The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Natural Goat Care

Natural Goat CareBack when I posted about goat books for beginners, I said that I was just starting to read Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby and was really enjoying it so far. Unfortunately, as I kept turning pages, I slowly lost my faith in the author's analyses as they relate to American farms.

The trouble is twofold: Coleby isn't very scientifically minded and she lives in Australia, so the American reader needs to take all of her assertions with a major grain of salt. For example, I suspect that Coleby is right that minerals are essential to keeping goats healthy, but I cringe a bit when I hear American goatkeepers using her feeding formula precisely as she lists it in her book. Our soils are completely different from Australian soils, which suggests that the supplements our goats need are also likely to be quite different. Coleby pushes dolomite very hard as one of her cure-alls, but are goats raised on browse in an area like ours with very high magnesium in the soil likely to be deficient in magnesium? Probably not. Similarly, she feeds a lot of grain to her goats because Australia is so dry that it's probably close to impossible to keep goats happy on pasture and root vegetables, but grain isn't a good choice for most American goatkeepers. In the end, this isn't so much a fault in the book as a fault in the lack of critical thinking on the part of her American readers, who follow Coleby's lead blindly without assessing their differing habitats.

Honeysuckle hillsideHowever, the book does have its own faults. As one small example, Coleby talks about Mendelian genetics in the chapter on breeding, and shows a clear misunderstanding of statistics. Mendelian genetics is all about percentages --- if you're likely to see 50% of one phenotype, that doesn't mean that if your goat has two kids, one is definitely going to show the phenotype and one definitely isn't. However, Coleby clearly thinks that's the case, which throws her understanding of basic biological principles into question.

The trouble is that after a few assertions that are obviously not universally true, I began to lose faith in the author of the book. I feel that this book would have been a much better fit for an American audience if it had come with an introduction explaining the differences between Australian and American goatkeeping, and if the author had made clear which of her assertions were backed up with data and which were simply her own guesswork. As it is, I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone without a science background since I suspect Coleby's regimen could do more harm than good if followed blindly. On the other hand, if you're able to think critically, this book will provide some food for thought and is a good addition to your goat-keeping library.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you looked at any books by Jerry Belanger? Also I'd check out Countryside and Small Stock Raising magazine because the folks who write articles are people like yourself who are actually living on small farms and being self-sufficient. I cannot tell you how much obscure information I have gleaned from reading that magazine since the early 1990s. They have a website too.
Comment by Nayan Tue Jan 13 09:28:16 2015

This is one of those areas that even trips up otherwise well-educated people.

If you do anything that involves analyzing data, you are basically doing statistics in one form or another, and you should educate yourself accordingly.

Unfortunately it is not taught as widely as it should be. And that makes errors such as the one you describe harder to spot for most people.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Jan 13 17:10:46 2015

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