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Greener Pastures


Our herd enjoying their new pasture

This weekend we moved our goats into a brand-new pasture. We spent a few weeks this summer removing old fence and building new fence in preparation for the move. The field had been becoming more and more overgrown with brush and needed to be cleared. Along with the original fencing not being suitable for goats there was an issue with the deer spending time there as well. The deer are carriers of the dreaded “M worm” or Meningeal worm, a parasite that is often fatal in goats. So, we decided before the fence was completed, we would put fifteen of the feeder pigs in the pasture. Pigs are easily trained on fence and we already had some portable fence and a fence charger. So, we set up temporary fence for the pigs to start clearing brush and hopefully deterring the deer. After the permanent fence was completed if we still noticed a deer presence the pasture would be used only for pigs. After four months there were no deer. We decided that we would swap the pigs’ and the goats’ pastures. Rotation of species from their pasture fields is a huge help in the fight against parasites.

After a stop at the dollar store for a few bags of marshmallows we were ready to move some animals. Our first step was to lock the goats and the pony in the barn so we could leave the gates between the pastures open. Then we got the attention of the pigs with marshmallows. We do believe in feeding our pigs good quality corn and soy pig feed and access to all of the open pasture they need. But there is nothing that makes moving pigs easier than a couple of bags of marshmallows. With each of us having a bag in hand we began walking between the fields and giving treats. The first five pigs ran into the new field curious about their new surroundings and happy to be eating treats. Five out of nine is better than half but still not so good. Our second attempt we were able to get the attention of three of the remaining four. But Linda, our problem pig, was getting worked up and decided she would run back into the original pasture for a mud bath. We waited. She seemed to calm down and become more interested in marshmallows. As we lead her to the gate, she once again became agitated and ran for her mud wallow. Pigs are smart animals and can be rather stubborn at times, pigheaded to say the least. Nothing can ruin a day faster than getting into a disagreement with a pig. So, we decided to just leave her in with the goats for a day or two, at least until she decided she was ready to join the rest of the pigs.

Now with the goats being locked inside the free stall of the barn we decided we would just lead the goats three at a time to their new home. We all had a goat to lead when the ever-mischievous Dot pushed her way out the door. Goats are naturally herding animals. Given the choice of being solitary or joining the group, they always choose the group. So, we figured, four at a time is better than three. Dot stuck with the other three and away we went to the new pasture, and to join Linda. After a few trips with four goats all of our goats were together and ready to explore their new surroundings. Eric had mowed the field once in the spring and decided that once the fence was done, we would leave it grow up for the goats. The bank of the pond and the creek bank has not been cleared for years. When the pigs were in the field, we would put some shelled corn around the thicker brush and they would root the roots. Unfortunately, the reach of a pig stops short of three feet. But a field with brush that has been opened up for a goat to have easy access, that is like walking into a buffet that has nothing but steak and bacon. Within five minutes the goats were chewing on weeds, and standing on their back legs to sample all of the different branches. We walked them around the perimeter of the fence so they would know their boundaries. Every where they went, they were happy to find a new snack, briers, milkweed, multiflora rose, and golden rod! After our walk around we introduced them to their new shelters. Originally used for chickens and then the feeder pigs our mobile huts. There was some concern about the cooler nights being an issue with the goats being moved out of their barn. That was laid to rest when twelve of them entered one hut and the temperature jumped immediately. The huts are rain proof and have a rubber floor with lots of bedding.

As with any thing in life there is always something to learn when you stop and reflect. If you are unable to change or fear change you will be unhappy. If you pass up your chance, much like Linda, the pig that is stuck with the goats. Luckily for Linda, we do not like to have unhappy animals and will move her whenever she decides she is ready to see her friends. Unfortunately, there are very few times in life when you are given a second chance to make the most out of something that is out of your comfort zone. The longer I live the clearer it becomes, roll with the punches and enjoy the experience.

The old adage of “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” fits perfectly with the goats and their new pasture of brush. We had made the mistake when we first got into goats of reseeding with what we thought was good seed. After we rotated the pigs out of a pasture Eric limed and planted clover seed where the pigs had rooted in their search for grubs. In almost no time we had a good stand of clover. The goats would walk right through the clover to eat brush in the woods. It became clear that what we thought was good, was not what the goats thought was good. Now we seed with rye and basic pasture mix. The goats love the tall rye grass, and the mix. Turning them out into an overgrown pasture would seem like handing them a bunch of lemons. But to our herd it is giving them lemonade. The labor it would have taken us to clear the brush would have been about the same as building the fence. But with the fence in, the brush will be cleared and stay cleared. It has given us the ability to have two pastures goat free for a few weeks, depending on the weather, to let the plants grow back. It has given the goats a smorgasbord of their favorite foods. We have been making plans on adding another pasture later this year or early spring, with more to follow next year. Our woods have been over run with brush and weeds, lemon. The goats love brush and weeds, lemonade.

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