Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just Click It!

You don't need expensive equipment for clicker training

One of our readers, Alison Charter-Smith, asked for tips on sheep and goat handling when you haven't got an assistant and must do things yourself (thanks, Alison!). I'm working on it but haven't had a helper when I need to take pictures, so I'm posting this in the meantime. This is because we clicker train our sheep and goats and clicker training makes handling them infinitely easier. If you'd like to try it, this column will help get you started.

This is an updated and somewhat tweaked piece I wrote for the Inside Storey blog on January 1, 2010. I called it as now, Just Click It! I'm posting it to both Goat Tips & Tricks and Sheep Tips & Tricks but my follow-up columns will be species-specific.  

Just Click It! 

While most folks associate clicker training, also known as operant conditioning, with sea mammals, horses, and dogs, it’s the easiest and most rewarding way to train birds and animals of all sorts and sizes. Clicker training pioneers Marian Breland Bailey and her first and second husbands, Keller Breland and Bob Bailey, in fact trained more than 140 species at their educational facility in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Hens, the Brelands learned early on, were the ideal medium for teaching prospective trainers to use operant conditioning. They are fast, predictable, portable, and easily handled. To see how it’s done, check out the Chicken Camp videos at YouTube (start with the chicken agility video; it’s a good one).

We began clicker training in 1999 when Maggie, an abused 7/8 Arabian mare, came to us. Maggie’s experiences with being haltered as a filly resulted in terrible beatings, so when we got her, haltering was out of the question. We ran her into a stock trailer to bring her home, but what to do then? I’d read about clicking but never tried it. Fortunately, Maggie loved food, so I bought a clicker, made a target, and we began. In a few days we could halter Maggie and she happily followed the target on lead.

Martok examines the target

The basis of clicker training is targeting. This short video featuring a Mammoth Jack shows how. And here are some useful, free downloads:

(for dogs but the principles are universal)

(again for dogs but applicable to other species)
Since then we’ve clicker trained our dogs and equines of all sorts but also cattle, llamas, sheep, and goats. I also write about clicker training in my books; I believe that not only is it the best possible way to forge a bond between humans and their animal friends, but it’s fun to do, and it works!

Getting started is the essence of simplicity. All you need is a basic understanding of clicker-training principles, a clicker, food rewards and a place to stow them, and a target. And no matter which species you plan to train, I strongly recommend if you're a first-timer that you buy Peggy Tillman’s Clicking with Your Dog: Step-by-Step in Pictures (Sunshine Books; 2006) before you begin because it’s the clearest introduction to clicking principles I’ve seen. Barring that (and even if you use the book), plan to visit Clicker Solutions' free online archives, where you can access hundreds of articles about training scores of species. No matter what you want to know, it’s there!

Karen Pryor introduced clicker training to the companion animal community in the 1980s, when she wrote Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training (download a free e-version HERE). Her books and website remain a treasure trove of useful information for new-to-the-art clicker trainers. Don’t miss the free videos, blogs, and articles accessible through this site. It’s a great place to order books and supplies as well.

Hundreds of YahooGroups help newcomers and experienced trainers share insights into clicker training, such as Click Ryder for horse trainers, Bird-Click for cage-bird owners, and Cat-Clicker for cat fans.

Still not convinced? Visit YouTube to watch hundreds of clicker training videos. Simply type clicker train and your species (sheep, goat, donkeys, rabbit, cat, dog, etc.) in the search box and enjoy. Here are a few examples. Be sure to view Spotty's Tricks. While a clicker isn’t obvious in this wonderful video, Spotty clearly targets on his young mistress’s hand. If this is the sort of bond you’d love to forge with your animal friends, try clicker training; you won’t be disappointed!

Clicker Training Sheep

Portuguese dog agility trainer Fernando Silva teaches Clarinha to do agility. This is a really cool video (and I love the music). 

What a clever guy!

Don't miss this—absolutely do not miss it!

Clicker Training Goats

This gorgeous video shot in Slovenia is one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos!

This is a whole series of videos—follow Rosemary's training from day 1

I love this goat!

