Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Goats: part 1. In the last blog, I mentioned our six month stay in one of Caroline’s gites, where she had a mixed flock of free range chickens and a couple of goats. Apparently, the goats came with the property when they bought it, so she ordered a book on goats from Amazon to learn what to do with them. The first words she read in the book were (something like) “if you’ve bought goats to keep your grass in trim, you’ve bought the wrong animal, you should have bought sheep”, which strikes me as a really negative way to start a book about goats, no matter how true it might be; there are softer ways of breaking bad news.

Gabrielle has never been that enamoured of goats, something about their eyes, she says, perhaps subliminally connected to devilish symbolism from medieval times. In my Dictionary of Symbols (Tresidder, 1999. p92) I read that, on Judgement Day, “Christ is to divide [the goats] from the sheep and consign them to everlasting fire”; so if, on the Big Day, you fail to make the cut at the Pearly Gates, you can presumably console yourself with tasty barbequed goat.

Goats are browsers and need a certain bulk in their diet which grazing just on grass won’t satisfy. I sold my petrol strimmer last year, re-investing the money in a beautiful Austrian scythe but having a mobile living strimmer seems even more permaculture and when we were offered a pygmy goat for free, I started to get very excited and even Gabrielle warmed to the idea. We placed an order for a female pygmy goat for essential company (it really is most unkind to keep farm animals in solitary confinement) and, the day after paying our deposit, were offered even more goats (see Part 2).

I looked around agricultural suppliers on the Internet to find designs and dimensions of hayracks and then built one for the cost of just a few screws, with some beautiful ash wood donated by our neighbour Kysinia. I mounted it under cover from the weather inside the field shelter and then, with yet more free non-reusable pallets from our pig-farming neighbour Paul, I built a wooden mountain, for the goat to jump around for fun. After two days alone, with the hope that the goat would get used to us more quickly, we’ve introduced our castrated Ouessant ram lamb into his paddock for company, until his girlfriend arrives at the start of April. The goat spends the day out on a tether and is then returned to his paddock to run around freely. It’s early days but our permaculture plans seem to be working, as the photo below shows him getting tucked into a bramble patch.

Inevitably (for me, that is) I also bought a book on goats: keeping a goat on a tether is, I read, “not recommended”. “The smaller goatkeeper (I’m nearly 6 ft tall, whereas Gabrielle is only 5 ft 2 ins, so how does this apply to us?) would not be wise to consider buying a male of any age …” It also advises disbudding (so horns don’t grow) all goats to avoid injury to human goatkeepers. So, keeping our male, horned goat on a tether is breaking all the rules. In conclusion: I recommend buying a goat ... I'm not so sure I'd recommend buying a book on goats!