Susun Weed, writer, teacher, and spiritual guide, is well known in a segment of the population dedicated to healing with the natural wisdom of the earth—with herbs and with holistic techniques. She has written five books: Healing Wise: Wise Woman Herbal; Breast Cancer? Breast Health!—the Wise Woman Way; a book on menopause, and an updated version, the New Menopausal Years—the Wise Woman Way; and The Wise Woman Herbal for the Child Bearing Years. She is currently working on Down There, the Wise Woman Way: Sex and Reproductive Health for Men and Women. She also writes a regular column for SageWoman magazine and is the organizer of the Wise Woman Center based in Woodstock, New York. She also has time to keep a small herd of Alpine dairy goats for the express purpose of human health enhancement. She has three to four milking goats, one to two kids they bring up each year and one to two goats on pension—living out their senior years in luxury, and still milking. The small herd provides milk, cheese and yogurt for her family and for the herbal studies interns who live with her.
Susun Weed, New York, is a writer, teacher and world renowned herbal health guru. She also keeps a small herd of Alpine dairy goats and uses a natural approach to their care as well as in the production of milk, cheese and other goat milk products.
Weed said that in her 20 years or so of keeping goats, she has learned by experience some basic principles of good management that correlate with her "natural is best" outlook on life.
"One of the first things that people should know about my goats is that I never take them anywhere," Weed said. "They don’t go to shows, to county fairs—they don’t leave the property. That way, there is minimal exposure to pathogens and bacteria from other sources."
As to what to feed goats, Weed said a lower protein feed is best for overall caprine health.
"My experience is that they do better with the lowest protein feed," she said. "They feel more comfortable with it. I don’t feed my goats goat feed, I feed them horse feed. It seems, in my experience, that the more protein you feed your goats, the more health issues you are going to have."
After the goats are milked in the morning, she or an apprentice takes them outside to graze. They have 55 acres on which to roam and explore and nibble, and a human companion is with them at all times.
Weed said the ideal grazing area is a rocky hillside—they are climbers and they like to reach up for their food.
"Reaching down to eat is not their natural way. Their favorite food is tree leaves—for which they have to reach up to nibble on, and they love to go where there are wild roses and raspberries," she said.
Weed lives out the belief that natural herbal remedies are best for goats when ailments are encountered. She told about a time one of her does got into a mast of acorns and gorged herself silly. The result was so much milk that the udder was swollen about four times the normal size, and they could not get hold of the teats to milk her. Weed dosed the goat with an echinacea tincture.
At the same time, she and friends treated the swollen teat with poultices of hot cabbage leaves—a pot of hot water and four or five big tough cabbage leaves were brought to the barn. The leaves were heated until they were very warm, but not so hot they would hurt the goat, and placed onto the teat. These were laid on until they cooled, and replaced with warmer ones. After treatment had been given for a prolonged time, the swelling had been reduced enough so the goat could be milked.
Another herbal remedy Weed recommended was to add a dropper full of pokeroot tincture into a one ounce bottle of tincture of echinacea.
"Poke is a very strong ‘stirrer’ of the immune system," she said. "It helps get the lymph system moving and helps with infection."
Although many goatherders breed their goats in the first year of estrus cycling, Weed prefers to wait until her does are older.
"I don’t breed my goats every year, they go every other year or sometimes every three years," she said. "It helps keep the goats stronger this way."
She said there shouldn’t be any bleeding at birth—that should come well after the birth. If there is bleeding at birth, she gives her goats a tincture of black cohosh in the tooth gap. Another useful herb for post-partum bleeding is tincture of shepherd’s purse, which is found in most fields.
Goats can greatly benefit from eating raspberry leaves while they are pregnant.
"Make sure they have access to a lot of fresh raspberry leaves," she said. "If they are breeding early and there aren’t any fresh leaves on the vine, you can keep a big bag of dried raspberry leaves in the barn for them to nibble on. Raspberries are easy to dry, just cut the canes and stack them in the corner of the barn for the goats to nibble on. They won’t mind the thorns."
By allowing her goats to ramble and browse in the fields and hilly terrain instead of grazing pastures, Weed said they are more resistant to parasites.
"I don’t worm my goats, unless they are very wormy," she said. "We all need some parasites for symbiotic relationships—but when the droppings are sticky and glob together then they should be wormed."
She recommended dosing goats with extract of mugwort or Artesmia vulgaris for worms.
In her area, there aren’t any large animal vets, but when the former vet retired he shared with Weed the secret of the two bottles—a blue bottle and a pink bottle—Milk of Magnesia and Pepto Bismol—good for most ailments for goats as well as humans.
Letting goats wander and nibble their way through a day is the way they like to live, Weed said. She also thinks it is important for their health for kids to stay with their mothers and to be nurtured. She lets the moms nurse their kids as long as they live.
One time her goats were wandering down in the forest when they came upon False Hellebore, a cardiac depressant/poisonous plant that looks a lot like Skunk Cabbage. The older goats got into it and got violently ill, but survived. In future years, when they found the same plants, the older goats violently stomped their feet and chased away the younger goats—showing that goats can learn and can teach each other important things.
"That’s why I think it’s important that goats stay with their mothers their entire lives," she said. "They teach each other and the herd becomes wiser and healthier because of it."
That said, Weed is not opposed to culling the herd for the betterment of all.
"Most people are too tender-hearted to cull," she said. "You start at two, then there are six, then 20 and then 50—all in five years. You’ve got to be willing to give the gift of death to the goats that don’t belong in your herd."
According to Weed, "giving the gift of death" is a lot different from killing. The whole herd is talked to about the upcoming event, and the act is done with the utmost respect and love.
"There’s a certain way a dairy goat should look, and if it doesn’t look that way, it’s never going to be a good dairy goat, it’s never going to give enough milk. So to have a good, healthy herd, you must cull for dairy characteristics," she said.
She also cautioned against keeping bucks in the herd because they make the milk taste bad.
Weed credited Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, published by Rodale Press, as an invaluable ally in her ongoing relationship with her goats. She is also an appreciative and long-time subscriber to Dairy Goat Journal.
For more information on making tinctures and on the individual herbs mentioned, visit Weed’s website at www.susunweed.com.