the trouble with goats


Look at that dear little face.  What a sweetie!  That’s Little Clyde – the smallest of our 3 new wethers (for those unfamiliar – a wether is a boy goat who’s had his bits removed).

Yep – at the end of our first full time week here at Wombat Hill Farm we went and bought us some goats.  Classic rookie move.

You might ask – whatever possessed you!?  Only bite off as much as you can chew! You’ve got years ahead of you!

Sigh.  I know.  It’s just – well – our 11 Orpingtons have been a great success, in their lovely big electric-fenced off enclosure, lurching about cheerfully each day, hunting bugs amongst the grass, growing ever bigger and fluffier.  And hopefully, in the not too distance future the hens amongst them will lay us lovely eggs, and by the years end we might even get some little chicks!  And meanwhile Julian’s building them their permanent house and portable tractors for helping prepare our veggie beds.  All going nicely according to plan.

But that’s chickens.  There’s a reason chickens are considered easy to keep.  They ARE easy to keep.
the electric fence that could not

Goats on the other hand …

You see, we have 42 acres of land.  A lot of it is old beef grazing pasture that is now covered in weeds.  Lots of bracken, blackberry, thistle – and even fireweed.  Ugh.  So we figured we’d get stuck into fixing it up as soon as possible and do what lots of folks around these parts do – we’d get us some goat weeders.  We read up on looking after goats (oh the worms goats can get!!!) and talked to the lovely breeder about our plans to pop these little fellows into moveable electric fence enclosures.

Oh yes, she was very enthusiastic, assuring us that her 4 month old goats had been raised with electric fencing.  And so Abel (Toggenburg crossed with Nubian), Basil and Little Clyde (brothers and Boers crossed with Nubian) became ours.

Alas – she revealed the day we collected our boys that her fencing hadn’t been turned on for the last month or so.  Oh, we commented, without a clue what the implications of this were.  Yeah – you just need to reacquaint them with it by offering them food through the turned on fence, she assured us.  They’ll zap their noses and remember they don’t want to go anywhere near it.

We were suitably assured.  Popped our lovely goats into our prepared trailer – a thick bed of straw for a comfier ride, wooden panelling on the sides to keep off the wind, and a rope latticed top to stop them trying to jump out – and took off.  Their goaty mums trotted along behind us, bleating out their sadness at seeing their little boys disappear, and the boys – well they cried loud and long.  Turns out goats are famous for their separation anxiety.

with abel

By the time we arrived back at Wombat Hill, the boys were more than ready and willing to jump out of the trailer and trot on down to their new pasture.  They really are sweet – they just bump along beside us whenever we move them, wagging their little goaty tails and smiling up at us.

We reminded them about the bitey electric fence.  They hated it and settled down to tearing at their grass. That night, they snuggled up next to each other on their bed of straw and we didn’t hear a whisper from them all night.

But the next morning …

Just as the first light peeped over the hill, Fu woke us up with hysterical barking.  There was Abel, in the chicken enclosure, standing on the roof of the chicken house – whilst they stood back and looked on in amazement.  Basil and Little Clyde were still on their side of the fence, screaming out “Look where Abel is!  Look where Abel is!”  Boy, can Nubians scream!  They sound like a fully grown man who’s just chopped off his leg with a chainsaw!!

Abel, meanwhile, felt like King of the Castle.  He just stood there proudly – and even peed on the roof – while we looked on in dismay.

Right.  Julian lifted him off and dumped him back on his side of the fence, and gave them all another lesson in how the fence bites. But, before we could even return to the verandah, Abel showed us just how it was done and Little Clyde quickly followed suit.  You don’t have to worry about zapping your nose on that silly old electric fence.  You just put your nice resistant hooves on the top wire and pull it down!  Easy peasy!

Ahem.  I quickly pulled out my goat books and sure enough – once the goats work out how to beat the electric fence, it is useless forever more.  The month they spent with it turned off gave them ample time to conquer it.  Or maybe they’re just really tenacious.  Who knows.

Our moveable weed munching plans were done and dusted.  We’d only owned goats for just over 12 hours and already we needed a Plan B.

whacking tools

eternally curious

fencing the cattle race

Now in the country, nothing much is open on the weekend.  So – this being a Sunday, Julian had to come up with a solution that could be serviced by the local hardware store.  And so was born the weedy pasture chain gang.

He built 30 metre runners that are hammered all the way into the ground so that they lay flush with the grass – goats are infamous for hanging themselves when tethered.  He then equipped these with connections that swivel (I don’t know the hardware terms!) so that the goats can’t get twisted up.  He spaced each runner out so that even on a 2 metre chain in both directions the goats cannot reach each other and so can’t tangle themselves that way.  And we positioned them so they can reach the shade with their own bucket of water but not the trees or fence – more hanging potentials.

on the chain gang

Man were those little goat boys pissed off!  They stood in the shade and screamed their little hearts out most of the day.  But if I went down to check on them – they would cheerfully wag their tails and settle down to eat the weeds.  You should see them – they kneel on their front legs – so have permanently grass stained knees – to eat.  So lazy!

They just love attention and after the security of their previous mamas and cousins filled home, almost certainly felt quite anxious in this big, unknown environment.

Come Monday morning, Noah and I were down at the ag store buying goat wire and hard wood u-nails to turn the old cattle race into a goat safe home.

silly fu

eating the hedge

with noah


tastes better on the other side

It took all three of us the whole afternoon to attach the goat mesh to the hardwood.  Oh my goodness.  They don’t call it hardwood for nothing! But eventually we were cautiously satisfied our boys were going nowhere and they had a nice little shelter for sleeping and getting out of the rain.  
abel in the wheelbarrow

So I can now say, 2 weeks down, that our goats are safe and happy.  But we sure have learnt to expect that there’s every likelihood when you’re dealing with feisty little animals with insatiable stamina, enthusiasm and curiosity that nothing will go according to plan, so we need to have multiple backups and plenty of ingenuity, time and resources to fix what isn’t working.

And Abel, Basil and Little Clyde?  They are absolutely wonderful!  Abel still plays King of the Castle with anything we leave near them.  They’re very friendly, love a good scratch under the chin, and are always thrilled to see us.  It’s a great way to spend an hour, sitting on an upturned bucket in the cattle race with them – they cosy up next to us, taking turns to smooch and chat.

They spend their nights in the cattle race where I feed them a breakfast of pruned lilypily, rose and camellia branches (good thing we have heaps of it!  And mum’s even brought over bootfuls of hers :-).  Then they trot along beside me to the weedy pasture where they spend the day browsing amongst the bracken and thistles and chewing their cud in the shade.

And soon, their permanent goat proof fence – the saying “A fence that will hold goats will hold water” doesn’t seem too far off! – will be ready, along with a little 3 sided barn, and they will have a rotational pasture system and a bit more independence.

Fingers crossed.