Goats in the Garden-March 2009

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With only a back garden in which to keep my goats I often look longingly at the vast areas my friends have on which their herds graze contentedly. Not so today. With sub zero temperatures I am really pleased that I can feed, water, close my goats up for the night and be back indoors in the warm within fifteen minutes.

.As a garden goat keeper my on going problem has always been how to dispose of the bedding from the goat pens and the enormous amount of wastage under the hayracks.

I used straw when I first started and with only two small goats it was not such a problem. However, as time went by and I became bitten by the bug, my herd increased and it became more of a problem.

Straw, as I am sure most of you know, does not decompose, well not for about fifty years at least and I couldn`t wait that long. I started bagging it up and taking it to my local tip, a time consuming job but at least it was one way of getting rid of it. This was fine until one day an over zealous bin man asked what I was tipping and when I told him what it was, he said it was classified as `medical waste` and I could not tip it there. So home I went with my bin bags full of soggy straw and hay, overcoming the urge to leave it in the nearest lay-by.

I tried burning it but as it slowly smouldered for the best part of a weekend I was not surprised when my neighbour popped in for a friendly chat.

I then decided an allotment would be the ideal place to start a compost heap, no one to complain about the size and no husband to moan about the smell. I contacted the council, found out there were several plots available and duly chose one that I hoped would not entail too much work and more important one I could get my car close to. This worked well for some time and I quite enjoyed growing some vegetables. A bonus for the goats was I started to grow Jerusalem Artichokes, but that will keep for another time.

The allotment worked well for some time, it was during the foot and mouth period of 2003 and I was feeling the lack of `goatie` things to be doing. The compost heap grew and to my surprise so did my runner beans and broccoli. It is hard work on an allotment on your own, and quite lonely too. My husband put a new roof on a small shed on the plot so I could keep my shovel dry but that was where his interest ended. After about 18 months and with pygmy goats once again on the agenda I decided I did not have the time or the interest to carry on with the allotment so I gave it up.

By now I had discovered the wonders of Aubiose as a bedding material, it looks like wood shavings but is much more absorbent and will bio-degrade, although I have found it takes longer than the 6/8 weeks that I was told. This makes a much more manageable compost heap and I have been using it now for several years. It comes in a very large bag and costs about £8.00.

With the bedding sorted that just left me with the problem of the wasted hay. Fortunately, at about that time, my local council decided that we should all go green, and for a small fee I could have two brown bins into which I could put clean hay and they would dispose of it fortnightly. Hey Presto! Problem Solved.

When you read this I will have finished kidding and if things go the way they usually do I will have big bags under my eyes, and a big vets bill. Last year I had two caesareans out of five kiddings, not a very fair ratio by anyone’s reckoning. The saving grace was that all the kids survived so that was a real bonus. Wish me luck.

Viv McNeil