The goat girls
Our plan here on the hill for 2018 was to get chickens and plant trees. Our plan for 2019 was to get livestock and bees. So true to form, we got a hive of bees in August 2018, and then a swarm from a cutout in September. In November we acquired goats. Three trees were planted, and chickens have not yet been acquired, nor a house built for them. Though we are hopefully on track to start being the hill of milk and honey come Spring 2019. The goats came from a friend of mine who developed an allergy to the milk protein casein, that cut short her goat keeping days. She offered me between two and five goats. After a discussion with the housemates here on the hill and much against my husband’s wishes, we took on two goats. Preparation for goats included buying and setting up of an electric fence, and a trailer to transport and house the goat girls in, and a trip to the garage to repair the trailer’s wheelbearings. We had a bale of hay from the field for feeding and a dampish one for bedding. A trip to the feed store for oats, barley and a salt lick completed my preparations for the goat girls.
About halfway through November I collected them from Wicklow, two gorgeous maiden female Toggenburg goats. The blonde one is Dandelion and the brunette is Nettles. What follows is a tale of learning, giving up on fences and other preconceived ideas of goat keeping and a huge opportunity for the goat keepers out there to tell me how wrong my style of goat keeping is.
For the first week or so, we had the girls mostly successfully enclosed in an area with brambles, a fallen down tree to climb and loads of ivy. They were happy, I was happy, they were using their trailer as a house, all was good. They were being fed a mix of oats and barley.
During the third week, they somehow escaped their fence and strayed into the general area where we started a Japanese garden type thing. (The girls promptly browsed from the mahonia and denuded the camellias) . So I spent a couple of days fencing them into the area of the Japanese garden where we had not done any planting. An area with plenty of ivy and brambles, and some pine trees to debark. We trimmed their hooves and they enjoyed their new feeding ground for a few days.
The reluctant boyfriend
In the meantime, I had been looking for a billy goat for the girls, unfortunately, they need to give birth in order to give milk. Unfortunately, in order to give birth, they have to get pregnant and unfortunately, this involves a billy goat. After a week of ringing goat sanctuaries, petting farms and studs, I found a guy with a billy an hour and a bit south of here, he said to bring the girls in when they come into season. Being new at this goat keeping thing and completely unsure as to when that would happen, I rang the fellow again a few weeks later, this time asking him to send me a rag that had been rubbed on the male goat, seemingly this gets the girls all excited. He said, “Ah sure, come take the goat away and bring him back when he is done”. I really did not want to be responsible for a billy goat, but I resigned myself to my fate, and one afternoon at the start of December I plucked up the courage and drove down and collected a big white, longish haired, big horned, very smelly goat predictably called “Billy”. He took up half the trailer! It was well dark by the time I got back, so we replaced the trailer in the paddock, tied a rope around Billy’s neck and took him to meet the girls. He did not make a great first impression, chasing them around the place, breaking through my fence and all sorts of misery all in the dark. So we tied him to the trailer with loads of rope and I went in for my dinner. Halfway through the night, while safely tucked up in bed I had a miserable thought: What if I tied a slip knot around his neck and he strangled himself? So torch in hand I went to check on the beast, the girls were sleeping in the trailer with him and his knot did not appear to be a slip knot and all was fine.
In the morning, I went out to feed them and realised that the beast was struggling, it had been a slip knot and he was being strangled. The house had been moved off of its chocks and the girls were scared. He seemed to make a speedy recovery after the throttling incident, and seeing as though he was getting on ok with the girls, I decided he did not need to be restrained anymore. There was goat harmony for all of a day or two before they started escaping from the fence and trying to get at our plants in the courtyard. Our precious plants that are waiting for us to plant them in their forever home. Our apple trees, my beautiful Eleagnus, the horse chestnut and chestnut seedlings and the bay tree. It was around this time that I realised the jerks did not care that the fence was electrified, they did not care that I had precious plants, and they did not care that roads are perhaps not the safest places to be hanging around. So for a few days, I was driven demented trying to keep them out of the courtyard, keep them behind their fence and keep them safe.
