CHICKENS… Pet or Livestock? Hobby or Business?

I would like to thank Ashley Kinney for November’s blog on CHICKENS… Pet or livestock? Hobby or Business? Ashley is currently a Senior at Winterset High School and is working at Winterset Veterinary Center after school and weekends. She has been showing chickens at the county and state fair for a number of years. We are so grateful for her contribution to our veterinary office and her willingness to write this blog and share her photos.

~ Thanks, Dr. Lonna

Photo by Teddi Yaeger

There are many different uses for chickens, one of the most popular usages being meat. Chickens grown for meat are known as broilers. The Cornish Cross is the most commercial of the broiler breeds. This breed is wide-set and built to grow fast. Cornish are ready to be harvested between 8-10 weeks of age and produce large amounts of meat. These birds are likely to have health issues due to their rapid growth, therefore it is not recommended to keep them past their harvesting age. Raising these birds in a pasture-like setting can help improve their overall health. Other broiler breeds include the Bresse, Barnyard crosses & other heritage breeds. These birds have fewer issues compared to the Cornish but take longer to grow and produce less meat. 

A Crossbred Rooster

Egg production is also a very popular use for chickens. White Leghorns are by far the best layers. They have thin bodies to make them food efficient and a distinct flopped-over crest. Leghorns are the ones that lay those large white eggs you can buy in the supermarket. Road Island Reds and Sex Links are also good layers and are desired in backyard flocks. Chickens can lay many different colors of eggs. The color of the egg a chicken lays can be told by their earlobe color. White earlobes indicate white eggs, red earlobes brown eggs, and blue earlobes blue eggs. There are some exceptions to this rule like the Silkie who has blue earlobes but lays cream-colored eggs. Laying hens do not need a rooster to lay an egg, but a rooster is required to produce fertilized eggs. 

A White Leghorn Hen

Dual purpose breeds are popular in homestead flocks. These chickens are bred to be utilized for both meat and eggs. Some of the most notable dual purpose breeds would be the Australorp, Orpingtons, and Barred Rocks. 

Hobby poultry have become increasingly popular in recent years. Hobby chickens are some of the wackiest of the chicken breeds. They can have interesting colors and patterns. Some have feathers growing out of their waddles (muffs), heads (topknots), and feet. Others have feathers that look like rabbit fur (silkies), feathers that curl up towards their heads (frizzles), and even a combination of both these features (sizzles). 

A Black Bearded Silkie Bantam Hen

Hobby chickens have a wide variety of combs. Some of their combs look like popcorn, pebbles, spike balls, or even a king’s crown. Sultans are a breed of chicken with the most of these characteristics. They are a small white bird with a “V” shaped comb, top knot, vulture hocks (feathers that extend down from the thigh), feathered feet, and an extra toe. Phoenix chickens are another impressive breed. They come in vivid colors and have tail feathers that never stop growing. 

This Black Sumatra Rooster has a tail similar to a Phoenix, however his will stop growing.

The largest of the chicken breeds include the Cochin, Brahma, and Jersey Giant. The smallest of the chicken breeds are known as Bantams.  They’re essentially the toy dogs of the chicken world who only grow to be half or less the size of a normal chicken. The smallest of the bantams include Serama Bantams, Sebright Bantams, and Game Bantams. 

A Dark Brahma Hen perched in a flower tree
(Photo by Carissa Gerwig)
A Golden Laced Sebright Bantam Rooster showing off to the ladies

Proper housing is a necessity when raising chickens. Chicken houses and runs need to be predator-proof which means unable to be dug into, squeezed into, climbed into, or easily broken into. It should also protect from weather such as snow, rain, and strong wind. The coop should be cleaned out regularly. Lastly, housing should have adequate space per bird (2 feet minimum inside the coop) and enough perch space for all the birds to perch comfortably. Chickens should be given more space if they don’t have access to free-range or a large run. When chickens are too crowded it can lead to cannibalism and health issues.

The flock is all perched up and ready to go to bed.

What a chicken eats depends on what it is used for. Broiler chickens are fed a high protein diet to help them grow fast. While laying hens need extra calcium to help them produce eggs. Laying feed and meat bird feed can be found in most farm stores. Chickens also need grit, especially if they don’t free range. Grit is a rough ground substance that helps aid in digestion and keeps a chicken’s crop healthy. With proper housing and nutrition, your chickens can live their lives happily. 

