Polite Goats

Polite. Goats. Two words you don’t expect to see together. But my boys are.

I’d never had goats before I got these twin brothers six years ago. However, I’d heard enough stories about goat antics to expect trouble, and when they arrived I could see the mischief in their two-month old eyes. I knew that I’d have to do some training. It turns out that of all of the animals that I’ve worked with (horses, dogs, fish, chickens, rabbits) that goats have been the most unmitigated joy to train. They are eternally optimistic and believe that whatever is happening will turn out to be excellent. I try my best to fulfill their world view for them.

Pip and Caper never fail to greet me with great enthusiasm. However, you can imagine that it is not a good idea to open a door when a 100-pound goat is standing on it.



I taught the goats to get down when I say off, and to back up on the word back, or a finger wiggle.

goats back


The goats love treats, and I love giving them – they are such happy, smiling, tail-wagging, appreciative animals! But goats tell each other what’s what by charging into each other, and they show off with head butts. I needed to give them an alternative way to communicate with me, so I gave them stumps. Pip and Caper jump up on them when I say Go, go! which is great, because instead of running into me, they hurry onto their stations.

to stumps


I assigned a stump to each goat. That way there’s less (although there is still some) jostling for position.

on stumps


After the treats are dispensed (in this case, peanuts) I give the universal all done signal.

all done

These truly are polite goats. Somehow, though, their good manners don’t seem to put a crimp in the chaos they cause or the trouble that they get into. Which is fine by me. I wouldn’t want them to lose an ounce of their joie de vivre

I’ve written about my training techniques on my website, The Cooperative Horse. I also have several videos showing snippets of training on my YouTube channel. More will be coming this fall!

(Note: These are new stumps. The old ones rotted away. Caper now has a lower stump to accommodate his gimpy foreleg.)

(Also note that the “goat berries” on the ground all appeared in one day. That entire area had been swept clean the day before. My goats are polite, but they’re not tidy. Goats require a lot of care and manure management.)

A Use For Those Zuccs

It’s that time of year. Blink and you have zucchini that could be used as little league baseball bats. My neighbor spent a week at the beach. He wasn’t worried about what to do with the massive zucchinis when he returned from vacation – he knew who’d appreciate them. Yesterday, on my front porch, I found a paper bag filled with summer squash.

I like to feed treats to the hens that take them time to work on. I like them to have to eyeball novel things. This keeps them busy and engaged, and it’s far healthier for the chickens than gorging on easy-to-eat tidbits.

The tough-skinned zucchini were perfect.

Owly contemplated how to begin.




Even Twiggy, now integrated into the flock of Gems, skitted around to see.




Onyx, in a terrible state of molt, stayed on the end of the line, but she still was able to peck away.

lineup at zucc



When everyone else is tired of the excess of late-summer zucchinis, my girls say Bring them on!

a crowd


Are your hens helping you to cope with the harvest? Using up vegetables that no one else wants? Leave a comment!

Tonka is on R & R

The weather at the end of July was sweltering. The horses were sweating just standing still. Tonka seemed a tad stiff. Under saddle he wasn’t lame but he felt off to me. Despite fresh water in his trough in the turnout, and full water buckets in his stall, the barn owner and I worried that he wasn’t drinking enough. I added electrolytes to his daily ration. That seemed to help, but then, a day later, he came in from the paddock with this rock stuck in his shoe.

stone in shoe


In all my years with horses, I’ve never seen such a massive rock jammed so tightly into a shoe. I had to use a hammer to knock it out. Tonka had likely been playing in the paddock and somehow stepped on this rock just so. It was one of those bizarre and unavoidable mishaps. I don’t know how long he was walking around, off-kilter because of that rock. But, Tonka didn’t seem stressed, or in pain.

Still, it was fortuitous that the blacksmith was already scheduled to put on new shoes the next day.



The outside of the horse’s hoof is like our fingernails, there’s no feeling in it. Shoes can be nailed right on. But, closely under the sole of the foot there are bones and tissue and blood. Some horses have sturdy feet and can go barefoot. Unfortunately, Tonka’s soles are flat, and here in rocky New England he needs shoes to elevate and protect the bottoms of his hooves. Without shoes he walks around ouchy. So, it was with much relief that Georgia, the blacksmith, trimmed and tested his feet and said that there was no obvious bruising. He trotted out sound on the pavement but in the soft footing of the indoor ring, Tonka was lame. This spoke to a muscle issue. The vet was called, and the consensus was that Tonka had pulled his shoulder while walking around uneven because of that rock. This would take some time to heal. Tonka was put on rest and relaxation.

Some horses don’t take to R & R, but Tonka is a mellow guy. I go daily and hand-graze him in the tall grass.

in grass


He’s in a small turnout, where, hopefully, he can’t overdo it. You can see that he’s been enjoying rolling in the dirt.

dusty horse


After a grooming session, I  put him back into his stall, gleaming. Tonka is shining with good health and wondering why life is suddenly so boring.

in stall


He’s almost back to being fully sound, but not quite yet. I’ll be back in the saddle and exploring new trails in September.

The Messy Molt

Unlike the hair on our head, which falls out and grows back in day in and day out, your chickens’ feathers have to last all year. By the time late summer rolls around, their feathers are rough-edged and worn out. Sometimes the tail feathers are the only ones that look ragged.



Sometimes the tail feathers are gone.



Your hens won’t molt at the same time. In my flock, Florence remains broody, and the Rhode Island Reds and Amber continue to lay.



But, Onyx is fully into the molt.



As is Pearl, the cochin. What a mess. The larger feathers are all akimbo.

sideways feather


Neck feathers are sparse.

neck feathers


The old feathers on her back have fallen out, and new feather shafts are pushing their way out. If you notice a change in your hen’s behavior, this could be why. Ow.

pin feathers


To see an animation of how feathers unfurl and grow, go here – and then read everything else at this wonderful spot created by the Cornell Lab.

For more information about the molt in chickens (including what to feed) read my FAQ.

How To Make Your Hens Happy

At the most basic level, chickens need good food and water. A secure shelter, places to roost and to lay eggs. They need fresh air and sunshine. They need to be able to scratch the ground and take dirt baths. They need enough space so that they’re not stressed by crowding. These things will keep your flock healthy and content enough.

However, to make them happy, chickens need more than a large, clean pen. The need variation – even hens get bored in a blank enclosure with just pellets to eat and nothing new to see and explore.. Yes, happy is a human term that might not exactly fit with what the animal is experiencing. But it’s close enough.

If you want to see a flock of totally delighted hens, rake your run, then add clean, loose sand (I use all-purpose builders sand.) How can I tell that this makes the girls happy? The chickens will dig deep holes and loll about in them. Listen and you’ll hear gleeful chortling.

Dirt will fly.

dirty hens


Don’t be alarmed by the contortions of your dust-bathing hens.




The rabbit (if you have one) will get into the act.



So much happiness for so little effort and expense on my part.



What makes your hens happy?

(For more ideas on how to keep your hens busy and happy, read this post.)