One of the lovely things about being part of the Earth Trust Farm Step community is that we benefit from the help of volunteers who support the work of the Trust. We have been lucky enough to work with three volunteers so far - Sally, Roseanna and Claudia. Sally also ropes her husband and son in to help, making it a family affair. The volunteers help us by checking the goats, feeding them and topping up bedding, as well as added duties such as hand milking when required.
Roseanna joined us with experience working for wildlife and environmental organisations. She generously shared her extensive knowledge of native British trees with me in a special 'goat forage identification' session, allowing us to tell ash apart from elder and therefore making sure we give them access to leaves and branches that they like and won't do them any harm. She also looked after the goats on a Sunday morning from the early summer to the autumn giving us much needed extra time on a busy market morning. Can you tell which of these is ash and which elder? (Tip: the berries help!) Goats like ash but not elder. Thank you Roseanna!
Sally had already volunteered with Earth Trust for 9 years now, being involved when she retired. She started off helping with the sheep - checking/counting on the Clumps, helping out at many events, and for four years in the lambing sheds at the Lambing Days in March.
She came from a career that had nothing to do with animal husbandry - she was first an English teacher and then a dictionary editor. As I'm also from an English teaching background, I reckon there must be some kind of English/ goat link! She did however have experience of working with cattle and sheep on her uncle's farm when she was a girl; then later helping out with a flock of sheep at a residential school in Wales. She fondly remembers the night they had 2 orphan lambs sleeping in their bathroom under the radiator so they could be kept warm and tube-fed during the night. They were very, very noisy!
She'd never previously had anything to do with goats, though, and since helping out with our herd she's learnt how they are different from sheep - less nervous, more inquisitive and people-oriented. She has also learnt to hand milk them.
In fact, milking has been her favourite bit so far. She says the milkers are so patient and biddable, even if they do try and put their feet in the bucket from time to time. She says 'I love the way the other goats, too, don't shy away from you but come up and investigate.' Here are Sally and her husband with the goats:
She's also been pleased by how her husband - who she roped in to help - has really taken to the goats as well. Previously he wasn't particularly interested in getting hands-on with animals but now they make a good team.
Admittedly not every aspect smells of roses though and the 'distinctive' smell and general eccentricity of the billy goats (see below for a picture of our young billy Mr Frosty) has been less endearing! She is philosophical though and sees it all as part of life's rich pattern...
She has taken quiet pleasure in being able to milk successfully - and has even found it to be good for her arthritic hands - sort of goat physiotherapy.
Claudia is our most recent recruit and started helping us out in the goats in late November, usefully co-inciding with the birth of our baby Gabriel when extra help was particularly welcome. She has seen goats grazing in the rather different landscape of Greece, a country with which she has a close connection. However Claudia was also new to working with goats. She has picked things up really quickly though. She looked after them on the morning of our wedding anniversary this year so we could have a much appreciated lie-in - and the then 11 day old Gabriel co-operated by staying asleep too! Well, for a while, anyway...
My parents and Adam at Earth Trust have also helped us out with goat feeding and care at various points in the year too, and also deserve some recognition!
If you are interested in finding out more about opportunities for volunteering with Earth Trust, do get in touch - there are a whole host of roles, some involving animals and others not. The contact details can be found here: http://www.earthtrust.org.uk/SupportUs/Volunteer.aspx