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 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.


9 Responses so far.

  1. Patricia Dennis says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!! And I expecially appreciated the last paragraph. I am amazed with some folks stating that as long as the anmials are “high and dry” they are okey. Well, my kids would have liked that, they had to muck out the pony’s stalls every day.

    Thanks for your thoughts and musings. I really enjoy them.

    • sarahyork says:

      Thanks Pat. Not everyone will appreciate this topic. I hope someone comments with a great solution to the fly problem.

  2. Maggie says:

    Thank you SO much for a photograph that can be enlarged… often I see this little photo that I would like to look at more closely and cannot. Thanks!

  3. Hi Sarah, I too am a goatherd,my husband and I have three beautiful kids and we adore them. They are our pets, we do everything we can to make them comfortable and maintain their health. I have come to think there is a better less expensive way to keep our barn clean, in Hawaii a half bale of straw is $13 and a 1/2 bale of hay $20!!!! Never mind all worth it, but any and all suggestions are welcome, we have nobly been at this for one year.
    Thank you baaahhhhhhh river

  4. Melisa Hubbs says:

    I am glad to see that I am NOT crazy for wanting my bard as clean as possible. I love my little herd of Nigerian Dwarf/Pygmy’s and I want them living long, healthy lives as clean as possible!

    In the areas that have no grass, its a broom and dust pan. In the stalls, I replace the hay often, you don’t have to use a heavy layer during the summer so you aren’t ‘wasting’ a lot of money…..besides, its not a waste when it comes to health and cleanliness!! In the yard/grassy areas, I use a yard rake and swat it to a pile then rake it up on the dust pan. You don’t get all of it like this, but you get the biggest portion of those little berries!!

    Love this site, enjoyed the read!!!

  5. Morgan Madej says:

    I am so glad I found your website (It’s Number one on Google! for ‘Goat Mucking Out’)) As an expat Brit living Poland since 2004 and marrying a farmers daughter I have often wondered what the right way to muck out our two outlawed goats!

    We took them in because they were being bullied by by their respective herds and in mortal danger from being rammed in the belly etc. As I do all the animal feeding and clearing up (5 dogs, 1 horse, 18 cats as well I am told by my wife that I should muck out the horse daily and the goats once a week, but as I’m 73 with a bad back I have maintaind their comfort by adding straw as as when necessary and then paying a villager to clear it out once a year.

    As you can imagine (or not) they become elevated over the Winter, but clean and tidy as the droppings filter through the layers by gravity. The only problem is that they become elevated and I have to increase the height of their fence (In an old German barn) by adding extra planks and moving their food and water containers up as well! My wife always complains about me wasting the straw when she visits occasionally.

    I enjoyed reading your article as it was so interesting especially as you did a 3 month clearout and because I’ve not heard of a French Drain before.

    With regard to the problem of flies we are lucky as the swallows fly in through the missing bricks ventilation system and through the bird flaps built into the doors (My dea)

    I’ve modified a regular fork by bending the tines inwards for the horse droppings, but using a shovel where necessary.

    Best Wishes, Morgan

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