This 10 minute video covers a lot of ground

Even little guys like Milo love clicker training


Also, if you have suggestions for upcoming Sheep Tips & Tricks or Goat Tips & Tricks columns, feel free to contact me at
Additional fun resources:

Three more of my favorite videos and a website:
They have nothing to do with clicker training but they're good!

I could do this… :o)

This is my all-time favorite YouTube video

Punkin, Icelandic Sheep wether and his Portuguese Water Dog friend, Rock, turn the tables on herding in this charming video

The ultimate guide to great names for sheep, goats, and everything else; there's nothing else like this, anywhere!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Goats vs. Sheep


Tank is a 3/4 Boer and 1/4 Saanen wether.
Does he look like a character? He is!


Our Scottish Blackface ram, Othello, was a
birthday gift from my husband, John.


Some time ago a reader at Hobby Farms asked me, "Which is easier to raise, sheep or goats?" I thought and thought, and I can't settle on a definitive answer. It depends. It depends on your limitations, the kind of handling facilities you have, the time and effort you plan to invest in your animals, and even your sense of humor. Here are some things to consider before choosing sheep or goats.

1. Fencing
Goats are infinitely harder to keep in fences than sheep are. Goats are adventurers. If they find a weak place in the fence, they exploit it. They like to know what's over the next hill and what the neighbors are growing in their garden. However, you need sturdy fences to safely raise both sheep and goats, not just to keep them home, but to keep predators away from your herd or flock. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, or dogs can quickly kill a sheep or goat, even one with horns. I'll talk about fencing, predators, and livestock guardian dogs (we wouldn't be without one) in upcoming blog entries.

Several of our goats browse on a fallen tree.
Simka, the doe in the tree loves to climb.

2. Climbing
Goats climb, most sheep don't. This means that if goats can reach motor vehicles, farm machinery, hoop shelters, big bales of hay, or anything else, they're going to be on top of it in the blink of an eye. If you leave your car door open, you'll have a goat in your car. Some people find this endearing (I do) but it drives others up the wall. If you want goats but don't want this problem, read my Hobby Farms article about Myotonic goats. Myotonics, also known as fainters, are marvelous goats and very few of them are able to climb.

3. Handling
Goats are generally easier to handle than sheep during routine procedures like worming, vaccinating, and hoof trimming, because frightened sheep, even if they're usually tame, are very strongly wired to run. You must have a catch area to nab them. Some goats that haven't been handled do that too, but most goats let you slip a collar and lead rope or an adjustable catch rope (I'll show you how to make good one in another column) around their necks; then they're comparatively easy to handle.

4. Breeding
Based on our 10 years with sheep and seven with goats, it's been much, much easier for our sheep to lamb than our goats to kid; therefore, I haven't had to help the sheep as often. This varies a lot, however, from breed to breed. Our Classic/Miniature Cheviots are hardy sheep. Their lambs have small, tapered heads that slip easily through their dams' birth canals, so our ewes rarely have birthing problems. That's not necessarily true of larger-headed breeds. With goats, our Nubians have never have difficulty kidding, but our Boer does had problem after problem, so much so that nowadays they're pets and expensive pasture ornaments.

Hair sheep like Mopple (3/4 Dorper and 1/4 Katahdin) needn't be
shorn, though Mopple only partially sheds and needs an annual
touchup with shears

5. Shearing
You don't have to shear goats unless you raise Angoras, Pygoras, or Nigora goats. That's an enormous plus since shearers are in very short supply. Wool sheep must be shorn once or twice a year; you'll have to find a shearer or learn to shear them yourself. You can also avoid the need to shear by keeping hair sheep breeds (for more information, read my Hobby Farms article about hair sheep) that shed their fleece such as Dorpers, Katahdins, and Wiltshire Horns, or true hair-only hair sheep like St. Croixs or Barbados Blackbellies.

6. Grazing and Browsing
Sheep are grazers and goats are browsers—goats prefer brush, twigs, and leaves to grass. If you want an organic lawnmower, think sheep. Goats, however, can neatly clear your farm of pesky brush and weeds. Hardy mountain sheep breeds like Scottish Blackface and Black Welsh Mountain both browse and graze, but all in all, sheep prefer grass.

Young Martok dances for Nick. Nick seems duly impressed!

