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Goats without Buying Feed  RSS feed

 
Benton Lewis
Posts: 143
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I live in central Georgia.  What should I plant to not have to buy food for meat or dairy goats? 
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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you would want a fairly wide ranging variety of bushes, shrubs, tall grasses, you will need at least one acre per animal per week for at least 24 weeks worth of browsing.  There are some great books on raising goats out there with far more information on plant types than I could give you.

It is amazing how fast a goat will go through a feed plot and turn it into dust if not moved frequently enough.
 
Travis Johnson
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Honestly this is a very loaded question and my answer is not going to be the one you want, but is riddled with truth and experience. It is also comes in two parts:

1. I would really question if you should have goats if you have to plant fodder in order for them to thrive. In fact this applies to any farm and anything a farm has to do to get it to grow. If the farms soil, topography and infrastructure do not support goats (or whatever they raise), then it will ultimately be difficult to do because the costs for fighting mother nature will be difficult, if not impossible. It is always far better to match the animals to the farm, then tr and force mother nature to conform to the livestock the people on the farm want to raise. This is the #1 mistake I see start up farms make today.

2. The hardest part however is not having pasture for summer grazing, but having enough feed to get through the winter. It is a bit easier for you as your grazing season is longer than for me here in Maine, but while winter grazing gets a lot of press, 100% grazing is like finding a hens tooth balancing atop of a Unicorn's horn. In short, in order to not have to buy feed you will most likely need nice fields in which to harvest feed for winter. I have enough acreage for this, but even for me it is a huge challenge. Maintaining soil fertility, obtaining equipment, and maintaining that equipment is a challenge when trying to bring it within reason since the price of goat (or sheep in my case) is so low. Even if the farm is a hobby-farm and the livestock used for the owners own consumption, it is hard to justify so much work and investment when they can just buy animals off some other hobby farm.

Self sufficient livestock farms are very difficult to have, my farm included. There are many reasons for this. If the farm has sufficient acreage, they also have significant property taxes, yet it takes a lot of feed to provide for an animal 365-1/4 days per year. This often means limiting the amount of livestock on the farm, and really limiting if the feed is produced on shares, which is what I currently do. I could double the number of sheep if I didn't, however I would have to also get better equipment to do so. That unto itself is expensive. This is the reason many, or most hobby farms pasture their animals on as much of their farms as they can, then purchase winter feed from other other farmers.

Replacing grains is equally difficult, if not more so. I do not even try. It is not as easy as first appeared, as animal nutrition is complex, but livestock can get enough nutrition from grass alone even during 3rd stage pregnancy and lactation when done properly.
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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This is an odd question--or at least one lacking in detail.  Being more specific might help you get more specific responses.

If you have a plot of land large enough to keep goats, surely it already contains herbage the goats will eat.  If you're starting with absolutely bare dirt, then you can probably leave it alone; what grows, the goats will probably eat.

The beauty of ruminants is that they eat what's already there, turning things that are (mostly) inedible to humans into food for humans.  If you have to plant things for them, it seems something's wrong.
 
Justin Peck
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Location: Tennessee
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In order to raise goats with low input you would need a significant acreage per goat and have a variety of forage. Some wooded, some open field. Goats can not live on grass alone, they need forbes and browse. But if you're looking to raise goats at a low cost and are ok bringing in food from outside sources check with your local groceries and food pantries, they throw away organic vegetables every day that could go to feeding your goats.
 
Faye Corbett
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Location: Appalachian Mountains
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I've raised dairy goats for over 40 years and have yet to be self sufficient doing it, though I have tried.  Most of the dairy goats are bred to eat a considerable amount of grain ration and a lot of hay in addition to pastures to maintain their body weight and produce milk.  Some Nubians are dual purpose (the old style) and forage pretty well and maintain weight, and the meat type breeds of course do.  They've developed cattle who can forage only (with addition of hay dry matter as forage has a lot of water in it, causing bloat in absence of hay when it is wet or overly moist, as well as limiting capacity of what they can eat due to high water content filling stomach), who give milk without added grain input.  Goats do well on oats/sunflower seed with loose minerals available at all times, and maybe a sprinkle of flax and dried molasses, as their grain ration.  They do need high forage, not much grain as their stomachs cannot take much grain, it interferes with rumen functioning.  I have one doe who cannot have more than two cups of grain ration per day or she loses rumen function, goes off feed, so I have to limit her.  The others can take up to a quart at the time.   My pastures have a mix of many high protein forbes such as varieties of clover, lespedeza, chicory, and wild and domestic dandelion, plantain.  Mulberry trees hang over the fences and when leaves drop in fall they gobble them up.  They are a complete protein and high in calcium.  In winter (I'm in lower N.C. mountains), I overplant with winter wheat, ryegrass and sometimes oats.  In a hard winter, the oats winter kill but the wheat can take it.  They paw down even under snow to find green matter. 

