We were nervous about how the different species of animals would get along and if everyone would be safe until the donkeys got big enough to actually protect themselves, let alone the alpacas, from marauding dogs or coyotes. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a pack of three large white dogs began circling the perimeter of our pastures; luckily Scott had done such an excellent job, that the animals remained safe. It made me very nervous though. The dogs came back a few times over the course of a week and then disappeared and, happily, we haven’t seen them since. We do hear coyotes on occasion and we have seen foxes, but they are not a threat.
The alpacas seemed happy to be in a new interesting environment and they were curious about the young donkeys who didn’t seem to threaten them. It wasn’t long before they had formed one large pack and we realized that we would have to create a shelter that they could live in together. We hired a crew to come and put up a large metal shed on a level spot hidden in a stand of evergreens. They arrived very late and had to complete the work using flashlights (we have since enclosed the ends with double tarps so we can open them as needed to provide access). They were a group of four, three two men and a women, all from Central America. Since it was so late I offered to feed them a meal after they were done and they accepted. After we ate together and drank some beer, one of the fellows picked up Will’s guitar and starting playing Mariachi music. It was a very enjoyable evening!
The animals moved into their new home and seemed to be happy to share one large space. That spring we had our first experience having the alpacas sheared on our property. We had different people do this than the ones that the former owners had used, although she had put us in touch with this new crew . This was the matriarch of the family and she also came out to help make sure that we had everything under control. One of these shearers mentioned that he was a vegetarian; I found that reassuring and knew that he would be extra careful with the boys.
We also had our first set of WWOOFers here to help us for this shearing. WWOOFers are folks who volunteer on organic farms, to help get experience. You prearrange with them an agreed upon amount of work in return for their room and board. These were two sister who were looking to experience a farm-stay while getting a chance to visit with each other as they were attending schools in different parts of the country.
They added some fresh enthusiasm and seemed to enjoy being here very much and they were helpful as well. While they were here, I decided to put an add on Craigslist which stated that we were a vegan homestead and had room to adopt a couple of goats. I soon heard from a fellow who lived up near the Virginia line. He said that he had a couple of male Nigerian Pygmy goats, from different mothers, who were about the same age (four months) who needed to find new homes. He offered to sell them to me for $50 a piece. He mentioned that he bred goats for milk, as well as meat, but if I would take them as pets, he would neuter them for me (making them “wethers”) and also give them their first shots.
I decided to go get these goats. If I didn’t act, someone else might take them and then raise them for slaughter. Since I had the WWOOFers to help, they accompanied me to the fellow’s farm and then each held a baby goat on their lap on the drive home as they really didn’t like the cage that I had brought with me as you can see in this photo.
The WWOOFers were as smitten as was! The kids were so cute! The black and white one is called Thistle. The other one, which looks rather like a court jester, is named Clover. In the middle of the large pasture was a long-abandoned enclosure that perhaps the former owners of this property used for dogs. We had fixed up a house on blocks for the goats in this space, and also cleared it of brambles as the large animals could not get in this “room” to graze, since the gate had been kept closed. I thought the goats would be safe in this small area (it is perhaps 25′ X 25′), surrounded by the big pasture, as well as the other animals, until they got larger. It would also be a way to introduce them to the other critters as I wasn’t sure how that would go. My plan was that once the kids grew larger they would have one of the other larger pastures all to themselves. At this time we had the large upper field, the smaller area by the Wonky Donkey Shed, the really big hilly pasture and a good sized pasture, which is nearest to the house, that could be theirs. These areas are all connected by gates. I set to work fixing up two large dog house frames that I found at Habitat to be their new homes.
The kids were so smart and fun! I had no idea how engaging and sweet these animals are; they are also mischievous pranksters . I can not imagine that people think that eating a goat is that different than eating a dog. They are clearly as intelligent, affectionate and cute; not to mention they eat weeds like poison ivy! What could be better?
After our first great experience with WWOOFers, we accepted a couple more. This was a very disappointing encounter, which made me reluctant to try it again. They did work hard and helped us to build a play area for the goats as well as to clean out the shed one day, but their B.S. was not worth the time, expense and effort required to feed and host them. We haven’t hosted WWOOFers since, which maybe isn’t fair, but as the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.” We may try again at some point.
