Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ah, to be in NW Pennsylvania, in the Springtime...with goats!


It’s spring, and everything is bursting with life, kind of. It’s actually been very cold and wet and here we are a few weeks before when the gardens are supposed to go in, and I haven’t planted most of the stuff that says “plant in spring, as soon as you can work the soil”. The soil has been constantly wet, and with the high content of clay we have in the soil, it’s better not to touch it. I did rent a rototiller for a day and got the main gardens turned over. I wanted to break up some sod to add a wildflower patch, but it rained the second day I had the tiller and that was that.

I like having the truck, because I never would have been able to just on a whim decide to throw a tiller in the back of the car. Also, we bought a load of bulk mulch which was so cheap it was practically free, but again with the car, you need prebagged and they won’t just dump a yard of topsoil in the back of the car with a front loader.

A properly concealed garden border

We had just enough nice weather to complete a new garden project. When we moved in, there was this decorative rail fence right next to the driveway. There were some rose bushes and a few flowers there, but mostly it had been overrun with some angelica that had been used as some kind of ground cover. I’ve been fighting with that darn stuff, but also the garden was too close to the drive, and gravel was wandering in and and topsoil was wandering out. I’m fairly shy of garden edging, because I’ve seen too many gardens where the edging was not place into the ground deeply enough and was there, just flopping around on the surface. I gave in, though and we placed some garden edging around what we now call the “hitching post” to keep it straight from the snake rail fence that we put in on the other side of the yard. A lot of the plants, like tulips and daffodils were kept in place. Last year, I reduced the among of angelica and pulled up a lot of roots, but I need to get going on that. So, right now, we have a mix of mostly bulbs and the garden is probably going to keeps it’s role as an overflow for any annuals that don’t fit in with the strictly annual garden at the side of the house.

My plants are doing quite terribly. The cold weather kept them indoors much longer than usual, and when I finally got the greenhouse pitched, we of course had a patch of the only warm weather we’ve had since last September. We had 80 and 90 degree temperatures and high winds which caused the plants to tip over because they were all spindly and weak from not enough light inside, and then the sun baked them. The biggest loss was some red onion plants which ha been damping off and the polygonum which luckily had enough seeds in the pan that had not sprouted that have sprouted since then that I will have plenty to dress up the rail fence garden with this year.

Since then, the weather has been quite awful. Cold and windy. Last Saturday my greenhouse actually blew down with a lot of plants inside. Only a few things were a total loss, but some of the peppers were scrambled and the cabbages that I replanted after the hot weather killed them were also smashed. Ah well, maybe this fall. I need a permanent green house, but I’ll have to get it someone impractical, possibly in the same area we are clearing for the orchard, mostly because I don’t want to block the view from the upper yard.

We’ve had an ongoing battle with some kind of upper respiratory infection with our cats this year. The poor things are so inbred they don’t have good immune systems and the four new kittens are all suffering. One of last year’s cats died, but everyone else seems to be suffering from the snuffles and that’s it, except one of our house cats Boots who has been sick off and on. But the puppies are healthy and big and getting better behaved all the time. My sister swears little Spencer is my old dog Zora reincarnated, but think that Weimaraners have a distinctive personality, and even though he’s a mix he has that great prance and that not so great constant hypervigilant thing going on where every noise is something he needs to either chase after or stare at, poor little guy.

We also got the goats sheared, which is always a task. Here’s Matty with his new short coat. He's a little knicked up, but the spots on him are red kote and not blood, which is like industrial strength Bactine plus dye for livestock. The goats are usually pretty easy to take care of except for shearing. They weigh about 120 pounds apiece and they do not want to get sheared. My sister’s husband’s cousins just got some goats and asked if I would shear them, and I said I would loan them the shears and cheerlead. I talk to goat people all the time, and they make it seem like shearing angoras is not a big deal, but I’ve also discovered that my goats are a smidge bigger than average. I have runty cats and giant goats.

A lot of people get into goats kind of by accident. I know that we did. The idea was to get some to eat down the brush in our friend’s horse pasture. You’d need a lot of goats to eat down that much brush, though, and the goats like landscaping a lot better. They are little escape artists, too. Mostly you just have to feed them, but they also need to have their hooves trimmed, ideally about once a month. Unlike horses, goat hooves can be done without calling in a professional. you can even do them with a good pair of garden trimmers, though we also keep a set of hoof nippers.

if a goat’s toes get too long, the stress on their joints can give them arthritis You can also control foot problems by giving the goats some rocks to stand on an walk on in the pasture to grind down the hooves a little. Other than catching and holding the goats down, the hoof trimming is not that much more than trimming your own toenails.

Around here, it’s so wet the goats constantly battle hoof rot. In the case of hoof rot, trim away as much of the rotten and damaged hoof as possible, even to the point where the hoof may start to bleed. There are a lot of hoof rot products on the market, you just need something with a drying agent and a little antiseptic. The stuff we use comes in a bottle with a little spout you can shoot right up into the hoof. If possible keep the goat in a dry, clear area for a while after treating the foot, and do it daily until there’s improvement. After the foot is trimmed back, I usually give the goats sa snack on the driveway and just shoot hoof rot treatment on their feet while they’re standing around and don’t bother to try and throw them down.

Goats are nice little creatures with lots of personality. They can do some damage to your favorite trees and flowers and the plants in your garden and your house plants and your car. they also live a long time, about 10-15 years. I would much rather someone get a cat or dog on a whim than a goat because of the difficulty of getting hooved animal rescue, but I do like the goats, and they are a great pets because they are low maintenance in the main and getting an ill advised goat is loads better than getting an ill advised horse!