Originally Published December 16, 2021.
âI last left you at the end of our season building our first barn. We are all cozy now inside the barn and I can catch on some of the other projects we were concurrently completing while waiting on supplies for the barn.
Goats on the Table
In early September, our new friends Jess and Jon found out that they were expecting their second baby. They had also moved here in the last year from Ontario (hey, CFA!) and were in the throes of setting up their farm. They had two beautiful alpine goats who had come to live on their farm and help them clear their back acreage of woodsy overgrowth and provide milk in the future. Unfortunately, upon further investigation of their land, Jess and Jon discovered that there is a huge mound of refuse that has been partially covered and grown over. Their acreage is quite old, so finding an onsite dump is not particularly uncommon (it even happened to my sister back in Ontario), but it did mean that they would not be able to let the goats forage to clear the land as they had initially planned without risking the health and safety of the goats. They do, however, find some unusual items on the property if not particularly useful.
The pregnancy and the dump meant that they were feeling it would be best to rehome the goats so that they could focus on their other projects and cleaning up their land. As we were nearing winter, Jess messaged me to ask if Tyler and I would be interested in taking the ladies in and giving them a home as we had often talked about our shared interest in using animals to clear underbrush.
At the beginning, Tyler was immediately interested in having goats. I was more reticent as my uncle and my parents had goats when I was younger and I had only heard of their many stories of their talent as escape artists. Tyler was pretty excited though, so I offered that we could take them so long as we built a fortress for them that would withhold even their most daring attempts. I was also swayed because of the manure (aka gardening gold) that goats produce, which is a cold manure and can be applied to the garden directly without heat composting it first. Jess estimated that paying to feed the goats over the winter would cost approximately $200, which I figured was just about the cost of getting a load of composted manure delivered in the spring. So if we could build them a home strong enough to hold them, we would ultimately be spending the same amount of money for our garden in the spring but be getting some really lovely goats in the process.
Location, Location, Location
Perhaps like many other obsessive people, I stayed awake one night thinking through the best location for our goats. In reading online and some books from our pals Brynn and Vic, I figured we wanted to hit a few key areas like ensuring the pen faced south so it got the most sun exposure, somewhere out of the brunt of the wind so it wouldn't be too drafty and somewhere where Tyler and I would naturally just walk past each day as we went out about our activities so there was not chance we could forget about checking in on them.
The only area that met all of these criteria was the spot directly across the road from the barn. We would literally HAVE to walk or drive past it every day, it was nestled in the trees and there was room to make the pen much bigger if it became necessary.
Building a Goat Pen
So with this new venture in mind, I began the process of building a goat pen, trying my best to not exceed my budget of $0. We had not planned on taking on any goats, so it was very important that we did not get carried away trying to build something that we did not budget for and possibly throw off our financial plan. Fortunately, Tyler had been collecting all the scraps of wood from his work and I had a few rough cut 2x6x6s, two bags of pine siding off-cuts, some pine poles from building stakes for the barn, a package of hinges from Tyler's parents, the cap of our Ford F-150 that we had purchased for $20 and were no longer using and about 10 fresh pallets from a jobsite delivery.
I have very little building experience, so I took stock of our materials and tried to put together a pen that would do the job. I watched some videos on Youtube about building walls, and they suggested I frame each wall first and screw them together. Do NOT do this. This process made it easy to build each wall individually, but did not take into account the unlevel ground or the need for a strong base frame. I ended up taking apart most of my work and redoing it by building from the ground up (oh...THAT'S where that saying comes from...).
I was lucky enough to be able to work in some extremely beautiful fall weather, so putting the pen together was quite nice. I finally got the frame up and started to add pieces of 1/2 inch board across to make some strapping. I didn't have enough to be able to screw in each piece of the pine siding, so I ended up settling for screwing in every OTHER row in the hopes that the middle row would be held tight by the tongue and groove slats.
It took me the longest to complete the first side, but once I got the hang of it the other sides took shape pretty quickly.
I learned a lot in building this little pen, which is good since I have very little experience building myself and lots of experience being the gopher on a job site. I can definitely see how I will exponentially get better as I try new little projects in the future.
At this point, both walls were built and I needed to add a gate to the front and build out their run so they had space to play. I needed to wait for Tyler for this as it was a two-person job, but we tossed it together in less than a hour.
