Letting goats be goats

  • 2014-07-03
  • By Mike Parr

ALUKSNE - The further I get into my new lifestyle, the more I find I have a thirst for old knowledge, forgotten arts and crafts or, as it is this week, animal husbandry. I remember the first animals I ever took on (not counting dogs), and the negative comments people made. “They will be so hard to look after,” “They will cost a fortune to keep,” “What happens when they get sick?”

But, I still went ahead and brought home a bunch of chickens. Okay, I brought home more than I had decided to, but I thought whether it was four chickens or thirty, there won’t be much difference in what I have to do. I was right; I let them out at lunchtime, they were allowed to free range, I collected the eggs that they had laid and put them to bed at night. They all had their own personalities and, being allowed to do what chickens did naturally, they lived a long, happy and productive life. There’s a lot to be said for observing animals in their wild state and seeing how it can all fit in with farming techniques.

I mean, take chickens, for example; they were originally jungle birds, and surprisingly, without the aid of man, they still thrive as wild birds out in the real world. I’ve taken that same attitude to my goats. In nature they live as a herd animal, they browse rather than graze like sheep do, and by that I mean they wander around and pick at whatever takes their fancy before moving on and finding something fresh. (So they are no good as living lawnmowers!) Their needs are simple: plenty to eat, fresh, clean water and some simple shelter from the elements.

The result is that I have a herd that is healthy, costs me nothing to keep and provides me with plenty of milk. I’m sure that if I corralled them, fed them processed feeds, removed the kids to a separate enclosure after four weeks and pumped them full of ‘healthy’ antibiotics and medications, then I would get more milk and they would still look healthy. But that isn’t what I want to do. Why give an animal an unnatural lifestyle, feed it things that it wouldn’t usually eat, all for the sake of convenience or to improve production? (Especially when so much food is wasted every day in the supermarkets or at home.) My life, and that of my animals, is as close to the real thing as can be possible. There are other issues with goats that people will tell you about. Never let a buck run with the does;

he will make them smell and taint the milk. Well, Lenny runs with the girls, they don’t smell any more ‘goaty’ to me and, as for the milk, I’ve had no complaints from friends that visit and try a glass. I was also told that I should dehorn my goats as soon as possible. Goats were born with horns, so to speak, they have a purpose, other than butting each other and rubbing against things. They regulate the goat’s temperature. So, removing something that is natural and has a purpose is unnecessary and cruel. All of my gang have their horns (with the exception of Lenny who had been dehorned by his previous owner – and what a mess he had made of the job). I’m taking the ‘re-wilding’ of my herd a step further this month. I will start walking with them on their daily eating missions. There are a number of reasons for this, all of them for my benefit in the long run I must confess. I’ll be keeping them away from my food crops or forage sites. I can choose areas that I want cleared of weeds before moving in with the scythe, and, I can spend my days learning more about goat behavior and just generally enjoying nature. Oh, but there was one thing about goats that I have found out from reading books and visiting the many Web sites... whatever you learn, your own herd will always be the exception to the rule!