Pastures for Meat Goats
A Pasture Program for Meat Goats
Pastures are very important for keeping the costs of raising meat goats down. We purchase all of the hay we feed. During a normal year we feed very little purchased feed or hay from April through December. In January and March our goats receive about 50% of their nutrition from purchased feed and hay, the balance from pasture. In February they receive all of their nutrition from purchased feed and hay. During droughts or cooler than normal winters we have to feed more. In northern Arkansas the two forages with the longest growing season are tall fescue and white clover. While sprouts are great for goats they have a short growing season (about 5 months,) Sprouts will not survive more than three years in a permanent goat pasture. Some have suggested that permanent sprout pastures could be maintained for goats by rotational grazing. The problem with this theory is that the leaves on sprouts wax over shortly after they emerge, and after waxing over they have very little nutritional value. To keep sprouts highly nutritious throughout the growing season they must be grazed constantly.
Goats grazing high quality pastures produce better quality meat and milk, at a lower cost to the producer, than goats grazing poor quality pastures or goats fed stored feeds. An ideal pasture program for meat goats would provide highly nutritious forages for as many months out of the year as possible. Such a pasture program would include both cool season and warm season forages and would also include legumes. Pastures with legumes will produce more forage and will produce better quality, high protein, forage because of the extra nitrogen made available by nitrogen fixing bacteria which grow in nodules on the roots of legumes. Ideal pasture forages need to be hardy and persistent. Once they are established, they should be there permanently.
Based on our experience and information available on new forage varieties, our program has two sets of pastures. The first set of pastures contains novel entophyte tall fescue, Bermuda grass, crab grass, hop clover, white clover, and our hardy strain of subterranean clover. The crab grass and hop clover will establish themselves. They both make good grazing for goats. All of these forages can tolerate very heavy grazing by goats. This set of pastures is available for goats to graze without restrictions the entire year.
A second set of pastures in our program contains novel entophyte tall fescue, serecia lespedeza, and warm season native grasses. Serecia lespedeza and native grasses provide high quality grazing in summer, when most forages are poor quality. Serecia Lespedeza is difficult to establish and maintain in goat pastures. Goats will kill it if allowed to graze it without restrictions, so grazing of this second set of pastures is restricted from April through September to allow the lespedeza to get established and to survive. We use AU Grazer serecia which is finer stemmed and more tolerant of heavy grazing than the common serecia. Serecia lespedeza is a legume. It will improve the quality and yield of the other forages in this set of pastures. The growth of fescue in this second set of pastures would be stockpiled for late fall and winter grazing when the lespedeza is dormant. Because of the restricted grazing, warm season grasses such as crab grass, purple top, sage grass, Johnson grass, and blue stem, along with hop clover and many herbal weeds that goats like to eat, will establish themselves. These forages are well liked by goats, but, except for crab grass and hop clover, they do not survive in goat pastures with unrestricted grazing.
We have recently established this second set of pastures, and are running some trials to determine how much grazing the serecia lespedeza can tolerate. We do not graze the serecia lespedeza at all from April through September for two to three years after it is seeded. We plan not to ever graze it in April and May when the quality of forage in the first set of Pastures is high. We will use rotational grazing in June through September and unrestricted grazing in fall and winter
The Grazing Habits of Meat Goats
Understanding the grazing habits of meat goats is important for managing pastures effectively. The grazing habits of goats are different than those of cattle. Pasture management systems, such as rotational grazing and strip grazing, are not as beneficial for pasturing goats as they are for cattle. Unlike cattle, goats like to travel. They will graze an entire pasture uniformly. They like to graze on new ground and to avoid grazing near goat droppings, especially if the forage is wet and contaminated with internal parasite larva. During wet weather they will browse on sprouts and shrubs that are high off the ground to avoid parasite larva. They like to eat a large variety of plants including many different types of grasses, legumes, weeds, and brush. They are healthier and produce better if they have a large area to graze with diverse types of vegetation on it. They eat many plants which cattle will not eat. Goats are very effective for controlling weeds and brush in cattle pastures.
