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Sow The Seed follows the ups and downs of me, Helen and my husband, Simon - a couple trying to live a simpler life in south-west Wales.

I hope this blog will not only be a good reference and diary for us over the coming years, but will give helpful advice and tips for people trying to do the same thing, or dreaming of doing the same thing.

Find out more on how we got here.

What’s Happening Today

Tasks: Sowing; pruning; weeding; pottering

Harvesting: Cucumber, lettuce, radishes, strawberries, broad beans, potatoes

Eggs this year: 394 (hens) 317 (ducks)

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Archive for the ‘Goats’ Category

I can’t believe the last post I wrote on Sow The Seed was about how hot and dry it was in west Wales. Since then we’ve had to contend with torrential rain and winds bought by the likes of Storm Callum. The weather is now beginning to turn wintery with cold nights and frosty mornings, but some beautiful sunny days; hopefully a taste of the winter to come!

Old and new girls – Mavis and Edna

I also wrote back in July that we had lost the first of our rescue hens, and recently we lost the last two – we were never sure how old they were, so we can only assume they had come to the end of their natural lives. We also lost one of our Speckledy hens, so we were down to only one chicken. Luckily this only lasted a few days as we had already decided to get a couple of new girls from a local breeder. The new hens are Rhode Rocks and are said to be hardy and good egg layers. We’ve named them Mavis and Edna (those familiar with children’s cartoon Willo the Wisp will know the characters). In the meantime, our old hen has now decided to go into moult (just in time for the cold snap), and is looking very bedraggled and sorry for herself; nevertheless she continues to exert her authority and keep the new girls in their place, and Mavis has come into lay so we aren’t without eggs.

Goats keeping a watchful eye!

The goats are back in their winter field, enjoying the hedgerow and any grass that is still growing. We’ve also been giving them some of our windfall apples (in small doses) as even after storing and juicing as much as we can, we have plenty to spare.

The ducks, taking it easy for winter!

The ducks are now free-loading for the rest of the winter (we haven’t had an egg from them since September), but to be fair they are now old girls; one of them is over five years old.

I’m slowly putting the garden to bed for the winter, clearing out the polytunnel and covering all the beds with manure and compost for the worms to work in. It’s been quite a good growing year, helped by installing the rabbit-proof fence, and the dry spell meant that the slugs weren’t as bad as previous years. We’re now slowly eating our way through the huge amounts of squashes and sweet potatoes that grew so well in the hot weather, and enjoying the last few tomatoes and cucumbers before the winter veg gets into full swing.

 

Flopsy and Stompy enjoying willow

As I write this it is actually raining, and for once a good amount of rain, not just a few spits and spots which has done nothing for the parched ground. However, unless it rains all night this still won’t be enough; something I thought I would never say since we moved to west Wales 10 years ago. But while the dry sunny weather hasn’t been great for the garden, the goats and chickens have been enjoying it (the ducks less so) and have been sun bathing at every opportunity. We did start to wonder when the goats ever ate, as they always seemed to be asleep in the sun, but after filming them one night with the camera trap, we discovered they don’t really go to bed, and are up most of the night and having a nibble.

Low willow hurdle – debarked by the goats

As an additional feed supplement, and while the goats don’t have any access to the hedges in their current paddock, we’re giving them tree branches. Their favourite is willow, and as we have plenty we give them a few branches every now again. They’ll eat the leaves first and then using their sharp front teeth will strip the bark leaving just the bare stems. These de-barked stems don’t go to waste, as I’m now able to use the stripped willow in the garden to make hurdles and low fences. These I make in various places to stop the chickens kicking out the soil from beds when they’re free range. So it is a win-win situation for us and goats.

Squash enjoying the sun

Despite the lack of rain, the vegetable garden is not doing too badly. We’ve had a reasonable crop of peas and broad beans, enough for the freezer. The potatoes haven’t fared so well, and the tops have withered away and the potatoes left in the ground are being eaten by slugs. Another crop that appears to be enjoying the hot weather is the winter squashes. As the picture shows, they have gone rampant, with loads of fruit emerging on them. The only water they are getting is the water out of the ducks bath, once a week. So fingers crossed the fruit swell enough for us to get plenty of squashes for saving over winter.

On a sad note, we lost one of our rescue hens, Cottontail. She wasn’t looking well for a few days, so we ended up bringing her into the house, which is never a good sign. She wasn’t eating, and the following morning died. The remaining hens have really slowed down their egg laying, we think because of the weather, rather than any illness. And speaking to other hen keepers they’re experiencing the same. Hopefully once the hot weather finishes (whenever that might be), the egg count will rise again.

