Sunday, 18 September 2011

Spit Roast?

By now we were beginning to despair. Perhaps we, like many would be parents, were not destined to be livestock breeders and this was just nature's way of telling us that we had not passed the natural selection criteria that leads to a life of animal husbandry. It had become a common sight as I lay abed in the morning, watching the sun begin to bathe the north facing slopes of the hill next door, to see the goat girls emerge through the braken on their daily forage through the pastures. Their presence taunted us with our shortcomings as they opted for the surrogacy of the neighbours farm over the virgin paddocks of our own. Perhaps they inately knew that we lacked knowledge and experience (demonstrated no doubt by the shiny wire and steel posts of our new fencing compared with the comfortable rust and listing wooden posts next door) and felt more secure in an area that obviously had seen the hoof print of livestock in recent times.

Up till now we had been fairly confident that we could execute a round up when the opportunity presented itself but the goats began to get wily and on several occasions evaded our overtures of benign incarceration and showed a swift turn of speed as they bolted for their gap under the fence that led to the wild lands of the bush and a place were no sane person would attempt to follow. We were at a standoff. We'd sometimes manage to coax the goats in and on such occasions they would happily take food from us, getting ever bolder in their quest for a tasty treat but other times they would evade capture only to reappear on the wrong side of the fence and quietly undermine our confidence in the doctrine of human superiority. When we did get them within the paddocks, it was never for very long and, when it came time to check on the boundries, they would demonstrate a complete lack of goat contained therein.

These were becoming expensive goats. Already the cost was in the 4 figure department with electric fencing and other gizmos, goat treats and the goats themselves. We were seeing no return on our investment in the way of shorter grass, little piles of goatie poo to fertilize the garden or the companionship of domesticated animals. We couldn't just let this continue. Perhaps we would be better off with sheep after all, something that couldn't leap moderate height fences in a single bound, some animal that wasn't smart enough to recognise our ineptitude. With these dispairing thoughts I put in a call to our local goat guru (and supplier of goats) with the thought that perhaps the goats were ripe enough to become freezer material and thus recoup some of our expenditure via the dinner table.maybe there was time for one last round up.

But no!! there may yet be a solution. One that Lyn had insisted was the obvious option from the beginning and that was to raise the height of the fence. When this was first mooted some weeks previously I had had no experience of the fun things you can do with fencing by the purchase and application of proprietary devices. It now seemed possible and even practical to  use electric wire standoffs to put another wire above the tops of the pickets. With fresh determination, vigour and enthusiasm we set about implementing this new plan.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Leadership in Question

With the electric fence partly commissioned and the goats seemingly following an established pattern of roaming from adjacent bushland to the neighbour's paddock as a daily routine, we began a subtle game of wits. When we were both at home and the goats made their appearance next door, we would climb the fences and round them up, retuning them to their home range. For the moment this was largely an academic exercise as, no sooner than we had them home and congratulated ourselves on finally being goat keepers, than they would make their escape when our vigilance dropped.

We persisted in this game despite its seeming futility and in the face of the increased cunning of the girls who began to understand our desire to restrict their freedom and, if given the chance, would elude our herding efforts by making a bolt for the scrub where we had no chance of following. Each time we had them home, it seemed that their stay was briefer but we were managing to get them to take some food. This was as a small reward (probably more for us than them) for being on the correct side of the fence. It was on one such occasion that we were treated to a demonstration of escape techniques and were firmly able to establish the ringleader.

Toffee had always been the leader in new activity, whether it be getting her head stuck in the fence or taking food from our hands, she had a boldness the others lacked. On the afternoon in question both Lyn and I were working in the paddock (reinforcing the electric barrier) and the girls were inquisitively keeping us company. Like children whose attention span is limited without fresh stimuli, they would wonder away when bored but seemed ready to return when something piqued their interest. Toffee's attention threshold was quite fine and it was not long before she manifested her dissatisfaction in our entertainment and appeared on the wrong side of the fence. It didn't take much effort to get her back however, when she saw the other three indulging in treats that she had no access to.

