I started interning at Flint Hill Farm in October of 2019. It's the perfect place to gain experience as a student who is majoring in animal and food science. Through this blog I'll go into the difference experiences and opportunities I've had.
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- Medicating Goats
The goats here are some of my favorite animals. We have a group of goats we use for dairy and breeding, as well as two groups of young goats that we can use for events. Some of the younger goats are also available to be purchased.
Some ways I've been involved with managing the herd is through milking, administering medicine, hoof trimming, checking FAMACHA scores, and performing fecal counts.
Below is an image of a young goat's hoof I treated. She was limping, so I checked out her hoof. I washed and cleaned it, after trimming her feet I realized that she had a fungal infection between her toes.
It had been raining a lot recently, so the wet conditions might be why her foot become infected. After thoroughly washing and drying her foot I treated it with this purple liquid generally called gentian violet. It's an antiseptic and can be used to treat fungus. It's also great because it will stay on in wet conditions.
I repeated this a few times over the course of a month. For her last treatment I soaked her foot in a salt and betadine bath.
A couple weeks later and she has been looking much better!
Recently I've been learning on how to perform fecal samples. We do this for the goats and sheep, and we're looking for different parasites. Mainly coccidia (a protozoa) and barber pole worms (Haemonchus contortus). Barber pole worms can be very threatening to goats and sheep, they attach to the stomach and drink their hosts' blood. This can result in anemia and a very weak animal.
The oval shape in the middle of the image is an egg of a barber pole worm. I took this image through the microscope while performing a fecal.
We have been using cydectin to treat our livestock for parasites. We will also give iron injections to the sheep/goats with a very high FAMACHA score.
These types of parasites are very common in livestock, and all livestock will harbor parasites. Issues occur when the parasite load is too high. This can happen with livestock because over time animals will be grazing the same area they drop feces. They consume the eggs of parasites, and repeatedly infect themselves this way. It's important to monitor iron levels, and watch for symptoms of parasites.
After treating our sheep and goats with Prohibit (a dewormer), we performed new fecals a couple weeks later. We couldn't find any barber pole worm eggs. We believe the parasites had built up a tolerance to Cydectin, so the new medication was a good choice.
On the right is an image that I took while checking the FAMACHA score of a sheep. FAMACHA stands for Faffa Malan Chart. It's one way to check for anemia. The mucous membranes of the eye should be a deep pink. The paler the membrane the more anemic the animal is. The scale ranges 1-5, 1 being perfect and 5 being extremely anemic.
It can take about 6 weeks for animals to recover from anemia. Some animals are chronically anemic, even if they have been treated.
Milking is one of the most important chores here (at least in my opinion). We currently have 4 cows, 2 sheep, and 12 goats that are actively getting milked. Milking happens in the morning, around 7 am, and in the afternoon around 2 pm.
Typically I start with the cows. We milk one at a time. All the animals know the schedule pretty well, and are used to the routine. They come when called, and usually enter and exit the milking parlor without much of a fuss.
It's important to set up everything you need and to get yourself prepared before you start milking. First, I set up the pulsator, claw, and the tank the milk will flow into. Cows have 4 teats, so the claw has 4 suction cups. When the cow walks into the dairy, we secure her in a headlock (totally painless), and feed her. This creates a positive association to milking for the cow, and makes it an easier job for us.
Before attaching the claw, I make sure her udders are clean. I wash off her udder with warm water, and clean towel that has udder wash or another santizing solution. I dip her teats in teat dip, then wipe that off with another clean towel. Cleaning her udder before milking is important, one, it allows me to feel her udder and check for any abnormalities. Second, by handling her teats, it helps stimulate her udder and prepares to drop milk. This makes milking easier on the teat.
I milk her until I can't see milking flowing into the tank anymore. It's important not to overmilk, this damages the mammary glands and tissues. I repeat this for the rest of the cows. In the morning the cows have more milk, I may need more than one container. Before moving onto our goats, I transfer the milking into a cooling tank. We keep the milk at 38 degrees F or lower. The tanks can hold up to 30 gallons, and have a temperature probe, as well as a large stirrer that keeps the milk moving and at a stable temperature.
Milking the goats is a little different, they only have 2 teats. This means the claw only has 2 suction cups. We also prepare 3 goats at a time. They're trained to jump onto a milking stand and enter a headlock (similar to the cows), where they also get fed. Again, I'll wash all their udders with a clean towel, warm water, and a sanitizing solution. The goats don't take as long as the cows, they don't have as much milk stored in their udders. Once I'm done with the goats, I transfer the milk to the goat milk cooling tank. Then I milk our sheep the same way as the goats. The sheep don't produce too much milk so I store their milk in container in the fridge.
