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Whitmore Farm's Rules for Feeding Chickens if You Have Goats. . .

Will Marrow

RULE #1: Be very, very quite . . .

I'm starting the morning rounds. It's my favorite part of the day. The mornings are crisp this time of year. There is a heavy dew on the pasture. I'm energized by my morning cup of coffee. My clothes are still clean. I get to notice which plants are leafing out after their long winter slumber.

Texas Pete

All the animals are happy to see me. I am the start of their daily rhythm. The sound of the barn door being opened, the banging of the metal dog bowls as I fill all six of them, one by one, water running from the faucet as I prepare milk for the bottle babies, these are the sounds that announce my presence and the start of a new day. This usually results in an immediate cacophony of animal sounds that can only be interpreted as "feed me." Every creature, large and small, has a sound it makes when it is hungry. I now know that sound for sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and dogs. Hearing them all at once, during the most peaceful time of the day, is not the first choice of music one would pick to accompany a sunrise in a bucolic setting. Imagine being the only waiter in a full restaurant, where each table has people that speak a different language, and they all start shouting for your attention, simultaneously, in their native tongue. Well, even the most patient of us would feel a little pressure.

Animals are creatures of habit. I think the goats think that their bleating actually results in my opening the gate to the next paddock for a new day of grazing. The pigs squealing think their squeal is what motivates me to bring them fresh milk. The chickens clucking think that their clucking is why I open the door to let them out for the day. But, in reality, it's the other way around. Or is it?

I try to prolong that window of tranquility, that peaceful start to a new day, that calm before the storm of nonstop farm chores as long as possible. The only way to do this is to delay detection by being very, very quiet.

This is especially true for today. Today is Friday, the day we refill the chicken feeders. Sounds innocent enough, eh? A simple farm chore. Well, it involves getting several hundred pounds of chicken feed past the goats in the pasture into the feeders inside the mobile coop in the middle of the pasture. Picture putt-putt golf where all the obstacles are moving and there are no rules.

I used to be able to make it to the gate undetected without any problems. That was when I used a cart to haul feed around the farm. Now that I have a John Deer Gator, my arrival is announced long before I reach the gate. I'm lucky this morning. The goats are on the opposite side of the pasture from the chicken coop. And, being Tennessee Fainting goats, they are not the fastest runners. I actually have a decent chance of getting to the coop before the goats. I quickly hop off the Gator, open the latch, throw open the gate, jump back into the gator and floor it! My left leg is still hanging off the side of the Gator, my right foot has the gas pedal all the way to the metal. I try to navigate the stumps I keep meaning to grind out and the ground hog holes I keep meaning to fill. Hitting one of those full speed in a Gator full of chicken feed would not be good.

RULE #2: Put your hands up, over your head . . .

I arrive at the chicken coop about 30 feet ahead of the goats. I have seconds to jump out, open the coop and get to the bed of the Gator. As soon as I get to the bed of the Gator, the goats arrive like a school of fish and quickly engulf the Gator. There are goats of every color and every size everywhere. Small kids that were born a few months ago, large and mature does, white ones, black ones, brown ones, red ones, long haired ones, short haired ones, polled ones, and ones with horns. They've blocked the pedals and steering wheel, climbed onto the seats, and they are now in the bed of the Gator. They have surrounded me and the Gator at least six goats deep. Had I not gotten to the bed of the Gator before the goats arrived, I would have had to body surf over the crowd to reach the 5 gallon buckets of chicken feed in the bed of the Gator.

Once I have a bucket of chicken feed firmly in hand, I quickly place it on top of my head, much like you see African women in those National Geographic photos. Okay, well I'm not as pretty as those African women, and it's an old drywall bucket, not a hand woven basket, but you get the picture. I shimmy my way thru the goat mosh pit to the chicken coop door that I have already unlatched. With my hands over my head, all the while hoping and praying that Abbey, the most determined and clever goat, doesn't jump on me front feet first in an attempt to get me to drop the bucket. I can handle her front feet on my rear end, but it's the other side I'm worried about. This is not a hypothetical scenario.