Things were looking up. We were beginning to feel optimistic that we had broken the escapism cycle and the girls were learning to be content with their lot. Perhaps their dreams of starting a feral colony along the wilds of the Mersey River were being super imposed with the utopian ideal of food on demand and the easy life with a bit of human companionship thrown in. Toffee made another bid for freedom that afternoon. This time exiting over the western boundary. Fully expecting her companions to follow suit, she called upon them to break the yolk of their human oppressors, to forgo the soft life that meant forsaking their ideals and embrace the freedom of the wilds. This time her message fell on deaf ears and the other girls contentedly maintained their curious vigil of our activities. Toffee's cries became more strident as she recognised the spell that her friends were falling under but her rhetoric wasn't working. After an hour or more she obviously decided that a more consultative approach was called for and, it seemed to us, magically reappeared on the correct side of the fence.

This was a step in the right direction. Solidarity of the masses beat charismatic leadership and the mob mentality seemed to be calling the shots. We were quietly confident that sense would overcome the siren call of the wild and our girls would now settle down to a domestic routine and be available to amuse ourselves and our cottage guests, not to mention giving us credos as real rural types. The reality by now was a fairly predictable disappointment when we went out to check the attendance roll the following morning. The score was now; Goats 10 + /Us 0.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Electrifying Events

It may seem extrordinary but it is amazing what lengths one will go to to protect something they don't have anymore. Call it the ultimate spirit of optimism or perhaps a refusal to accept the obvious but it is hard to admit to failure. Or is it just that one feels foolish being out witted by a goat.

With wanted posters publicly advertising our failure and the goats still at large we set about securing the paddocks against their anticipated return. The first step in this plan was to purchase the materials for an electric fence. Sounds easy. Buy the bits, instal in a day and be ready for news of the fugitives.

Buying an electric fence proved to be more of a challenge than anticipated. First problem was dealing with choice. Should we go solar or mains powered? How much power do you need to zap sense into a goat who sees the other side of the fence as a challenge in much the same way that a mountain climber views the summit of Mt Everest.? How many insulators does it take to carry a wire across the undulations of our irregular fields? Having made some decisions on what to use and how to go about it, the next problem was actually getting the components. It seems that our local rural supply only kept enough stock to tantalise the prospective buyer and then keep them returning for the next three weeks as they eke out a few more at a time. As it was, our estimate of requirements was woefully inadequate and salesmen rubbed their hands with glee whenever they saw us returning for more.

We also discovered one of the fascinating things about rural supply. Nothing has a price tag and though there is obviously a secret threshold that cannot be crossed, what you pay one day will not necessarily be what you pay the next. Despite these small set backs we did come away armed with a box of goodies and a resolute purpose. We would fortify our borders and create a secure habitat from which no goat would want to or be able to stray. The whole thing was a bit like a border protection policy but completely inside out. Our asylum seekers weren't seeking asylum and our borders were not designed to keep out the undesirable but to contain a population that obviously didn't know what was best for them.

The one day installation timetable stretched to several weeks before we had the pulse of power throbbing through our carefully constructed goat barrier. In the meantime, the goats had been sighted, rounded up and herded back home. This latter event was a great relief to one who had begun to lose faith in the superiority of human ingenuity over the manifestly inferior primal instinct of the goat. Our happiness was of almost biblical proportions, akin to the shepherd who finds his lost sheep or even the celebrations that followed the return of the prodigal son. We didn't dwell on the prodigal son analogy for too long as the requirement of killing the fatted calf was an ironic counterpoint to our reason for keeping the goats in the first place.

We spread the news; 'the goats are back!' Down came the wanted posters and we once again set about trying to temp our way would friends with little treats to show that they were wanted and appreciated. The treats weren't overly successful and it was only a matter of days before Toffee was looking for a way out and getting her head stuck in the fence in the process. In hind sight we should have left her there as, no sooner than she was free, she led another, more successful escape attempt. We came home that afternoon to find that we were once again goat less and the score was very much in favour of the escapees.