After milking is completed, it's time to clean! Everything we used to milk gets sanitized. The claws get rinsed. and we pump bleach water through for about 10 minutes. The small tanks, any transferring tubes, the pulsator, all get rinsed with warm water, soap, and then rinsed again with bleach water. Or, in the case of the pulsator (which I can't submerge), I'll wash it and then spray a santizing solution on it.
We also sweep out the dairy after milking, and always check to make sure the animals have access to water in the pasture, and in the stalls for when they come back in. As for the milk, we store it until we need to make yogurt, ice cream, cheese, buttermilk, or kiefer! We will even sell it raw.
Left: Attached goat milker
Right: Attached cow milker
To the left is a picture of a tank ready to do. The lid and pulsator on top, with the attached air tubes, and claw.
Below is our billy goat, "Sir Awesome", demonstrating how the goats are secured in the morning for milking. He had a minor fungal infection in his hoof wall, so he's getting a salt and betadine soak.
Sheep headed out to pasture on a foggy morning after milking.
Calf and Kidding Season
One of the most interesting experiences I've had here is watching a goat give birth. This was the mom's first time giving birth, and she was pregnant with twins. Her first kid came out easily, however she was struggling with the second one. Twins are common in goat pregnancy. Unfortunately in this case, the second kid was pretty large.
She tried to birth the second kid for about 10 minutes with no success. We were able to see the start of a hoof but not much more. Kathy stepped in to check her progress. She noticed that although the front hooves were correctly positioned to come out first (before the back legs), the baby's head was tucked against his back with his shoulder going first. His head should have been positioned up front with his nose by the front hooves, almost like he was diving into the world.
This was a problem, the shoulder width is about equal to the head, so he was blocking himself. He was a large baby and didn't have the space to move around in the womb to position correctly. A volunteer restrained the doe as Kathy helped the doe birth her baby. Kathy had to physically pull the kid out of the mom, because mom wasn't able to do it herself.
In most cases livestock will have no problems giving birth. However when things go wrong, I've learned it's really important to know what you're doing. If the doe was by herself, there is a good chance she wouldn't have been able to push the kid out.
Thankfully mom and other baby are doing well. She is producing milk for two babies, and there's only one mouth. So it's important that we milk her to get rid of the excess milk. Too much milk can be bad for the baby, and it can put a strain on mom.
Below is the baby boy about 30 minutes after being born.
Below are mom and baby, about 15 minutes after baby was born.
Below are some of the babies that were born around March 2020. We had lambs and kids born. The babies stayed with their moms for 6 weeks before they were separated. It's important to socialize them and get them used to human interaction. We even train them to walk on a harness and halter.
On the left is one of the older goats that is currently trained on the halter.
On June 2nd 2020 we welcome our first baby jersey calf of the season. We named her Bonnie. Calves stay with their mothers for about 24 hours before they are separated. Dairy cows produce too much milk for just one baby. We will bottle feed the calf and the moms milk will go to our dairy.
In addition to our goat, sheep, and cow babies, we had some feathered friends born in the spring! Below is a photo of the ducklings and the adult ducks they grew into!
This summer I had the opportunity to be director and lead most of the summer camps! I have experience as a camp counsellor from other programs, and I'm pursuing a career in animal education so it was a great fit. I lead the kindercamp (ages 4-6), farm camp (ages 7-14). and I will lead an upcoming camp focused on colonial times.
So far it's been a lot of fun. The camps run Mon through Fri, from 8:30am to 3pm. The kindercamp is shorter, from 8:30am to 11:30am. So far this summer we've made corn muffins from scratch, walked baby cows, played games, made a lot of crafts, and explored the farm. The kids will help with chores like gathering eggs, they learn how we milk the animals, and how we take care of our garden. We even created an obstacle course for the little ones to take their favorite goat through. I've been trying to make camp as fun as possible while also making sure they learn something about farm life everyday.
End of summer update:
Camp was a huge success, it was a lot of fun and I hope everyone had a great time! Scroll down for some pictures from the summer.
Salamander we found on a hike.
Camper with wine berries. we later made jam with them.
Camper with a salamander.
Forest where we hike on the property.
Camper with a chicken!
Soon to be blackberries!
American toad found by one of the campers.
A fun camp project! Two campers built a cart for baby Albert to pull.