I pour the feed into the wall mounted feeder. The sound of pouring grain against metal excites the goats even more. A small amount always spills in the process. That's okay. It distracts the frenzy of heads, horns, and feet momentarily away from me and to the ground as the goats clamor to try and get the morsels on the ground. I firmly believe that ADM has genetically spliced crack-cocaine into corn. It invokes a delirium and frenzy in goats unparalleled by any other feedstuff I know. And, trust me, our animals are well fed and they aren't acting like this because they are especially hungry.

RULE #3: Don't run over the goat . . .

Using my knees, I wedge myself thru the crowd of goats and back to the Gator. I physically remove all the goats from the bed and chase them off the front seats. I quickly start the Gator and assess my escape route options. All the commotion has piqued the curiosity of the sheep, and now they are coming to investigate what all the excitement is about. There are a lot more sheep than goats. I need to get out of here. This is probably the most difficult part. I have to drive the Gator out of the crowd of goats. Not just any goats but a crowd of Tennessee Fainting goats. This means when they get excited they fall over. A loud diesel engine and a screaming hand waving farmer get them excited. I have to get all the goats off the Gator, run around the Gator in a full circle to make sure there are no goats under the Gator, shoo them away from the wheels, jump into the driver's seat and pull forward and hope nobody faints in the process lying down near any of the six wheels. Oh, and there is no horn on a Gator. I keep meaning to write John Deer and tell them about this serious design flaw. I mean, really, how could they have not thought of this situation?

I manage to extract myself and the Gator from the crowd without running over any goats and head back to the gate at full speed. As I look over my shoulder, I see the more experienced animals chasing after the Gator. The more experienced, i.e. mature, goats don't scare as easily and therefore don't faint as much. I easily reach the gate, jump off the Gator, open the gate, jump back into the Gator, drive thru, jump off the Gator and close the gate before the first goat makes it to the gate. Mission accomplished! There should be a reality show where contestants are timed for this task. Maybe Survivor would be interested.

RULE #4: Smile and be happy . . .

All things considered, Tennessee Fainting goats are much easier to manage than other breeds of goats. They have a condition called myotonia congenita which interferes with the re-absorption of a neurotransmitter released in the muscle tissue when the animal is excited or scared. They don't actually faint or lose consciousness. Their muscles simply tighten and they don't release for about 15 seconds. This causes the animals, particularly the young animals, to lose their balance and fall over, sometimes with all four legs straight up in the air. The condition is not painful. They know this because the same condition occurs in humans, horses, and dogs.

The contraction and delayed relaxation of muscle tissue results in increased muscling. Think of what a body builder does when lifting weights in the gym. They flex (i.e., contract) their muscle and then release (i.e., relax) their muscle, repeatedly. That is why the Tennessee Fainting goat is known as a meat breed.

Tennessee Fainting goats were first discovered in Tennessee in the 19th century. They are a landrace breed, meaning a breed that evolved in a specific geographic region adapted to the natural and cultural environment in which they lived, in this case, Tennessee. Landrace breeds have a more diverse appearance than the uniform, modern breeds that most of us typically think of today, where each animal is supposed to look identical. This means that Tennessee Fainting goats come in all different colors and sizes, coat lengths, and horned or polled status. The miniature, long-haired variety has become particularly popular as pets. They are sometimes called Miniature Fainting Silkies. Watch out, Paris Hilton may soon be spotted with one!

In addition to the increased muscling the myotonia congenita reduces the animals desire to climb. Perhaps they don't want to fall if they can't get up. As a practical matter, that means they don't climb fences, gates, or expensive automobiles. We've all heard stories about how difficult it can be to fence in a goat, or of coming out of the house to see three goats on the hood of your car. That won't happen with Tennessee Fainting goats.

Tennessee Fainting goats are not as large as Boer goats, the dominant, industry meat goat breed, but they have better parasite resistance, mothering abilities (I rarely ever have to assist in birthing) ,and don't require as much feed.

Not many people realize that goat is the number one meat consumed worldwide. Compared to beef it is lower in cholesterol and fat and has a smaller carbon footprint. And, it tastes great! With the summer barbeque season just around the corner, you should consider goat hamburgers as a refreshing alternative to beef. Just tell your friends and family it's chevon or cabrito. It sounds better than "goat."

Read other articles by William Marrow

Willliam Morrow
Whitmore Farm
Emmitsburg, MD