Our Backyard Farm
11 June 2014
The above photo is of Mary Kate & Ashley
June 4, 2014
“We have a jumper!” I yelled as I ran into the house to get Jay.
“Come quick! It's Ashley! She jumped the fence!”
Jay followed me outside.
I had been carrying the bag of feed back to the shed when I turned around and noticed one of the goats staring at me intently. She was also eying the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
Their morning ritual was for us to feed them some grain, but not much. Becky (the owner of Your Backyard Farm) wanted to keep them hungry so they would do their job. In just two days, eight goats had basically cleared the half acre they were brought here to eat and now that they had accomplished their task, they were hungry for more. Their breakfast, it seems, was just a tease. Eventually all eight were giving us the stare-down. Only Ashley had the nerve to make a move.
We found her under a tree not two feet from the fence. She was busy munching on her new-found greener grass.
“What if one of them gets out?” Jay had asked Becky when she delivered them to our backyard.
“Just grab her by the horns, literally.” She smiled. “Make sure the fence is turned off. And then push her under the fence. It collapses easily.”
So I tried it. I grabbed Ashley by the horns. Only I didn't pull her. She pulled me.
“Whoa! She's strong, Jay! You had better call Becky.”
But he was having none of that. We weren't going to call for help. Surely we can handle this on our own, he thought. At least that is what I thought he was thinking.
“Get the food.”
I went to the shed and pulled out the bag with what little grain it held and tried to get Ashley's attention. She was still focused on the grass beneath her feet but the others...they kept their eyes on the bag of food. All seven of them were getting closer and closer to the electric fence that we had since turned off. I handed the bag to Jay and he was able to coax her under the fence while the other goats crowded around him trying to get their share of what was left in the bag.
“Oh, what the hell.” He threw the bag of grain over the fence and the goats followed. They immediately began to tear up the bag and finished what was left. Ashley continued to stare us down. She was not to be fooled again. She had a taste of those greener pastures and she was just biding her time until we went inside to make her move again.
Jay decided it was time to call Becky. Their job was finished here. At least for the time being.
It has been an interesting experiment. It all started with a visit to our local farm. The Farm Institute is just a few blocks from our house and we often visit to see what is new and what animals are around. They have cows, of course, sheep and chickens. Last year they had pigs and the sow had just given birth. The babies were adorable. And they have goats. While we were standing there watching the children feed them dandelions, Jay told me about an article he had read in the Martha's Vineyard newspaper. The newest, greatest ecological way to clear fields is to use goats. Last year, The Land Bank used goats from The Farm Institute for this very purpose. This got him to thinking...
Referred to us by The Farm Institute, Becky Brown of Your Backyard Farm delivered eight goats on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. A few days prior she had brought a portable electric fence and went about setting it up around the half-acre perimeter where we wanted to get rid of the poison ivy. Now it was just the finishing touches, open the gate, coax the goats in the right direction and then turn on the electricity. Sounds simple, right? It was. Minutes later, the goats were off in search of food.
“The ones with the floppy ears are Boers.” Becky told me. “And the others, the smaller ones, are Arapawas. “They are from two different areas. They haven't hung out together, so it will probably be a couple of days before they get comfortable with each other and begin to mix.” Later I learned that the Boers originated in South Africa and are good for meat production. The Arapawas are a rare breed that come from Arapawa Island off New Zealand. They are known to mix well with other breeds.
“Do they have names?” I asked her.
“Well, I think the last guy named one of them Rosie.”
Well, if I name sea lions, you know I'm going to name the goats. And that is what I did. First, I named the groups the Sharks (Boers) and the Jets (Arapawas). There were four in each group and the Sharks, were definitely the Alpha group. Mildred, as we began to call her, was the boss. In fact, she was the boss of all the goats. She was the largest of them all and had just weaned her kid the day before. Mildred was carrying a heavy load of milk and was, seemingly, a bit grumpy. There was only one goat in both groups with no horns, so I decided that must be Rosie. She was sweet and a good worker. But she got pushed around a lot. The last two Boers reminded me of twins so I named them Mary Kate and Ashley.
The Arapawas were my favorite group. I guess I was rooting for the underdogs. They were smaller, more delicate-looking and prettier. (Although I loved the floppy ears on the Boers.) One was pure white. I called her Chickie. Everytime I came outside, she watched me closely. She was more vocal than the others. The black and white one reminded me of the Belted Galloway cows at The Farm Institue. Jay named her Ella. She was quite striking. The last two Arapawa were a beautiful brown color, like fawns, with black markings on their legs. This drove Jay to name one of them Marlena (as in Dietrich). The other had a big red collar around her neck with the number 26 on it. I called her Martha.
It wasn't long before the Sharks and the Jets had scouted out their territory and each had a select tree they would gather around. They would nuzzle and rest in their groups of four. If the Jets moved over to the Sharks space, they were soon pushed out and back into their own area. Sometimes Mildred would nudge the goats (in both groups) as if to say, “Get up! Get back to work,” which they did.
Every once in awhile, Mildred would also push a goat away if she was eating something that Mildred decided she wanted. And when feeding them grain, Mildred would push all the other goats away until she had one bowl to herself. Yep! She was definitely the boss.
The original plan was for the goats to stay for at least three days, maybe even a week for the first visit. And then come back for a second and maybe a third visit, depending on how much of the poison ivy grows back and when. But with Ashley jumping, Becky knew it was time to rotate them out of our backyard and into another backyard. In fact, she was none too pleased with Ashley and mentioned if she didn't behave she might just as well make for good meat.
But I guess that's the way it goes in the farming world.
It was Tuesday afternoon when Becky arrived to take them away. Together with Jay she corraled them into the truck and it was time to bid them farewell.
Until next time, my fair goats. We will miss you.