Something awesome happened on the homestead this weekend, folks. For Mother’s Day, our daughter surprised me with three Nubian nanny goats, two Rhode Island Red laying hens, and two Silkie roosters! It was a banner Mother’s Day indeed.
After we bought out homestead and I was finally able to begin stocking the barnyard – after three long years of waiting for that moment during our land search, I wanted Nubian goats. They are a superb multi-purpose breed of goat and are highly regarded for their docile and intelligent disposition.
Meet Lagertha, Octavia, and Khaleesi. What to know how long it took me to teach these three beauties to free range on our homestead? Keep reading to find out!
Having never taken care of goats before, I decided maybe I should start with a Pygmy goat or a Nigerian Dwarf goat so that I wouldn’t be intimidated by either the size or the strength of a standard goat. I also wanted a goat without any horns or one young enough that could still be debudded and has been bottle trained. Oh, the mistakes of a newbie goat keeper. I am so glad that that I did not get what I wanted…now something a woman says very often, right!?
Pearl was my first goat, a Nigerian Dwarf – with horns. She was free and needed a new home. Those of you who are regular readers of New Life On A Homestead have already heard a lot about Pearl’s journey and continued recovery.
Next came her mate, Not Negan – a Pygmy goat who needed a good home…also with horns. Without horns a goat has absolutely no way to protect itself. Neither of those goats were bottle fed and they came to our barnyard as adults who had always lived in a pen. It only took 48 with Pearl to develop both a sense of trust and to interact with genuine affection – and begin free ranging.
Not Negan is not the cuddle sort, he will eat out of your hand and listen to commands, but does not go in for being petted or brushed. Except once, he let me love on him for a good five minutes until I chose to stop, I was afraid his sudden desire for affection might mean he was sick or injured, but it did not and so far, once was enough for Not Negan. It was far easier to get him to learn to free range because he was not about to move further than five feet away from the enticing Pearl for more than a few moments.
Free range training of any new addition to the barnyard involves a grand tour of their new territory – including their boundaries. The new goats were a little startled by the sight of 13 chicks in the chicken coop run, but were only momentarily delayed on their tour of the property by the startling discovery. Except for the horses during pasture rotation and the dogs that follow us everywhere, no livestock is allowed off the hill – meaning past the homesite.
Our in the middle of the woods entirely fenced homestead is 4-tiered. The bottom five acres are the main garden and pasture. Then you cross the creek and have more pasture on either side, about 15 acres of it. Next you continue up the half-mile uphill climb past a steep curve and into the deeply wooded portion of the property. An area was cleared for the homesite, shelter house, a pond, and quarter-mile dirt road down to the old wood barn and pole barn area, and then finally another short yet steep dirt road up to the top acreage which consists of the best pasture on the property and is surrounded by more woods.
If you are standing up there it is impossible to tell what century it is just by taking a look around. There are no power lines, visible structures, and like the bulk of the rest of the homestead, no visible sights or sounds of a road.
At least not then. While Pearl spent several weeks in a stall recovering from a dog attack, Not Negan found himself a new herd. Until the three Nubian ladies arrived on Saturday, he was hanging out with the horses, sometimes under the horses using them for shade.
Rooster was our first goat born on the homestead, he is part Pygmy and part Nigerian Dwarf. He really wants someone to play with and is hopeful to have some new siblings soon when Not Negan and the ladies get better acquainted.
Rooster is attempting to get Lagatha to be his playmate, but she totally had the “Go away kid, you’re bothering me,” thing going on when he ventured into their open stall about 30 minutes after their arrival.
So, after learning more about goat husbandry and getting comfortable with keeping them, I decided it was time to add to the herd and perhaps renew my interest in Nubian goats. Our 56-acre homestead is about 50 percent pasture and 50 percent wooded.
