Our herd of awesome goats clears land and keeps blackberry at bay. They are a hand full to control, one of the most difficult systems in the landscape, yet their contribution and hard work are invaluable. For years these hard working stock animals have moved around the property eating invasives and keeping our freezer full of delicious meat. This year is a milestone, as we are working with 5 animals through the summer, and planning to breed 3 does next fall, which will be the largest gestation hosted on the land.
In the picture above, you see a wall of thick green bramble and ferns, a forest floor without much diversity, languishing in briar. There is a thick green mat of vegetation, but little diversity to recommend to wildlife or the greater ecology of the area. When goats move through. they open up the landscape to new opportunity. It also becomes easier to access parts of the landscape that might otherwise be neglected. This stand of forest is slowly being cleared of red alders, opening the canopy to new plantings of western white pine, wild Nootka rose, and native crab apple. These species are native, productive as fruit baring, and offer good pollination opportunities to insects.
When the bare ground is exposed, reseeding can occur, allowing the introduction of ground covers like knick-knick, elder, and twin flower. Wildflower mixes and shade loving under-story crops can be directly seeded into the landscape, through irrigation through early plant development (several weeks), will be necessary in our dry summer climate. In shad areas, like the one above, its more successful to plant out roots stalk instead of seeding, but I always throw something down, just to offer a foot hold.
Goats brows hard, leaving little in their wake of appetite. This is not a system I would recommend to sensitive ecosystems that are fully intact, not without a lot of supervision. Tethering goats takes a lot of work and good planning. Most people who raise goats, keep them in well fenced paddock systems. Chain tethers are used to maintain strong boundaries on the goat’s destruction zone. Many areas of the property are scattered with fragile young trees and shrubs, which the goats would gladly chow down on if they were left unchecked.
The challenges of goats revolve around negotiating strong individuals with iron will. If a goat wants to go somewhere, and you don’t have a good hold on her, she’ll drag you along for the ride. She’s usually heading for the nearest fruit tree when she escapes, and she knows their location by heart. A goat will panic when alone, so you can’t have just one. They are prolific breeders, so if you do have a stud in the herd, you’re going to have a large herd in no time without proper planning. Goats are sensitive creatures, and cannot handle extreme temperatures- meaning most of the winter is spent under cover, eating expensive hay. In summer, extra oversight is needed to make sure goats do not overheat.
The herd plan for our goats is all about mixing two wonderful breeds; the Boer, a meat breed, and Nigerian Dwarf, a milking breed. Gamble is out first product of this crossing, and she’s already showing the slightly smaller frame of build, along with good muscle mass. We’ll breed her this fall in her second year, after she’s finished growing. Our new buck, Valcore’s Dream, is a papered ADGA Nigerian Dwarf. He and Gamble should produce the perfect homestead animal, something duel purpose but not too big. Next spring, we should have around five kids, a lot of genetic material to work with as we shape our ideal goat for a smaller forested landscape.