What does a goat need? What ever makes em’ happy and sets them free.
Goats are notorious for being mischievous creatures and there reputation for other things has earned them some pretty awesome nicknames. Over the years of having goats it has been a great learning process in what goats really need. When I first started on my sustainable farming adventure I had heard about using goats to prune fruit trees. Well in my naive way I purchased some goats and bare root fruit trees and soon learned nothing good was going to come from that combination. You live and learn. The fruit trees are still alive, the goats have gotten smaller (I did not find a way to shrink animals but sold my first herd and bought a smaller breed) and the fences have gotten stronger.
To back it up a bit I became interested in farming because I realized the impact of what consumption is like in a first world country and the large impact that we ripple out through our tiniest actions. One of the greatest things we consume is food no matter who we are. Trivial I know. But it is the little things we do the most that truly add up. Food adds up and whether you are rich or poor, it is what you consume that defines you. So I wanted to produce everything myself – milk, fruit, herbs, and basically everything I consumed.
Off the soapbox and back onto the subject of goats. Animals in general play an important role on a sustainable farm. They are workers, helpers and friends. Our goats are not milked and we would never eat them, they are our friends. We utilize our goats for weed control in the back area where we do not grow crops (50% of the farm is left untouched to enjoy the already beautiful landscape). They mow down the weeds and keep the trees pruned up which keeps us a little more fire safe. Goats are more similar to deer in eating habits than there ruminant friends like cows and pigs. They prefer to browse and eat the best first. Whatever is on the other side of the fence is always better and without a strong fence be prepared to piss off the neighbors or lose your crops. Its tough to rotate goats on a small piece of land since browse takes longer to grow back than grasses. You have to be creative. I’m still working to try and close the loop but for now they provide brushing, keeping the snakes at bay and some fun moments around the farm.
A great resource for goat owners is the Fias Co Farm website. Everything you ever needed to know about keeping goats in a holistic fashion. Also check out an article on Pigs and Beer from ZERI.org (Zero Emissions Research Imitative) to see how animals are used in closed loop systems.