once again.

All and all, it was a day for the Nigerians, and I think they know it. Though I love all three of them dearly, each one is special and has their own lovable and sweet personality. Each day I can't wait to go out and spend more time with them.

Pheobe's Twins
Pheobe and Lissa, starting to get more noticeably pregnant
Such a personality :D :D

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Goat, A Goat, My Kingdom for a Goat

Well, its coming up to the time of breeding for the girls. We like to breed the girls in December so that they kid in May when I come home for the summer. So its part of the fun to find the perfect Buck for our girls.

But fun has turned to a mild frustration this year. Its been hard to find Alpines in our area, especially with our limitations as to cost and ADGA registered. I'm considering turning criminal just to find a buck with ADGA papers who can get our girl Lissa to drop a doe or three. Oi. We have a few potentials for her, but I think we're going to go with the Reynolds buck, an Alpine they are leasing from Doe Haven. Lissa has some Doe Haven in her, but she's not related to the buck thats going down. But I haven't even seen him! On the goat forum I'm on, everyone is talking about bucks and does and kids and milk and its driving me insane! If I had the money and space (and wasn't away at college the majority of the year) I would buy any goat that needed a home. Its hard to resist the beautiful girls and boys that people have. And hard to wait to see what my not-even-bred-yet does kid in the spring.

Another toughy about bucks is my problem of Rosie and Pheobe, our dwarf goats. (btw, would you spell it dwarFS or dwarVES??) Rosie is registered with NMGA (at least will be when the papers finally come in officially in the mail) and has an "certificate of Identification" from ADGA (same story as above). So I want to breed her to a registered buck. Problem? I'm not planning on keeping any of her babies. So why so much effort? I guess so that I can sell her babies for more since they'll be registered. But who knows really?? As for Pheobe, her kids would be pure profit; no de-budding, no castration, no nothing unless it gets built into the cost. I think Pheobe throws cutie pie kids and is a good mother. Plus she's so young she'd be a waste just to have around (I also feel like she'd get excluded if everyone but her had kids). I want to breed her to a cheap buck (if I have to pay at all) maybe even a pygmy! But I can't seem to find one ANYWHERE!! >.< I have to tell myself repeatedly, we are Alpine breeders. Pheobe and Rosie are our ONLY exceptions, and are just here for love and company (best. investment. ever. :D)

I keep telling my parents that I want one buck of each. Yes they are smelly, but from what I am reading they are super sweet and lovey if you handle them right. I could even show them if I got ones with papers. And every few kiddings I could trade them out for fresh faces, AND NEVER AGAIN WOULD I HAVE TO SPEND MONTHS SEARCHING FOR JUST THE RIGHT BUCK!!!

Still, we are planning on expanding our herd, at least in female numbers. Lissa hasn't thrown us a single girl, and the only girl born on the farm other than Rosie was Vittoria from Amara's only kidding. But we sold her thinking we could just get another that could be registered purebred. NOPE. Nada. Ziltch. Nothing.

When we finally do get a doe out of Lissa (and I'm hoping she'll have twin or triplet does next!) I want to build another small barn and box in our milking station. I may separate by breed at night, so I could make a small shed like barn for Pheobe and Rosie. Wouldn't be too much effort but would free up a stall in the original barn. Then maybe we could expand that one if we wanted more Alpines . . . . So many plans, so little construction ability.

As for the boxing in our milking station, when we get more Alpines I want to become certified to sell the milk so that we can really start raking in the dough. Its hard to find time to make goat milk products, especially in-edible ones we can sell without a license. My mom doesn't have the time and I don't have the patience. So building a functional milking shed with separate sink, pots, and fridge, would be excellent. Though of course then we'd have to get some sort of milker, since my mom has arthritis and i have tendonitis.. . . .

Another issue that I sense looming is me. I'm growing up! Already I'm 20, and going to be a Junior in college! Both my older brothers have moved out, so I feel like I should be too. I think I'll move out my Senior year, which means is it even fair to begin expanding like this? Or should I bank on the hope that I can lease out a huge house with a bunch of friends that has property I can keep the goats on?

The future is so foggy. I can't wait to see where it'll go but at the same time I like how things are now. If things stay the same, I can do all these plans. .  . but if not. . . .  :/

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not Even Gone Yet

Well, for my first post, I guess I'll talk about the most recent upcoming event. It has to do with a few little boogers born this past spring. One is almost three months. One is almost two.

Maximus is a purebred American Alpine wether. He's just like his daddy, Jasper, who we bred to his mother, Bedlam Manor's Mercedes (aka Lissa) in December of the previous winter. He was born on June 7th, just 3 days before my 20th birthday. Of all the kids I've gotten from Lissa, he just seemed like the most sweetest, even tempered little guy of the lot. He started out a bit shy, but his momma loves me, so it wasn't long before he discovered the pleasures of a good ear scratch. And even though he is the youngest of the three kids born this spring, he was already the biggest the day he was born. Despite this, I remember his lack of balance on his long gangly legs. He was so big, and grew so fast, "Maximus" seemed a fitting name for him. He's a lovey dovey little boy. He's got a horn growing back a bit, but it just makes him even more like his also super sweet dad.

The second booger is a purebred Nigerian Dwarf named Thor. A sweetheart and the first to break the human-goat barrier. When I make a fist he comes up and lightly butts it with his head. I like to think of it as his favorite form of greeting. He was also the first to figure out that when I sit down, he can jump up onto my lap. Even now, though Max jumps up to get height so that he can stand on my lap, Thor immediately lays down, as if to say "Nap time!". He's very flexible, and allows lots of manipulation so that you can cuddle him while he lays on his back with his belly up. He is really lovey too, a real sweetheart and cuddle-butt.

This Sunday they are going to their new home. And I've been missing them since last week. Even though they haven't left. Oh dear. This'll be a tough one.

On the bright side, we are keeping Thor's twin sister, Rosie. I like to call her my comatose goat, because once she lays down on my lap, she's out like a light. She's also a real momma's girl, so it's good that she'll get to stay here for as long as she lives. It'll be exciting to see a goat grow from birth to adulthood. Usually we get them toward the middle of the process or sell them when they are a few months old. I'm looking forward to that, but it'll only dull the pain of loosing my lovey dovey sweethearts just a bit.

Goats are very good at teaching life lessons. From pain of death to joy of life to regret of sold to excitement of purchase. Quite the roller coaster. But I wouldn't trade my girls for the world.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Maxi is black and white, Thor brown and white. Rosie is the little brown one, Pheobe (the twins mom) is the gold dwarf, and Lissa is the big white girl.