Ah, I spoke too soon, the rain has stopped and that’s probably it now for another week given the forecast!

 

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

The last time we had a completely dry 24 hours was the 2nd November 2015… and it hasn’t stopped raining since! This may be about to break, with cold and dry weather forecast for the end of the week, but I won’t hold my breath until I see and hear the evidence for myself (the rain has been waking us up every night). The ground is sodden, with springs popping up all over the place, where the ground can no longer take any more water. The ditch in our bottom field is now a proper stream, being fed by a number of springs, including the one in this picture, where two springs merge. At least we know some of the drainage work we have done over the years is working, with water being channelled away off the land into the streams.

Fir branch duck island

Fir branch duck island

The wet ground is making it hard to do anything outside. The areas we walk often, particularly to and from the animal houses, are thick mud. We’ve had to lay some temporary plastic garden track in one area, as it was getting hazardous to walk on the slippery mud. The animals don’t like this wet weather at all – even the ducks. The other day I found one of the ducks sleeping on top of a tiny mound of grass, with a moat of mud around her. I assume this was so she didn’t have to sit on the cold wet mud. So we’ve put some fir tree branches down for them, both to sit on and lay their eggs (their nest hollows had filled with water too). The branches act as a protective mat from the wet ground, and so hopefully this will make them feel more comfortable.

We don't like getting our feet muddy!

We don’t like getting our feet muddy!

The goats, needless to say, are also pretty miserable. They don’t like getting wet and will do their best not to get their feet muddy and wet. We’ve put down some paving slabs between the field gate and their house, so they (and we) have got somewhere mud-free and dry to walk. Luckily the field is well drained, so it’s not getting too muddy, otherwise I don’t know what we’d do.

The chickens seem least affected, continuing to peck about and keep out of the wet when it rains heavily. They don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and are continuing to lay well into the winter.

The UK record for the longest period of rainy days is 89, a record achieved in 1923 on the Isle of Islay. Eglwyswrw, a village in Pembrokeshire, about 20 miles from us, reported it had had 75 consecutive days of rain (on the 8th January), so perhaps the record is about to be broken. But I’m sure, like us, the villagers would rather this was one record they didn’t beat.

The boys sporting their new head gear

The boys sporting their new head gear

The goats have been busy eating their way along the hedges in their field, preferring the hedgerow plants to the grass in the field. And although there is plenty of this fodder within easy reach, as with all animals the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When they were young this wasn’t a problem as they were able to get their heads through without any bother. However, now they’ve grown a bit, and more specifically their horns have grown, while they can get their heads through, they struggle to get them back out again. The trouble with horns is that they grow back away from the head, so get caught in the fence wire when trying to pull back out. A few weeks ago the boys were routinely getting their heads caught (Flopsy, the girl, has a slimmer head so hasn’t got the same problem), and unless we checked up on them regularly could be left caught for hours in one place. Not only was this annoying to have to check them so regularly, and in some cases struggle to get them free, we were about to go away for a week and leave the animals in charge of my parents. We couldn’t expect them, or anyone else, to check them every few hours on the off chance they had got stuck. Read the rest of this entry »

Riding the tube!

Riding the tube! Flopsy, Stompy and Buster (front to back)

It’s been over a month since we got the goats, but it feels like we’ve had them a lot longer and they’re now part of the family. They’ve settled in really well, and after their initial wariness of us, they now come running up to us every time we go to see them. Of course this might be partly due to our bringing them food, but we like to think they enjoy seeing us. One of the boys (Stompy, who has had a name change since my previous post) has become very affectionate. If you’re petting one of the other goats, he tries to nudge his way in, so that you stroke him instead. But we try to give equal attention to all!

Since my previous post, the boys have been to the vets to have the snip. This went relatively well, and was over remarkably quickly. Stompy, who we thought would cause the most trouble, was actually very well behaved and quite placid while he was being tugged and pulled! Meanwhile, Buster made a lot of noise, so perhaps he has a lower pain threshold. However, once we got them home, they both were playing in their run like nothing had happened.

The goats are continuing to be very playful, and like many young animals they have moments of intense play, before settling down to eat or sleep. They’re enjoying their tube, and now play both in it and on it. How they’re able to stand on a grooved round surface, I don’t know, but I suppose this is what goats are good at. They also do a lot of butting heads, to show their dominance, and even Flopsy (the female), puts up a good fight.

