“Ring Around The Blackberries” and “Catch Me If You Can!”…Ah the games goats will play!

The goats have been pretty well-behaved since fall has arrived. Down in my shade garden, there is an old apple tree that produces little yellow apples with the perfect combination of sweet apples, and tart apples. I don’t mean that each apple has a sweet/tart flavor. I mean the apple will either be nice and sweet, or nice and tart. I keep telling myself I should fertilize the tree, and treat it to prevent pests, but I always forget.

Until we got goats, the local deer would stop by in the night to load up on the apples in my yard, before vanishing completely in time for me to get out of a warm bed to head into the woods to unsuccessfully hunt them down for a freezer full of venison.

The goats love the apples. It seems they can tell how the apple with taste by its smell, because they carefully sniff the hundreds of apples on the ground before selecting one to happily crunch up.

Apparently, a rumen is much larger than a stomach, because these goats can sure put the apples away! What’s more, they eventually decide they want grass, and forage as well. Now you may not know this, but I am a BIG guy, and I can put away the groceries…but these goats can certainly out eat me!

These days, the choice apples are getting fewer, and further between, so the goats get a taste for other menu items after less time than they did when the apples were plentiful, and fresh. It starts out slowly. One goat will head off on his own while the other two are still fighting for the best apples.

If it is Billy, he will wander off into the tree line at the edge of the property most of the time. Once in there he samples the many varieties of browse he discovers. Small pines, young poplars, various dried weeds, roses, raspberries, ferns, and poison ivy likely make up the bulk of it

When Billy is in the tree line the other two will ignore him for the most part, and join him once in a while. If he heads up the hill into the blackberry patch, he will catch Kramer’s attention, and Kramer will make a run for it. Most of the time Kramer will be happy to munch in the part of the yard that once was filled with wildflowers, but has since given way to milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, golden rod, and the occasional wild aster.

If Kramer is the first to tire of apples, he will do the same thing every time. He will act like he is interested in the blackberry patch, and will get just out of reach of the person sitting in the pathway to the shade garden, before bolting up to the old wild wildflower garden.

Likely his intent was to browse up there, and enjoy something other than apples, but instead he has caused a stampede. Billy, somehow knowing Kramer has moved on, will charge out through the underbrush of the tree line, and head straight for the person stationed at the path, not even trying to avoid them. He is going fast enough that he knows he can avoid them. If that person is me, he knows that I know that he has armed himself with the neurotoxin, Urushoil, and that after the attack I suffered last month, I am likely to avoid a physical confrontation, unless I am left with no other choice.

Likely, his intent is to nibble on the leaves still remaining on the blackberry plants, but Smeck, who would most likely prefer to stay down in the apples for the entire time he is out grazing, is positive that the other two goats are getting chicken feed, or goat grain, and he finishes up the stampede.

Soon all three goats, who really would be content to graze on their own, are positive that the other two are going to get something they won’t. It could be chicken feed, goat feed, apples, or even just plain old grass, but it makes no difference to them! If the others are eating something, it must be better than what they are eating, and it must be sampled!

Since I have already harvested all the grapes I wanted for eating and jelly, and since the hens currently only get as much chicken feed as they can eat immediately after I have penned the goats back up, there is no real reason to monitor them closely. In the whole yard there are only six young fruit trees, and a small lilac that the goats are not allowed to eat , so keeping them out of the road is the primary concern. The goats can roam as they like, and battle over whatever they want.

Sometimes they decide they want to head back to the pen, and sometimes I decide it is time for them to head back. Mostly, the decision is mine. I’m not sure when it happened, but the goats have gotten very good at keeping out of their pen until they decide they are ready!

Earlier in the year, it was far from easy, but it certainly wasn’t the hassle that it is now! Before, all you had to do was make sure the gate into the main yard was closed, and you stationed a person between the post to the garden, and the blackberry patch. As long as the person in that position was skilled in the use of a “HEP!” Stick, it was pretty easy for a second person armed with a “HEP!” Stick of their own to herd the goats into the open gate of their pen. Occasionally one of them would slip past, and then it was a simple matter of letting them go, and closing the gate behind the other two. Then, all you had to do was track down the last remaining goat and snap a dog leash onto his collar, and lead him back to the pen.

Kramer is almost always in the pen first. If there is a hold out, it will almost always be Billy or Smeck. You can even put Kramer in the pen while the other two are still out, and as long as you get Smeck on a leash, Billy will follow.
If they really are not ready to go back in, all you had to do was bribe them with chicken feed, or goat feed. Most of the time, taking the cover off the galvanized trash can that serves as a grain bin will do the trick. They will come running from where ever they are, and jostle for position to be sure and they get the most grain. Typically, I will just grab the bag, and the goats will follow me to the pen, and waltz on through the open gate. Then, all you have to do is give them some grain, and that is the end of it.

