Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Living with Someone Else's Livestock


I'm sure you've all heard that expression about neighbors and fences, but have you ever experienced it first hand? I have and it's raises my blood pressure. Let me first say that I have always liked cows, horses and even, once upon a time, thought goats were okay, too. I still would like to have a fondness for them but their owners keep making that very difficult with their negligent ways of "keeping" them; see,  you "keep" livestock, you don't simply "have" livestock.

We've lived in this old home up on a hillside in Middle Tennessee for over 20 years. We are renters. Our landlady died several years ago and her son, who also lives on the property, took over as landlord. He is the fellow who owns the livestock that live and graze around my little portion of ground. He is a retired "ag" teacher from the local high school. When we first moved here, we saw the sign near their driveway that advertised "beefalo" and inquired about purchasing meat from them. We were told that the "freezer was down" and none was available. Twenty years later, the sign still stands, but the freezer is still down. And now they've added a new sign: Boer Goats. Lovely. You'll soon see why I say that.

Some folks raise all manner of livestock - chickens, geese, rabbits, pigs, donkeys, llamas - for their own benefit, usually. They gather eggs from chickens, feathers and down from geese and perhaps consume a few from time to time. Rabbits are great BBQ'd, stewed and fricasseed (sorry, vegans, but they are). Pigs, well we all love our bacon, ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, don't we? Donkeys keep away the coyotes and so do llamas. And llama shearing ultimately creates yarn, which is also good.

The donkey follows the horses around. Wonder if he knows he's not a horse?
My neighbors have cows and goats, mostly, but also have several horses on their property, a donkey and a llama. I have heard some ducks or geese but I think they keep getting eaten by something, I'm not saying who or what. We have big raccoons around here and wild dogs. I hear there are bobcats and possibly coyotes that range through our neck of the woods, too. Other wild creatures include deer and turkeys, ground hogs, opposums, squirrels and chipmunks. A newcomer to the area is the armadillo; I've not had a close encounter as yet. Skunks come around once or twice a year, usually when the windows are open, it seems. Skinks, lizards, turtles and snakes are common, and I have heard there are rattlers way up the dead end of the road. That's several hills and a couple of miles away, so I'm wary but not frightened while I'm walking about.

So, you get the picture of where I live and what creatures I share my habitat with. And I do mean "share" because my garden is munched upon by the goats and cows more than a few times in a season. And that brings us to the fences and the goats. Up to 6 years ago, there were only cows and horses here and the cows, calves mostly, did get into the yard to munch on the lawn when a gate got left unhooked or the hot wire fence shorted out or got turned off. I was also working full time as a nurse manager and had little time for gardening, so it wasn't a big deal. 5 years ago, I became a stay a home housewife with a garden in summer. I planted some perennials and a few bushes to improve the landscaping, such as it is. I discovered how veracious an appetite a goat has that year, too. I had goats on my front porch making meals of my potted plants. Two devoured hibiscuses later, I declared war on Boer goats. 


My initial idea for keeping goats out of my yard was to shore up the existing old fencing and cut down a lot of the saplings and small bushes that bordered the yard. I figured that would discourage them somewhat from thinking this was "tasty territory." It may have provided a little bit of defense, but not much, as it turned out. 

The goats truly have wonderful taste in plants. They love anything you've spent money and time on. The quince bushes, Nanking cherry trees and flowering almond are delicacies, apparently. The crepe myrtle's tender new growth is as well. Oh, and they simply love butterfly weed, daffodils, tulips and lilies. But, truly, they are not food snobs - they'll try just about anything. Anything, that is, except for the weed their pens are full of every year - some sort of poisonous. leafy green weed that grows abundantly on this land, especially in what was supposed to be their area for living. My husband has suggested that we seed our lawn with it, and he may have something there. 

In the interest of full disclosure and fairness, the daughter-in-law of the owner is an industrious and strong woman. I admire her for her forbearance since she is the one who does most of the goat tending, though the animals were initially purchased for her daughter to learn from and use for her 4H projects and, as the grand parents said, "keep her out of trouble" during her tween and teen years. They live nearby, on the bottom land part of the property nearer the creek and about a quarter mile away from us. The owner and landlord lives between us and them, the goats are housed between us and the owner. 

This daughter-in-law, after my initial bout with the hibiscus-eating-goats-on-the-porch, took the time and effort to put up a two strand barbed wire surround. It went from the driveway (where the single strand on non-barbed wire serves as a gate) around our yard and down into the barnyard. Unfortunately, the cows and goats simply ignore it, break it or go over and under it. The war went on into it's third year with goats 2, us 0. And the cows a close second to the goats on our public enemies list.

