Goats in the Garden-March 2011

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Garden Goats


Viv McNeil   

Well here we are again,  kiddings are imminent, dates marked with a red ring on the calendar and the vet`s phone number to hand. What is it that leads us to keep repeating the previous year`s traumas and sleepless nights? Do we really have a few screws lose as my husband insists or is it something more.

I`m not sure that I know the answer. Every year after a difficult kidding in the middle of a freezing cold night I say what I know most of you say,`Never again`. I think it must be a bit like giving birth ourselves (well not the men, of course) you forget what it is like until the labour pains start, by then it`s too late.

I still have two weeks to go before my goats are due to kid so I will just brace myself and hope for the best. I will let you know how it goes in the next issue. 

This awful wet weather has certainly made cleaning the goat`s run quite a problem. In the past I have said how pleased I was to be a back garden keeper as it was easier to feed the goats and put them away at night. It does however have its drawbacks over people who keep their goats in paddocks. To keep my goats from upsetting the neighbours, and more especially, my long suffering husband, I need to clean them out every week. I alternate the pens, as with Aubiose I do not need to clean them out so often. However the run with its paving gets very mucky, the goats only eat a quarter of each bale of hay and the remaining three quarters gets plastered around  the run, it is very heavy to sweep up and difficult to dispose of.

Apart from the hard work, at  8.00 a bale, which is what I paid last week, I decided it was time to give some thought to how I could reduce the amount of wastage.  As most hayracks seem to have unnecessarily large holes for pygmy goats I decided I would try lining each of the hayracks with a plastic mesh which I had bought from the garden centre to keep my kids contained at shows. I tied it in place with baling twine, it wasn`t the most attractive creation I have seen but it worked. I stood back and admired my handiwork while waiting to see what would happen. At first the goats seemed to have a bit of difficulty getting at the hay through the smaller holes but they soon worked out what to do and by the empty hayracks it was clear that they could manage quite well.

The result was quite amazing. It took the goats longer to feed  which meant they were eating hay most of the day, they were actually eating a lot more hay and the reduction in waste was incredible. I don`t know if it will last as goats can be quite canny and will soon learn how to reach the tastier bits whilst discarding the rest on the floor, I will just have to wait and see.

 I joined the local W.I. a couple of months ago. Yes I know all the jokes, twin set and pearls etc. but I am quite enjoying it. The members are all very welcoming and it `s one of the few places I can go these days and feel far too young to have a bus pass.

There was a coffee morning for new members during which we were all asked to say a little about our hobbies. It went around the room, gardening, sewing, walking etc. until it came to me. When I said that I bred and showed pygmy goats it was a bit of a show stopper. Everyone was absolutely intrigued, questions came fast and furious, where do you keep them, what happens when they kid, do you keep a male? I was very flattered and surprised by what I considered a normal hobby. By the end I realised I had agreed to give a twenty minute talk at one of the meetings on keeping pygmy goats. I think I am `May` but I won`t be taking my clothes off. I`ll let you know whether I sink or swim. 

I bought a couple of very nice kids recently. I had not meant to do it, in fact I probably do not have the room but they were so nice I could not resist. It was when I returned Heatherview Phoenix last November that I met them, Astra and Hebe, one blue and one several shades of brown. Due to Christmas and the bad weather it was mid January before I collected them.

Introducing new goats to an existing herd has to be done carefully but on the few occasions I have done it there has never been a problem. I always make sure they come as a pair, I would not want to bring one goat on its own as I think that would be unfair. There was a bit of pushing and chasing for about an hour but nothing that l was worried about, and it settled down very quickly. The new girls obviously kept to themselves and were a bit wary of my other goats for a few days, but I made sure they were getting to the hayracks and now they seem fine. I did however have a problem with the goat mix which they refused to eat. Having been told they were quite a greedy pair I was surprised to find that after a few days they were still refusing to eat. I bought flaked barley which had been suggested and this they ate until I tried to mix a little goat mix with it, then they refused that as well. As I was using molassed goat mix  I decided to buy some non molassed. When I opened the bag it looked, felt     and smelt the same as mine and I thought they would refuse it. However the new girls could tell the difference and to my relief started to eat it. 

A good tip, which I forgot, is always ask for a small supply of food when buying goats, to help them settle in, it is obviously important to them. As I don`t want to have buy two types of goat mix I am going to have to see which goats I can convert.  

Have you noticed how good your goats look in their winter coats?

When I look at mine they all look like show winners. If only they could stay like that all year round. I wish good luck to all who are awaiting kids, and I hope you all manage to get at least one nice female.

 Take care. 

Viv McNeil.