By Stefanie Hildmann
GOATS are becoming increasingly popular for weed control.
With that increasing popularity, a lot of myths about goats starting to emerge. For example, they always need to get wormed, don’t eat weeds, easy to keep, difficult to keep, ringbark trees, escape all the time, etc.
Let’s look at the facts, as this usually clears up a lot of the myths in the process.
Goats are not grazers; they are foragers. They need to consume a much larger variety of plants to meet their nutritional needs than sheep or cattle. If their dietary needs are not met, goats develop health and behavioural problems. Once that is understood, the solutions for the so-called problems are apparent.
Goats need to have access to various plant groups, shrubs, trees, herbs and grasses at any time. This provides them with a wide range of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Like all ruminants, they have an instinct to what they need and which plant will provide it to them – and those will be the plants they forage on.
If the nutritional requirements of goats are not met, goats become terribly parasitic. Most goats are anaemic due to intestinal parasites. As goats have the innate instinct to forage for what they need, they try to get to those food sources at all costs. As they are excellent climbers, there is no fence high enough if they want to go. If all nutritional requirements are met, goats can get trained on two strands of electric fencing.
Besides their distinctive nutritional needs, goats have particular psychological needs, as cattle and sheep have too. Goats are herd animals and need to be kept in multiples. They have very complex and specific herd dynamics, and it is cruel for them not to express those. A single goat will always pine for company and again, will survive but not thrive.
And then there are those feet – they need a lot of maintenance, a trim every six weeks. If that is not done, the hoof wall will fold inward. It starts to hurt and impact their movement. Restricted movement, in turn, will stop goats from exploring, which will restrict their nutrient intake, making them more susceptible to parasites – a vicious circle.
Foraging provides many other benefits for goats – besides the variety of nutrients, it encourages them to exercise, vital for health and weight control. It also stimulates all senses, keeping them occupied and out of mischief.
And yes, goats don’t always eat blackberries – goats prefer blackberries when they most palatable – from spring to autumn. In winter, they get a nibble but need to get heavily supplemented by other available species – often grasses, flatweeds and thistles.
Many plants are poisonous to goats, bracken, honeysuckle, nightshades, cherry trees – to name a few. If there is a wide variety of feed available, they will avoid those. If feed becomes tight, they might have a nibble, with dire consequences.
It all comes down to meet the natural feed requirements of goats as foragers to avoid health and well-being problems.
Next week I will discuss some more practical and legal aspects of having goats. In the meantime, please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will run a workshop for successful goat keeping in Foster North on July 10 from 10am to 3pm. Please send your enquiries to email@example.com.
Growing up in Germany around a grandfather whose favourite topic was healthy pasture, Stefanie learnt early about the importance of plant diversity, healthy soils, foods and how to achieve those. During her business career in China, she had the opportunity to travel to farms worldwide. She learned about various approaches to sustainability, plant-diversity and healthy food production. Moving to Australia in 2000, she reconnected with the Land. She stuck her hands in the dirt once more, regenerating several properties and put everything she leant into practice again. Stefanie now focuses on teaching regenerative land management in person and online, while managing properties and – admittedly her weakness – some cattle herds.