Some hens enjoy a watermelon slice as a snack on a hot summer day.
(Photo by Carissa Gerwig)

When it comes to showing chickens the Standard of Perfection is your best friend. The Standard of Perfection is a book containing all the recognized chicken breeds in the American Poultry Association and American Bantam Association. The book outlines nearly everything about the breed from the number of points on the crest to what angle the tail should be held. At some shows, the birds are brought up to a table and examined there. Other times, the birds are kept in their cage and the judge comes to them. At the show, chickens are divided into classes. In the large fowl category, chickens are divided up based on where they originated. While in the bantam category, they are divided up based on crest type. In each class, a reserve champion and grand champion are picked. Then all the reserve champions and grand champions are pooled together and the grand champion overall is picked. Judges judge based on the book, but personal preference can also play a role in their judging. To do well in a chicken show, your bird should follow the standard of perfection and be in good condition, meaning healthy and no feather damage. Taking good care of your chickens and knowing the Standard of Perfection is the key to success when showing poultry.

A Grey Japanese Bantam Hen poses with her Grand Champion Bantam and Overall Grand Champion trophies.

Further Information:

This website is loaded with information and allows you to read, talk, and ask questions about chickens from experienced poultry owners:

This website contains information regarding show poultry:

Baa Baa Black Sheep

I would like to thank Randall Parkin for being our guest blogger this month. The Parkin’s have been clients of Winterset Veterinary Center for a number of years and she graciously consented to helping me with our sheep blog. I hope you enjoy her pictures and words as much as I did. I have really learned a lot from the guest bloggers I had this year.

~ Dr. Lonna Nielsen

In 2003 we bought a farmstead complete with house, pastures, and a barn on 10 acres in Madison County. For the next Mother’s Day, my husband gave me a gift certificate for 2 sheep and a llama. At the Iowa State Fair that year, I met a Lincoln Longwool breeder, and was hooked. In September, we drove to their farm, and I picked out a Natural Lincoln (white) ewe and a Colored Lincoln (black/grey) ewe. On the way out of the sheep shed, another ewe put her front feet on a fence rail and demanded I pet her. She was a Corriedale, and I HAD to have her. Corriedales, like Lincolns, are generally friendly. I had found three sheep and no llama.

The llama was supposed to provide protection for the sheep, but we acquired three miniature horses instead, who performed well and were much more fun.

Most sheep producers in Iowa raise sheep for meat, or sheep to sell to 4-H and FFA youth for livestock projects. As a long-time knitter and very beginning spinner, I wanted the sheep for their wool. Most producers don’t want to deal with the wool, which only brings pennies per pound.

In contrast, my little spinning flock grew wool that when processed into yarn or sold as doll hair sold for $40 per pound. Even raw fleeces could bring $5-7 per pound. One of the main differences was that I kept the wool cleaner while the sheep grew it, kept it organized when it was shorn and removed the icky parts before the fleeces were packed in bags.


Lincoln sheep originated in Lincolnshire, England. I first chose Lincoln Longwool sheep because they were a people-oriented breed, and looked really cool. With wool that grows about an inch a month, I sheared them twice a year, in contrast to most breeds who are shorn once a year. Lincoln wool is lustrous and grows in curls – I found a market for the white wool in artists who make those fabulous Santa Claus figures with long white hair and beards. I washed that wool by hand and sold it to a doll hair wholesaler.

Lincoln Wool

I named my first Lincolns Victoria (the white one) and Jasmine (the colored one).

Corriedale sheep are a Merino/Lincoln cross that originated in New Zealand and Australia. (Merino, or Spanish Merino, are believed to have originated in Spain, and produce a very fine wool.) My Corriedale ewe quickly became my favorite, and I named her Corinna. Corriedale wool became a favorite for spinning, and produced yarn that was comfortable even against bare skin. Corinna and I would sometimes just hang out watching the other sheep. I would sit on the barn threshold, and she would stand beside me and lean into me.


We ended up breeding our ewes by taking them to the farm where we got them, then the next year purchased a Lincoln ram from them. I named him Duke – since our address was Earlham, he was thus the “Duke of Earlham”.

Our first crops of lambs were born in January and February, which is common in Iowa sheep operations. Lambs sold for 4-H or FFA projects need to be of a certain size early in the project year. Winter is a miserable time of year to be traipsing up to the barn to monitor lambing, so I finally started breeding my ewes in November so they would lamb in a much more pleasant April!

Because our ram was a Lincoln, some of our lambs were Lincoln/Corriedale crossbreds, and they also produced really nice wool. It had some of the luster of Lincoln, and some of the characteristics of Corriedale wool – a finer wool, and the desirable crimp.

