Tag Archives: goats

Garden Nemesis: The Evil Himalayan Blackberry!

I’d sure like to have a word with the chumps who carefully packed seeds or canes or whatever they brought with them from the Old Country and then carefully cultivated new Himalayan Blackberry patches in land formerly unplagued by these monstrous beasts. Apparently, (at least according to the Royal BC Museum website) the fool who muled them here in 1885 was an American botanist! Surely a botanist should have known better?????

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while...

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while…

Yes, the berries are sweet and delicious and wonderful for making jam and pie (I believe that was the original motivation for import), but are they worth the havoc the dense thickets are wreaking on our native species? The stands of lacerating canes are so dense and vigorous it doesn’t take long to choke and/or shade out whatever might otherwise be growing (Garry Oak groves, for example).

Fighting the prickly canes is a miserable task. Anyone who believes plants can’t think (plot/scheme/have it in for us) hasn’t fought with barbed tendrils that wrap around you, entwining your entire body in search of exposed skin or, even better, loose hair, or even better than that, a key artery.

Blackberries be gone!

Is there anyone who is happy about this abundance of invaders? Indeed, yes – the goats! Unfortunately, the area we are clearing at the moment isn’t one that I can easily fence or we’d just let the goats come in and strip the canes. They happily wade right into the nastiest of thickets, noshing all the way and will eat all but the oldest, toughest stalks when given half a chance. After they are done, the hogs are great at using their powerful snouts to dig out the roots, which they eat with gusto. Such a shame this isn’t really a livestock-friendly area. Not wanting the creatures to be left out of all the fun, I hauled several wheelbarrows full down to the goat pen and they were happy to help us out with a bit of pre-compost processing.

Alas, it’s up to us humans to first hack the beasts off at the knees and then get in there and dig out as much of the roots as we can.

Chickens at WorkThe red layers love helping whenever we are out in the garden. They race over and see what we might have dug up. They are very good at taking care of slugs and bugs and also turning over the top layer of soil while fertilizing and are great to run through garden areas at this time of year when the annuals are done and there isn’t much they can damage.

Soon, though, when we re-seed the lawn and put in our new rockery they will have to move down to the poultry field with their fancy rolling house and take their place with the other birds. I’ll miss not having them so close to the house, though it will be great not tripping over six or seven at a time as they vie for the opportunity to untie my shoelaces and peck at my calves every time I go outside!

NABLOPOMO – From Squash Hauler to Ambulance – Love my Multi-purpose Cart!

Around here we do a lot of improvising (stay tuned for a post about what we are doing with a garbage can and a roofing nail… experiment currently under way in the laundry sink…).

And, I also do a lot of schlepping. With my critters living in various locations up and down the road, I am constantly hauling loads of feed from one place to another. I had been improvising with one of those folding luggage carts onto which I had fastened (with bungee cords and binder twine) a sturdy plastic vegetable crate. I don’t have a great photo, though here it is in use hauling pumpkins and squash from the neighbor’s place up to the pigs.

Cart and Squash

The capacity was a bit limited and on uneven terrain, the whole contraption was very tippy. The handle also tended to collapse at the most inopportune of moments. Worst disaster with this unit occurred when I foolishly tied the dogs to the handle and stopped to pick up a broken bottle from the road. Mistake! The dogs spotted a squirrel and took off, scattering buckets, grain, carrots, and hay all over the road. They terrified themselves when they realized the clattering disaster was chasing after them and tried to flee into the brush. The whole dreadful incident ended with the dogs cowering in the ditch and me standing in the middle of the road with my mouth open, still holding the broken bottle.

For larger loads, the wheelbarrow came in handy.

Lunch CartThis worked ok here at our place (and, as long as I didn’t tie the dogs to it), but wasn’t so good going up the hill and along the road to where I keep the turkeys, mostly because I never did figure out a good way to deal with frolicking dogs, laden wheelbarrow, and the hill all at the same time.

Wheelbarrows have also come in handy during the annual winter schlepp of water containers down the hill…

Winter at Dark Creek FarmRecently, I procured a new schlepping device, a garden cart that is quite stable, has plenty of capacity, and can be dragged along behind the frolicking dogs.

Garden CartThis has also proven handy during the recent cold snap for hauling water (I can get more into the cart than I can into the wheelbarrow).

IMG_6934-001

What I hadn’t anticipated was it’s usefulness as an ambulance for a turkey who was a bit under the weather.

Look closely at the thing that’s wrapped in my coat behind the empty feed buckets…

IMG_6935After a few days of TLC up at the turkey spa, the patient recovered fully and rejoined the flock.

The other thing that I found a bit surprising was how challenging it was going to be to navigate my way through the goat pen with the cart. I know better than to attempt such a maneuver with goodies in the cart, but coming down through the goat pen with a couple of water jugs shouldn’t have been a problem. Those goats can sniff out a spilled morsel of any sort of grain or seed or fleck of carrot from fifty paces. They charge the cart and surround it, oblivious to my shouts and threats.

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats...

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats…

Electra is a bit on the short side, so her solution is to jump right in, all the better to sniff around and lick up anything that might be lickable.

So far, the cart has proven to be worth every penny and probably gets used more than any other single item on the farm. If only all my tools were so darned satisfying…

NABLOPOMO – Speed Blogging for Farmers – Sheep v Goats

Today’s NABLOPOMO challenge is to write the whole post in ten minutes.Perfect! I am running behind and only have a few minutes to get this done. So, how about a quick handy dandy guide to how to tell apart the sheep from the goats?

