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By October 16, 2017 0 Comments Read More →

We’ve Got Goats

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Home Farmer reader, Pete Sheppard, has taken on goats. Here’s the tale of how it all happened and what he learn’t along the way.

“Goats? Really? Why?” Or “Aah… how cute!” Or “…they’ll just eat everything and escape!” These are the responses we get when we say we’ve become goat keepers. I have to admit I’m a sucker for animals of all types, and marrying a veterinary nurse did little to lessen that affliction. We have been in our small place in the country for about five years now, and – despite our best efforts – work, health, finances and building an extension have all played their part in the greater challenge of making the most of it. But despite being ecstatic with rural life and pottering about with growing, winemaking, jamming, the brilliant village community, and country fairs, it never felt complete ‒ something was missing… livestock.

Both of us work. We have an eight-year-old daughter and lots of things going on, too, but the desire for livestock eventually became insatiable. How could we cope? Or even afford it? We couldn’t afford to be full-time smallholders, so it was always going to be impractical… or was it? I mean, how hard could it be?

I started a tick list of essentials. We are fortunate to have stables (although they’re filled to the brim with junk ‒ or ‘essential bits for the house’, apparently ‒ and garden items) and a paddock. We also have several areas set out for hens, a lovely dwarf orchard, and an ash tree high-density, short-range coppice of 100 saplings. Knowing goats’ legendary reputation for escape and destruction, I admit a cold sweat of fear formed on my forehead. We had already had animal damage to the trees, and a further setback would not be acceptable… or affordable! Consequently, we decided to use decent, high-spec electric fencing with ‘goat-suitable’ netting instead of tape. That way, all would be safely contained in my happy, pseudo-compartmentalised world! The paddock is also due to have stock fencing installed ‒ item 4,291 on my ‘to do’ list.

Detaching my practical head I followed my heart and clicked the ‘BUY NOW’ button; not for the goats themselves, but rather for all the kit I presumed we might need. We already had a herd number and a CPH number, so nothing could stop us now; but where do you source your goats from? I had an epiphany moment ‒ fostering, of course! The perfect solution for our needs! We already had a rescue dog, cats, hens and rabbits, so why not goats? Research led us to Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats (www.buttercups.org.uk – 01622 746420), near Maidstone. What a find!

I had a clear idea of what we wanted ‒ two or three nannies, ideally dehorned youngsters, preferably smallish, placid and easy to manage. However, fate seems to have a curious sense of humour… We actually ended up with four young castrated male pygmies, all with horns. So, how did that happen? If you are considering goats, look into your needs carefully, but remain flexible. These guys were just right for our particular needs and lifestyle. They were already a young (although somewhat feral) herd of four. Our initial contact with Buttercups provided support and guidance, and without obligation or pressure. The whole process was excellent, with a home visit as well as a visit to the sanctuary to meet them. They also provided a day of goat husbandry tuition with Bob; and even if you’re not rehoming from them,

I thoroughly recommend the course to build skills and get hands-on advice. A superb advice sheet with all the basics on a simple page was provided, too ‒ years of practical experience condensed into a single sheet of A4.

We are great believers in enriching the lives of our animals; like us, they like to play ‒ something we occasionally forget as adults. We set about finding ways to keep them entertained and distracted from thoughts of mounting a great escape which would put Steve McQueen to shame. With basic skills you can make so many exciting things for them to play with. Free pages on Facebook were a welcome source of an old picnic bench for use as a climbing frame/bottom scratcher, and cheap broomheads from eBay screwed to various locations provided additional grooming facilities. Horse toys, or large dog treat balls, encourage play. Free pallets are a plentiful resource, too, and can be fabricated into anything from climbing platforms in the stable to a complete field shelter. Just don’t make it so heavy you can’t move it… I’ll say no more about this.

Goats need care. More importantly, they need interaction to prevent them going feral. With this in mind, Buttercups recommend putting them away at night, and handling them as much as you can so they get used to you. It makes routine tasks a lot easier if your goats are relaxed and happy ‒ try hoof trimming a disgruntled goat without stabbing your fingers or getting pushed over! And never, ever, forget the persuasive and diagnostic powers of a cream cracker or bramble ‒ if a goat won’t touch either, something is wrong and it’s time to get help. Unfortunately, they can go downhill very quickly. Vaccinations, worming and grooming are all part of responsible ownership.

We’re now a month into our goat keeping venture, and not regretting it for one second. They are a constant source of entertainment, enjoyment, and fun; but are they practical in this situation? Probably not, although they do a tremendous job of clearing weeds, devouring ash trimmings and bramble, and produce great poo for the compost. Overall they’re pet goats, but that needn’t be incompatible with a smallholding, and this serves to remind us that not everything in life has to be practical. It has certainly reinvigorated our enthusiasm for the good life, and did I mention that we’re now adding sheep next month?

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Goats

About the Author:

Ruth Tott is the publisher of Home Farmer Magazine, and together with her husband, Paul Melnyczuk, Editor,is founder of the company. But her background is far removed having specialised in Costume History with a Post-Grad diploma in Museum Studies to boot. A far cry from looking after chickens, growing veg and making bread!

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