7. Demeanor 
Sheep are very affectionate in their own way. They love to flock around people they trust and beg for Tositos or a scratch under the chest or chin. Even "untouchable" sheep (some sheep in every flock prefer not to be touched) crowd around your legs because they like you. They gaze up at you with love and trust in their eyes. Unless you're trying to do something unpleasant—like worming or vaccinating—sheep are calm and quiet. Sheep are wonderfully low-key and they steal your heart. You can meditate seated on the ground surrounded by happy sheep. Ahhhh!

Goats on the other hand are bombastic; they crave attention and they want it right now. They tug your clothes or your hair to grab your attention. They butt and shove one another out of the way, sometimes propelling another goat into you—hard. If you want to sit among a group of more than just a few goats they'd better be lying down. Or bring a sturdy chair when you do it and meditate with one eye open. Grown goats may try to sit in your lap. Goats love their people. They adore them. They scream bloody murder when their humans pen them up and walk away.

Sheep are friendly and stoic; goats are ├╝ber-lovable or infinitely obnoxious; it depends on your outlook.

8. Preference
Finally, it makes a difference which species you prefer. If noise annoys you or you have close neighbors, some breeds of goats have loud, strident voices and they love to use them, so take that into consideration. And, as I put forth in If You're Short of Trouble, Take a Goat, goats can be very, very mischievous. If that bothers you, stick to sheep.

Sheep get along together very well.
Aliss picks at grass while Drex gazes
at the camera.

8. But you really needn't choose: get both.

Sheep and goats eat the same types and qualtites of feed, share the same types of internal and external parasites, and most diseases sheep can get, goats can get and vice versa. If you already have one species, getting to know the other is a piece of cake.

The only drawback to keeping sheep and goats together is that sheep cannot have added copper in their feed or minerals (copper is lethal to sheep in high amounts), whereas goats have high copper requirements. There are two good ways to handle this problem.

·        Feed sheep-specific commercial feed (be sure the label reads, "no copper added") to both species and give goats a semi-annual Copasure bolus. Copasure is a product designed for cattle but it's easy to repackage calf-size Copasure boluses into goat-size portions by opening them and repacking their contents in gelatin capsules. I'll be writing a blog entry about this very soon.

·        Pen goats and sheep separately at night so each has access to species-specific commercial feeds and minerals.

Sheep and goats coexist quite well. Ours live in separate quarters at night but stay together and are guarded by the same livestock guardian dog through the day. The goats occasionally shove the sheep around a bit but the sheep don't seem to mind. That said, the ultimate boss in our commingled group is Angel, an extremely ancient Wiltshire Horn sheep.

Everybody--sheep and goats alike--jump when Angel says, "Jump!"

Check These Out

I happen upon some truly great resources while researching my articles and books, so I've decided to share a few with each blog entry. Since I'm posting this entry to both Sheep Tips & Tricks and Goat Tips & Tricks, these apply to both species.

Sheep people: check out this fantastic feature at Britain's National Sheep Association website. It's a best-bet guide to all the sheep breeds available in the British Isles, with live links to each breed's breed society website. I love British breeds and wish we had more to choose from. There would definitely be Rough Fells in my flock!

Another great source of sheep and goat information is the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary Industries website, where you can download a wealth of information in free PDF format. The sheep index is here and the goat index, here. Goat people: don't miss their Anatomy and Physiology of the Goat download; it's so good.

And if you have goats or even if you don't, I can't too highly recommend Connie Reynolds' wonderful Nannyberries columns at the Boer and Meat Goat Information Center website. Connie is my hero; she made me laugh, she made me cry. I've printed these out and spiral bound them to read again and again. I love the Nannyberries. I think you will too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking Good Pictures of Goats

Baby Curzon, only hours old

Because so many people ask me how we take good photos of our animals, I'm going to post this to both Goat Tips & Tricks and Sheep Tips & Tricks, except with different pictures to each blog.

