Posted 20th Jun 2017
We spent a day in the bucolic Devon countryside, on the Penborn Goat Farm, learning how to become a goat-keeper. Here's what we learned…
A warm welcome awaits you when you arrive at Penborn Goat Farm - not just from owner Peter Oldfield, but from his trusty canine sidekick Molly too! Peter has been keeping goats for many years and has won numerous awards for them. He specialises in mostly Golden Guernsey and Pygmy goats. His practical, down-to-earth approach, and vast experience, makes Peter an expert, and jovial, tutor.
Our day started in Peter's kitchen where, over a cup of coffee (with fresh goat's milk, of course), we discussed what I hoped to get from the day. Peter began by talking me through the different breeds of goats available in the UK and what their particular traits were; whether they were best for milk, meat or fibre, and what sort of milk yield one could expect from them. We discussed the best ways to source goats and what to look for when buying new stock from a breeder.
Then it was off to the goat sheds to meets Peter's herd. Inside I found a very friendly bunch of nannies and kids, all very keen to come up and greet me. These gentle, calm creatures are really a joy to be with. Our practical session began by getting to meet the goats in their pens and looking at the type of housing they require. Peter pointed out the necessary elements to look for when building a goat shed and how to create a goat-friendly environment inside, with pens that the goats can see each other from, suitable feeders, salt licks and access to water, as well as the type of bedding they require. Next, I learned about how to look for the signs of a healthy goat, checking teeth, eyes, feet and udders. Peter showed me how to treat goats for lice, then how to administer medication using both a drench and a syringe. Goats need to have their feet trimmed regularly, so Peter demonstrated how to do this correctly, as well as how to look for signs of the kinds of foot ailments that goats can be susceptible to.
Then we crossed the yard to say hello to his impressive group of billy goats - another friendly bunch who all wandered over to say hello. We let them out of their pens and they trotted merrily out into their field for some fresh air. Meanwhile, the nannies and their kids made their way out to their pasture. Peter has built them a mini-mountain to climb and play on, as well as providing them with old tyres and piles of wood to clamber over, which they obviously love. Enrichment is important for goats, and Peter explains how to create a fun, amusing environment for them.
We head back to Peter's kitchen for a delicious lunch and, while we're eating, we chat away about the type of food goats need, how much and how often to give it. We discuss how to buy in and feed hay and silage and Peter points out the plants which are poisonous to goats which you need to be aware of on your property.
On the subject of food, Peter explains about how to feed goats in order to produce a good milk yield and how to condition score them to ensure they are not over or underfed.
Then it's time to head back to the goat shed for a bit more hands-on practice. Peter shows me the correct way to milk a goat - gently squeezing the teats between your fingers and thumb - never pulling or tugging. He makes it look so easy! Then it's my turn. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but eventually I get into my stride. It's tremendously calming sitting beside a goat, your head resting gently on its side, feeling the warmth of its body and hearing the gentle squirt of the milk as it hits the pail. You can't really see what you're doing when milking goat, so it's mostly done by touch. Nevertheless, if done correctly, it's quite a bonding experience between milker and goat. On the way back to the house, Peter tells me about the correct types of fencing to use with goats, to ensure they stay safely in their paddock, including stock fencing requirements and the pros and cons of electric fencing. With goats, it's mostly cons, as they can easily become entangled in it.
Back in the kitchen, I get to try the fresh goats milk, and it's truly delicious. Peter talks about the properties of goats milk and how to store it correctly. It's becoming an increasingly popular choice, especially with those allergic to cow's milk. Over afternoon coffee, Peter explains the five freedoms which all animals are entitled to and how they apply to goat keeping:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
- Freedom from fear and distress
We end the course on the topic of buying goats for a smallholding, how many should you buy to start with and what's the right ratio of males to females, nannies to kids etc. We also briefly discuss breeding and artificial insemination, although for many beginner goat-keepers this is something they needn't worry about until they are more experienced. After a thoroughly enjoyable day, it was eventually time to for me to leave. With a copy of Peter's book, Goat-keeping without the Nonsense, under my arm it was time to say goodbye to Peter, Molly and his gorgeous goats, and head back into the beautiful Devon countryside, armed with enough knowledge to keep my own goats one day.
Peter Oldfield runs a number of goat-keeping courses throughout the year, including dairy goat-keeping, meat goat-keeping and goat husbandry. Run on a small group basis, you'll get lots of hands-on experience. You can also book one-to-one and small group courses on dates to suit you if you can't make it to the dates below:
2-day Dairy goat-keeping:
24th & 25th June 2017
26th & 27th August 2017
7th & 8th October 2017
6th August 2017
2nd July 2017
1st October 2017
Courses run from 10am-4pm
Cost from £95 per person per day, including lunch, refreshments and a copy of Peter's book Goat-keeping without the Nonsense.
For details or to book visit www.penborngoats.com
Feature by Anna-Lisa De'Ath