If it wasn't so aggravating and time-consuming, the situation could be very humorous. Sometimes, that's just how I deal with it - I laugh, hysterically. Which often comes very close to crying. 

Year three, I started using the BB gun. Rather than yell, throw things or actually physically try pushing the goats out of the yard (which is very hard and can be dangerous work), I just pop them in the butt and they get the message. I was apprehensive at first because I once used a BB gun to get the attention of my run away dog who was barking at a cow down the hill and wouldn't heed my call to cease and desist and shot him in his back leg instead of his butt and it bled. My kids were horrified and I instantly became a pariah to them. I needn't have worried with the goats - their butts are pretty large and their hides are as tough as nails.  Though vigilance was the key in preventing more damage than actually occurred that year, the goats became BB gun trained and would begin vacating when they heard the pumping of the gun begin. 

Last year, I put in a raised bed. I planted beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant cucumbers and squash. The goats sneaked into the yard from below the stone wall that separates their pen from our yard and were in the garden in a heartbeat. The cows were also in the yard frequently and love cucumbers, it seems, as well as pea vines and beans. In short, it was a fairly disastrous year for vegetable gardening. Between the hot, dry weather and foraging by livestock, all I got were a few squash, a couple of cucumbers and some peas before they were gone. Tomatoes and peppers had a bad year without pestilence problems but flea beetles ate the eggplants (I got ONE!) and squash vine borers ended that harvest. Goats and cows concentrated on crepe myrtles, lilies and other leafy and flowering plants; they, too, realized that the vegetables were a bust. 

That fall, I placed old roofing tin sheets into the holes in the fences. I tossed some large pieces of debris (an old metal couch frame and a broken swivel chair) along the stone wall side to block under-the-fence access points. I continued to cut down saplings and brush. And, with the donation of a wheel of barbed wire from my dad, I had a plan for the following year. 


In spring this year, I checked all areas of egress and shored them up as needed. I readied my raised bed and built a wattle fence around three sides of it. 

Could have sworn I photo'd the wattle fence but still looking. Here's the early beans, peas, beets, spinach and shallots I planted.

I laid in another barrier between the upper fence and the yard by way of more roofing tin stood on end. That way, if they  managed to enter, they would be kept in an alley of sorts with only one way out again. I felt like a mastermind. 
Next, I strung two strands of barbed wire across the front yard which served as the cows main entryway. This still left the center open without a gate. That took more time, scavenging and planning, but by mid-summer, I had it done. 
I call it my wabi sabi gate. It's certainly beautiful to me, especially if it keeps out you know what.

I still have work to do because, yesterday, while away from the house for nearly 6 hours, I returned to find the gate opened - not destroyed, mind you, simply opened. The front yard was empty of all but the two cats, but the sunflowers were broken in two. It had been raining very heavily so I figured they just broke. I put my things down on the porch and went around to the garden, rain or no rain. The sunflowers there were also broken down and denuded of leaves. Oh, oh, I thought. I walked around the raised bed to see 7 cows in the back yard against the fence there. They all looked at me like children caught in the middle of painting the bathroom with feces or something horrid like that. 

Before I began herding them out, I remembered I had latched the gate again. I went back to the gate,  and opened it as well as swinging wide open one of the wonky square portions so the cattle could exit gracefully. Then, I went back, soaking wet now,  to shoo them out. Of course, they all scattered like chickens instead of filing out in an orderly fashion. The largest heifer tore through my reinforced-with-roofing-tin fence on the left, two yearlings ran into the front yard corner and stood there, terrified. Two smaller heifers exited the front gate quite nicely. Two more yearlings decided to go through the double-strand of barbed wire across the back and did so almost miraculously because it remained magically intact.

The sunflowers lost the battle this time around but the gate, the tomatoes, the cucumbers and the potted plants on the porch withstood the attack.  I still don't know how the cows opened the gate without tearing it down.  I think the score must be goats 3, cows 1, us - awfully close to 1. With vigilance remaining key, I will need to check the tin-reinforced fencing and probably rearrange it, for the umpteenth time. 

As for "The Boer Wars", I've been ruminating on the title  (pun intended). I really wonder if I should rename it. No longer are the goats the major players in the battles, the cows have taken the forefront and will henceforth be targeted as such. This may call for some bigger guns than the BB, but we don't want to bruise the "beefalo" - right Wilbur?

UPDATE: the gate really worked well and we finished the gardening season without undue marauding from goats and cows. I did not have to shoot a cow or goat in the process, so no animals were harmed during the writing of this blog. Oh, except for the chipmunk (RIP) - that's the cats fault.