I started to spin on a wheel after I got the sheep, and though my wool crop got pretty out of hand after my flock became larger, I did have a great time making yarn to sell.

I was much more a dabbler in the business, though I know several women in Iowa who have made it a profitable endeavor. It didn’t take long to decide to send my wool to be processed into a form that was ready to spin, but I washed and carded my first few fleeces by hand. Victoria’s first fleece became a wonderful knitted afghan that I swear is like wearing a heating pad.

Eventually, I purchased a few Jacob sheep, and then some Babydoll Southdown. Jacob are an ancient breed with four horns and multicolored fleeces. Babydolls are a small version of the Southdown sheep, which originated in England.

There’s a fabulous web site that covers the topic of sheep beautifully: According to information on that site, I learned there are over 1,000 breeds of sheep worldwide, and over 60 breeds here in the US.

We now live in Winterset, and our sheep days are in the past, but we are glad we got to experience raising sheep. My mom raised sheep when I was growing up, and I have always loved them, especially lambs. Having my own flock was a way to connect to my childhood.

Do You Know Pigs?

Continuing on with our blog series on other species of animals and their unique needs, Dr. Jim Pottebaum wrote this article about Micro-pigs. Dr. Jim has been a large and small animal practitioner in Winterset since 1988. He has had many clients from around the state seek out his veterinary services for micro-pigs. Thank you Dr. Jim for your blog this month.

Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the nation, raising 1/3 of all pigs nationally. 48 million were raised in 2018, and $40.8 billion dollars in revenue for Iowa producers last year. 

Now, what about pigs for pets?? Mini, Micro, pocket, or teacup pigs have surged in popularity in the last few years. Micro pigs are cute, intelligent, affectionate, and easy to train. They are hardy and mostly disease free. They provide the owner with a connection to a grandparent’s farm or rural life, while living in the city.

What you need to remember is that they are a PIG, not a dog. Some cities have zoning restrictions against farm animals, and will not allow you have pigs within the city limits, even if they are pets. 

It is important to see both parents. Sometimes breeders show pictures at a young age and not full grown. Pigs that grow to big are the most common reason for surrender to animal shelters.

Feeding mini pigs should be easy. They are omnivores and need a balance of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Pelleted feed is available, and pigs enjoy a variety of veggies and fruits in their diet. They enjoy people food, but be aware this can cause digestive upsets. It is important that they receive pig pellets to ensure vitamin and nutritional requirements are being met. Information on the internet can be misleading about feeding recommendations. Feeding a reduced level each day to keep a pig small may lead to starvation and develop health issues. Each pig should be maintained specifically to its size and needs. 

A book called, “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs”, is a great resource for anyone that is considering having a pig for a pet.

Pigs can adapt to living indoors or outdoors much like a dog, and are usually tolerant of other pets. They are curious and enjoy an environment to explore, root, and manipulate objects.  Without opportunities to act normally, pigs will become bored and create their own fun in the house like getting into cupboards, bumping or pushing over furniture, etc. Pigs love outdoors with space and obstacles. When outdoors, they need shade from the bright sun. A child’s swimming pool or pig wallow (shallow mud pit) is heaven because it cools them on hot days. They don’t sweat, so water/mud acts as insect repellent, sun screen, and skin conditioner.  Appropriate fencing is important. Pigs are very strong and can uproot or push thru many fences. Fences add protection from predators such coyotes or dogs.

This little pig at the airport was flown its new home!

Spay or neuter your pig early. Intact males can be aggressive. Intact females will be vocal and moody for a period of time every month. Healthy micro-pigs can live at least 6-8 years, and 10 to 12 is not uncommon. Micro-pigs can be very enjoyable and provide years of love and entertaining memories. Call your local veterinarian for advice concerning breeders and care of your micro-pigs. It would be wise to find your veterinarian before getting a micro-pig for a pet since not all veterinarians are willing to see pigs. Pigs do need routine hoof care and sometimes the male’s tusks need to be filed down. It is important to have a veterinarian that is able to do these things for you. If you plan to travel, please consider where they can stay?  Not all boarding facilities are willing to board micro-pigs. These are important things to consider prior to getting a pig for a pet. Micro-pigs offer great companionship and entertainment. They are a special kind of pet that has unique needs.

Have goats, will travel.

I would like to thank Aaron Steele the founder of “Goats on the Go” for his contribution to the Winterset Veterinary Center’s blog. Aaron also began a podcast called Farm Dog recently that our readers may enjoy following as well. You can click on this link and it will take you to Farm Dog.

