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  :o) 

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

Sheep vs. Goats


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

- or -

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


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 had 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, July 4, 2012

Why do they do the things they do?

This is Wolf Moon Findabar, a.k.a. Shebaa. She's one of my
favorites as well as my oldest Classic Cheviot ewe. Her lamb
is Wolf Moon Fosco, who is now a grownup ram

“It profiteth the lord to have discreet shepherds, watchful and kindly, so that sheep not be tormented by their wrath but crop their pastures in peace and joy-fulness; for it is a token of the shepherd’s kindness if the sheep not be scattered abroad but browse around him in company. Let him provide himself with a good barkable dog and lie nightly with his sheep.”
- from a 13th century Corpus Christi mystery play

I recently posted a collection of goat behavior resource links to my goat blog and readers seemed to like it. I have a request for next week's sheep blog but no time or assistance to take the necessary photos, so I'm adding this sheep behavior links entry in the meanwhile. You can never know too much about what inspires sheep to do the things they do. Check out these free resources. I think you'll be glad you did.
I can't recommend Dr. Clive Dalton's Woolshed1 blog highly enough. Dr. Dalton studied agriculture in the United Kingdom before teaching animal production at Leeds University. He then immigrated to New Zealand to do hill country animal research and work at the Ruakura Research Centre in Hamilton, New Zealand, before accepting an agricultural teaching position at Waikato Polytechnic, also in Hamilton. Now retired, Dr. Dalton is technical editor at Lifestyle Block New Zealand, a great source of information about sheep, goats, and many other species and small farm issues. He also writes the Woolshed1 blog. Sheep behavior-specific entries include Origins: Senses: Social behaviour: Feeding; Reproduction: Lambing: Lamb survival: Fostering; and Handling: Sheep-human problems: Welfare issues. While you're there, investigate his entries about goat, cattle, pig, horse, donkey, and chicken behavior; you may have to scroll down the page to read them.

As a younger ewe, Shebaa grew most wonderful fleece
and always produced outstanding lambs

Susan Schoenian's Sheep 101 and Sheep 201 pages are chock-full of useful information for beginning and intermediate shepherds. Read her behavior entries here and here.
The Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board's well-written and concise, two-page download, Sheep Behaviour, would make an excellent handout for new shepherds.
The University of Tennessee's 24-page download, Applied Sheep Behavior, is another above-average resource.

Now, nearing 10 years of age, Shebaa is
retired to a life of ease

Sheep – Chapter 3 of Judith K. Blackshaw's book, Notes on Some Topics of Animal Behaviour is downloadable as a five-page bulletin. Don't miss this; it's good one!

Finally, don't miss my personal favorite. CABI is an international, not-for-profit science-based development and information organization that improve people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Their 16-page download The Behaviour of Sheep and Goats is outstanding.
If you would like to request a sheep-related topic for this blog, please email me at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking Good Pictures of Sheep

This is Wolf Moon Black Baart, one of our Classic Cheviot wethers

Because so many people ask me how we take such 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 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.

The Goblin King is racing to me to have his chest
and chin scratched--he's a very gentle ram

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.

Shebaa baahs
 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.

Ronnie is a "whoops!" lamb by our Scottish Blackface ram and out of a Classic Cheviot ewe

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

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.

Othello is Ronnie's Scottish Blackface daddy

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. That distorts your subject’s body and gives him short legs.

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; this is especially important when photographing sheep.

In this photo our 5 year old wether, Wolf Moon Baarney, is in glorious, full fleece

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

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.

Wolf Moon Gunnar Woolenbrau was hours old in this picture

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!

The beautiful Wolf Moon Wren is always photogenic

Monday, June 18, 2012


Arthur and Miss Maple eat from a reused sheep mineral tub while baby Gunnar looks on

If you keep sheep, goats, or any other kind of livestock on your farm, you need Freecycle. According to its website, Freecycle is "a network made up of 5,040 groups with 8,949,161 members around the world. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers. Membership is free."