Goat fencing is more expensive than cattle fencing. Thus, it is not cost effective to cross fence pastures with goat-proof fences for rotational grazing or strip grazing of goats. Meat goat producers do need some goat proof cross fencing. It is needed to separate bucks from the herd until it is time to breed the does, to separate does that are too young to breed from the herd while the rest of the herd is getting bred, and to separate kids from their mothers when they are being weaned.
If you wish to be a successful, prosperous, meat goat producer, spend some time watching you goats graze. Observe their eating habits. See how they balance their diets by eating a large variety of plants. Notice how they travel to different areas of the pasture seeking different types of forages. Observe how, unlike cattle, they spread their droppings evenly over the entire pasture. Goats with the help of dung beetles do an excellent job of fertilizing pastures. Any purchased mineral or feed supplements, fed to your goats, will increase the fertility of your pastures.
Goat Meat, Milk, and Cheese Cookbook
Cooking with Goat Meat
Raising Meat Goats with Cattle
It is best, for the health of the animals and for maximum economic return per acre, to run goats and cattle together on the same pastures. Doing this reduces the grazing pressure and improves the survival rate of forages favored by each species. It also reduces internal parasite problems in both species. When running both goats and cattle in the same pastures, it is best to have goat-proof perimeter fences with cross fences that hold cattle but not goats. On the cross fences use barb wire placed high enough for the goats to get under. With this type of fencing goats do a better job of controlling weeds and brush.
Grazing goats and cattle together will produce more meat per acre than grazing either species alone. Cattle and goats prefer different species of forages. Goats will eat many species of plants that cattle will not eat such as spouts, greenbrier, hackberry, black berry, ragweed, goldenrod, kudzu, multiflora rose, and lespedeza. In pastures stocked only with cattle these plants become "weeds" robbing the cattle forages of moisture and nutrients. Because they are not grazed, they flourish and take over the pasture. Unless these "weeds" are controlled the land becomes less productive each year. The “weeds” can be controlled with chemical herbicides, but the herbicides are expensive. Herbicides require expensive labor and fuel to apply. The herbicides can be harmful to the environment and might even be harmful to livestock and to people consuming the meat produced. When goats are placed on these pastures the "weeds" become forages for goats, and they no longer flourish out of control.
Internal parasites (stomach worms) are a major problem with goats. While cattle are more resistant to internal parasites than goats, parasites do lower gains in cattle. The parasites that infect cattle do not infect goats, and those that infect goats do not infect cattle. Thus grazing both cattle and goats on the same land not only reduces the grazing pressure on the favorite forages for each species, but also reduces parasite contamination from each, making it easier to control parasites without worm medications. If worm medications are used too much, the parasites become resistant to them, and the medications become less effective. Most worm medications also kill dung beetles which clean up the droppings left by cattle and goats. Thus the medications have an adverse effect on the environment and might even have negative effects on the health of humans who eat the meat produced.
Research, done at several University and USDA research institutions, has shown that serecia lespedeza and chicory control internal parasites in goats. Forty eight years of raising goats on pastures in northern Arkansas leave us to believe that hop clover, Korean lespedeza, and acorns also help control parasites in goats. Controlled, scientific research has yet to be done on the anti-hermetic effects of these plants. There are probably many other plants that also help to control parasites. Most of these forages cannot tolerate heavy grazing. They usually do not survive in pastures fully stocked only with goats. Since cattle do not graze these plants as readily as goats, stocking with both cattle and goats enhances their survival.
Both cattle and goats are ruminants. Ruminants have an extra organ in their digestive system called the rumen. In the rumen micro-organisms digest forages into many nutrients for the animals. One such nutrient produced by bacteria in the rumen is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA.) Tests on laboratory animals show that CLA can prevent and cure many types of cancer and inflammatory diseases. Preliminary studies on humans show that CLA has a beneficial effect in preventing some types of cancer in humans. While all meat and milk produced by cattle and goats contain CLA, research shows that ruminants grazing high quality forages have much higher levels of CLA in their meat and milk than those fed rations of stored forages and grain. Research has also shown that animals, grazing on pastures with larger varieties of forage plants, produce higher levels of CLA in their meat and milk than those on pastures with only a few species of forages. Grazing both cattle and goats on pastures insures the survival of a larger variety of forage plants. Much research has been done on CLA. Cattle and goats grazing high quality pastures probably produce many other beneficial nutrients that have not yet been researched.
