Positive reinforcement of good behaviour has really worked wonders in resolving one of my goat’s undesirable habits (butting me for attention and cuddles, butting when I remove food bowls, repetitive bleating for attention).
Positive reinforcement is rewarding a goat when she behaves well and is coupled with negative punishment, which means removing rewards if she is naughty. Before I tried pushing her away if she started to butt, pointing my finger and saying “no”. It stopped her butting but she soon started up again. Now, instead of giving her any kind of attention when she butts, I just walk away calmly (removing cuddles and any interaction). Then I make a point of going up to her and giving her a good cuddle when she is quiet and calm. If she lets me stroke another goat at the same time, then she gets a longer and more thorough cuddle. If she chases the other goat away, I stop.
Goat ownership can be rewarding if we go into it with our eyes open and having done our research. Goats have their own specific needs. We need to be sure we can fulfill at least the five welfare needs defined by the RSPCA and UK Animal Welfare Act 2006.
appropriate nutrition (clean water, fibrous diet with correct nutrient balance);
suitable environment (safe, comfortable shelter and pasture or yard);
the ability to express normal species behaviour (browsing, socializing, scratching, climbing, foraging, resting, escaping, exercising, playing);
the right social environment (a herd of familiar goats);
protection from pain, sickness, injury, and suffering.
In this video, Sean Wensley, senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, explains how we need to consider life from our pets’ point of view in order to provide for their welfare. Great advice for any species and to consider before taking on any animal! The video is kindly brought to us by the University of Edinburgh copyright CC-BY-NC-ND.
The time is right for cutting nettles and drying them out in the sun to make hay for winter feed. Goats don’t eat nettles at the moment, but once they are dried they make nutritious hay, so I cut them and save them for winter. Later in the year, in July, when they are tall and aging, the goats will eat the nettles in situ. Alternatively, you can cut them and leave them in the sun and the goats will eat them once wilted.
One of my kids now stars in her own children’s story about the life of goats, keeping goats and understanding them. This Kindle e-book looks at how goat kids socialize and communicate, and how best to approach them. Culminating in a short story, this download features colour photographs of Happy as she grows up, with simple and more detailed pop-up texts to be read by an adult, or by an older child. My target age is 3 to 7, but I’m told it’s good for adults too!
Spring is springing and so are the goats! They are at last finding grass interesting again. However, beware too much fresh grass may cause digestive upsets! Send out your goats on a stomach of hay to aid digestion of all that sweet, new grazing. Continual access to hay racks, water and a mineral lick is advisable to allow goats to balance their diet according to own their good senses. A tub of loose bicarbonate of soda is appreciated and helps the digestion of damp, sweet grass. I leave them one daily until they get used to the new growth.
Coppicing is a great way to gain firewood from your own trees, and the goats are always keen to help. Late winter is a good time to coppice while trees are still dormant. However nutritious buds and catkins have already formed, and goats are only too happy to benefit by nibbling the ends of the felled twigs.
So before chopping branches up for kindling, we pile them up in the field and let the goats browse them for tasty morsels. As well as buds and catkins, goats strip the bark with relish. Sweet chestnut is especially desirable and beneficial. This is a super fibrous food source at a time when other forage has died down. It not only helps their diet, but provides them with hours of entertainment!
The International Society of Livestock Husbandry is working on a website with advice from the latest research into goat needs and behaviour. The German version already promises some great ideas and recommendations to help us manage our goats in the most harmonious and stress-free ways. Translation into English is underway.
Leaves from trees and bushes are the favourite natural food for goats and best for their digestion. As they start to fall from the trees, goats enjoy gathering them up from under the trees, so make excellent drive clearers. It’s wonderfully calming to take them for a walk along the drive in the morning: me sipping coffee, while they hoover up the leaves. Make sure your drive is fenced or you have hurdles or electric netting to stop them wandering off into the garden or road.