In 2012 I was at a weird crossroads. My family was enjoying living the rural life on our Story County acreage, but it seemed a bit artificial to live there without being involved in agriculture at least a little bit. It seemed wasteful to mow and care for our 3.5 acres as a giant lawn, but it was still too small to be farmed in the traditional Iowa sense. My wife and I were also raising three young boys who we felt would benefit from having some chores to do (character building, as my dad would say). And finally, my 9-to-5 office job was slowly killing me with boredom and lack of purpose.

So, we did what anyone would do. We bought goats! Six of them, in fact. The plan was to buy them in the spring and sell them in the fall with the hope of quickly recouping our investment and avoiding winter chores and feed purchases. But something happened along the way. We became enthralled with our goats. We wasted a good part of that summer sitting in lawn chairs next to the pasture watching their antics. Even antic-free moments were great therapy, as we found ourselves unwinding while they ate and rested. I loved pretending to be a farmer for a summer, and I started to wonder if I could raise meat goats as more than just a hobby.

That thought kicked into overdrive when we started to run out of pasture for the goats in that drought stricken summer. I’d read that goats would eat weeds and brush, so out of near desperation I enclosed a quarter-acre patch of weeds with portable electric fencing and moved them from their clean grass/alfalfa pasture to the brambles. We were astonished at the results. The weeds simply disappeared! The only evidence that remained of the weed patch was the most fibrous main stems of some of the plants.

Light bulb! What if I could raise more goats without investing in more land by feeding them on other people’s nuisance vegetation? And…what if they would pay me for it? It all sounded too good to be true, but in 2013 we set out to do some demo projects to prove to ourselves that the concept would work. It did. In fact, our little demo projects generated some buzz among the press and the public and the phone began to ring!

Before Goat Grazing and After

In those first few years, Goats On The Go® could only serve the area within about 45 minutes of Ames, but people from all over the U.S. (and beyond) had been reaching out to us wanting to start their own goat grazing businesses where they lived. In 2016 we began building a network of independent goat grazing businesses that all share the Goats On The Go® brand. These affiliates get access to training, support, and a bunch of other benefits as well. We now have 33 of affiliates across the U.S. plus one in Canada and one in Tasmania, Australia. (Shameless plug: Our affiliate serving the Winterset area is looking for a partner to keep up with demand!)

So how does targeted goat grazing work? We used portable electric fencing and a solar powered fence energizer to enclose the goats on concentrations of our customers’ nuisance vegetation. This might be poison ivy, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, wild parsnip, giant ragweed, or a mix of these and others. Sometimes our customers want to eliminate invasive plant species to promote native landscapes, but often they just find the vegetation to be annoying. We’ve worked on residential properties and acreages, parks and trails, golf courses, retired landfills, detention ponds, campuses, farms, and more.

More Before & After Photos:

It’s common for us to put 30 – 40 goats inside an enclosure that is a half-acre to one acre in size. Typically our goats can complete an acre every 4 – 5 days. If a project is 10 acres or larger, we shift into big project mode and use 200 or more goats to pick up the pace.

We’re often asked if we worry about our goats eating poisonous plants. We do, and we’re careful about a few particularly dangerous ones (yew, a common landscaping shrub, is a bad one), but we’re amazed at the goats’ ability to select what’s good for them and avoid what isn’t. And, what’s good for them is usually in abundance on our projects. Some of Iowa’s most common nuisance plants are very nutritious, and goats are the only livestock animals that can make use of them. We rarely have to provide any nutritional supplements other than water and a simple mineral block.

So, is this a good way to raise goats? Yes, but it definitely has its challenges. I couldn’t provide better nutrition for my herd by feeding them hay and conventional Iowa pasture at home. The stuff they get on our projects is ideal goat food. But, it’s really hard work to maintain a mobile operation that changes “pastures” every few days. We have to install our own fencing at each property, and customers typically don’t pay for goats to eat in places where a lawn mower could do the work with less expense. We’re working on steep slopes, in the woods, often around dangerous — or at least very annoying — vegetation.

It’s hard work, and I sometimes think, “I could be sitting in an air conditioned office right now.” But being outside and helping people manage their land without chemical pesticides or machinery is really rewarding. And, of course, can you imagine better coworkers than a herd of goats?

Goats On The Go® provides portable, sustainable weed and brush control
By Aaron Steele, Goats On The Go® Founder

Mini Silky Goats

I would like to thank Grace Davidson for her contribution to Winterset Veterinary Center’s blog. Grace has been a long time client of ours and we are so glad she was willing to share her Mini Silkies with us.

