Casaubon's Book

Touchdown, Baby Goat Style!

It isn’t that I’m not athletic, I am – but my strengths in the athletic zone were never speed and agility – more forceful forward motion and tough elbows in basketball games. I’ve never been the kind of person who makes that rolling catch to save the game.

Until now. You see, I’ve got a new sport – the baby goat roundup. This is definitely a speed and agility event, and I am now the queen.

You see, we let our goats roam loose. Believe it or not, they don’t go wandering into the road, but stay in the pastures. We only do it when someone is around to keep an eye on them (the rest of the time they are fenced), but otherwise, we give them the run of the landscape. Most of the time someone is either outside, or half-watching from a nearby window, and they have several acres to roam and browse, plenty of overhanging woody stuff, and no real reason to go out of bounds. The goats are pretty domesticated – they want to be near you, so often they mostly just follow us around, browsing wherever we’re working. The herd stays largely together, within close range, so you know where one is, they all pretty much are. This larger range reduces parasite exposure, and gives them easy access to shelter if a drop of rain should fall (goats melt when it rains, or so they think ;-)). It means less water hauling too. It will probably end next year, when we have more goats, but so far, it has worked well for us.

The only problem with this is that there is a period between a few days after a baby goat’s birth and about four weeks of age, where they don’t really follow the herd. For the first few days they stay close to Mom and sleep a lot, just like human babies, and by around four weeks they start to follow the herd, nibble the grass and recognize that they belong as part of the group. But for the three weeks in the interim, they are kind of their own little daycare group, busy playing king of the hill and racing around, napping or playing with the chickens. They simply don’t work in unity.

Now when we need to put the goats somewhere we want them – say, we are going out and need to put everyone in the fenced pasture or perhaps it is bedtime and we want them in the barn (we have a den of coyotes across the road and baby goats are snack-sized), we must gather the goats together. Now this is incredibly easy with the adults and the babies over 4 weeks – we shake the grain or carry a flake of hay, and everyone comes following to get the goodies. But the babies in that interim place are oblivious to this. They don’t care about grain or hay yet – food comes mostly from Mom.

Right now we have 9 – yes, 9 cat-sized baby goats who don’t yet follow the bucket. And every time we want them to go somewhere, instead of them following calmly along, we have to catch them. And they don’t want to be caught. In many cases they do want to come in – and they want to be with their Moms, but they express this by racing around like maniacs, not by going where it would be useful, or allowing us to catch them.

Thus, the baby goat roundup is my new sport, and it should definitely be shown on ESPN. At least once a day (bedtime) and often more than that, we go out and catch all the babies and dump them in the barn. Now catching nine moving baby goats that are faster than you, more agile and small enough to go under any obstacle that would trip you is, well, it is a challenge.

The thing is, it is also kind of fun. So you hear the call “ok, I’m going to go round up the babies…who wants to help!” and off we all go with shouted instructions “Isaiah, you chase them out from under the wheelbarrow and I’ll corner them behind the rainbarrel!” “Ok, babe, you chase that pair into the hay barn and I’ll close the doors…” “Oh, crap, missed Basil.”

There’s strategy. There’s sheer exuberance. There’s speed. There’s flashy stuff – like when you scoop up two babies at once. There’s teamwork, and showboating and sweat dripping off you. There’s everything you want in a sport. Seriously, this should be in the olympics. It would get one bazillion viewer due to sheer cuteness and comic value.

And I scored my first-ever touchdown! We’d managed to get everyone but Goldenrod after considerable effort. My aunt Luana was visiting and taking pictures and laughing hysterically at the sight of Eric, I and three of the four boys attempting to corner one goat – finally, he made around the edge of the pasture fence, and Simon chased him to back towards me – Eric tried missed him, and I dived and made a spectacular rolling catch, grabbed him just as he was leaping off, and lay on my back in the pasture holding the baby goat heroically above my head. Touchdown!

I’m not sure if my aunt got a picture of this or not – she may have been laughing too hard to click the shutter, although I’ll definitely post it here if she sends me one – after all, I’ve got few enough great sporting moments that this one is one to treasure. Olympics, here I come!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Thisbe
    September 2, 2010

    “This larger range reduces parasite exposure”

    It’s interesting that while this statement seems intuitively obvious, it’s actually incorrect. Allowing livestock to go where they want (particularly with free return to a desired central lounging area) has been securely shown to increase parasite loads in the pastures and in the animals. The best way to reduce parasite exposure is by managed rotational grazing combined with surveillance and treatment where necessary. But if you haven’t built up a large reservoir of parasite on your land and in your animals, you should be fine for a while. I assume you monitor for anemia.

    Incidentally, talking about the fun of chasing goat kids (or lambs, or any other young animal) makes me feel a little sad, because it shouldn’t be necessary and is not great for the animals themselves or for their behavior later in life. But, c’est la vie.

  2. #2 Tsu Dho Nimh
    September 2, 2010

    So film it and put it on YouTube.

  3. #3 Sharon Astyk
    September 3, 2010

    Thisbe, actually in our case, it allows them more browse, rather than pasture, so it does, in fact, reduce parasite load by encouraging them to eat up rather than down. If we were grazing only, you’d be right, but we’re trying to do as much silvopasturing as possible. It is almost impossible for us to run electric fencing through our woods and the brushy marginal areas we want them to – the land is too uneven, so taking them out to browse with us while we’re working is the best strategy for our property and results in the goats getting the kind of food they’d eat naturally in preference to grass. We graze them in areas we’re trying to clear out anyway, or lightly over woods – I don’t want to leave them for any length of time on my forest anyway. And yes, we check for anemia – we’ve never had a problem, in part, I think, because we are able to keep them eating upwards.

    The babies aren’t chased to the point of exhaustion or extreme stress, aren’t chased at all in hot weather, and they are friendly enough. In most cases, we don’t really need to chase them at all, just gather them up. But every now and then the roundup becomes a sport. Once they learn to follow a human – always by four weeks their behavior is friendly and easy. The eldest of this year’s babies already has it down.

    There is more than one way to raise an animal, although goat and sheep and cow people tend to get fixed on one – we here this all the time – don’t dam raise! Don’t let them roam! Always strip graze. It strikes me that working with your land and your animals directly will probably generally lead not to one but several sets of successful practices.

    Sharon

  4. #4 anon
    September 3, 2010

    Are dogs useful in herding goats, as they are for sheep? One of the smaller herding breeds, such as a Schipperke, might be useful in rounding up your livestock.

  5. #5 NM
    September 3, 2010

    I can picture it! Makes me laugh just at the images in my head. Thank you for sharing.
    Roping calves in rodeos makes me sad, but in this case, the care given the animals is so very clear.

  6. #6 stripey_cat
    September 4, 2010

    Oh heavens that takes me back! We used to let our pet guinea-pigs out to graze in the day (in a solid-walled garden), and then play catch-the-cavy at dusk. Nothing like charging through a hydrangea bush in the dark in hot pursuit of a g.p. who’d hopped out of the hutch for another round when you opened the door for the last-thing check-up. The little sods (especially subadult males) jumped like rabbits – 50cm or more vertical clearance, four foot horizontal – and had wickedly playful senses of humour.

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