A toad found in the garden.
Scratch corn muffins!!
I'm so excited to announce that I'm creating and running a fall/winter program for kids here at Flint Hill! It's called Adventure Club, it starts Saturday September 5th, and will run every Saturday until November 28th. It's a morning program from 9 to noon, and will be available for kids from 4-13.
Sign ups are live! You can register through a link on the website, and classes cap at 10 participants. There is also a schedule posted for the main activities each day.
I'm going to incorporate some of the popular camp activities, as well as create new some new ones.
It's now October and the fall has been flying by. Weekend camp has been going really well, and I've been enjoying the process of learning how to advertise and market my ideas. I'm also planning, along with Lindsey, and Tasha (other interns), a Fall Fest for the weekend of October 31st! It's going to be really fun and a huge learning process along the way.
Our Fall Fest was definitely a success in my book. This was the first time I've ever had to plan any large scale event. I've learned a lot, and I can put "event planner" into the category of careers I never want. While it was a really fun process, it was also very stressful. Partly because I've never done it before, partly because I was really busy with other things as well (2nd job/family), and partly because I can be a procrastinator.
I've learned there is so much to think about. It's all about the specifics! We had trouble getting started because, while all the interns knew what to do, we didn't really assign ourselves tasks. So for the first couple of weeks of planning, nobody really had a checklist that they were marking off. Now I know to specify, and assign everyone individual goals, and then follow through and continue to check in on that person. It's a lot to keep track of!
Our event was scheduled for the weekend (but we got rained out Sunday). However on Saturday we had about 50-60 people show up. I was able to make my money back and keep a little extra. Which I was very proud about. We also made connections with a local homeschooling group and hosted a program with them several weeks later, which was very cool!
We had three games, two crafts, and a bake sale/merchandise section. The other interns chipped in and helped volunteer as well as offer items to sell. The best attraction we had was our wagon rides, which we couldn't have done without Dennis, the guy who keeps the farm running. We also offered an area to eat, and a cute photo op area with hay bales and a big barn poster.
This fall we've been seeing an increase in home-schooling groups looking for educational visits to the farm. I've really enjoyed getting to know parents of the different parents! Working with Kathy I had the freedom to design and create lesson plans. Kathy would usually come up with a topic or a jumping off point, and I would help solidify the lessons. Unfortunately I couldn't continue with the education programs starting in 2021, this was due to unexpected changes in my own life. However it was a great learning experience and a very fun opportunity.
Happy holidays!! I took time off to visit family and even though my whole family got COVID tests, we still were affected by. After a 3 week quarantine I was back at the farm just in time to see Belle give birth! This was one of the coolest moments ever. We saw signs of contractions, and then she released a sac of fluid. And after a couple more hours the farm had a new baby girl. The calf was very large for a baby. We were worried Belle was going to get too tired. At first she didn't want us to help her but near the end Kathy helped pull the calf out during one of Belle's pushes. Baby was birthed in the correct position with front hooves first and nose down like she was diving into the world.
It was scary afterward however, because Belle developed something called milk fever. After learning from Kathy and researching on my own, from my understanding it is when the cow's calcium levels drop dramatically. So Belle couldn't even stand up. She needed calcium IV'd into her, additionally for the first couple of days we didn't completely milk her out all the way. After a few days she was a lot better.
I got to name the baby calf! I named her GiGi because I thought it would be really cute.
A little bit of background about me, I have completed my degree from University of Delaware, with a major in animal and food science! I want to use my degree, along with my previous camp, farm, and zoo work experience, and create a unique program that blends farm and nature activities together. It'll be fun, and also educational.
Over the course of my college career I've had the chance to intern at some wonderful places. I was a camp counsellor at the Brandywine Zoo, an AZA accredited facility in Delaware. After that summer, I went back and became a education intern. From that spring until the fall, I participated in reptile shows, birthday parties, tours, and set up different educational booths. That really cemented my love of animal education.
In addition to gaining experience from the working farm at University of Delaware, I also learned a lot from my time at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. I was the livestock manager intern there, we bred pigs, and raised chickens and turkeys. That was a really unique look in organic farming, and I loved talking to tours about animal husbandry.
I've also volunteered time at a garden/reptile/bird rescue in Florida, and I've volunteered in Maryland at a horse breeding facility, as well as for a horse eventing/racing facility.
I'm very excited to get the chance to work here at Flint Hill farm. I think it'll be an amazing opportunity to grow, and also get the chance to share some of my knowledge and passion about animals and agriculture.