It is love at first sight when meeting a Miniature Silky Fainting goat. The mini silkies sweet disposition and beautiful soft hair makes them great for showing and/or pets.

I got my first mini silkies from a breeder in Kansas in 2008. I would add a few more with each passing year and eventually started raising and showing them locally. I now travel to 2-3 shows a year and have been all over the Midwest showing and even into Texas and Virginia. I use natural breeding, but many have gone to AI which means artificial insemination.

Good quality goat feed is needed along with goat minerals, baking soda (to prevent bloat), a good grass/alfalfa hay mixture, and clean fresh water daily. Required immunizations are CD/T and a preventative external and internal parasite program. Trimming hooves is an important procedure to prevent joint issues. Your veterinarian can assist you with other health needs as things arise.

Their long silky hair hangs straight from the body in a range of colors and patterns. The goal is to have a full long skirt, long chest and neck hair, full beard, muff on the face and bangs. Bucks (male goats) are more likely to have bangs and have thicker, fuller coats than the does (female goats) are. There are varying degrees of coat and coat placement. They can be snowy white, raven black, shades of brown, or a combination of these colors. The height limit for a doe is 23.5 inches at the withers and the male is 25 inches. The male weighs between 60-80 lbs and the female 50-70 lbs. Their smaller size makes them more manageable to work with. The lifespan is usually 10-15 years. The oldest buck I have is 9 years. His name is Breeze, and he is retired now. He probably misses the life of a show goat. He had many friends at the shows.

Their coats need to be kept clean and free of tangles and burrs. I use a good human shampoo and conditioner to bathe them the day before I travel to a show. I then bathe them again at the show. We have even been known to offer an oil treatment if a goat’s coat is dry or course. How a coat is cared for depends on the color of hair and type of coat the show goats have.

The goats are judged on conformation, body condition, and length, evenness, and silkiness of coat. The four main divisions are Junior Does, Junior Bucks, Senior Does, and Senior Bucks. Each division are further divided into different classes. If you get 1st or 2nd place in your class, you qualify to return to the ring and a Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion are selected from the division. When all 4 Grand Champions are named, the judge will choose 1 Best in Show. If a goat has won 3 Grand Champion ribbons, it gets a title of Master Champion. I had my first home bred goat earn that title about 4 years ago. Through selective breeding the Silkies have developed better conformation and coats, so the competition is tough.

Fainting goats do not actually faint. There is no pain involved. Some will continue to chew their cud during the spell and after a few seconds their muscles relax, and they jump up like nothing ever happened. This condition is called Myotonia Congenita. This is a genetic mutation. The muscle fibers stiffen for 5-30 seconds and the goats collapse. If the goats are startled or even excited about treats or mealtime these spells can occur.  Myotonia Congenita can be found in other species of animals as well like horses, dogs, and even humans.

September 11-12, 2021, at the Madison County Fairgrounds, we will be holding the Covered Bridge Silky Show in Winterset, Iowa. All are welcome to come and see some of these lovely goats up close. The show draws breeders and goat owners with their Silky Fainting Goats from several states.

If you are looking for more information about these special creatures, please use the website  The Miniature Silky Fainting Goat Association is always looking for more goat fans!  Come check out our show and see for yourself if it is LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

Rabbit Agility

Rabbit Agility is an activity we enjoy doing with our rabbits. It consists of several obstacles such as jumps, weave poles, teeter-totters, and bridges set in a circle, and is a timed event. We started training several years ago as a 4-H activity.

Any breed or size of rabbit can be taught the different obstacles in the agility course, but we have found that some rabbits are more athletically-inclined than others. In the above photos, our large Flemish Giant, Duncan, is hopping over the bridge obstacle and through the  window jump. Rabbits must wear a leash and harness, and move voluntarily through the course.

Marshall constructed a new set of agility obstacles for the Madison County 4-H rabbit exhibitors in 2016, and it was selected for the Iowa State Fair. Each day during the Madison County Fair, rabbit exhibitors are invited to practice the course with their rabbits in preparation for competition during the rabbit show.

Our best agility competitor, Tommy, is a breed of rabbit called Tan, which is considered a “running rabbit” breed. With practice, Tommy will move through the obstacles on his own, and really enjoys the physical activity. Other running rabbits breeds include Rhinelanders, Checkered Giants, and English Spots. Running rabbits are energetic and athletic, but generally not snuggly.

