Friday, January 6, 2012

Once Weaned, Twice Naughty

You know all those tales you've heard of goats being rambunctious and mischevious? Of getting into places they should not be and escaping from the places they are supposed to stay? Of nibbling on everything in sight, including items of clothing, the labels on tin cans, the hair on your head? Well, my girls and are here to set the record straight: It is all true!

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that in November our family brought to our farm three baby Nigerian Dwarf goats. We immediately feel in love with these furry, affectionate bundles of energy. For the next several weeks, we bottle fed them 2 or 3 times each day and spent quite a bit of extra time holding them and petting them. (My girls often talked with them, sang to them, and gave them math and reading lessons as well.) They ate up the attention, kissing our noses, dozing in our arms, climbing all over us like so many human jungle gyms, and wailing pitifully whenever we left them behind to return to the house.

They grew a great deal in November and December, and Tutu even got plump. Little did we know that they were also storing up great reserves of naughtiness. During the past couple of weeks--beginning suspiciously close to the time we weaned them from their milk--they started exhibiting all those classic goat behaviors we had heard so much about but were convinced (time for all you experienced farmers out there to chuckle) were grossly exaggerated. Most of their antics are simply comical, or at worst annoying (e.g., escaping from their stall into the main part of the barn every time we crack the door open). But some of them are maddening--especially their stubborn insistence on eating the chickens' feed.

Initially, Carolina, Tennessee Spot, and Tutu expressed little interest in the chickens, despite the chickens' frequent visit to their stall. ("The grass is always greener on the other side" is evidently one of the more predominant beliefs among barnyard animals.) But eventually they figured out that the chickens got fed, too(!), and they immediately made it their mission in life to raid the chicken feeder. So first thing every morning after they nibble at the fresh hay and concentrate we give them, they make a bee line for the other side of the barn. Though their noses can barely fit into the gap of the chicken feeder, they somehow manage to extract from it impressive quantities of crumbles. When they can't get enough to satisfy them, they knock it over. And if the chickens have the audacity to be having a meal of their own when the goats show up, the goats make short work of butting in, often chasing away the rightful diners in a flurry of squawks and feathers.

No problem, we thought. We'll just leave the feeder closed up inside the coop during the day, and the chickens can access it through their pop door. Of course, that was successful for all of 3 minutes, which is how long it took the goats to figure out where the feed had gone and squeeze through the pop door to get it. So I nailed a board over the opening of the pop door to make the opening smaller. That time it took about 5 minutes for them to discover they could still enter with ease. Two more boards later (the hole is about 6 inches tall and 4 inches wide at this point), and they're still helping themselves to all the chicken feed they can eat.
My husband is going to the feed store today to see if he can get a chick feeder (with smaller holes than a regular feeder) and then try to bolt it down securely enough that they can't flip it over. I wish I were more optimistic about the chances of Plan C being successful.

You might ask: What's the big deal? So what if the goats eat some chicken feed? I spent a week or so trying to comfort myself with that very thought. But it turns out chicken feed is actually quite bad for goats, at least in significant quantities (it is much too high in protein and can harm their ruminant stomachs). Goat food isn't great for chickens either. (I'm afraid the chickens have gotten a good bit of revenge by their own raiding in the goat stall.)

We are determined to make our little farm as integrated and natural as possible, and to give our critters the chance to spend most of their lives outside of stalls and pens. But this free-ranging thing turns out to be a bit more complicated than we expected, full of unexpected challenges and quirky crises. In fact, it reminds me a whole of trying to parent. And while that adventure is the toughest I've ever faced, it has also been the most rewarding. That gives me the courage to stay hopeful (and reminds me to keep a sense of humor!) as we stumble and trip our way through this new adventure. But right now, I've got some naughty little kids I've got to go feed.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I see you did this post in January, I also have 3 new 3mos old Nigerian Dwarfs, and have the exact same problem as you. They are getting into the chicken feed. I blocked access to my chicken area by building a tunnel with a bend in it thinking it would deter them from crawling through the small 5in high opening... do dice, they sliver through anyways. So, my problem is still there, did you ever solve yours?? Thanks for your post. Regards, -3 naughty Nigerians out west!

Michelledub said...

I'm also looking for a solution to this problem! Let me know what you come up with. right now I'm letting the chickens out earlier than the goats with their food then locking their coop for the day while the goats are out. Seems to be the best solution right now.