The roundup and treatment of the Valley of Rocks goats

Colin E. Ridsdale

We have previously mentioned the illness in the goats in the Valley. Through the efforts of Diana Lewis (North Devon Animal Ambulance) and with support from Market Vets, South Molton, a joint action was planned and approved by the Council. This involved volunteers from NDAA, with support from the staff of the National Trust and Lee Abbey, Friends of the Goats, VORGEG the local Council led by the Mayor, Bernard Peacock and other private individuals.

Tuesday 23rd was the day of the roundup, starting at first light at 5.30 the goats sleeping on the car park were herded into the prepared compound. Next came the slopes of North Walk and Rugged Jack and slowly the groups were ushered off the along the road and into the compound. Luckily the big billie group were above South Cleave and were herded across the footpath to fence and then diagonally down to the path coming down opposite the car park. If they had been on the wrong side of the fence on Hollerday Hill it would have been a bigger problem. By 9 am the majority of the goats had been contained. The rest of the morning Hollerday Hill, the woodlands next to the Cemetery were searched for the few remaining stragglers. We missed a few goats lower down on the cliffs, the big black solitary billies and about two others. One was seen the next morning opposite Cloud Cottage, this ran passed two policemen, they could not handcuff it and we eventually lost it in the thick gorse. So at the end of the day we had total of 165 adults and kids all calmly contained as you can see. The black-wheeled container is for water and was provided by Lee Abbey. Off the picture was a large tarpaulin for shade for the goats. In the background you can see two horseboxes. The dark blue one from NDAA was used the next day by the vet to examine the animals, the other to contain the few very sick animals that had to be put to sleep. There was no need for an early start, as we had to wait for the vets to arrive, before we could start. So there was a separate funnel in front of the horsebox, where some twenty goats were placed and then the gate was closed. This picture shows a special case of the youngest kid and its mother that were ushered together to the capture area and taken through with each other to prevent stress.

There were several catchers to bring the goats into the horsebox and onwards to the subsequent handlings. The smaller goats were carried through, the middle sized ones were pulled through by their horns but the big bellies needed two people to manipulate them through the various phases. Luckily this amazingly went smoothly and never resulted in a goat rodeo wrestling competition, and nobody was hurt. Here you see John Rodway, the grazier’s husband carrying a young goat through for inspection by Rachel Forster, the vet in the blue shirt, whilst Diane Lewis, left in the white blouse notes down the details of each goat. The teeth and gums are inspected, the teeth indicative of the animals age; ears for parasites; eyes particularly the whites of the eye which are a clue for an anaemic blood condition.

The general body condition and the state of its coat in respect of ticks and lice are noted. The animal is then moved out of the back door of the horsebox for the next series of events. This sometimes led to a traffic jam and things had to be slowed down This starts with an inspection of the hooves, which are trimmed. Two people were always available to do this. However, as would be expected from goats walking over the scree slopes and climbing the rocks in the valley, these were mostly in good condition. This sounds simple but actually being able to get at their feet is not always easy as can be seen by the various stances the goats took. 

 There were so many different stances from (left) nice manicure please, to (middle) well if I must, to (right) let’s sit down for this my feet have been killing me and lastly the difficult girls and guys where you lift up the hoof backwards.

Having gone through then comes the gritty bit: the jabs. Here goats do not seem to differ from humans, there are those squeamish ones that scream before the jab, those that keep stiff upper lip (luckily the majority) and those that struggle and make life difficult (only a few)

The goats were all vaccinated against bluetongue and the majority also received an injection for internal parasites, the last few received this orally.

A few goats were treated with antibiotics for various infections including eyes.

They then were treated externally with fluid against ticks and lice along their backs. Lastly goats in poorer condition were marked with paint on their horns to make inspection easier in the autumn roundup.

They were then passed on to Elaine Drew (FoG), here standing next to the Mayor, Bernard Peacock, who was one of the active goat catchers for the whole day.

The goats were then moved out into the holding compound, where they were quite relaxed munching on goat-mix in the troughs –which also attracted the ponies

Of course lastly we need to thank Julian Gurney for the organization and co-ordination – here standing keeping an eye on things

As Diane Lewis said everything worked so well when so many things could have gone wrong. What is more everyone automatically worked as a well-oiled team although nobody had done this before.

Everything was done properly and openly, as it should be with a welfare management plan, which contrasts to the earlier culls. The goats are an important part of the management and conservation of the Valley of Rocks. For this it is imperative that there is a healthy herd of goats.

 Well what happened next with the goats. They were released back into the valley at 7.00 pm when there was little traffic on the road.

Then they all immediately started browsing on the bracken and heather. They had enough of grass and fancy food and were back on the job again as conservation grazers.

The next morning the scene in the valley was unchanged, the nannies and kids were back on Rugged Jack, the ponies were standing in the bracken opposite, and the big billy group, well they were nowhere to be seen as could be expected.