Marshall Eddleman, Madison Co. Shooting Stars 4-H Club
Heather Jamison, Madison Co. Fair Rabbit Supt.

The Wonder of Rabbits!

Hello from Clanton Creek Rabbitry! We are a 4-H family involved in raising pedigreed English Lops, Holland Lops, and English Angoras for 4-Hers and rabbit enthusiasts here in Madison County. We have been raising rabbits for over 40 years, and enjoy learning about different breeds and new trends in the care of rabbits. 

If you are thinking about adding a pet to your family this spring, why not consider a rabbit? Rabbits are easy to care for and come in many sizes, colors, and fur types. They can be kept indoors or outside, and are usually easy to litter train. Rabbits can coexist happily with other pets (ours live with dogs and guinea pigs), and can be taught to do tricks.

The diet of a healthy rabbit includes good quality rabbit pellets, plenty of timothy hay, and fresh water. Our rabbits also enjoy treats such as apple, carrot, and pineapple chunks, raw spinach and kale, and blueberries or strawberries. We make a homemade “bunny booster” to add to their daily feed ration that includes old-fashioned oats, black oil sunflower seeds, and calf manna. This combination promotes a shiny coat and a healthy digestive tract. 

We breed our pedigreed does once a year in the spring after they reach one year of age, but it is possible to rebreed does every 12 weeks year round if their body condition remains good.. We have found that many does need multiple tries at motherhood before they become comfortable with it. Hormonal changes can sometimes make does moody, so care must be taken in handling them during breeding season, gestation, and for the first few days after giving birth. 

Baby rabbits are called “kits”, and are born nearly hairless and blind. Smaller rabbit breeds usually have 2-4 kits, but larger breeds (such as our English Lops) can frequently have 10-12 kits. The kits grow rapidly; they are usually covered in soft baby fur by day 3, eyes open on day 10, and eating rabbit pellets at 2 weeks old. Our kits stay with their mothers until they are at least 9 weeks old, although the does usually wean them between 5 and 7 weeks. Siblings stay together until they are are 4 months old, and then we separate the genders to avoid accidental inbreeding.

We would encourage anyone considering adding a rabbit to their family to research different breeds, sizes, and fur types. For example, our Holland Lops are small (3-5 lbs) with gentle personalities, while our English Lops are large (10-15 lbs) with quirky, mischievous attitudes. Our English Angoras are laid-back and easy to handle, but their long wool coats require frequent maintenance. Currently, many of our local 4-H exhibitors enjoy Rex rabbits (Standard or Mini) for their super-soft fur and endless variety of colors and patterns. 

During the Madison County Fair, you will find 4-Hers exhibiting their rabbits in either a 4-class or 6-class format. Fancy rabbits are divided by age into junior does and junior bucks (10 weeks to six months old), or senior does and senior bucks (six months and older) and compete against other rabbits in their breed class. Commercial (meat) rabbits are grouped similarly with the addition of an intermediate class for 6-9 month old animals. This year we are also adding a “pet rabbit” class for rabbits that have been spayed or neutered. 

Rabbits are hardy creatures and require minimal preventative care to keep them healthy. We worm our rabbits seasonally with liquid wormer, and watch for excessive scratching, which can indicate mites. The occasional runny nose or chest congestion (called “snuffles”) is easily treated with oral antibiotics. Their toenails can be trimmed with common fingernail clippers.

Rabbits can thrive in colder weather as long as they have a dry, draft-free environment, and can be comfortable in warmer temperatures with fans, frozen treats, and plenty of fresh water.

In conclusion, here is some rabbit trivia! Did you know that rabbits can growl? Many of my smaller rabbits (especially does) make a grunting noise deep in their throats that sounds like a growl. It can occur when they are happy, hungry, or feel threatened. 

We hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the things we have learned about rabbit-keeping over the years. Thank you! 

Heather Jamison and Marshall Eddleman 
Clanton Creek Rabbitry, Winterset Iowa

Llamas and Alpacas

Kelsey Gerwig, a Winterset High School graduate who is now in her sophomore year at the College of Veterinary Medicine is our guest blogger this month. Dr. Lonna truly appreciates Kelsey’s contribution since her knowledge far exceeds Dr. Lonna’s. We intend to feature different species during the 2021 year. There may be other guest bloggers during this year. Enjoy Kelsey’s blog and photos. Dr. Lonna sure did. 

