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