Having a larger herd of free ranging goats will not only make me happy because I have become so enamored with them, but also to cut down on chores. Even though we do not have much grass to cut because of the ratio of pasture and woods, weeds that I do not pick for medicinal purposes and grass around the house and shelter house, still need to be dealt with. Any time you can share a few hours (heck, even 15 minutes) off the daily to do list of chores, it’s a big win.
I had not actively been browsing for Nubian goats, I was far too busy with seasonal homesteading chores to think about expanding the barnyard population. We had a lot of fence mending to do after a harsh winter followed by a winter-like spring with historic flooding.
On Saturday, I took two of the grandkiddos for a 4-wheeler ride after morning chores. When we got back to the space on the homestead where our home and their cabin are located, Brea said she needed to get them cleaned up so they could go with her and her husband to pick up my Mother’s Day gift, that they had to be somewhere at a specific time.
That last bit of information caused me to think they were going to pick up a new critter. When I asked if it was a living thing they were going to get, she said no and referenced something about how much trouble she would be in with Bobby if they did something like that. I laughed and went about some weekend homesteading chores at the barn.
Bobby and one of his buddies were cleaning out my barn and relocating the manure to the compost pile. The horses are very resistant to change and my Ruby thinks the barn belongs to her and becomes especially huffy when we do not ask permission before altering her domain…or adding new critters.
The nosy nature of the horse hed when the tractor enter the barn generally causes a traffic jam and the occasional curse word from my husband who has to maneuver his beloved old Massey Ferguson around them to get in the main barn area and the stalls.
Just as the manure removal and relocation was finishing up, with fresh lime and straw going down in the barn (the horses had to come check out their new digs in between the laying of lime and straw, of course) the dogs alerted us to the arrival of an unfamiliar truck and large livestock trailer on the homestead.
“Who’s that?” – my Bobby asked.
“I think that’s my Mother’s Day present,” I answered.
“Do I even want to know what’s inside that trailer?”
“Probably not. But I don’t think it’s a horse, if that helps,” I responded.
“Well, it sure as heck isn’t a chicken,” Bobby said shaking his head in resignation.
I hopped on the 4-wheeler and down to the main living area as fast as I could to see what was in the livestock trailer. There were three beautiful 5-year-old Nubian ladies huddled together awaiting the door to open so they could check out their new forever home.
The goats had been living in a pasture with donkeys and ducks, so thankfully they had not spent their lives penned and had all of their natural browsing for food instincts curtailed.
I immediately learned just how much stronger a standard goat is than the Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf goats who already inhabited our barnyard. Apparently, the goats are terrified of dogs, so it did not help matters when I led each one out of the trailer and into a stall as our two Blue Heelers excitedly stood nearby on the sidelines.
Pearl and Rooster went to check out the new additions to the goat herd, and probably find out what they were doing in her sleeping stall, after I shut the door and walked out to leave them alone to calm down and settle in.
The Nubian ladies were ushered into the stall we had set up for birthing when Pearl was pregnant with Rooster – and was later used by her during her recovery from a dog attack.
As you can see, the Nubian goats could easily climb right out of the divided stall if they so choose. This gave me two choices, either to convince my hubby and his buddy to hop to and help me make the stall a secure place to house the goats and build a pen for them….or teach them to free range like the rest of the herds and flocks, ASAP.
I of course, opted to begin free range training and not pen building. I gave the new feed and water and then left them alone with their barnyard neighbors for about 30 minutes before coming back alone.
The new goats and the rest of the curious barnyard members, all of which were crowded around their stall and peeking at them from all feasible sides, were given an afternoon snack. There was no way I was going to be able to get by with giving the Nubian ladies a snack and denying all the rest of the prying eyes who are conditioned to know that snack comes at put up time – and Sunday mornings.
After the new goats decided they liked snack, and interacting with me, I opened one of the doors to their stall. I didn’t not want to open both doors and make them feel exposed or leave a space wide enough that the other barnyard members, especially the horses, all rushed in at once to introduce themselves.
