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Goats in a food forest?

 
Jason Vath
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Here's a crazy idea, would it be possible at all to introduce goats in a food forest without massive devastation?
I know it sounds insane but, I'm curious if anyone has done such a thing and if so, how.

 
Jerry Evans
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Great question. I have Nigerian dwarf goats and live next to thousands of acres of forrest. As soon as I let them out they run straight for my fruit trees. If the dont eat the tops they start stripping the bark off. Drives me nuts.
 
Alder Burns
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I wouldn't let them in among desirable trees until the bark is thick enough to be flaking or shredding or however mature bark behaves. With fruit trees they would have to be fully mature, and even then they will browse off any lower branches...which are the most convenient to pick from! Determined goats will stand up on their hind legs to reach higher and will scramble up into low crotches of trees etc. My take on it is to let them run in the bush, the wild, etc.....and take them all your prunings.....
 
Vanessa Bonnin
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Maybe not so crazy if you try out sepp holzer's 'bone sauce' technique. I haven't tried it myself but happened to be reading this post the other day: http://www.richsoil.com/sepp-holzer/sepp-holzer-permaculture.jsp. Apparently it will keep animals off trees...
 
Jerry Evans
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I saw the bone sauce recipe a while back and forgot about it. I think it was more for deer than goats but might be worth a try. I have hundreds of fruit trees but would only have to treat those close to the goat pens.
Naturally life would be so much simpler if they would just browse in the woods 30 feet to the left. They act like I it's fenced off and they can't get in.
 
Burra Maluca
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Where I live, it's common to put a front-to-back hobble on the goats to stop them standing on their hind legs and reaching up into the fruit trees to tear branches off.
 
Jerry Evans
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Wow
don't think I would want to add that much complication for eight goats but I would like to see it done. I tend to be lazy and just throw there gate open while I drink a cup of coffee. I do remind them on the way out to leave my apple trees alone. Works about as well as talking to my kids. In hindsight I guess I should have stuck to gardening and fruit trees. I guess I'm committed now with goats and kids!
 
Jason Vath
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Thanks for all the input everyone, I'm starting to understand more about goats and their destructiveness to trees.

Thanks for reminding about Sepp's bone sauce, although it is mentioned for deterring deer, perhaps it'd also work for other animals?

I guess overall it's a risky endeavor to attempt. Perhaps if goats were allowed to graze on the edges of a mature food forest, things would be ok?
What I mean is, have a paddock shift system in which one side of electro-netting was up next to the edge of the forest, so that the goats could browse from the overhang.
...But then I wonder if that would encourage entanglement with the electro-netting, both animals & vegetation.
Hmm, maybe it is just a crazy idea after all as it sounds too complicated to pull off successfully. Interesting anyways.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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Maybe my wife has weird goats. No, they're not MY goats!
They would rather east grass and forbs than trees.
Of course, if they wander across a tender fruit tree they'll happily snip the top off and helpfully remove the leaves. Argh.
This is all because apparently these Nigerian dwarfs can't read. Because the stuff I read said they won't jump a 4-foot fence.
Yeah right. Unless they're bored, hungry, or want to get out. The kids especially, but even a big doe jumps it.
Well, it's probably due to me being a bad owner, and not having proper infrastructure. Like a 10-foot concrete wall.
I'd like to do free-range, but they're too destructive. I'd also like to do paddock-shift rotational grazing, but don't have the infrastructure.
And electric net fencing doesn't work too well here. Sandy soil with sagebrush and lumps and bumps, not the flat grassy fields like in the Premier catalogs.

Jason: Have you seen the GeoffLawton.com video about reforesting with goats? Basically they keep down the brushy "weed" trees, so you can grow productive stuff.
I think the trick would be not leaving them in an area too long, and really protecting the trees you want to save.
It would not be correct for a zone 1 food forest, but maybe for a zone 2 or 3 where it's not so close to the dwelling.
I know the goats that live on my land (ha! see, they're not MY goats) are too close to the house.
Good luck. Maybe you'll be the pioneer in goat-integrated food forestry!
 
Jerry Evans
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Interesting fencing issues. I have had my Nigerians about four years and have never had one jump or climb my 48" fencing. I know pigmies will jump and climb but my Nigerians haven't.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Jerry Evans wrote:Interesting fencing issues. I have had my Nigerians about four years and have never had one jump or climb my 48" fencing. I know pigmies will jump and climb but my Nigerians haven't.

LOL "interesting".
Thanks for being diplomatic!
After 2 years owning them, they just started doing it a few months ago. One doeling did it, and taught the others how. Now everyone who can, jumps the fence.
Apparently the grass is greener over the fence.
The biggest doe that can jump it catches her back feet on the fence, but it's electric net and flexes.
I know the fence is working properly. It even hurts me, and I have on rubber boots!
I'm going to have to sell them. It's not worth it to get the trees destroyed.
 
Jerry Evans
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Lol
I am considering selling mine too. I definitely would if they started getting out. My fencing is hard wire netting with very little give to it. I can wrap my trees with the same material but it just looks like crap. When I look at adding a thousand dollars of trees each fall. My goats may end up having to go.
 
