The Circle of Goats
It’s funny the things you can dredge up when you’re having a good spring clean. Some things raise a lot of questions (am I ever going to make enough chutney and jam to fill all those empty jars?), while on occasion your treasure trove will reveal the answers to questions you didn’t even know you had! I think this photo explains a lot about my goat obsession… And, yes, you’ll be pleased to hear that I can blame my parents!
The land that we currently farm is where my brother and sister and I grew up while my parents farmed it. Lindsey and I now run the farm for the family, in the hope that when our time working on the land is over that one or more of the next generation will be keen to take it on. It’s a pretty typical arrangement, but keeping a farm in the family for more than one generation means that we can take more of a long-term approach to management, and see the benefits of the whole family’s hard work over a lifetime rather than just twenty or thirty years. You will often hear of farmers commenting that they are just guardians or stewards of the land for future generations, and while it might be tempting (particularly for city-dwellers) to write this off as a sentimental cliché, in a perfect farming world we would all be able to farm this way. Anyway, I digress…
When I was a child, my parents had a crack at farming Angora goats, which are well known for their fine mohair fibre. That was back in the heady 80s, when all the fashion magazines were full of bright (ok, often fluoro) patterned mohair sweaters (remember the batwings?). Now nobody knits any more, and the magazines are full of wonderful things to do with food and cooking, including, of course, goats’ cheese. So while we are farming a different type of goat, it’s been wonderful to see these beautiful animals back on the farm and to be able to put to good use many of the shelters and sheds my father built over thirty years ago. Luckily this year we have had a fairly mild winter, but the southerly cuts a brutal swathe through the Wairarapa, with winds blasting directly off the Kaikoura Ranges, so our solid sheds and barns are an absolute necessity, especially during kidding in volatile spring conditions.
One of the lovely things about goats is their temperament, which is much more like that of cows than sheep. Where sheep are scatty and boisterous, requiring some small measure of skill, not to mention dogs and bikes and a fair bit of arm-waving, to successfully round them up, dairy goats are docile, inquisitive and biddable. They can be easily enticed with a call and a handful of nuts, if they haven’t already wandered over to check you out and nibble your gumboots. This is obviously hugely helpful at milking time, but it is also one of the lovely things about running goats that I remember from my childhood. While I wouldn’t say we’d come full circle back to goat farming, the path does feel like it has a slightly elliptical course.
I guess that having grown up on a farm surrounded by animals and now having my own animals on that same farm has meant that my goat-raising learning curve has not been too steep. I have family close by for advice and assistance, beautiful, well-sited paddocks with good fencing and (most importantly) a very patient husband to help with sick animals, de-horning, transporting, milking and construction works amongst other things! Without this family support and advice, I just don’t think The Drunken Nanny would have come into existence.