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Let me guess, your first question is probably, “What the heck is plate training?” Well … let me explain.
It all started when I was looking for creative ways to sneak garlic into my goats’ diet. I discovered that my goats loved applesauce by putting a bunch of different foods such as mashed banana, pumpkin puree, molasses, and honey, on—you guessed it—a plate! When I tried the applesauce they were happy to lick it right up; it was their favorite of all of these foods. This sparked my daily regimen of feeding garlic to my goats. Crushed garlic was mixed in with a small spoonful of applesauce, and put onto a plate where the goats joyfully slurped it with one lick! I trained them to be quick to respond to this “treat” that was placed on a plate. Soon enough, they licked what was on a plate without hesitancy. They knew that when something was given to them in that way, it was tasty. You may be wondering if this goes for putting something in a bowl or feeder. Well, your goats might prefer being trained to something other than a plate, but because I decided to use plates, that’s what I have to continue to use unless I train them again to another object. I attempted to abruptly change the “platter” in which I served my goats their special treat, and they refused to lick it even out of a similar bowl. No, my goats are strictly plate trained.
I assumed that the plate would be my favored method of feeding them their applesauce with garlic, but I had no idea I could use it for much more. If there is one most important thing to know about my goats, it’s that they HATE syringes. Anything that means force-feeding is out of the question when it comes to them tolerating it. I assume most goats dislike being force-fed, and I hate being the one to do it. Not only is it uncomfortable for the goat, but syringe feeding and “drenching” pose a concern for aspiration pneumonia if not done properly. While I dislike these methods, I have, and will, syringe feed and drench my goats, but only with the utmost care, and when absolutely necessary.
I discovered my “plate training” efforts were successful when I was giving my goats a dose of probiotics. Probiotics are wonderful for goats, and I use them often when I feel they are necessary. The probiotics that I use (and love!) come in a gel/paste form that is packaged in a large tube. It is supposed to be squirted directly into a goat’s mouth. Well, after getting 1/3 of the probiotics actually in the mouth of one of the goats, the other two thirds were all over the goat—and me! I took a good look in my metaphorical barn mirror, and saw myself “accessorized” with probiotics on my boots and clothes. I decided this was NOT going to work. Then one of my lovely boys, Freddie, came up to me (after being the one to resist probiotics in the first place) and began licking some of it off of my boots and fingers. Although this “creative” method seemed to work, I was not going to cover myself in probiotics every time I wanted to give them to him (although there aren’t many things I wouldn’t do for my goats). This made me realize that my extremely stubborn goats simply didn’t want to be force fed. I squirted their dose of probiotics onto a plate, and victory was mine! They licked it without a second of hesitation. Of course, they took a minute afterwards to shake their heads when they realized what they ate … but they still ate it!
Now I’ve never tried Probios; I can’t say if it tastes good or not. But you are probably thinking this wouldn’t work with something truly “yucky.” Well, because of the fact that I encourage a “one lick” (or more like one slurp) approach, and constantly give them positive reinforcement with good things on plates, I don’t have much trouble getting them to lick whatever I put on a plate. I have a few things that I call “plate textured foods” and these I use as carrier items for what needs to be given. Not everything comes in the perfect one-lick paste form, sometimes we need to improvise. If you want to give your goats an herb (I do this quite often!), you can add the dosage into a carrier such as applesauce (my favorite), mashed banana, pumpkin puree, or another one of my favorite foods for plate-feeding use, flaxseed meal. Flaxseed meal acts as a binder. It turns a substance that is too “liquidy” for a goat to lick quickly and easily into somewhat of a gelatinous paste. To use flaxseed, the mixture you are dosing must already be in liquid form. This could be as simple as taking an herb and adding water, olive oil, molasses, etc. Then you would add your flax meal, and it will thicken. Think of the flax as more of a thickener to an already-made mixture than a carrier.
Just because I have trained my goats to lick things off of a plate in a quick manner, before they realize it is not what they are used to, does not mean I don’t still try to make what I give them taste good. The truth is, goats will still spit out something that tastes REALLY bad to them. It is equally as important to make what you are giving them as tasty as possible. There are things that might be truly “gross” to a goat, that will cause a goat to refuse, and in that instance, it is time to carefully force-feed it if there is no other alternative.
How Can you Plate Train Your Goats?
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner.