A Goat’s Job

“We’re losing ground,” the Bearded One says when he comes in for supper.  “Can you google ‘Goat Barbeque’?”

He is still limping from his ladder work in the meat bird pen, and has been putting in long hours in the dusty barn making the meat bird coops.  Thirty Cornish broiler chicks will be here in less than 3 weeks.  But this is not what’s bugging him.

The goats have stripped off large patches of bark on three beloved, towering, hundred-year-old cedar trees in the pasture.

We’d been warned, but for the 4 and half months we’ve had them, our goats have seemed content browsing on a pile of small cut trees.  Big trees seemed safe.  For decades we’ve seen big oaks in Texas goat pastures stay unscathed.  But these aren’t hardwoods.

“It’s not their fault,” I say.  I’m as heart-broken as he is about the problem, but not as bothered by the solution.

“Yes, it is,” says the Bearded One.  “They must take goat responsibility.”  He smiles, but I can see that he is conflicted.

Goat experts say there is really no solution but to fence each vulnerable tree — which for us includes at least a dozen big cedars and Douglas firs.  The Bearded One doesn’t like that idea.  Fencing and/or hardware cloth or plastic screening is ugly, unnatural, expensive and a lot of work.  It’s no wonder he’s balking.  The Bearded One sees the givens, is irritated, and like any good goat, is exploring all the options in his arsenal.

He tried thinking like an animal and peed on the trees that were already being devoured.  I was there when he faced off to a cedar.  Leah the Rhode Island Red hen, who always wishes to be involved in any human activity, strutted between his legs.  The pee didn’t work, and neither did diluted bleach.  He’s still curious about vinegar and maybe dog poop.  Goats are surprisingly finicky eaters.

“No matter how much I pee,” he says when we go to bed,  “there’s no way I can put out enough to do this job.”

I say that we can surely give the goats away if this is just too much.

The next morning at 9am, our twenty-something nurse daughter arrives after her night shift.  She’s here for 24 hours, to recover and sleep so she can stay awake and have a normal day with her sweetie pie tomorrow, before she has to work the night shift tomorrow night.  Sort of an impossible task.  “I should stay nocturnal,” she says.  She sheds her blue nurse uniform and we do things that help her stay awake.  We walk the road.  We check on the unfinished coops in the meat bird pen.

15 Cornish broilers will sleep safely in this coop. They don’t use roosts, but hunker together on the ground.

The Bearded One says hi and limps around the coop showing us the ventilation windows.  He is feeling a bit better, I can tell, when he suddenly becomes Barry Gibb and sings out, “Oh, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a chicken man, no time to squawk.”

It’s 10 o’clock now, and the nurse is still awake.  She laughs, but then she sees Sage and gasps.  She is appalled.  Disgraceful matted clops of fleece hang from his neck and haunches and tush.  Entire sections of his body are fleece-free, but they are coarse and dark, unlike LaLa’s wavy, shiny black underhair.  In some ways, the condition of the fleece left on LaLa’s rear-end is even more pathetic.

“You could be reported for animal neglect,” she observes and we laugh.  HaHa.  “That’s REALLY hard to see and not do something.”

We both want desperately to brush them, to pluck off all the unsightly wads, but, alas, it is not possible.  One of the 3 goats will let us scratch his head and neck.  Gently.  No sudden moves or he’ll bolt like lightning.  The other 2 will barely let us scratch their noses while being fed treats.

Like the tree bark, it’s a goat thing.  Sometimes I think it’s the goats’ job in life to push us into new discomfort zones.

“A lesson in self-restraint,” our nurse says, her eyelids growing heavier.

“Let it be,” I say.

“Acceptance,” she says.  “As in, I can’t possibly stay awake ’til 5.”

We head back to the house — me to the kitchen, her to her bed.  Maybe not losing ground after all.

Sage and me

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10 responses to “A Goat’s Job

  1. I was just about to shell out for some goats but might think about it a little bit more…everyone has goats in Tasmania…they are chained to a curious A frame structure. Goats apparently eat blackberries. I wonder if they eat honeysuckle and jasmine? I would pay goats to eat those…if goats eat them I will let the goat sleep in my bed…with Earl and Steve. (Don’t tell Steve… 🙂 ) While the bearded one was singing “Oh, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a chicken man, no time to squawk”, Steve was singing “I fell into a burning ring of wire” in response to my dads most interesting habit of encircling EVERY garden on the property in wire netting…20 years on and totally overgrown with most of the plants in the garden bed growing through the wire…are you starting to get the picture? Sigh… when life hands you lemonade tip it out and suck lemons! 😉

    • Oh, Fran, I was thinking of you when I was writing this week’s post — wondering if you’d change your mind about goats given all your own treasured trees! We have solved the problem, thank the gods who gave us the invention of cheap, 2 foot wide, 1″ poultry wire. Yesterday we wrapped 6 of the cedars with a 100 foot roll, 6 feet up each tree and it was a breeze. The poultry wire is flexible so I could pleat it and we secured it with plastic twist-ties. It doesn’t look so bad, really, and the goats can’t get to the bark. So far, anyway. Future Farmlets will have pictures, I’m sure.:)

      Johnny Cash, ha! I read your comment outloud to the Bearded One and he baritoned me into a swoon. “I fell down to a burning ring of wire.” Blackberries are our scourge as well. They could cover a house in 5 years, no problem. They are so stickery, but I hack them anyway and give piles to the goats, who do indeed love them. That A-frame business sounds interesting.

