Mucking Out the Goat Barn*
Our local newspaper has a daily page of puzzles: a Crossword Puzzle, Sodoku, the Jumble, and the Cryptoquote. I do them all, but the Cryptoquote is my favorite. It might say something like CZBN OF N LEEP PEL. When you match up the letters to the ones in the quote, that translates as BELA IS A GOOD DOG. (Bela Barktalk is our Vizsla named for a Unitarian composer.) Part of the fun is reading the quote after you get it figured out.
One of the more memorable quotes was something like, “Turn the wheelbarrow in the direction you plan to take it before filling it up.” Memorable, perhaps, because part of my morning routine is cleaning out the horse and goat stalls…and because from time to time I forget to turn the wheelbarrow in the right direction.
Horse stalls are easy. You just lift out the big clumps of horse poop with a specially designed fork and the stall bedding sifts through to the ground. Plop the turds into the wheelbarrow and roll it to the compost pile. Goats, however, do not leave clumpy piles, unless they are overworking their rumen. Their tidy and not-too-smelly poops are more like deer pellets, and they defy being lifted by any commercially marketed instrument. So in the winter, I use a large dust pan in combination with a cat litter scoop to get as many little goat berries as I can from the top of the straw bedding, and then sprinkle straw or waste hay on the wet spots. (Goats bite off big blobs of hay, and then turn their heads and drop a lot on the ground as they chomp on it. They are too picky to eat anything off the ground, hence the term, “waste hay.”)
In the summer, we clear out the straw and use a fine rock dust, which is easier to sweep in a pile and sift using the cat litter scoop or a screen box (sort of like mining for gold). No straw. No pine-chip bedding. Just the rock dust. After getting the little poopies out of it, we spray as needed with barn deodorizer. This is the system we have settled on after taking a very brief course in stall-cleaning 101 at the Ripshin Dairy in Lenoir, NC (where they have the most immaculate barn I have seen anywhere in goatdom).
They had a part-time worker to do this at Ripshin. At our farm, Chuck and I do it all. Picture Ma and Pa Kettle without all those kids to help. An efficiency expert would probably observe that our stall-cleaning method is tantamount to filling a wheelbarrow when it is headed into the barn wall. Most folks with large herds would just laugh at the absurd impracticality of attempting to keep a goat barn clean on a daily basis. But I find that there is something satisfying about walking into a stall sprinkled with little poop-berries and leaving it ready for caprine barn potatoes to recline for their afternoon nap. And I kind of like hanging out with the goats while I clean their house.
We keep tweaking the system, and I am hoping for a few comments here about what really works for fellow goat farmers. The winter build-up system worked pretty well, even with the mild winter. We cleaned out the three-month build-up of straw before our first kidding (PEE-YEUW!!) and now we are moving into the summer set-up. In one stall we have decided to try rubber mats—expensive investment, but we don’t have to buy bedding. Chuck put in a French drain and all we have to do is sweep up the turds and deodorize or sanitize twice a day (still figuring out what is the most effective and cost-effective way to deodorize). When we change the drinking water, we wash the mats with what’s left in the bucket.
In past summers, flies haven’t been much of a problem. But this year is another matter. The best deterrent we have tried is also pretty cheap: Fill a plastic bag with water and put a few pennies in it. Tape it over the doorways. No kidding. It really works; or at least it has in the past. Even Snopes.com hasn’t poo-pooed it.
Anyway, as summer heat steams up an aromatic blend of pee and poop in the barn and the flies gather for the feast, I would be glad to hear about other strategies for keeping goats comfy and making life easier for the humans who love them.
*This is a very practical blog. If you are looking for some spiritual wisdom, you will have to make your own connections. You might just think about the muck and poop in your life and how you deal with it…or maybe just think about what direction the wheelbarrow is headed after you clear out the muck and are ready to dump it… or maybe you will stretch the metaphor to think about the stuff that piles up over the winter. Have fun and please share your insights.