One of the pleasures for staff and volunteers alike at the Chiltern Open Air Museum farm, advises Farm Manager Conway Rowland, is taking the Old English Goats, Beverly and Crystal for their morning walk. Well that was what I was told as a rookie volunteer some months ago. I guess he would say that to encourage volunteers to take their turn!
Goats were a feature of many traditional Chiltern farms of yesteryear supplying milk, cheese and the occasional meal. The Museum previously had rescue goats of varying varieties and behaviours. But a little after these had one by one passed on to cause trouble in a higher place than they had previously been able to reach, a decision was made to acquire two new goats.
But not any old goats. They had to be Old English, a breed that had been doing their job well for 5000 years only to be ousted from the late 1800s by higher yielding foreign goats from Switzerland, India and the Middle East and interbreeding became rife in the desire to improve goat productivity.
With low numbers of this traditional breed remaining, it was only right that the Museum’s goats, which arrived late in 2015, should be the Old English breed.
Visitors may see Beverly and Crystal in their night time pen outside of Hill Farm Barn, but more likely in one of the fields around the farm during Museum opening hours – assuming they have not escaped! So at sometime around 9-10.00am, someone has to escort the two young ladies on their daily walk from their pen to the field.
With dog collars and leads secured, the walker is ready to depart on a circuitous route to what has in effect become a second breakfast opportunity for the goats, who have already demolished their buckets of dry food. The walk, at a relaxed pace (or not), gives the chance for Beverly and Crystal to enjoy, for much of the year, the nutritious hedgerow greenery including hawthorn, nettles and brambles. And even better, the late summer feast of sumptuous fresh blackberries and rosehips.
In fact just about anything goes, preferably from the most awkward place to get at and where the other goat and the walker do not desire to be dragged. Being dragged around is part of the fun of goat walking, particularly when Beverly wants to go one way and Crystal the other!
And watch out the goat walker who disagrees with Crystal. Those horns hurt! If she is in a mood and does not get her own way, a quick butt aimed at the offending goat walker can be delivered. So the walker must alert to deflect the offending horns and deliver a gentle reminder about who is (or thinks they are) the real boss.
Although Crystal’s behaviour is much better as she is maturing, a tactic of keeping Beverly between yourself and Crystal can be a good idea. And no, the reason is not to let Beverly be the recipient of a butt. Crystal would not dare as the smaller Beverly is the dominant goat. However, this tactic can have its problems when the larger Crystal decides to climb over Beverly to get at some tasty treat and the leads get tangled up. Trying to untangle two goats from yourself with absolutely no cooperation from the goats can be interesting!
Both Crystal and Beverly are friendly, gentle goats that on occasion can display nothing worse than a petulant child might. Well they are still ‘kids’ at heart! If they have had a late start to the day and should you come across them on their daily walk, do not be concerned. Well only for the walker!
Please visit them in their field. They both enjoy attention and a good chin rub can make you a friend. But watch out for the electric fence. It’s the only way to keep them from escaping. And please, do not feed them yourself, whether voluntary or involuntary!
And the evening’s walk. Nothing more than a sprint back to their pen where their supper awaits them.
By Julian Stanton