For twenty years now, we have been trying to eradicate the blackberries in our main gully through the farm. This area would have once supported a gentle seasonal flow, from the top of the farm, wending around the huge granite rocks and slowly flowing into Myrtle Creek, just beyond our western boundary. Before squatters and dams and fences that is. When we first came here, the gully was being used as a rubbish dump, maybe an attempt to hold back some of the erosion. For a few years we were constantly picking out bits of plastic and other detritus.
Slowly but surely, we have been improving the gully. Planting acacias to hold and improve the soil on the upper banks, and carex and other water loving grasses and reeds in the gully itself. Strategically placing woody debris and fine branches in the base, to slow the water and reduce erosion. We have always kept stock out to allow the groundcover to recover.
In all this time, we have never managed to tame the blackberries though. Until now. And thanks to our brave young goaties, it has only taken about a fortnight to make real and lasting inroads.
Putting goats in a granitic gully is not something we would normally recommend to anyone. But in this case we were prepared to because we had prepared well. Firstly, the area already had some level of restoration; it wasn’t a basket case. Secondly, the season has been kind; there was a good coverage of native and introduced grasses and leaf litter to protect the soil. Thirdly, we chose our goats carefully for the task.
This small herd of 20 future dairy does are a perfect fit for the job, and not just because they are brave climbers and leapers … they are young (three and six months old), light on their feet (and lightweight, plus their udders aren’t developed enough to be damaged) and far less savvy (not yet learnt bad habits like ringbarking!). And they are fantastic at eating blackberry flowers, fruit and leaves, laying bare the canes – and any rabbits -so we can more easily deal with both. We don’t think there is another domesticated animal that could do the job so effectively.
We have rigged up 200m of solar electrified mesh fencing to surround the briar patch, provided a salt lick and plenty of piped fresh water. They receive a small amount of concentrate each day (we would never feed hay down here: too much of a risk of bringing in weed seeds) and then they basically browse the blackberries, augmented with grasses, gum leaves and reeds.
It is amazing to watch them tackle the thorny plants, getting the best bits and somehow avoiding the painful bits, with dexterous lips, tongues and bottom palates. Oprah (daughter of Ryder) and Swallow (Bird’s progeny) showed us how it’s done.
Not to mention their dexterous hooves as they leap from boulder to rock, as sure footed as .…well, the proverbial. Sutton Grange may be nowhere near the Alps, but our goats carry rock climbing in their genes. It’s part play, part instinct – the need for a good vantage point to search for predators and food, or to be top goat.
We love being down here amongst the granite and the redgums too. There is something incredibly calming, beautiful and joyful about sitting high on a big rock, in the cool shade, surrounded by native grasses and being right amongst the playful, chomping, stomping goaties.
(And watch out for Swallow’s follow up Blog on cudding!)