Really, taking good pictures is easy and you don't need a top-of-the-line camera to do it well. We took publication-quality 35mm transparencies (slides) with a bargain basement Pentax K-1000 manual camera and two interchangeable lenses for over 15 years. When the K-1000 gave up the ghost, we switched to a Pentax ME Super and we'd still be using it if we hadn't discovered digital photography. Now I'm a convert and we use a Canon EOS Rebel XTi  with two lenses, a 75-300mm zoom and an 18-55mm zoom. Unlike the K-1000, it wasn't cheap, even purchased at BestBuy, but we've used it for four years on a nearly daily basis to shoot many thousands of pictures, so it's more than paid its way. I prefer the Canon to my 35mm camera because I can shoot loads of pictures at virtually no cost.

Uzzi as the Oak King graced our Christmas cards one year

I want to stress that you don't need an expensive camera with all the bells and whistles to take good photos. Photography became my hobby early-on and my first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye (you can't get much simpler than that). I used it to take a picture that won a Grand Championship ribbon at the Indiana State Fair. I later won awards in horse photography contests with pictures taken with Instamatic cameras. I don't know an f-stop from an orangutan and you don't need to in order to take great pictures. You just have to follow a few simple rules and learn to use the camera you've got.

Emony says, "Where's supper?"

However, if you can afford it, buy a camera with interchangeable lenses so you can use a zoom lens to shoot animal pictures. That way you can stay farther from your subject and the zoom helps keep its parts in proportion. An 80-200mm zoom is perfect for livestock photography.

Choose the highest resolution setting on your camera. You’ll hate it if you shoot the perfect picture in poor-quality low-resolution.

Plan your shoot. Find a nice backdrop or at least remove junk from the background you have.

K'ehlyr munches oak leaves in an autumn setting

Shoot at the right time of day. Morning and evening lighting is perfect; shooting when the sun is overhead casts deep shadows. Stand with the sun at your back or slightly over one shoulder. Watch to make sure your shadow doesn’t spoil the image.

Get down on your subject’s level. Level with the center of its body is perfect. Kneel, sit, or lie on your tummy but never shoot from above unless you're trying for special effects. That distorts your subject’s body and gives him short legs.

Esme poses with a garland of old-fashioned roses

Ask someone to help you grab your subject’s interest at just the right time. Have your helper toodle a kazoo, wave a plastic bag, squeak a squeaky toy, or roll on the ground. Keep in mind you want an alert expression, not panic. Experiment until you find the right ploy.

Fill the frame but don’t cut off ears, feet, or tails. Or, learn to use photo editing software to crop your favorite shots.

Milo says it's easy to take alert-looking pictures of us wethers and bucks--just wait until we have to pee

If you’re working alone, be patient. Sit with your camera ready and wait for the perfect picture to happen.

Stay alert while sitting, especially with your camera at your face. I've been ambushed by nasty roosters, flattened by a flying goat (propelled my direction by another goat), and used as a jungle gym by bottle lambs and kids.

Kerla, like many of our bottle babies is house-trained; here he lounges on the couch

Shoot a lot of pictures. I delete at least 15 images for every one I save.  

And when you move position, watch where you park your butt, especially if sitting in animal poop offends you. Or, you could sit on a thistle. I've done it and it hurts!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Goat Behavior

The Prayer of the Goat
"Lord, let me live as I will
I need a little wild freedom
A little gladness of heart
The strange taste of unknown flowers
For whom else are your mountains?
Your snow, wind? - These springs?
The sheep do not understand as they graze
All of them and always in the same direction.
But I - I love to bound to the heart of your marvels,
Leap your chasms
And, with my mouth filled
With intoxicating grasses
Quiver with an adventurer's delight
On the summit of the world."

I don't know who wrote that poem, though I find it on many websites as I search the Internet for goaty things. Whoever it was, he or she knew goats.

If you're thinking buying goats, read my writer's blog entry, If You're Short of Trouble... (reprinted from the Friday, March 26, 2010 edition of Storey Publishing's blog, Inside Storey) before you do. And if you've just gotten goats or love studying goat behavior as much as I, check out these great online resources.

Start with Goat Behavior at Fias Co Farm. Fias Co Farm is my first-choice website for everything to do with goats or home dairying. Even if you have pet goats or meat goats, don't miss this fantastic site!

Next, download a 16-page PDF, The Behavior of Sheep and Goats from The Ethology of Domestic Animals by Per Jensen. I go back to this book time and time again, whenever I write about a new species.