Now what I think has happened, is that a belly full of apples makes a treat of grain not so appealing. Freedom is much more fun! Especially if you are the last goat out! Then you have your choice of anything in the yard to eat, without the worry about another goat stealing it from you, or driving you away from it!

The other day, Smeck was the last goat out. I lured Kramer and Billy into the pen with a handful of chicken feed. Smeck followed them to the open gate of the pen, but would NOT follow them in. Jen, pushed and shoved, but she could not manage to get him into the pen.

I came out to assist her, but he bolted before I could get there, and headed back down to the apples. I told Jen to be ready with the gate, and that I would drive him up through the gap between the blackberries, and the fence post. I headed down through the old wildflower garden, down the path to the shade garden.

The way this area is set up, is the shade garden is down in the north eastern corner of our lot. Slightly to the west the garden has an entry between some roses, and raspberries. That opening leads to the back yard. The southern path into the shade garden, facing north, has young poplars and wildflowers on the right along the border of our property, and a large blackberry patch on the left that grows between the path and the gate to the goat pen. That patch extends to the corner post of the goat pen, with a small opening to the back yard below. The entire patch is about twenty feet long, and up to 8 feet deep. So going from the goat pen to the apple tree is a big loop with the blackberry patch in the middle.

I get down there, and shoo Smeck out into the back yard, and then up the hill toward the pen. As expected, he went up through the gap to Jen. Jen tried to shoo him into the pen, and he darted past her through the blackberries, and stopped at the grain bin. I snatched a leash off the side of the goat pen, and headed over to him, thinking it would be easy to snap the lead on him, and get him in the pen. I get about 2 feet from him, and he ran! Something he has never done!

I follow him back down to the apples, and again try to get a leash on him, and again he runs! He shouts “SO LONG FAT BOY!” and sprints up toward the old wild flower garden. So I follow him up, and try to shoo him towards Jen again. He heads toward her, and she is ready with a “HEP!” Stick, and it looks like she is going to get him into the pen.

I hadn’t quite made it to her, to help shove him in, but she had him by the collar, and was trying to pull, and push him in. That was about the time that Kramer and Billy finished off the small amount of chicken feed I had given them, and decided to push their way out of the pen! Now all three of them are out again, and they start calling to me!

“What’s the matter old man??? Getting tired???”

“Hey Chubby!!! Come get me! I won’t run! PSHYCH!”

“Hey! You better slow down Fat Boy! You look like you’re gonna pop a blood vessel or something!”

Kramer is conned back in easily with the lure of some more chicken feed. Billy has followed Smeck into the back yard, and they are munching grass. As I approach, they run into the shade garden to the apples. I manage to grab Billy, and slip the leash on him, but before I can grab him, Smeck runs off again!

I was getting pretty tired of playing “Ring-a-Round The Blackberries”, but to make things interesting, Billy decides to set his hooves, and makes me drag him along, all the while hacking, choking, and screaming at Smeck to “Go on without me Bro! I’ll hold him back as long as I can!

Last time I went through, I had left the cover off the chicken feed, and as I had hoped, Smeck was up there checking it out. What he didn’t know, was that I had taken the grain bag out, and left it by the goat pen.

I got Billy up the path into the wildflower garden and headed toward the space in the fence. There is a fence separating the wildflower garden, and the side lawn. Then running toward the blackberry patch there is another fence separating the lawn from the area outside the goat pen with a gate in it. Eventually there will be an electric fence, and a gate in that small area, but I can’t seem to manage the simple art of electric fencing. The gate to the lawn is closed. I am coming up through the gap between the fence and the blackberries with Billy, and Smeck has nowhere to go.

I tell Jen to give the grain bag a little rattle, and as I hoped, Billy gives up his dramatic struggle, and makes a bee line for the goat pen, and also as I hoped, Smeck figured Billy was going to get something that he wanted too, and followed me into the pen, where Jen closed us in!

Once the goats were safely back in their pen, it only took me about 10 minutes, and a lot of poking with a “HEP!” Stick to keep the goats at bay long enough for me to get out of the pen!

Looks like I need to add installing a double gate system to the goat pen like they have in dog parks, to my ever-increasing list of things to do around the yard! At the rate I am going, I should be finished by sometime in 2017!

Me keeping watch, "HEP!" Stick at the ready, in the path to the shade garden in front of me, as the goats munch happily on fallen apples.

Me keeping watch, “HEP!” Stick at the ready, in the path to the shade garden in front of me, as the goats munch happily on fallen apples.


Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.