      Hey to Steve and Earl.:)

      • Bezial feels left out…he is sulking on his chair as I type this at just on 7am. He knows we are off to our lecture with our lecturer today and refused point blank to go for his walk with Steve…Earl on the other hand would walk at the drop of a hat and he is our “eater” so we need to make sure that at least he gets his walk. I have discovered a scourge worse than blackberry. At least with blackberries you can eat the fruit and the leaves are currently being dropped so they are easier to deal with in late autumn early winter…jasmine…and honeysuckle! My dad planted them out because his mum always had English country garden sort of gardens and then he promptly let them run wild for 20 years. You can only begin to imagine the root systems knotting up some of the gardens that we are starting to deal with! You can’t even eat the bloody things! The only thing you can do is sniff them when they flower and I found a recipe on Instructables telling me how to make the honeysuckle flowers into vodka. That should knock me out for a bit and minimise my stress from pulling. I got so frustrated yesterday with my lack of ability to pull some of the more massive roots out and ended up crying. Steve would have laughed at his smudgy angry/frustrated wife but he knows better than to take his life into his own hands like that!

        I wouldn’t mind the effort so much if it resulted in lovely looking garden but it looks like agent orange defoliated the lot! We are “supposed” to be horticulturalists but with a garden like that who would believe us?!!! I can’t even bring myself (in my year of living honestly) to share the results with you in my next post…I might have to wait until some of the dust settles down and the chooks do their “thang” because at the moment…despondency is my middle name. Love the goat solution and we were discussing a sort of branch art covered in chook wire to solve your problem. We are going to have to do something like that for our possum/goats who not only eat the bark and scratch it up but head on up the tree and scoff the tender new leaves. I think we are going to have to create a steampunk forest with pipes, metal flu’s and tinfoil to stop the little buggers! Loved your post by the way and the bearded one is welcome to ring of wire if he wants to put it out on his next album. Steve will play the guitar for it…free of charge! 😉

  2. Love it all! Funny, informative and clever…hope the nurse got some sleep.

    • Thanks, Suzanne! The nurse slept ’til 5 then got up for supper and said it was a wonderful, deep deep sleep, she was totally gone. Yay! (I kept the loudmouth Garfield outside…) She went back to bed about 7:30 and slept through the night and we had coffee together at 7:30 am. It takes a day to transition from the nocturnal…

      I’m looking forward to your return from France. We’ll visit, after you transition.:)

  3. Christine Widman

    Here the javelinas crunch young red cane yuccas – one of my favorite desert plants – to the ground. They munch the tender roots of newly planted blue agaves. They lunch on our prickly pear in a more refined manner – the bites are shaped like half-moons.
    Our neighbor uses chicken wire around everything she puts fresh in the ground.
    We’ve taken the path of least resistance. We plant anything beloved within the courtyards….and leave the prickly pear to fare on their own.
    I sing “Born to be wild” to anything we plant in the open desert of our property, hopefully sending the message that you green things are on your own and had better be prepared and rugged.
    C

    • Oh, Christine, may javelinas never get into your courtyard! My skin prickles at the very thought. So far, chicken wire is doing the trick on the cedars in the goat’s pasture…which is a moon-scape, every salal and huckleberry nibbled clean. It’s their job:)

  4. It sounds like you’ve already found a solution, but I was going to suggest you try Sepp Holzer’s “bone sauce” recipe. There are good instructions (and a link to a video) here:

    http://www.permies.com/t/14922/permaculture/Burra-Bone-Sauce-Experiment

    We want goats too, but I’m nervous about how much damage they’ll do!

    • Wow, thanks for the link and the comment, Darren/Mr. Green Change. That video by Sepp Holzer is a hoot. Yes, we’ve already implemented the poultry wire solution, but this bone sauce is interesting for the future. We have a lot of rain here that rinses the trees, so that’s something that might affect its effectiveness. Anyway. Goats are yin-yang creatures — fascinating, fun, easy but also a handful. We’ve had these 3 goats for just 5 months and are no experts, but I sure enjoy them. Good luck with yours should you go there!

  5. Christine Widman

    “They must take goat responsibility.”
    My new line for frustration.
    lololololololololololololololololololololololololololololol
    C

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