Saturday, 29 October 2011

Spring Time on the goat run

There can be a down side to having overly friendly animals that crowd the gateway whenever you come to visit. If we want to get through the gates now-a-days, we have to make sure that we have food to distract the girls or they simply duck behind us and escape to the wider vista of the house gardens. This isn't so bad if you just have a body to squeeze through the gap but if you are pushing the barrow or riding the mower, the goats have the upper hand every time. There's no sneaking up on them either, the girls seem to have a sixth sense that informs them when there is some activity near a gate and manage to congregate in readiness for your arrival.

Polly seems to be the most alert at this practice and is usually the first to pop up her head and notice that a human being is approaching. First one head goes up and an inquisitive gaze is cast in the direction of disturbance, followed by three more heads accompanied by a plaintive bleat before some mutual signal sets all four goats in motion and they begin their bound across the field, ears flapping in unison with their stride, to reach the gate before the food arrives.

Polly premonitious
No longer do we put the surplus silver beet in the compost for the worms. Instead, spare garden greenery is taken to the girls as a treat for the day. In addition to a steady supply of silver beet that seems constantly to be going to seed, the odd cabbage, broccoli or even strawberry plant will get the goats all excited. The worry here is however that as the grass grows and the weeds rear their ugly heads, the goats are ignoring inviting thistles and searching for more savoury tid bits. Even attempts to hand feed thistle plants have been rebuffed. Have we reared a bunch of sissy goats rather than robust garbage disposal mechanisms.

On the other side of the coin, while the goats eat of the bounty of the land, they in turn are being preyed upon. What dangerous creature lurks in the paddocks waiting to attack the unwary and reduce it to an empty husk? It's not a snake (of which there have been several sightings so far this year) but a creature of humble proportions and yet devestating impact. The activity of this creature is often evident when we find the goats red with their own blood; dramtically contrasted on Polly and Sugar's white hair. This assault is obviously perpetrated most often at night, only manifesting in the light of day and making it look like the girls have been involved in some brawl with a broken bottle. The culprit is nothing more significant than the humble leech but here acting in a feral rather than medicinal capacity and taking their fill regularly from our coddled livestock.

Neither Lyn nor I have escaped unscathed as the leeches seem to be invading the gardens as well as the paddocks and damp patches on trousers are not necessarily just the result of wading through the long grass but may be patches of blood, soaking into clothing from weeping wounds left after the leech has gone. We may need to start wearing red socks to hide the evidence and certainly give up wearing sheer tights as the welts of leech activity remain for days afterward. It's no wonder gumboots are so popular on farms.

Friday, 21 October 2011

In which the goats stay put and we build a shelter

It only took four months and a considerable amount of time and effort but finally, the goat girls seemed content to stay put. Their roaming days were over and they were prepared to settle down and perform the duties for which they were procured. It was also encumbent upon us, now that they were full time tenants, to look out for them rather than look for them. To this end, Lyn decided that they needed shelter. Not just any type of shelter but one worthy of the status of 'first goats' and a fit place to nurture the expected progeny of the future.

Our goat shelter was to be built in the time honoured tradition of animal shelters of the past. An organic statement about the marriage of the natural world and the order of domesticity. It might be the modern medium of electricity that was keeping the goats in but it would be the natural element of stone that would protect them from the elements. Using her skills as a rock wall artisan, Lyn began the labour of dismantling piles of rocks that had been put to one side during previous ploughings of the paddocks and reasembling same into an edifice that will one day delight archeaologists as they uncover the secrets of the Mole Creek Hill Top Goat Keepers.
The girls practice sheltering in the shelter circle
Playing in the paddocks in winter time is not for the faint hearted. With snow on the Tiers, cold winds and the damp of earth and grass, the elements line up to make the job hard enough but add to that the back straining work of sorting rocks and moving many that weigh more than your average ten year old from world's biggest loser and you get some idea of the effort involved. The girls however, were intrigued by the activities and showed an eagerness to participate by climbing onto and into the barrow, inspecting the selected rocks and constantly looking for a treat. As soon as the circle trench for the foundations was complete, they took up residence, using it at least as a day time solarium where they relaxed in the sun between ruminations.

One by product of goat activities (in fact of all activities in life) is the left overs that come from eating away the rampant growth of the paddocks. Little piles of goaty poo began to accumulate in the girl's favourite places, a rich source of nutriment that we coveted for garden use and as we emptied bags of pellets to feed the goats, we began to refill them with little poos. It would be nice to be able to vacuum the grass but as this isn't possible, we resorted to dustpan and brush. So far the pile of 'goat gold' is very small but expectations are strong as spring approaches and the green grass gets going.
Toffee finds the cupboard is bare
Scrounging for rocks through the long grass and then transporting them to the building site proved to be quite time consuming especially if using the manual method of loading them onto the trolley and pulling them over the uneven ground. To make this easier, we employed the assistance of our ride on mower. It proved well up to the task, able to pull over 100 kilos of rock with ease. Unfortunately, having a mower in a paddock of long grass was too much of a temptation and as we trundled back and forth to find and deliver rocks, we dropped the deck and created our own version of crop circles. The hazards of this activity were brought home on several occasions (we're slow learners) when an unseen rock lept out and attacked the mower, giving it such a fright that it threw its drive belt in protest. This meant a return to the workshop and much activity with the spanners as pulleys were released and the belt realigned. Is this like being a real farmer, spending the time between working and feeding the stock and maintaining the plant and equipment?