Kurt Stailey
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Location: Indiana, zone 6
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This is exactly how we use our goats. Obviously we do not let them into the areas we just planted fruit trees, but as soon as the trees are large enough to take some browsing and not be bent over we put in the goats. For us it is a labor free method of chop and drop. In my mind it fits perfectly into a permaculture mindset. It is chop N' drop with a middle man. In this case the goat does the chop for you, takes some nutrients, adds a few, adds some urine/moisture, then drops it all over your forest garden for you in the form of awesome little odor-free pelletized fertilizer. Our farm is pretty much all on a slope so we run our goats in the space between our water retention swales, so this all washes into the ditch and makes some awesome plant tea for us every time it rains. But they will also destroy all your work if they escape and get into some new growth. Just like deer the goats love new leaves. But we have found they do not even try to get out unless they are wanting something, if all their needs are met inside the fence, they tend to stay there. We only have trouble when rut starts, then we put as much distance as possible between or bucks and does.
 
Deborah Niemann
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Ditto on everything Kurt said here. You just put the goats in areas where you want the trees "pruned." We had a huge overgrowth of willows around our pond a couple of years ago -- at least 100 baby trees that were 6-7 feet tall. We put up the ElectroNet, put the goats in there, and they took care of those baby trees for us, no problem!

Now, don't get me started about the six, 3-year-old apple trees they killed! I gained all my fencing knowledge through a lot of sweat and tears!
 
Kurt Stailey
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Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Deborah Niemann wrote:Now, don't get me started about the six, 3-year-old apple trees they killed! I gained all my fencing knowledge through a lot of sweat and tears!


Absolutely!!! If you keep goats you MUST be prepared to lose plants you wanted to keep. They are going to get into your raspberry patch and put a hurting' on it at some point. If you can't handle losing some plants, goats might be a bad choice. Thats being said, we double/triple fence. Not only are our goats fenced, but that section of the farm is also fenced, and our plant nursery and annual garden are fenced too. Sounds like a lot of fence, but if a goat has to get through/over 4 fences to get to my orchard, so does a deer
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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Kurt Stailey wrote:Sounds like a lot of fence, but if a goat has to get through/over 4 fences to get to my orchard, so does a deer

Ok, you sold me on cows. It does seem weird that it's easier to fence cows than goats. One string of electric! One! And they're 8-10 times bigger! (but not perfect, I know. Had this discussion with the wife...)

Yes, Kurt, I agree, I think properly harnessing their natural habits, and contained they are a productive helpful element.
Just not for me at this point.
But it does bother me to lose plants. I think about the potential production of that tree over its lifetime, cut short by (and compared to) the single bite of a goat. Ugh.

Deborah Biemann wrote:Now, don't get me started about the six, 3-year-old apple trees they killed! I gained all my fencing knowledge through a lot of sweat and tears!

Oh, I've seen this too, just not as bad. I had 200 1-year-old fruit bushes that they nipped the tops off about half of them. Proper goat-tight (high if necessary) fences are so important!
 
Deborah Niemann
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I wouldn't say that cows are easier -- or any livestock for that matter. If you have the wrong fencing for the species, they'll get out. Even though cows can be kept with a single strand of electric, they don't always respect wove wire. We used to have a cow that would try to jump over our woven wire. Multiple times she got her hind legs woven through the fence! One time I was home alone, and all I could do was get out the bolt cutters and start cutting.
 
Kurt Stailey
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I am beginning to feel very very lucky with our goats. We have *mostly* horned goats with minimal fencing and have avoided most of the pitfalls mentioned (we have had parasite losses, and one necroscopy to find menengial worms) But for the most part, they have been awesome, hard working farm hands.

Here is the fence we use, in one of our food forest areas:




Very minimal, easy to maintain, cheap to build, and for us has worked fine.

--Kurt
 
Jason Vath
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Ok, it's quite clear to me now. Goats are great at clearing raw land in preparation for something to come such as, Food Forest, new garden area etc. They seem to be one of nature's 'bulldozers' or 'clear cutters'.
Only if they're very well managed should one risk having them near anything you want to keep. Sounds like a fire which could easily get out of control!
I guess I'm not experienced enough to take on the challenge of goats yet. Interesting to hear everyone's advice & experiences however!

Hope you have continued success Kurt.
 
Aaron White
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Location: Midlands of South Carolina - 8a/7b
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Totally off topic here, but I have to say Kurt those are some fine looking goats.
 
Jonathan Krohn
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Mollison's Intro to Permaculture doesn't address anything specific about goats in food forests (other than them being "incompatible with permaculture"!), but it shows examples of several different systems for other large animals in agroforestry systems. I don't have it in front of me, but I believe the main common features were fenced lines of forest polycultures with wide strips of pasture between. Of course, the tree lines might be on contour and/or planted on swales. Fencing would vary by species - for pigs, I think he mentioned fences with an angled portion partly buried next to the main fence to keep them from digging underneath. Goats would require different fencing, but I think the basic idea could work the same.
 
Kurt Stailey
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Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Thanks Aaron!

Jonathan; Not sure why Mollison would list goats as incompatible in permaculture. I certainly would not put them in a young forest area because they would wreck the smaller trees. But we run them often in established forest areas and they do nothing but good that I have seen. I don't want to make it sound like I haven't wanted to shoot them in the past, but since we got our fencing lined out they very rarely escape and cause havoc.

--Kurt

 
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