When Christy Harris first read Heidi as a young girl, she knew immediately that she wanted to milk goats and make cheese—just like Heidi’s grandfather had. Although Harris’s journey eventually led her not to Switzerland, but from Alaska to Atchison, Kansas, something of the spirit of the Swiss Alps is nevertheless evident in her work today. Beauty, simplicity, and practicality are the hallmarks of her Providence Hill Farm. Whether creating a new lotion for her line of goat milk-based bath and body products, making delicious fresh cheeses, baking artisan breads, or imparting her secrets to eager students, Harris’s passion for what she does consistently shines through. Her creativity even extends to the practical aspects of caring for her herd of dairy goats: she developed a new system for feeding kids that is as sleek and ingenious as it is simple.
Christy Harris produces goat-related products on her farm in Kansas.
Harris, who raises Nubian, Sable, and Alpine dairy goats, first got the idea for this new feeding system when she saw that someone had modified a continuous lamb feeding system for goats. The lamb set-up required the purchase of special nipples, nipple holders, tubes, and connectors. She thought there had to be a way to re-create it at a much lower cost, utilizing the lambar supplies she already had on hand.
After sectioning off a feeding area with a cattle panel, and adding boards behind it to prevent the kids from slipping through, Harris gathered her materials: one cheap plastic two-section pet food dish, two gray lambar nipples, two 20-inch lengths of 3/8-inch tubing, and one container for the milk. She drilled a 5/8-inch hole in the center of each section of the dish, then assembled the system by pulling the nipples through the holes and attaching the tubes to the backs of the nipples. She then cut a slit on both sides of the center of the dish to accommodate the cattle panel. At this point, it was simply a matter of pushing the edges of the pet dish through the cattle panel, and putting the tubes down into the milk container.
What initially attracted Harris to this new set-up was that, since it is a through-the-fence feeding system, she wouldn’t be mobbed by a horde of hungry kids at every feeding! After using this set-up for a while, however, she realized several other benefits, as well. First of all, Harris found it to be much easier to clean up than a bucket-style lambar. Secondly, the continuous supply of milk available meant she only needed two nipples for every four kids in the pen, as they could each come take a sip any time they wanted to. Most importantly, Harris discovered that her new system led to optimum growth, producing kids that rivaled dam-reared kids in size, with the added protection of CAE prevention. She feeds only pasteurized milk thus preventing any spread of the disease. Harris also enjoys the friendliness of hand-raised kids that love human companionship much more than dam-raised kids.
|(Above) Wrapped up in new coats, two kids drink from a "pet dish" as seen below.|
Harris recommended that kids be fed their heat-treated colostrum from a bottle for the first 24 hours, using the gray nipples; but on day two, kids can be introduced to the new system. One-way valves can help younger kids adjust. The kids should be monitored to ensure that they get the idea, but they usually catch on quickly. To avoid problems stemming from overeating, Harris feeds cold milk—even in cold weather—and never lets them run out. This prevents them from getting too hungry and "scarfing" their next meal, or simply from gorging themselves on nice, warm milk!
The weather does have to be taken into consideration, however, when it comes to keeping the milk from freezing or from getting too hot. In warm weather, the container can be placed in a cooler with frozen two-liter bottles of water. During cold weather, simply setting the milk container in a cooler keeps it from freezing, although severe cold calls for submersion in a heated water bucket.
Harris and her family offer several unique artisan goat milk products, made from milk produced by her does at Providence Hills Farm. Raising healthy kids in the manner she developed, gives more time for cheese-making and less time bottling babies. Heidi’s grandfather would be proud of the innovation she used to keep her management style simple, practical, and productive. For more information on her goat milk products, visit Harris online at www.goatmilksoapandlotion.com.