A routine began to develop as Haydn went off to work and Lyn entertained the goats. On the occasions when we were both away from home all day, our return was frequently celebrated (even before the obligatory cup of tea) by a visit to the goat girls, to dole out a treat and see which would tolerate a pat or scratch in return for food. The girls also began to anticipate our visits and would line up at the fence upon seeing us and begin to entertain us with the little goings on in their own world (at least I think that is what they were trying to communicate with their expressive bleats).

The goat presence also began to be felt by the foliage of the small trees that had managed to gain a footing in the paddocks despite the deprivations of the wallabies. Anything within reach was a target for the carnal appetites of the girls as they sought roughage to supplement their diet of winter grasses. Little blackwoods lost their lower limbs and shivered skeletally in the cold while the goats grew rounder and more adventurous in their appetite. We also feed them supplements from the vegie garden: carrot tops, cabages gone to seed and parsley for a bit of variety and, while these were received with enthisiasm, Molly in paricular showed no interest in greens if there were pellets to be had and to that end would stand on her hind legs to get her head into the bucket. Ah, how such things amuse us all. Now we no longer had to rely on our childrens's activities to oil the social exchange, but were able to plumb the growing pool of goat anecdotes to win rural recognition.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Birthday Present

Life had settled into some sort of routine. Today we are goat herders, then the next we're not. The neighbours were very tolerant of our unauthorised agistment on their land (albeit in a paddock which the previous summer had been nothing but slender thistle) and must have smiled with amusement as we trudged over the same ground on one of our seemingly pointless round ups. The only saving grace in all this was the convenient fact that there was a gate on the boundary fence that made it relatively easy to move the goats from the wrong side to the right side of the fence. How we could have accomplished this otherwise was a problem that showed itself all too clearly when Toffee again made her escape.

We had done all the work. The western fence; the weakness in our defences, was now 30 cm higher with a electric wire on top. We felt optimistic that this might finally solve the problem that was taking most of our spare time to rectify. Having commissioned the wire and determined that it was live, we once again corralled the goats. Having some premonition perhaps of their final experience of freedom, they proved a little reluctant but by now they were attune to the sound of pellets rattling in the bucket and allowed themselves to be seduced by the lure of food, to give up their independence for the satiation of their appetites for exotic treats.
Toffee: First in sequence and audacity
There wasn't much more that we could do in the line of fencing so our main focus became that of making friends with the wayward girls in the grass. It was a Friday, Lyn went out for the evening so I decided to walk the perimeter, getting a bit of exercise and saying hello to the girls. I took a few treats as we had figured that this was the best way to bribe our lodgers into coming to us rather than running in the other direction. As expected, everyone was congregated in the remotest and least visible corner of the paddock. As I headed this way in the gathering dusk, the plaintive cry of a goat in distress was very evident and, sure enough, there was our Toffee, on the wrong side of the fence. Her bleating may have been a criticism of her mates who, when confronted by our new barrier had (for the moment at least) accepted that they were beaten and therefore were contentedly tearing the foliage off the prickly box and generally showing a complacent acceptance of their lot.

A little detective work showed that Toffee had used the same route to freedom that had served her well on many other occasions. She hadn't managed to leap higher but had squeezed between two strands of barb wire (leaving enough hair on both to allow even the least competent forensic investigation to determine her path to freedom). Her strident bleats and futile pacing on the other side of the fence went ignored by her colleagues and, to rub salt into the wound, I proceeded to reward the compliant goats with their now favoured treats.

Toffee was not a happy goat but there was little I could do to allow her to return to the fold with the fence now an effective barrier in both directions. I figured a night alone in the wilds might serve as a lesson and thus returned to the warmth of the house and left the goats to sort out their priorities.
Sugar & Polly stand sentinel
Morning came and with it, an opportunity to see if Toffee had learnt her lesson and was ready to come home and be a part of the flock and not a maverick, destined to forever roam on the wrong side of the law, enjoying her freedom but missing out on the companionship and rewards of being part of something greater than herself. The girls were much as I had left them the previous morning, Toffee was pacing the fence while her sisters quietly browsed the foliage and only occasionally showed awareness or concern for her plight. We spent a good hour trying to coax her along the path that she had obviously trodden many times before to get to the neighbour's paddock and thence through the gate to home but she was not in the mood to see that a temporary move away from her goal would achieve the outcome that by now both she and we, sought.

Polly the runt

We abandoned our efforts, once again rewarding the good girls and leaving the naughty Toffee to her own devices. The kids (our biological children) had come up for the week end to celebrate my birthday and we headed off to Launceston to have lunch at Joseph Chromy. Of course our way would ladies were a major topic of conversation as we caught up on Jessica's job search and Zoe's legal studies. Michael's inside knowledge of the machinations of government and Oliver's latest achievements in building the robots of the future were engrossing but it was the goats that took centre stage. Oh what a sad and empty existance we lead!!

Molly moulting

Lunch over, we headed home to continue our reunion in more leisurely fashion. As we drove up the hill to the house we looked into the paddock as was becoming our custom and were excited to see, not only the three 'good goats' but Toffee, on each side of the fence, right next to the boundary gate. With all haste, we marshalled Jess and Oli, grabbed a tin full of treats and headed into the paddock, hoping to persuade Toffee to come home. Toffee needed little encouragement. The twin enticements of food and the opportunity to rejoin her sisters, meant that she was more than willing to allow herself to be ushered through the gate and back into the home field. Our goats were once again united!!!!