Of blackberries and thistles
Or Fred and Ginger to the rescue
The Scotch thistles loom before me. They’re as tall as I am and far pricklier. I am determined to get rid of them and the budding purple flowers, although perhaps pretty, mean they have to go sooner rather than later. I do not want to let them flower and seed, sending wafts of downy seed to spread and sprout and invade and flourish. I want them gone.
I begin my assault with the whipper snipper. The engine whines. I wave the spinning blade at the offending thistles and they fall before it. Some fall back towards me, tangling with the machine, the spikes penetrating my gloves, my shirt, my long pants. My foot slips down a hole that I didn’t see in the midst of the felled thistles and I am knee deep in prickles. I curse. Loudly. Extract my foot. Carry on. Ear muffs and face shield protect me from the noise and the worst of the flying debris, but it’s hot, dirty work. Sweat trickles down my face, runs in rivulets down my back. Yet I feel I’m making headway so am satisfied. If I’m totally honest, I’m loving it. Loving the physical work and the sense of progress. After a couple of hours, I feel I’ve done a good job. A swath of fallen thistles lays across the ground as testimony to my labour.
I carry the machine back to the shed, surveying the rest of the ‘paddock’ as I go. It’s not really a paddock. It’s a rough patch of dirt, covered in thistles, blackberries and deadly nightshade, with a few seedlings of native paperbarks, teatree, reeds and sedges here and there. Some weedy grasses and a couple of useful ones poke through the mess. The blackberry canes loop through it all. I tried the whipper snipper on them but it was treacherous work. I need another option and I’d prefer not to drench the place in poison.
An answer presents itself in the form of a pair of goats that belong to friends. I take my horse float over to their house and bring the goats back – four-year-old twin Saanens, sometimes referred to as The Boy Goat and The Girl Goat, but more formally as Fred and Ginger. They are pure white and a little confused about the idea of going into the float. A bucket of pellets and some encouragement from their owners and we get them loaded.
We unload them at home and tether them to posts set in the midst of a the weeds. Fred immediately begins nibbling the blackberries, his delicate lips manoeuvring the stems so the thorns point outwards as he devours them. Ginger turns her attention to the deadly nightshade, then moves on to eat the seedheads from the grasses and follows it up with a dessert of thistles.
For ten days we move them across the acre of ground, shifting their tethers so they cover the area reasonable thoroughly. They do a remarkable job, selectively eating the worst of the weeds. They chomp through the thistles I felled before they arrived; I’m delighted and amazed one morning to find Fred chewing at dried seed heads of thistles. I can’t bear to touch them with gloved hands. I cannot comprehend how he can eat them. But he does.
In the mornings, when I first step outside, the goats bleat a greeting. I worry that the noise will upset the neighbours but chatting over the fence discover they love them. They are disappointed to hear Fred and Ginger are only temporary residents.
Our dog, Maisie, has never met goats before. She seems to like them. They touch noses. Sniff each other.
‘Goat on the loose!’ I hear Rob yell one morning. I look up the hill and see the two goats standing near each other, close to a tether post. But what I hadn’t seen (and Rob had) was Fred sprinting across the paddock back to Ginger. We go to investigate and sure enough, Fred has broken loose. He is apprehended without too much bother and with the assistance of a bucket of goat pellets. Later we find tell-tale piles of black goat poo and realise he had quite a wander. But we don’t have much garden to speak of yet, so no harm was done.
I walk up the hill a couple of times a day to give the goats a scratch and to check them. I’m surprised at how quickly they accept us. I’m more surprised at how quickly and hopelessly I fall in love with them. And I’m thrilled at their weed eating abilities. I drag treats up to them – branches cut of the citrus trees in my pruning efforts. Some black wattles I pull from the ground – they’re not native to this area and are a somewhat invasive weed, growing into huge trees and seeding prolifically. I pull some metre-tall ones out and take them to the goats. They bleat and strain on their tethers as they see me coming. Their nimble lips pull the wattle into their mouths, reminding me of kids sucking up spaghetti. It disappears rapidly.
All the weeds disappear rapidly. And then it’s time for the horse float to once again become a goat taxi. We load Fred and Ginger and take them back to their owners. I confess that’s easier said than it was done. But we got there in the end. We have learnt that food bribery works well with these goats!
This morning, there was no bleating goats to greet me on my morning rounds. I think I’ll have to change that. I think I need a couple of goats of my own. After all, those weeds are going to grow back.
Thanks for reading,
Love this! Yes you need a goat Jill! Of course:-)
Did Ginger eat as many pest weeds as Fred, but backwards, and in heels :-)
Animals make the best pest and weed controllers, and I'm not surprised that goats have gone for thistles and blackberries. They are hardy animals.
Bring on sheep and chooks for lawn mowing!