So the short answer is, yes, it can be done, but ultimately you will have to really work at it to get good variety and high mineralization on your land to make the good stuff grow.  The more variety in the mix the better and goats utilize protein and nutrients in many plants that a cow cannot eat or digest.  Just watch out for the poisonous stuff and get a list from your county agent.  Black walnut, poisonsous to horses, is ok for goats and it helps keep them wormed.  Speaking of worming, rotating your pastures and planting lespedeza, having paulownia trees so they can eat the leaves, the black walnut leaves and many other things can help worm them.  Having them on the same land for more than 2 weeks at the time is asking for trouble.  Move them around every 2 weeks to break up the parasite cycle.  They also love locust and acorns.  Too many acorns can lodge in their rumen, blocking it from movement and can ultimately kill them but it takes a lot.  The acorns make them gain weight (it is high in protein and good omega oils), and have higher butterfat and wonderful tasting milk.  I sometimes pick up acorns from my trees which have really big, mild ones, and save for late winter as a treat for them and give them a few every day at milking time. 

You may also have to do some serious culling and selection to get the animals you want who thrive under the conditions they will be in at your farm. 

If you want to work this hard, you could use a scythe and cut your own hay, cure in the field and store loose in the barn loft.   I used to do this and had a trap door in the loft so I could open and drop it down into their hay rack and not have to carry it.  I would just rake over a portion daily.   It is easy to grow oats and sunflower seed, both only take 45 days to mature for harvest. 

They eat a lot more than most people realize and unless your pastures have high mineral and nitrogen levels, you will need a lot of land for them.  You can't go by the books, because there is poor pasture, good pasture and really good pasture.  Lot of difference in what it can accomplish.  I use ag lime, soft rock phosphate and wood ash on my pastures, and lately have been mixing in a little kelp, azomite, boron and selenium because east coast soils are deficient in the last two.  Those trace minerals are important and you'll see the difference in the health of the animals, weight gain, milk production and healthy, vigorous babies.  We are what we eat!  And they are too. 
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Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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You will have to have a very nice goats who lets you milk without any grain and nice things.
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
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Location: Western Kenya
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I keep meat goats without buying any commercial food or outside inputs.  The catch though is that I live in the tropics, and I have no winter.  I do however have a 3 month dry season which presents many of the same challenges as winter.  And note I said meat goats.  Meat goats needs are quite different from dairy goats. Dairy goats are highly domesticated and grain dependant. Meat goats more closely resemble feral goats, are more efficient in foraging and are able to go through lactation without huge additional needs.  My goats are also a tough little native African breed that have been culled for hundreds of generations by total neglect and ignorance.  There are no vets here!  That being said, the rainy season creates more biomass than they can consume.  During the lean dry months we depend on Mexican sunflower which is both wild and semi cultivated here as s hedge.  Cultivated Napier grass.  Sweet potato vines and banana leaves/stocks.  (Along with what ever else they forage for themselves).  The carrying capacity of our farm is determined by how many animals we can comfortably feed during the drought months.  Through a bit of trial and error we came down to ten does, one breeding buck and their unweaned offspring.  We are able to maintain that many only because we have a wetland area.  Without that, we would probably only be able to maintain 5.  Another important factor is the parasite load.  Even if you manage to feed them, having too many goats on too small an area can create an unmanageable worm load - which is probably the number 1 enemy of goat health.
 
Benton Lewis
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Sounds like winter food will be the challenge.  Are there any evergreen plants like shrubs that would feed goats through the winter in georgia in zone 8?  The invasive evergreen privet thrives here. 
 
Faye Corbett
Posts: 36
Location: Appalachian Mountains
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Benton Lewis wrote:Sounds like winter food will be the challenge.  Are there any evergreen plants like shrubs that would feed goats through the winter in georgia in zone 8?  The invasive evergreen privet thrives here. 


Privet is slightly toxic, but goats seem to eat it with impunity as long as they have other forage to choose from.  I grow Italian ryegrass and oats (which sometimes winter kill), and wheat which is hardy, as a winter graze for them.  The fescue, of course, which is so prevalent, stays green all winter too.  Nothing grows as fast when it is cold, but I stockpile pastures by closing the gates on them in late August or early September, letting it grow up and they then graze it in winter.  The coarser, taller grass is a good carb for them, but lower in protein.  They need the extra carbs over winter and as long as it isn't wet, can take the place of a lot of hay.  This was Joel Salatin's formula.  My hay bill went from $2500 to $120 a year after doing this.  I'm in 6B zone so you can certainly grow those things in your area.  You might be able to have oats all winter.  The goats love the tender greens from them.   You can also give them treats of collard or kale out of your garden.  Check out Austrian field peas, which are good grown as forage, but you would need a way to till it in slightly to get good germination, or as I once did, just cover with spoiled hay instead of soil.  Let it establish well before grazing so they don't pull it up.  Also limit their grazing on it so they don't overgraze and kill it.  My back hillside pasture is planted into lespedeza and chicory.  I have to take them off the chicory while it is still 4 to 6 inches high or they graze it until they kill it.  It's their favorite. 
 
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