Enjoying the hedgerow

Enjoying the hedgerow

We’ve now let them out into the wider field, which was initially a bit intimidating for them. But now they’ve learnt there are all kinds of tasty things to be found in the field and hedges, they spend quite a bit of time out in the field. They do seem to prefer the hedge rather than the field, as this offers more of the kind of food they like to eat – brambles, leaves, etc. and in fact spend a lot of their time with their heads the other side of the fence, reaching as far as they can for anything tasty. This can be a bit hazardous, as their horns allow them through the gaps in the fence, but they can get them caught coming back out (a bit of design flaw)!

So as you can probably tell, we are enjoying the whole goat experience. The time it takes to feed, water and keep their house is pretty minimal, and in return we get hedge trimmers, a source of manure for the garden, and animals to play with.

 

Hello!

Hello!

We’re now goat owners! We picked up the three kids yesterday and have introduced them to their new home. The pick-up and transport all went very smoothly, managing to fit all three into one dog cage in the back of the car. They didn’t seem fazed by the car journey, and settled down quickly for the ride home – we didn’t hear a peep out of them the whole time.

Three kids in a dog cage

Three kids in a dog cage

When we got them home we decided to put them straight into their house, so they would get used to where their bed, food and water were. And having never seen the great outdoors before, letting them out into the run may have overwhelmed them a bit. They were clearly very nervous of their new surroundings, and us, so we left them to it, just checking up on them at dusk.

This morning we found them all huddled together in the straw, a bit less nervous than last night, but we need them to get used to us, and being handled. So we took each one in turn out of the house and held it to keep it calm. They were all a bit wriggly to hold, and were bleating for their siblings, but generally quite good. We left them to get familiar with their new surroundings, and meet their new neighbours (the ducks), and once we had left the run they seem to relax a bit. We’ve put out a couple of logs for them to climb, and my Dad had a spare bit of drainage tubing, just the right size for Pygmy goats to hide in.

Playing in the run

Playing in the run

Saying hello to the ducks

Saying hello to the ducks

They have yet (as far as we know) to try the electric fence, but I’m sure that will come, and we will hear the squeals. And none of them have tried to escape, yet!

Oh, and names – Buster (the all-brown male), Biffa (the white/brown male looking over the fence) and Flopsy (white/brown female at the back) – don’t ask!

Cowslips

Cowslips

Well another month has passed, and what a month. We’ve had an exceptionally dry April – a month which is meant to be full of rain showers. It’s not something we often say in west Wales, but we need some rain. The garden is looking a bit parched, just when the plants need it most, and the water butts are almost empty. We had a brief amount of rain on Tuesday night, enough to get the ground wet, but not enough to water the plants thoroughly. Rain looks to be in the forecast, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t have to resort to the tap, to water the plants. This dry weather has come with lots of sunshine and warmth, so much so that we are on record to have one of the sunniest Aprils in a long time – with our PV panels generating the best April ever (and even beating all previous Mays). However, there was a sting in the tail in April, with a couple of sharp frosts these last few mornings, the first one catching me out and so the potatoes have got some frost damage. They will recover, but it will put them back a bit until they grow some new leaves.

However, we’ve also had other news in April that is worthy of a post on Sow the Seed – we’re getting goats! Yes, at last we are going to get some more four-legged animals on the holding. We had a phone call out of the blue from the lady who sold us the ducks. She has been breeding pygmy goats and wondered if we would be interested in either some kids or a young goat. We had been thinking about getting goats, or at least something to go in the larger field which we fenced a couple of years ago, but this has given the push to get serious. We went to visit them last weekend, and would have happily taken them home with us there and then, but we don’t have a house yet and need to beef up our defences (they’re liable to escape). So it’s all systems go at getting the infrastructure sorted before we can bring them home.

We had a choice of which goats to have, but we’ve decided to get three kids – one female and two males. The only drawback is that the males haven’t been castrated yet. This is usually done when they are very young, but the breeder was unable to do it at the time, so they need to be “snipped”. This is a must in male goats, unless you want to breed from them, as they can become quite troublesome, and will also spray their scent every which way when the females are in season (which is the horribly “goaty” smell that is very off-putting). So, soon after we get them they will be making a trip to the vet – more on that nearer the time.

It’ll be a few weeks before we get them, but that gives us time to get a house, fence and ourselves ready for the new arrivals.

Goat shed and run taking shape

Goat shed and run taking shape

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template