Listen Now
Pledge Now


Magnetic North - January 10, 2019


Magnetic North  -  by Vicki Biggs-Anderson 
January 10, 2019

"Too Much of a Goat Thing"

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where all creatures, great and small, have been dutifully preparing for deep winter snow and below zero cold for months. Oh, not by stocking up on flashlights, or making sure there’s a shovel by every door, but by physically preparing to meet and beat the elements  - I speak not of exercise, but of the age-old custom of carb loading, handed down to us from our elders, who looked upon being slender as a sign of either poverty or illness.

Thank goodness times have changed. From hot dishes to pasties, to pasta and breads in all shapes and sizes and textures, we consume what we must to survive the elements.

And for those of us who tend critters, thought must also be given to their diet, along with deeper hay to sleep in and heated water buckets for all. 

As luck would have it, carb loading for critters doesn’t mean that I have to prepare hot dishes or bake focaccia for them daily. No, it just means adding something called “scratch” to the chicken, duck and goose feeders. And....until this winter, offering a handful of the stuff to each of my five goats as they push and shove each other around their daily ration of hay.

Scratch, for those of you who are not conversant in farm-speak, is a toothsome combination of cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats. Sounds rather dull to us, I know, but to a chicken or goat, scratch is akin to what we humans call “crack.” One beak full of the stuff and you have created a glassy-eyed addict. As for the goats, more than once I’ve been caught in a  goat vortex while doling scratch from a bucket. 

So, why not just pour it into a feeder? Simple, unlike birds, for goats, too grain doesn’t make them fat. It makes them dead.
Sadly, grain is inherently foreign to a goats’ fiber loving digestive system, which consists of four stomachs, the first of which is the rumen. Hence, goats, sheep and cows are......ruminants! 

As anyone with tummy trouble can imagine, having four stomachs puts goats at major risk of eating the wrong thing, like grain. They can have a bit of it to add calories to their fibrous hay diets in winter, but  too much and they develop a fatal condition called bloat. Sadly, my milk goat, Hart, died of it some years back, after she sneaked into the garage and nosed open the feed can filled to the brim with scratch. 

Nevertheless, this year, I decided that instead of handfuls of scratch each day, the goats would get Goat Chow, an all purpose grain and fiber in pellet form. My motive; to avoid dealing with 60 bales of hay in the garage.

And so it was. I set out three big feeding tubs on the other side of the backyard yard fence and poured enough goat chow int each to feed five goats. And doing so,  nearly killed my big boy goat, Bosco.

You see, Bosco is Boss, King, Almighty Goat God to his four does. And, as such, he eats first. That meant that he gobbled most of the grain in all three feeders, the equivalent of four coffee cans full of food. I knew his piggish streak, but for whatever reason, I didn’t’ monitor the new feeding system thinking that  I’d placed the tubs far enough apart to allow the does to feed uninterrupted by Bosco. I couldn’t have been more wrong...

The next morning, when I looked out on the meadow I saw something amiss immediately. Four goats, not five, were nibbling on the dried grasses sticking up through the snow. Bunny, Bitsy, Biscuit, and Poppy, but no Bosco.

After calling and calling him, I hoofed it out to the barn only to find the big link sitting down. The old adage, “when a goat goes down, they stay down,” went through my mind as I petted his head and put my head next to his belly.  The usual gurgling of a healthy rumen was barely perceptible. Bloat.

So I did what 28  years of having to vet goats myself have taught me to do. I grabbed a Sven saw and headed for the willow swamp off the driveway, where I sawed down a smallish tree -and hauled it out to Bosco. The other goats followed behind me into the barn, and I expected to have to beat them off the tree en route, but not one of them tried to steal the medicine tree away from their guy. 

When Bosco took that first sweet twig into his mouth and began to eat it, I held out the slimmest of hope that he would pull through.

And pull through he did. As if to allay my worst fears, Bosco was standing at the fence at sunrise the next morning, a bit early for him to be up but I figure he was after more of that grain. Fortunately, I was able to get a special delivery of sweet, green hay that afternoon and Bosco and his girls have had their fill of it each day ever since. There is no way a goat can OD on hay.

The other critters are tucked in for winter properly, with some comfort additions to the coop and the shed attached to the garage. The bantam chickens have a heated water bowl this winter and an anteroom all to themselves - no ducks to muddy the water. The ducks and geese have a ten-gallon heated water bucket, too massive for even Thema and Louise, the big Buffs Geese to knock over. These two heated additions may drive up my electric bill, but doing a cost/benefit analysis, so crucial for women of a certain age like myself, I decided that avoiding lower back strain from carrying frozen water buckets is worth every penny spent.

At least, it WAS until my big lab/golden mix tore his left back ACLl AND tested positive for Lymes. Apparently, ticks live and bite all year long now. So one visit to the vet and two to go, plus meds to clear up the Lymes, is making me reassess the cost of heated water buckets. My core could definitely use some work and as for those upper arms, well, three months of bucket workouts should whittle down those flab flaps just a bit.

My world is complicated by such ups and downs because I chose to share the place I love most of all with so many domestic critters, who, like us, get sick or gimped up on occasion.

But for my trouble, I get fresh eggs, cashmere fleece from the goats, angora fiber from the rabbits and love approaching worship from the two dogs and two cats. From my perspective, that’s one heck of a deal and far more interesting and joy-filled life than I ever dreamed would one day be mine.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.