We belong to Freecycle and we love it. Over the three months we've given away 11 paper feed sacks stuffed with Classic Cheviot fleece; my two old but very usable Mac computers to use as word processors; innumerable bags of llama poop; and a Mantis garden tiller for parts. Freecyclers have in turn given us 10 large cattle mineral tubs; a short stack of used sheep panels; and a huge wooden dog house for our goat kids

To find a Freecycle group near you, visit the Freecycle website and type your state in the search box. Let's say you live down the road from us in northern Arkansas, where there are 58 groups including groups in Fulton and Sharp Counties. Click on the one that says Fulton County. This brings you to a page outlining Freecycle's goals and an email hyperlink to Send an email to that address to touch base with the volunteer who moderates that group. He or she will outline the local group's rules and help you sign in.

Basically, Freecycle exists to give away unwanted but useful stuff. It isn't a place to constantly ask for things. However, if you have a reasonable need, ask. We reuse our own sheep and goat mineral tubs as water tubs for our small animals and feeders for all of our stock but needed bigger mineral tubs to water our llama, horses, donkey and steers. Ranchers are eager to get rid of these tubs. Freecycle put us in touch with those ranchers. At Freecycle, everybody wins.
Please visit my Sue Weaver – Ozark Writer and Goat Tips & Tricks blogs, as well as my Facebook writer's page

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sheep or Goat Feeling Oogy? Give Him a Beer!

I'd like to pass along a valuable tip given to us by John and Alice Moore of Redgate Zwartbles Flock 252, who raise beautiful Zwartbles sheep at their farm on the Shropshire/Mid Wales borders in Great Britain. Be sure to visit their public Redgate Zwartbles Facebook pages and view their lovely sheep.

At the time, our enormous Boer-Nubian goat wether, Salem, was feeding poorly and didn't want to eat. We'd given him vitamin B injections and oral probiotics to no avail. Alice said to feed him beer.

Yes, beer. As soon as she said it I recalled reading about old-time horsemen drenching colicky horses with beer.

Alice had gotten the tip from an old Welsh shepherdess when one of the Redgate Zwartbles was sick. Given beer the ewe recovered. So off we went to buy Salem some beer.

We needed dark beer, the darker the better. Keep in mind that neither John nor I drink and we live in a 'dry' county in northern Arkansas. There's a liquor store across the state line in Thayer, Missouri, but just one, so we didn't have a lot of types of beer to choose from. We decided on the store's only bock beer. It wasn't as dark as we'd have liked but "bock" means "buck" in German. We took that as a sign.

The next trick was feeding it to Salem. We tried drawing it into a dose syringe and ended up with 5 cc of beer and 25cc of foam in the chamber. So, we decided it must be done the old-fashioned way. I forced Salem's mouth open and John poured in a little beer. Salem gulped, swallowed, and licked his lips. We kept it up, always giving him time to swallow, until the bottle was empty (since Salem wasn't exactly standing still, some of it splashed on the ground). That evening we gave him another beer and by then he decided he liked it. When I checked on him later that night, he was happily munching hay. Fantastic!

A beer bottle topped with a calf bucket nipple with a slightly smaller than 1/4" hole
cut in the end makes a first-class straight-from-the-bottle sheep and goat drencher. 

The next time we needed it, we were prepared. John (just call him McGyver) figured out a safer system for dosing beer. He bought a calf bucket replacement nipple from the feed store and opened a slightly smaller than ¼" hole in the end. This can be snugged down over the neck of a beer bottle, protecting the animal's mouth and also helping assure the bottle doesn't break.

Tumnus LOVED his beer!

This next patient was Tumnus, another Boer-Nubian wether of somewhat smaller size. Tumnus loved the beer and begged for more. Again, after two beers, one in the morning and another in late afternoon, he was right as rain.

Recently one of my purebred Nubian wethers, Hutch, went off his feed and out came the beer. At first taste Hutch gagged and his eyes bugged out on stems. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! But Hutch, too, improved after two feedings (maybe so he wouldn't have to choke down any more beer).

Is it the hops that do the trick? We don't know! Keep in mind that we dose with beer in addition to doing more straightforward medical things. But if you have a sick sheep or goat, haul out the beer and give it a try. It just might work!

P.S. We were later told that by allowing the beer to go flat, it's possible to dose using a dose syringe. But maybe the bubbles help? Since we're not sure, we'll keep on dosing beer straight from the bottle, just in case.
Please visit my Sue Weaver – Ozark Writer and Goat Tips & Tricks blogs, as well as my Facebook writer's page