Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
When you run a smallholding–especially a really small smallholding like Horse Drawn Farms– every animal needs to pay its way. In our case, our five-goat herd is hardly enough to justify the added expense and management of a buck. Bucks are big. Bucks eat a lot. And bucks are messy, smelly, single-minded fellows. Luckily, the farm is located only an hour away from an excellent goat breeder who offered us her fine Toggenburg buck for service. This is common enough with many farm animals–a way for a farmer with a big enough herd to justify their own stud animal by having him further earn his keep. And so Saltan came to stay.
As this was to be our young Easter’s first breeding, we would need to keep a close eye to make sure it was a fait accompli. The sudden arrival of a big stinky man in her midst would make any young doe nervous, and indeed, she hid behind her mother as Saltan’s head suddenly popped out of the canopy window of my truck and he wildly maaaa-ed in her direction. I wondered if I would need to put a lead on his neck chain to lead him to the does–but the rope burn on my hands from his leaping down and galloping over to their fence answered THAT question. The main goat pen has held our dairy goats in just fine since we constructed it in 2011. Since our farm is leased, we opted for easily moved hog panels, combined with a top rail for a total height of perhaps 1.5 meters. Although the girls often spend a pleasurable hour or two gnawing at the top boards, we’ve never found a goat where she shouldn’t be. So I was pretty confident that the Saltan would live quite comfortably in the pen with the two does I wanted pregnant. The other goats, I’d keep well out of reach, in the back building. I let him loose, watched the antics of the two girls greeting this large stranger for a few minutes, then went into the house.
I figure it took Saltan about three minutes to discover that neither of these does were in heat, another minute to notice the fresh browse some meters away, and one further minute to assess the location of lowest board, because when I popped my head out of the door five minutes later, he wasn’t in there anymore. He was munching away on the driveway blackberry bushes, looking quite at home. “Ah,” I thought. “Hungry.” I fetched a large flake of some alfalfa grass hay, threw it in the goat feeder and quietly led Saltan back into the pen. Elizabeth and Easter snorted at him all over again, as evidently the five first minutes had not been adequate for getting to know their suitor. This time, Sultan gave a perfunctory sniff at the hay, ignored the two girls altogether, then sauntered straight back over to the fence and leapt over. It took all the effort of stepping across a speed bump. I put him in again. He jumped out again. In again. Out again. In again, out again, and this time Easter carefully observed his escape point and tested the waters with a half-hearted little leap of her own. I knew then that trying to keep him in this pen was going to be a disaster.
The next stop was the sheep barn. (The sheep also have an outdoor paddock with shelter, and would do just fine living outside twenty-four hours a day.) So in went the trio, curiously sniffing around at the sheepy smells. The sheep barn door is slightly higher than my head. “No way could any goat jump out of there,” I said to my husband. But he looked doubtfully at Saltan’s long legs. “Let’s put up a little something extra, just in case,” he said. And when I returned with the evening goat rations, he had nailed up a long aluminum ladder horizontally above the door, spanning the entire upper opening. “That’s over two meters, no WAY he’s getting out now!” he chortled, and we turned in, with visions of the chocolate brown kids to come.
We found Saltan the next morning, loose in the yard. The aluminum ladder was no longer nailed neatly above the door, but hanging wildly by one bending strut. Saltan was nose to nose with our other goats, chatting amiably to them through the page wire, a few stray blackberry leaves still stuck to his unruly coat. He looked up at me with a calm, smiley sort of expression. It said, “Your obstacle course could use some work.” Elizabeth and Easter made some plaintive cries from the sheep barn, where they’d been summarily left at the altar.
There was nothing for it now, but the Fort Knox stall. This was Cirrus’s old stall, made to hold in and keep safe the most stall-hating horse that ever lived. Every wall was reinforced, every window barred, every square centimeter guarded against horse teeth, horse muscle and sheer horse determination. It was a touch small to keep three goats confined, but when I found Saltan and the does still in there when I came around with the 7am feeding, I knew he was finally licked. He lay recumbent, with a distinctly sulky look on his face. But at least now he could get down to business, and Elizabeth was encouraging things along–already coming in to heat, standing with her backside as close to his face as politeness would allow.
In the end, all went well. Elizabeth became pregnant right away, but Easter went through two cycles before she stood still long enough for any action. Likely it would have been three or four had she been given the room of the outside pen to run away from him. We became quite fond of Saltan, who was actually a gentle and most affectionate goat, and were sorry to see him leave. He, on the other hand, did not look in the least sorry. He settled into the back of the truck for his trip home and promptly fell asleep, no doubt dreaming of better fences to come.