One evening, I went into the barn to collect hay for the goats, and lo and behold, three pairs of eyes shone back at me from the hay pile. It occurred to me that the billy goat had probably lead them astray and into the barn. In that moment, I gave up trying to control where the goats ate, slept or existed. I gave up my dreams for the barn and just allowed it to turn into the world’s biggest goat house, so I set about rescuing whatever hay I could and removing it to the shed, I put up a temporary wall so there was only one way in, thus cutting down on some of the draughts. Now they live in the barn, they spend most of their time there, time when they should be out browsing or shagging. Instead, they spend their time staring at me through the fence, relaxing in the barn or finding other plants and things to destroy. The other day they were browsing ivy close to the house and chewed through the string of fairy lights that lights the path to our dwelling.
Billy looks like an old goat – arthritic knees, bad hooves and long horns. He is at least 5 years old – he has all his teeth. I am not sure he is as old as he looks. My friend reckons he is part Saanen and Golden Guernsey. I don’t really know, all I know is that he smells pungent and is gently aggressive with me. Thankfully he has horns and I can wrangle him using the horns. Though those things smell terrible too and impart Billy goat-scent to your hands. Thankfully my nose has been quite blocked of late that I am not constantly smelling goat. I have a pair of trousers and a jumper that I put on when feeding or handling the goats. Anyway, after doing a bit of reading around the topic of how to look after arthritic livestock, I decided to boil up some linseed with turmeric and black pepper, the linseed needs to be boiled apparently because it releases prussic acid if served raw. It is also high in omega 3 which is an anti-inflammatory, as is the turmeric, the black pepper being there to make the turmeric bio-available. We trimmed his hooves. So of late, Billy boy has been looking somewhat better and not as frail as when we first got him, unfortunately, he does not seem to be as interested in the girls as he was when we got him.
Today’s goat news: January 2019
I know for a fact Dandelion is in heat. She has been rubbing up to Billy and twitching her tail and totally giving all the “come on” signs. Billy boy does not seem interested. Hopefully, while I was not watching them, he did the job, but I am not too hopeful.
Dandelion is a great eater, more adventurous with food than her sister, also more aggressive when it comes to food, Nettles is more skittish, she goes off her food quicker, but she is more adventurous when it comes to escaping from fences and finding fresh grazing. She is also somewhat scrawnier than her sister.
I enjoy preparing snacks for the goats for the evening feed. Chopping up a few Brussels sprouts, or saving carrot peels or chopping up apples. After feeding them their ration, I pop these bits of food into their mouths. The girls are at a disadvantage because they do not have all their teeth, and cannot eat as fast as the billy. Therefore he eats his ration quickly and then tries to eat the girls’ ration. So I feed him at one end of the barn and the girls at the other. When he is finished, I delay him by either wrestling or popping snacks into his face. so that the girls can at least eat most of their ration.
So what I have learned about goat keeping in two months:
- Don’t spend €150 on an electric fence system, buy good hay or a really good bottle of whiskey instead. Goats don’t respect a double strand electric fence, and they don’t give a crap if it cost you a pile of money and a whole load of days spent installing it. Thankfully we live on a really quiet road, and the goats can now roam as they wish (our property is on both sides of the road) and they always come back because the barn is kind of cosy and safe and they get fed here. If you have to fence them in, use sheep fencing, coupled with an electric wire at about the height of your nose to deter jumpers.
- Get reflective collars for them so they are not mistaken for deer by hunters
- Avoid bringing a billy goat to your property, they smell bad, they lead the others into mischief and if he can’t do the job, you will have fed a freeloader for 2 months. Next year I hope to leave the girls somewhere with a nice, billy from a line of milkers for a sexytime holiday, instead of providing sanatorium services to an aged, creaky, smelly goat.
- Female goats smell really nice (have smelt really nice, not sure Dandelion does anymore after rubbing herself against Billy)
- It is really useful to raise these things as part of a community as help is needed for hoof trimming, and feeding, especially when you don’t feel well or need to head away.
- Goats are really fussy eaters, they won’t eat anything that has fallen on the ground and they want the best, green, spring hay (impossible to find)
- Their favourite forage is ivy, possibly followed by fairy lights
- They are really road savvy
- It is easier to fence your precious plants in (chicken wire) as opposed to fencing goats out. They are sneaky
- Billy goats are not as scary as they look, especially if you are a bit stronger than him and don’t mind manhandling the brute a bit.
- Unless you are willing to properly paddock goats in, don't get goats, they will break your heart