One of the first questions we always get about our llamas is, “Do they spit?” Llamas and alpacas can both spit and use it much like how horses bite and kick, cattle and goats head butt, and dogs and cats growl and hiss at each other. They use it to establish a pecking order in the herd, to keep others away from their food, as a defense mechanism, and to keep annoying males away. Occasionally people get stuck in the crossfire especially during feeding time. In rare cases, they will spit at people, but it is because you are doing something they don’t enjoy or they weren’t properly handled when young. The next question we usually get is, “Are these llamas or alpacas?” The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at their ears.  Llamas have long, curved, banana shaped ears whereas alpacas have short, straight, pointed ears. Llamas are also double the size at 250-450 pounds versus alpacas 120-200 pounds.

Llamas and alpacas are members of the camelid family and originated in the Andes Mountains of South America in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. They were domesticated from their wild counterparts the guanaco and vicuna 4000 to 5000 years ago to be used as a beast of burden and for the fiber and meat. Today llamas and alpacas have a variety of uses.  Both can be used for their fiber which is softer, warmer, and finer than sheep’s wool. It is hypoallergenic so not as itchy as sheep’s wool. Llamas can produce 3-4 pounds and alpacas 6-8 pounds of fiber a year which can be spun into yarn and used to make socks, scarfs, gloves, sweaters, blankets, and rugs. They can be shown at the local fair and at regional and national shows throughout the United States. Classes include conformation which judges what the animal looks like. The conformation classes are divided into 5 fiber types for llamas and 16 fiber colors for alpacas. Fleece classes judge the animal’s fiber. Showmanship classes judge how you show the animal. Performance classes are divided into 3 classes, obstacle, public relations, and pack. Each of these classes has 10 obstacles which can include jumps, bridges, gates, water, backing, tunnels, petting, and many more. Some shows also have cart driving classes where the llama pulls a cart around and through obstacles. Well trained llamas and alpacas can be used as therapy animals and can be taken into hospitals and nursing homes to bring the patients and residents unlimited joy. Llamas can also be used as a guard animal for sheep, goats, and poultry. They will bond to their flock and protect them by alerting them to danger. They will protect from coyotes by either chasing them off or by stomping and biting them until dead. Lastly, llamas can be used as pack animals to carry hiking, camping, or hunting gear in and out of the wilderness. Llamas are very sure footed and have a low impact on the environment because of the soft pad on the bottom of their feet. Llamas can carry a third of their body weight which is about 80-100 pounds of packed items.

Llama and alpacas are relatively easy to care for and quite hardy. Llamas can live 20-25 years and alpacas live 15-20 years. They are a herd animal and do best when they are together as either a pair or more. They need a few pounds of good quality grass hay or fresh pasture, some grain, free choice minerals, and fresh water daily. Llamas and alpacas need a basic shelter to get them out of the rain, wind, snow, and hot sun. One great characteristic of llamas and alpacas is that they use a communal dung pile which allows for easy cleanup of the barn and pasture. Routine health care includes trimming their toes about 3-4 times per year, deworming them either monthly or seasonally depending on the expected parasite load, and giving them an annual CD/T vaccine or 7-way or 8-way vaccine. One of the biggest parasite concerns for llamas and alpacas is Meningeal worm or Parelaphostrongylus tenuis which can be readily found in the white tail deer population and rarely causes signs or clinical disease in deer but in llamas and alpacas it travels through the spinal cord causes stiffness, muscle weakness, circling, paralysis and eventual death. Treatment of this can be effective if it is started early in the course of the disease. It includes multiple dewormers, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals, supportive care and physical therapy. Llamas and alpacas also need to be sheared yearly to harvest their fiber and keep them cool in the hot summer months to prevent heat stress. Signs of heat stress include staggering, reluctance to move, open mouth breathing, and high body temperature (Normal is 99.5 – 101.5°F). Shearing the middle or barrel of the animals is a great way to help prevent heat stress because it allows ventilation to their belly and armpits. On very hot days, fans, wading pools, and cool water sprayed on their legs and belly can also help to keep them cool and comfortable. Llamas and alpacas do love to sun bath and will lay out on their side just soaking up the sun. They look like they are dead. We have had people stop by thinking they were dead. Gestation is 11 ½ months for llamas. They will have a single baby called a cria. Llamas are induced ovulators, much like cats and rabbits, which means they will ovulate only after being bred. Llama crias are born weighing 20-30 pounds and alpaca crias weigh 14-18 pounds, and it takes about 3 years for them to reach full size. Males crias should be weaned and separated from females at 5-6 months of age to prevent unplanned babies. Most breeders geld males around 18 months. Between 2 and 3 years of age males will have their fighting teeth emerge. These are 6 sharp pointed canine like teeth. They use them to bite at other males and cause serious injuries. These should be trimmed.

