At the Elms vineyard we have about 30 hectares of hill country. It is too steep and gnarly for vines and for many years we left it as scrubland but, like a lot of land around us, it is covered in Sweet Briar. This wild rose was introduced originally for rose hips (for vitamin C) but just as gorse or broom will take over hillsides in other areas, the roses will do it in Bannockburn. The idea of burning them off, or using helicopters and herbicide (the two norms locally) was not acceptable: we needed a more imaginative approach. The answer came with African Boer goats. These intelligent and hardy animals love roses (as anybody who has had a goat in their garden will testify) and will eat them in preference to the grass or other plants. Today we have stabilised off at a herd of about 50 strong. They pretty much self manage, needing a bit of feed supplement in winter and a watchful eye when kidding, but otherwise take care of themselves. Each year we have about 20-25 kids, plenty for keeping the herd strength up, and giving us a year round supply of fantastic meat, (think the best lamb you have ever had, but a bit leaner).
The manure from the goats combines with wastewater from the winery, which we sprinkle on the hills, to help a solid growth of grass between the bushes. Since the goats aren’t that keen on the grass we can run a few head of highland cattle to eat the grass. So a piece of scrubby wasteland has become a productive beef and goat farm. The cattle supply horns and manure for our biodynamic preparations as well as beef to eat and wonderful hairy rugs for our floors. Best of all, the goats keep the roses in perfect check: they don’t get out of hand and take over, just stay in balance supplying the food for the goats.