Rooster was the first barnyard member to venture into the stall and say hello to the new goats.
It took about three to five minutes before one of the Nubian goats, Lagertha, decided to poke her nose out of the opening. She did this several times before actually crossing the threshold and standing with all four hooves outside of the stall.
One by one the other ladies ventured slowly and cautiously out of the stall. I just sat on the 4-wheeler sipping on some ice water until they decided to walk over to me. It took only a moment or two once all had exited the stall, before the ladies were at my side and wanting affection and reassurance.
Instantly the goats followed me wherever I walked. I have found that of all the animals I have ever worked with, goats are among the smartest and easiest to train. It is, in my opinion, easier to train a goat than it is a dog. I hesitate to say this, just in case my Bobby reads this article, but of all the times the goats have wandered in our back door to visit, none of them has ever made a mess on the floor or jumped up on the furniture. Bobby doesn’t like goats in the house, for some reason, or chickens….or guineas….go figure.
We walked up the steep little dirt road to the other pasture where the horses and Not Negan who thinks he is a horse now, spend their days until field rotation time. The Nubian ladies are voracious eaters and quickly went to work ridding the sides of the dirt road of weeds.
Not Negan almost literally sat the fence when the new goats and I went for out territory and boundaries tour. He laid in between the main barn opening where the horses were gathered and the smaller side stalls which the goats use, unable to pick a herd to join up with. After a few hours though, he just could not stand the lure of the three lovely Nubian ladies and attempted to make his romantic notions known. Poor little guy, he is going to need a stump to stand on if he ever coaxes one of them to accept his advances.
We walked around the upper pasture for a while, with the other barnyard members, except some of the flock, joining us on the newbie tour. It was about 89 degrees here on Saturday, so needless to say, I got a free workout and tanning session courtesy of my surprise Mother’s Day gift.
After the territory, boundaries, and water hole tour was over, I attempted to return the Nubian ladies to the barn, but they wanted to come hang out in the shelter house with the human members of my tribe. While I want the goats to come to the shelter house and home area to eat weeds, I had to also make sure that they know they are part of the goat herd and not simply “farm pets” who were going to come back into the house with me and hop on the bed and go to sleep like the dogs do.
The Nubian ladies are definitely earning their keep already. Keeping the woods cut back, the grass mowed, and the non-useful weeds trimmed is a large and time-consuming homesteading chore. The additional goats in our herd will increase our hay expenses come winter (we raise nearly enough hay to support our existing herds) but the workload vs. hay expense ratio still plays out largely in our favor.
They are very lovable goats who seem to thrive on interaction with humans and appear to want to be a house pet. They waited outside the door for two hours after I went inside before they gave up on coming inside for dinner and walked backed down to the barnyard where they needed to settle in.
I put the Nubian ladies up the first night, but Sunday night I allowed them to choose one of the open access side stalls where the other goats and the miniature donkeys (they love the mini donkeys and the feeling is mutual, the three ladies bonded more rapidly with them than the other goats) bed down for the night. I had no worries the goats would still be in the barn, or at least barnyard area, when I went down for turnout and feeding this morning.
So, how long did it take me to teach the new goats how to free range? About one hour!
Bobby likes to say I am some type of “critter whisperer” but teaching animals to free range to and to be voice controlled is not rocket science.
First, you have to love and respect the animals. Even if you are going to eat the animals one day, they should be treated with respect and granted a good quality of life until the day that it is time for it to come to an end.
Second, immediately let them know they are safe and will be well taken care of. This means letting them bond to you the moment you get the animals or after they are born. You do not have to name the animals and love on them – never a good idea if you are going to eat them, but create an environment and relationship which lets them feel safe and secure so they look to you as their leader.
Thirdly, set simple boundaries and expectations right from the jump and do not deviate from them. Routine is extremely important when working with animals period, but especially when free ranging. It’s a lot like working with or raising children.