Overall, llamas and alpacas are easy to take care of on a daily basis. They are a very versatile animal and bring great joy to both their owners and others who get to interact with them.

Is it That Time?

scan-752Growing up on a farm gave me insight to the circle of life at an early age. I saw crops planted and harvested each year to feed the hogs that were raised to supply food for the world and our immediate family. I was introduced to baby pigs as I helped my father give iron shots to prevent anemia and clip baby teeth in order to protect the mother sows udder. I was in charge of caring for the runts that were not able to fend for themselves in those large litters. My younger brother and myself would fix milk replacer for them and then transition them to creep feed and offer all the TLC a young pig could handle. I snuggled with pigs more than I care to admit during my younger years.   The ones that did not survive were carefully buried behind the barn and we rejoiced with each one that was able to move to the feeder pig facility.

I had a number of outdoor cats that would have litters every spring and those little kittens always seemed to get the “kitty cold” and would start doing poorly. My dad told me that if I wanted to help them, I could give them a shot of penicillin and see if they improved. Some responded immediately and others continued to decline and eventually passed away. Yet each of them were loved every moment of their lives by a young girl that learned there is a time to live and a time to die.

I had farm dogs that worked side by side caring for the livestock and others that were there as protectors and/or companions.   Attachment to each of them ran deep and as they aged, it became apparent that soon we would have to say good-bye.

I guess you could say that all of these experiences set me up to be a veterinarian. These experiences also made me more aware of the circle of life. I saw life and death often in nature and realized that there is no fear in death. I would see the peace in an animal’s passing and that there was no longer any pain or suffering. I would remember the joy that they had brought to my life, even if it was only for a short period of time. I would realize that my life was blessed because they had been special to me.

As I spend time with clients at Winterset Veterinary Center during the difficult moments surrounding euthanasia, I am reminded of the peace that comes in the end when our furry friends have taken their last breath. I can remember the joy they have brought to their forever family and know that these humans have been eternally blessed to have had this time with this special furry friend.

Please understand that as a veterinarian, these situations are some of the most difficult parts of my job. Yet, I would not choose to be anywhere else when that time comes for a pet-owner. I have been with them during the good times, and I would never abandoned them during these final moments when facing the most agonizing decision they have ever had to make for their special friend.

I find myself counseling often on “Is it that time?” Only you as a pet owner can know and decide if it is that time. People ask me, “But how will I know?” I tell them, “You will know.”   We were given a greater intelligence to be able to sense pain and suffering. Maybe by using our 5 senses we can relate to the struggles they endure during those final days. No more twinkle in their eyes, lots of moans and sighs, lack of interest in food and water, avoidance of affection and interaction, and/or unusual smells. Maybe it is the physical challenges they face such as incontinence, nerve deficits, joint diseases, heart disease, etc.   Sometimes these issues can present in combinations that make it apparent that successful return to a quality lifestyle will be next to impossible.   We all can hope that one morning we awake and find our furry friend peacefully passed in the night. Yet I must say, that gift is not granted nearly enough. If you have been given that gift in the past count yourself BLESSED!

I want to make certain my clients know that they will not be judged on what they decide is best for their furry friend. Only they can sense what has changed in their pet’s life that makes it apparent that this is the right time. I recall a day when I was asked to go outside to a pick-up truck to administer that final injection that would end the painful day to day struggles their furry friend had endured. I climbed up into the bed of the truck and sat in front of this very special dog that I had had the pleasure of caring for. No struggle was given as I placed my tourniquet and found that vein. I began injecting the solution and in her final moment of consciousness, she laid her head ever so peacefully in my lap. It was a moment I will never forget because I understood how much this final gesture had given her freedom from her pain and suffering.

Our furry friends deserve to have their final days be full of love and attention to their every need and comfort. The unconditional love they bestow on us daily is something that we will always hold most precious and dear. If you are coming to an end in the life of a furry friend, just always keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. If each day is a struggle for your pet and they are having more difficult days than good days it may be time. If the sparkle has gone from their eyes, they no longer greet you at the end of the day, and they rarely seek you out due to the constant struggle they have to get around, it is most likely time. Know there is peace in their passing and joy in the remembrance of the blessings they have been in your lives.   My favorite saying when it comes to this topic is, “A furry friend’s only fault is they do not live long enough.” These words ring true for me and for all those who have had the pleasure of loving a pet.