Behavioural Profiles of Domestic Animals – Goats is brief chapter from Judith K. Blackshaw's downloadable book, Notes on Some Topics in Applied Animal Behavior. It's not as extensive as most other chapters, but it's good.

Dr. Clive Dalton of the New Zealand-based, fantastic, Woolshed1 blog (if you have Angora goats, you'll love this blog) wrote a number of exceptionally useful goat behavior entries: Goats & Man: Senses: Social Behaviour; Feeding Behaviour; Reproduction: Birth, Survival; and Handling: Welfare Issues. 

Goat Wisdom offers an interesting page about goat behavior, too.

Goat packer websites are often unusually good sources of behavioral information and tips. Northwest Packgoats' Goat Bites, Butts, Horns People is a must-read for people with slightly ornery goats; while you're there, follow the links to additional articles about catching, leading, and other goaty problems.

And for fun (and a good deal of insight into working goats), read the goat breed profile article, Which Breed is Best at High Unita Packgoats. It will make people who know these breeds smile. I find their assessments right on, except my Nubians have excellent work ethics—maybe because I clicker train and food is involved.

While researching this blog entry I happened upon Goat Behavior and Children at the Wild Roots Homestead blog. If you have goats and small children, check it out—it makes very good sense to me.

Finally, if you're interested in the odd and usual (I am!), read Gary Pfalzbot's article, Moon Phases, about kidding as it applies to phases of the moon.

And, I talk about goat behavior, including influencing behavior through clicker training, quite extensively in my Storey Publishing book, The Backyard Goat; An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese. If you don't have a copy, I'd love it if you'd buy one. It's been my favorite book to write thus far (with The Backyard Sheep, coming out in 2013, a very close second) and I think my love of goats shines through.

Now, grab a folding chair or a blanket to sit on and go out among your goats and settle down. When they're through chewing your hair, climbing on your lap, and begging for scritches, they'll go back to what they were doing and you can study herd dynamics firsthand. It's fascinating, fun, and a best-bet way to spend quality time with your goats. While you're at it, give a goat a kiss and hug from me!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dollar Store Collars

Bon Bon wearing a dollar store collar. She's just given birth to Jadzia (right) and Curzon (left).

Have you ever wanted to collar your goats for leading or identification purposes but hesitate because they might get their collars snagged on a fence or tree limb and hang themselves? Here is a good, safe solution and it costs but pennies: use el cheapo dog collars from the dollar store.

Choose dollar store dog collars with flimsy plastic buckles like the one in the picture. These break or pop open under pressure but are strong enough for leading (but not tying) purposes. Since they cost a dollar it isn't a huge loss if they break. We like these even better than the plastic link neck chains from Hoeggers that we rate as a close second best.

If you want to tie your goat, perhaps to bathe or clip her, don't use these collars! They'll break under pressure every time. Instead, buy the same type of collar from a pet store. The plastic closures on better quality collars are much sturdier than dollar store collars and they'll hold if your goat pulls back. It's important, however, to switch back to the dollar store collar when you're finished because collars with heavier fittings usually don't break or release if a goat gets caught on something, as goats often do.

Here's another way we use these handy collars. Our Bon Bon family consists of our brown Nubian doe, Earthsong Cinnamon Bon Bon, two litters of her offspring, and her daughter Jadzia's two sons. Of these eight goats, six are black with very similar markings. When we worm or give shots it can be hard knowing which of six look-alike goats milling around us have been wormed and vaccinated and which haven't. So we collar each goat with a blue dollar store collar as we handle it and remove all the collars when we're done.

Warning: don't collar young kids unless you're with them, such as for leading lessons, because they don't always weigh enough to break the fittings of even flimsy dollar store collars.

Adjust collars so they fit close to your goat's neck but aren't tight. Don't leave a loop so your goat gets easily caught on things or another goat gets her leg or horn through the loop. The collars we use on adult goats are 5/8" wide and adjust from 14-20". To launder them simply swish the collars in soapy water, rinse well and air dry.
Please visit my Sue Weaver – Ozark Writer and Sheep Tips & Tricks blogs, as well as my Facebook writer's page