The top of the pen was more difficult to put on because (AGAIN) my measurements weren't quite correct and the frame wasn't exactly level. We ended up being able to just push the walls where they needed to go and screw on the cap one corner at a time until it sat nicely, but it definitely could have been done better. That being said, the pen was now tall enough that we could comfortably stand inside while tending to the goats, which was something I read we would appreciate down the line. â
The run is not quite as large as what the internet/books/people say goats need, but so far they don't seem to mind living in closer quarters. I think this may have to do with the fact that it is now winter and both of them are quite happy to snuggle up together inside their little hut and are less likely to go running around in the pen. We plan on expanding the pen and setting up a run for them to be able to forage around the property on a line (while we are present of course) so that they can get to work as our little lawnmowers. I figure they probably won't mind spending their nights together in a pen if they have lots of space to play during the day.
I also knew that very soon we would need to start buying hay for the goats and we had no place to store it. So I took the remaining pallets that we had and scrounged together a dry storage space that could house one really large bale or quite a few small ones. This was a good use for a crappy old tarp that we had- I ended up having to tape over a couple holes in it but its been holding up well!
Eventually I'd like to redirect the water that comes off the roof into a pail to make watering the goats automatic, but for now I either grab rainwater from the barn or walk down to the creek with a large 5 gallon pail to top off their water every couple of days. With the colder weather, the water is prone to freezing so I have been breaking the ice for them or just dumping out the ice and replacing it.
The Day the Goats Arrived
âWe went to Jon and Jess' the week after we got back from our trip to Fundy National Park and we picked up our two new ladies. Jon and Jess kindly lent us their two dog crates that worked perfectly for transport in the back of our truck. We threw a large insulated blanket over their crates so that they wouldn't get too much of a breeze and hopefully maintain their calm while going for a ride. They also gave us as much hay as we could load into the truck bed as we could fit to get us started and keep the girls snacking while we traveled home. Both traveled home exceptionally well and jumped right into their new pen with no issues.
This is our doeling, Nanny Fran. We may have been binge-watching the nanny and thought ourselves hilarious (Nanny is the word for a female goat). Fran is beautiful, with a rich black, caramel and white coat. She does not have horns and was just under a year old when we got her. She is VERY friendly and likes to snuggle, she seems more like a dog than a goat.
This is our doe, Nanny Jan. She's named after Chandler's girlfriend, Janice, from Friends. Jan is the leader of the herd and is always telling Fran off with her horns. She is quite shy and skiddish, but we have been working on bribing her with apples and cinnamon raisin bagels, which seems to be helping her warm up to us. â
We are just SO funny. We make ourselves laugh.
It's Goat O'Clock!
âMy family has a very active Whatsapp chat between my parents and my siblings (7 kids, 2 parents) and we share most of our day to day stuff on there. I started sending them randomized messages of our interactions with goats for their enjoyment and to share with all my nieces and nephews (there are 18 and counting!). This went over pretty well with them so I started to post these to our social media as well.
Abby has taken an active interest in our new additions, but they are quite wary of her. We figure we will let them get used to each other very slow and keep an eye on how she seems to react to them because her prey drive is VERY strong and we wouldn't want any mishaps.
The pen has been holding up very well. All of our walls and the reinforcements we put on the joints between the pallets haven't budged. The other day Tyler pulled off the exterior pallet in their feeder to make it easier to add a larger amount of hay at a time and Jan decided to get herself stuck. Jan is definitely the leader of this herd and it was just hilarious to watch Fran jump up and down off her back eagerly trying to escape as well. I was able to get her unstuck in just a few minutes and then close the pen back up with a spare pallet so she isn't tempted again. I don't think she was trying to get out per se, but rather reach the hay that was juuuuuuuust out her reach.
You can really tell now that their winter coats have come in, they are fluffier and look much fatter, but its all really just their cashmere coats.
We are very grateful to Jess and Jon for giving us our first farm animals and we have been enjoying their company quite a lot. Jess also introduced me to the previous owner of Jan, Cheyenne, who has become my goat guru via Facebook Messenger. She's helped me learn some pretty interesting things about goats, like how to check for worms or make sure they are warm enough in sub zero temperature.
Next fall we hope to breed both goats so that we can start milking them and making cheese and soaps/lotions. We need to have a larger pen with a stall for birthing as well as space to store the byproducts we'll be making, but that just means we will have to keep working on our plans to expand the farm this year. For the next 12 months or so we are just hoping to get used to their mannerisms, adjust to the new schedule of having to take care of animals during the day and have them eat down the underbrush that has taken over the property.
Thanks for following us on our journey off grid! ï»¿My next post will be talking about our first Christmas here in Nova Scotia and our experience at the holiday markets in Bridgewater. Subscribe to our updates in our journey off-grid by signing up for our newsletter below.