Papaw Bobby thinks Auddie has the same special touch with critters as her grammie. Even though she is only 2 and a half, she is calm, quiet, and gentle with animals, always approaching them with great care. Our most high-strung broody hen, Stew, eats out of both my and Auddie’s hand and allows us to pet her.
Touch is important also. Both the way you touch and how often you touch. I understand not petting and hugging meat animals, but even they still need brushed out and looked over for ticks, fleas, mites, and injuries. Be gentle and offer some measure of affection even if it is just a kind pat on the head or rump when you approach and are done inspecting or washing the livestock. Proper touch will help the animal be constantly reminded that you are their safety net and their leader – i.e. in control.
When an animal becomes panicked due to either an injury, predator threat, or weather, you want them to run to you, not away from you or hide. If you ever get a beef cow tangled up in barbed wire, getting her out of the dangerous and painful mess will be far easier if she trusts you and gives into your will instead of thrashing about more and kicking – possibly injuring the both of you substantially.
Lagertha and Rooster (a whether kid) did the sideways goat hop and lunge thing for a few moments after they first met, and then rubbed heads together and became friends.The Nubian ladies had been debudded, unfortunately. One of the disbudding (or dehorning) jobs was botched considerably. A ragged horn on the right side of her head had grown sideways across her head. The horn was raised up just enough from her head to allow fencing, a rope, grapevine, etc. to get caught and either restrain her or potentially cause a broken neck as she struggled to break free.
On actual Mother’s Day, our daughter and son-in-law had one more surprise in store. A friend of theirs launched a chicken business and wound up with way too many chicks, laying hens and roosters. He rightfully figured not all of his eggs would hatch or chicks would make it, but they did.
The new chickens and roosters spent their first night on Serendipity Acres inside the chicken coop. The run is still home to 13 Rhode Island Red pullets. Actually, I think it is home to 12 pullets and one cockerel, but only time will tell.
Jessie and his wife Jordan brought me over two Rhode Island Red laying hens and two Silkie roosters! One of the Rhode Island layers were among those he purchased for breeding purposes. Sadly, the breeder he got her from as a chick had engaged in the cruel and senseless practice of cutting back her beak to avoid pecking in the brooder and beyond.
I do not have a close up image of the bird’s beak, but it is only about half the length on both top and bottom, that it should be. Cutting the beak so short will make it more difficult to peck into the ground and eat bugs. To prevent pecking at other chickens in the brooder, simply use red lights only and not clear ones. The red light disguises any blood on a chick sustained from pecking at itself and therefore does not draw the attention of the other chicks and prompt a pecking attack.
During turnout this morning Auddie and I opened the human door to the coop and fed the new members of the flock and then closed it back up. Next, I opened up the flaps to the laying boxes to let in light and create an opening they could fly up and look out of without fully exposing themselves to this strange new barnyard they were going to call home, all at once.
The Silkie roosters had been cock-a-doodle-doing all morning, so my hens were eager to get a glimpse inside the chicken coop. We had a coop coup several months ago and not the chicken flock sleeps in the barn roosters and the ducks sleep in a goat stall. Why? I have no clue, but that is where they want to be and their chosen sleeping arrangements have not caused any losses. Until one snowy night, they were always waiting for me either inside the coop or at its entrance for put up at dusk every night.
Soup and Stew were the first of the barnyard critters to greet the new flock members.
After the white Silkie rooster ventured out to meet the hens, and promptly mating with the youngest one, I opened the human door to the coop. It took about seven minutes, but the rest of the newbie flock members eventually came out and joined the barnyard critters. If the new birds want to go back inside the coop where they first felt safe, I will put them up in their and lock the door. But my guess is they will want to roost in the barn rafters with the rest of the flock tonight.
The white Silkie rooster and his first conquest, one of Stew’s now mature chicks.
What are your thoughts on free ranging livestock?