Goats and sheep are similar in many ways – cloven hooves at one end and a noise that sounds a bit like ‘maaaaahhhhh.’ Though, I think goats might be a bit more nasal and whiny than their sheepy cousins. You can milk both creatures, eat both creatures, and, if you have cashmere goats as we do, you can make sweaters from their winter coats, too (though, you use the shorn fleece from the sheep and the carefully combed out and collected under-fluff from the goats).

Lamb

Goats are more likely to climb over their fences to escape, sheep will get down on their knees and force their way under. Goats are the ones with beards and sheep are the ones with long, floppy tails. On most farms you won’t see those long tails because they are docked when the lambs are very young, but left unaltered, they are so long they nearly reach the ground. Goat tails are short and perky and tend to stand straight up.

At the nose end, the upper lips of goats are divided, whereas sheep lips are one continuous line. Goats tend to be browsers, nibbling on bushes, brambles, and bark (though they will certainly eat grass, too, particularly if there isn’t anything else). Sheep are grazers and will eat away at pasture until they reach bare ground. Rotating them onto fresh pasture before that happens gives the grass a chance to recover and helps reduce parasite loads (more on rotational grazing strategies on a day when I have more than ten minutes).

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats would be the devious ones, pushy and greedy and quite fearless. Sheep tend to be more skittish, bunching together or fleeing wildly when threatened. My dogs, having been slammed into the side of the barn with a nasty head but once or twice after making faces at a goat are terrified of the caprines. The sheep, on the other hand, are terrified of the dogs.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Ding! Ding! Ding! My ten minutes are up!

No time to do the second part of the assignment (how do you feel about writing under such a tight deadline?). I’m breathing too hard and my fingers are quivering too much to type another word!

Day 16 – Search for Land Leads to Maypenny Farm

One of the problems with livestock (at least, livestock not raised intensively in big barns) is they need a fair amount of land for grazing. This is not a problem if you happen to live on a large farm, but my farm is micro mini – not even two acres, all on a hill, part of it covered with big trees. To get around this problem I lease several fields close by and make use of every square inch of space here on the homestead. None of the fields are huge and my flocks and herds are expanding, so as a result, I’ve been tossing and turning at night trying to figure out where I can lease more land that’s not too far away. And, this needs to happen sooner than later so I can move the piglets after I’ve weaned those I haven’t already sold.

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls...

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls…

Last year I had chatted with Maypenny Farm (well, not the farm – with Reay, a farmer) about possibly growing out pigs at their place, but there was a wedding planned and a need to keep the fields looking neat and tidy. I had pushed the Maypenny option out of my mind when Reay got in touch the other day and asked if I might still be interested. Faster than you can say ‘hen hats’ I raced over there to scope the place out to see if it might be suitable.

The field up for discussion is an old hayfield being encroached upon by brambles and scrub brush along one edge and bordered on the other side by trees. Not only would the piglets have a blast in there with plenty of forage and room to roam, the plan is to reclaim the field and extend the Maypenny market garden. Hogs are excellent for turning over the soil, enriching it as they go. Add a couple of goats to the equation and the Maypenny farmers can just sit back and watch the livestock prepare that field ready for whatever they may wish to do with it next.

The two big issues are: Water and fencing. The hogs are well trained to two-strand electric and are, therefore, relatively easy to contain. Goats are a different matter, but using the existing sheep fencing as a starting point, some repairs and new stock wire would provide a decent barrier while they are on clean-up duty. We have portable shelters that can be moved to the field without much trouble, which would keep everyone snug and dry in foul weather (unless Maypenny has hats that would fit the hogs…) When it came to discussing the water situation, the conversation proceeded in a very Canadian manner.

“What about water?”

“There’s a stream here – ” Reay said, pointing to one long side of the field. “And the beavers have moved next door so this field isn’t flooding any more.”

“Beavers?”

“They had a dam down there and the water backed up. You can see the half-chewed trees where they chopped them down.”

Beavers? Seriously? On southern Vancouver Island? I had heard rumours that beavers had returned to Beaver Lake, a local landmark I had assumed was so-named because some old fur trader was homesick for a place in the wilderness where actual beavers lived. Maybe the lake actually came by its name honestly. And, perhaps the rumours about the return of the beavers are true after all! Not that Maypenny’s neighbour is happy about the return of the furry, flat-tailed loggers. They are a menace when it comes to clogging up streams and ditches and their industrious plugging up of drainage systems can cause awful problems for farmers’ fields.

I’m not too worried – if the beavers decide to move back to Maypenny we’ll cope with the fallout. Mostly, standing there in the rain calculating how much fencing I’m going to need, I was delirious with joy that a good field is available, not too far away, with readily available water and lots of forage for both goats and hogs. I was so excited, in fact, I totally forgot to take any photos! By my next visit I’m sure I will be calmer and the full realization of how much work it will take to get things secure before we can move animals in will have hit me. Anybody feel like coming over for a fencing party? Maybe you’ll get to see a beaver!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Goats! Destroyers of Brambles!

Running east-west along our north property line is a spectacular stand of thorny blackberries. While this might be considered the neighbour’s problem, in fact, this bramble patch has made my goats very, very happy.

I had read about fences like these being used by commercial goat-aided-brush-removal services in the USA (apparently there are goat herders down there who have contracts with places like national parks and highway maintenance departments) but had never seen one until one showed up at our local Buckerfield’s feed store.


Easily installed, amazingly tangle-free, we hooked the goat barricade into my electric horse fencing and, voila – the goats were contained and happily set to work.

All four goats have been gobbling away at this project. Not only are they steadily removing the pesky blackberries, they are also pruning the row of cedars along the property line and merrily fertilizing the newly revealed grass as they go.

Our goats are browsers rather than grazers, so though they might have a taste of grass every now and then, their preference is to munch on the bushes, shrubs, and prickly things that had created a complete wilderness thicket.

Goats are happy. Neighbours are happy. I am happy.