The benefits from grazing both cattle and goats on the same pastures include: more meat produced per acre, less money spent for weed and internal parasite control, less adverse effects of herbicides and worm medications on the environment, healthier livestock, and more nutritious meat produced.
Clearing Land with Meat Goats
The use of a chainsaw, meat goats, and termites is a very economical and environmentally friendly way to clear land for pastures. We have been doing this for forty eight years on our farm in northern Arkansas.
Some would argue that removing trees, that add organic matter to the soil, remove carbon dioxide from the air, and add oxygen to the air, is not environmentally friendly. I argue that, in northern Arkansas, pasture forages will do this better than trees. It has been observed by many that natural prairie soils are deeper and richer in organic matter than forest soils. A plant with green leaves removes carbon dioxide from the air and adds oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. In northern Arkansas hardwood trees do not have green leaves till late April and they start losing their leaves in late September. They only photosynthesize for about five months out of the year, but well managed pasture land with both cool and warm season forages will photosynthesize for about ten months. Pine trees will photosynthesize the year around, but they do not grow well in northern Arkansas because of frequent ice storms which injure the trees. These ice storms also damage hardwoods keeping them from producing quality lumber. The quality of timber produced here is poor. It is used mostly for fire wood, fence posts, and charcoal.
Northern Arkansas is in a transition zone between the forested regions, east of the Mississippi, and the natural prairies, of the eastern Great Plains. When the white man first came to this area the land was mostly prairie with trees only on the north slopes and in deep ravines. The Native Americans allowed the prairies to burn every year to kill young trees and sprouts. The prairies produced more game than the mature forests.
Most farmers and ranchers in this area use bulldozers to clear pasture land. This process disturbs the topsoil leaving it exposed to water erosion during heavy rains. Trees along with their roots are stacked and burned with old car tires. This causes air pollution and wastes fuel that could be used to heat houses or to produce charcoal. Dozing is very expensive. Bulldozers are expensive to buy, to lease, or to hire. They are also expensive to operate. After land is cleared by bulldozing, one must mow it frequently with a bush hog to kill sprouts that come up from fragments of tree roots left in the ground.
When trees are cleared form land with a chainsaw, many years of stored energy is left behind in the stumps and roots. This energy is used to produce rapid regrowth of sprouts. These sprouts can be very high in protein and other nutrients. Meat goats are able convert these nutrients into meat for human consumption. When land is cleared by bulldozing, this stored energy is wasted.
In the summer we cut trees down each morning so the goats can eat the tops during the day. In the winter we cut the trees up for fire wood and stack the branches that are too small for fire wood. We always have plenty of fire wood to heat our home, and we often have extra to sell or to give to a neighbor
.After clearing an area we plant cool season forages (novel entophyte tall fescue and white clover.) The ground is usually too steep, rocky, and full of stumps too prepare a seed bed so we just throw the seed on top of the ground. We burn any leaves left on the ground. We use more seed than one would use on a prepared seed bed. We sow 30 to 40 pounds of tall fescue plus 3 to 4 pounds of white clover per acre. Fall seeding works only if weather conditions are ideal. If you do seed in fall, wait till a hard freeze kills the grasshoppers, or they will eat all of your seed. We found that early February seeding of cool season forages works best in most years. Sometimes we will have to reseed a plot a second time if the first seeding does not take. We graze them lightly until the forages are well established, but we do allow the goats to graze the sprouts in summer so the sprouts don’t compete with the fescue and clover. As long as one has trees to cut and sprouts to graze one does not need to worry about warm season forages. Goats will do better if they have some grass and legumes to graze along with the tree tops and sprouts. Mature leaves on trees cut in late summer do not have a high nutritional value, but they are adequate for mature does after the kids are weaned. Growing kids need an extra protein supplement which can be creep fed to them if high quality pasture is not available.