The goats were soon introduced to the other animals and everything seemed fine, so instead of restricting them to their new pasture, I just took to feeding them there. It became clear that they wanted to sleep and live with the big animals and as the big guys liked them and were affectionate towards them, I never did complete the second goat house. Sometimes they do use their little houses for shade as well as to keep out of the rain. I have their salt block in one and their baking soda in a bowl in the other; they need to have access to some for indigestion. Having this arrangement has proved useful as the goats, who are now full grown, are very bossy now that they have horns. They can push the alpacas as well as the donkeys from their feeding dishes and scarf up their grain. By feeding them apart from the others, in their own field, this risk is minimized. The gate on their pasture is usually closed far enough that they can come and go, but it keeps the others out, which I need to do or there won’t be any separation. This means that if the goats eat really fast, they can still run around the fields and try to steal some food from the others; this happens regularly, but at least this way they only manage to get the dregs. Now that the goats are so bossy, they are also less tolerant of the alpacas engaging in fights, which don’t happen too often, but are distressing when they do. Clover and Thistle don’t like them fighting and even though they are much shorter they have figured out that they can intervene and separate two fighting alpacas with their horns! We had initially been worried about mixing the species together, but it has been fascinating to see their relationships evolve. Here is a photo of clover resting on Donkey Oaty’s back!
Now that the donkeys are adults, Donkey Oaty, who was smaller, as well as younger, when we got them, is now larger than Sancho and he is the alpha animal in the whole heard. They donkeys are still almost constantly together although they sometimes hang out with an alpaca for a while instead, and the goats are never too far away. In fact the whole group usually moves as one heard.
Our second shearing went well without the help of the previous owner. Scott came to help as did some friends from Asheville. Here is Carlton getting sheared and then how he looks afterwards, as well as a shot of the other helpers.
Over time, the donkeys have learned to stand for the farrier pretty well, and I have learned to be dominant with them to get them to behave, while Will has gotten really good at being an animal medic. We are a good team when it comes to taking care of them. The donkeys are not “broken” and are still fairly wild animals. We can walk them with halters, but they are not trained to pull carts, or to be ridden, or to carry goods. It’s a compromise. They need to feel safe with us so that we can care for them; not to mention that they need to be tame enough to ensure that we feel safe around them as well, because they are fairly large and quite powerful. The need for respect and cooperation between has become even more apparent during times when an animal has needed medical care for a malady. Like children, if you have animals, they will find trouble to get into. Thus, we need to keep working on developing deeper trust and also respect for us as the dominant members of their community at large. This is for all of our well being and safety.
The alpacas are the most “people friendly” that our large animal vet says that he knows! I think that is because I spend so much time with them and feed them several times a day, rather than just once per day, which is often the case. I also shower them with a hose on hot days, which most of the alpacas really like (except for Chip). But, they are still wild and don’t like to be petted. They also don’t approach me when I offer to put on a halter and lead, as the donkeys do. Perhaps, as they continue to observe us doing this with the donkeys, they may change their minds. We sometimes walk the “donks”, as we call them, outside the enclosed areas in order to socialize with them and also to let them have a treat of the thick, green grass in the yard areas. The alpacas appear to watch this with some longing, so they may be getting ready to make that leap of trusting us to go for walks, but I am not pushing it. Thus far the only time we have put on their halters is to lead them to grooming, or for medical care, and maybe the issue for them is that they only have that kind of association with being led around at this time.
We sometimes let the goats explore outside the pastures without worrying about halters or leads. They are so smart that I feel comfortable with them being treated more like I treat our big dog, Daisy.
By the way, Daisy is great around the other animals; she is only interested in catching birds! This is one reason why I have resisted adopting chickens, or other fowl. My thought is that if we do adopt some birds, we will make a home for them in the inner “room”, the area that once housed the goats when they were babies, then they would be protected, hopefully, from most predators by the donkeys.
Unlike Daisy, our little old poodle, Ozbert, barks at the large animals through the fence and thoroughly enjoys doing so, which is more like what happens when other people bring their dogs to visit. Thus, we discourage dogs from visiting as much as possible. It could be very dangerous for them if they got into the fields with the donkeys, and their barking (especially that of unfamiliar dogs) really does scare the animals.
This is the last chapter of my review of how we came to have the animals here and where we stand now on 1/22/16. New pages will cover other topics or events. Thank you for reading this and if you have questions, please contact me.