This year, spring was late in arriving and I found myself rapidly running out of hay for my goats. Worried that my supply wouldn’t last until the farmers made more this season, I began phoning around to see if anyone had extra to sell. The answer was a resounding no from everyone. Some will wonder what the big deal is. Why not just go buy more? The fact is, when you live in a remote place there is no where you can go to buy more. Or if there is, it is 500 kms away and you simply cannot justify the cost.
The later than normal growth of the new crop had everyone concerned, and they were either hanging on to their own and worried like I was, or simply didn’t have any extra to sell. Down to my last two bales, I realized I would have to figure out how to supplement the goats feed somehow. But how? It occurred to me that I could let them have free range on the property, but that was a desperate measure. I just couldn’t stomach the potential loss in terms of fruit tree and berry fruit vine damage.
Finally, I thought, I’ll just have to take the browse to them. Armed with hand weed trimmers, I began hacking at the wilder areas of the property. I knew they liked the thimble-berry bushes, so I began there. Within days I had run out of fodder on the property and was soon making my way up and down the highway cutting the brush and carrying it back to the goats. A few passers by commented, ‘Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?’. Indeed there was. It would have been much easier if I could tether the goats and move them up and down the highway, letting them do the work of getting their own browse.
At some point it occurred to me that I should rent them out to the Ministry of Highways, Interior Roads. I would call them ‘Interior Goats.’ After all, they would probably do a much better job of keeping the sides of the roads cleared than Interior Roads possibly could. Not to mention, they would love their jobs and do it as if they were being paid to do it. Alas, this would never be. I couldn’t really see the government going for this and I couldn’t possibly tether them either, even if I wanted to. The fact is they would soon become cougar bait if I did.
Instead, brush cutting became part of the morning chores; a half hour or so donated to the Minister of Highways on behalf of my goats, I crouched down in the brush and chopped fodder. It was my volunteer duty to the province and the goats loved me for it. Each morning they would line up at the road-side edge of their paddock, watching diligently as I worked. There was a chorus of preferences baa’d in my general direction, the likes of which I imagined went something like this: mo-o-o-ore h-o-o-o-rse ta-a-a-il, less dock, I w-a-a-a-a-nt bra-a-aa-mbles, how ab-o-u-t s-o-o-me lilies and a s-i-i-i-de of c-o-o-mphrey.
(Eventually, the new crop of hay was cut, baled, and we stacked it into our shed.)
I wondered why I hadn’t thought to do this before. It was after all, a ‘free’ supplemental feed. I tried turning this thinking on to the other areas of the farm. Who else could I supplement easily? The chickens and ducks free range so they more or less feed already themselves, and when there are occasions that I can’t let them free range, I do use the chickweed to supply them with fresh greens. There really wasn’t anything else to be done.
Until the turkey crisis in July. Once again, out of feed but this time for the baby turkeys. It would be another two days until the feed would get in from Williams Lake and I was thus out of options. It’s moments like this that I like to quote Lord Rutherford, ‘We don’t have much money, so we’re going to have to think.’ Except I replace ‘money’ with whatever the situation calls for; in this instance it was ‘feed’. The solution would have to be found on the farm or in the garden.
I went out to the garden and began pulling some carrots and potatoes for the turkeys. As I did this, I weeded those areas I was harvesting from and carried them over to the chicken coop. Then it struck me: why am I doing this extra work? Why not close this circle and feed the chickweed to the turkeys too? Of course baby chicks and turkeys cannot eat the weeds wholesale, especially if they are not rooted to something that they can pull against. To compensate for this, I decided to take the weeds into the house and put them through the food processor. It worked like a charm.
At first the turkeys were a bit skeptical, but once they caught on they enjoyed the greens. In fact, it wasn’t long before I began calling the turkey nursery, Pamplona. Taking the mixed greens in to them was like participating in the running of the bulls. As they scrambled to get to the front line and jockeyed for prime position relative to the plate as I was putting down for them, I was lucky not to get trampled in the stampede!
The weeds in my garden and the brush along the highway have become a resource for me that supplements the feed costs. A side benefit of giving the baby chicks the greens is that they grow really well and do not have as much ‘poopy bum’ as they do when raised solely on chick starter ration. This has to be much healthier for them.