advantages that enable goats to graze successfully
An innate ability to select
the most nutritional plants, and the most nutritional parts of those plants
An ability to grasp and
tear, enabling them to eat a multitude of plants other animals cannot eat.
A tolerance for bitter taste
enabling them to eat plants other animals will not eat.
(For example, tannin-producing plants which
have natural deworming properties.)
A preference for eating
forage higher than their knee level.
(above parasite level)
The ability to store liquid
in the rumen, which allows them to survive without water for up to 4 days.
Fat storage in the abdomen
which allows them to survive without food for up to 4 days.
Benefits of grazing
Grazing offers higher
nutritional value than that achieved by haying off the same field.
This is due to the goat’s ability to select
the highest nutritional quality among the forage offered.
Being outdoors prevents
diseases that thrive in damp, dark barns
Grazing reduces feed waste.
Goats carefully walk and
nibble their way through fields, with minimal damage to stands of grass and
legumes, and they deposit manure and urine that fertilize the pasture.
Goats dislike fines and
prefer whole grains. You can eliminate
the expensive loss of feedstuffs from fines produced in confinement feeding
Grazing saves the farmer
time in the barn, as there is no forage to haul to the barn to feed, or to clean
up after the goats are done eating.
Grazing minimizes the need
for large, expensive machinery and reduces trucking costs to bring in purchased
Goats can clean up a
neglected pasture to prepare a place for other animals to graze.
clearing pasture of weeds and brush, rotate the goats through the weedy areas
more frequently than you would a regular rotation, so they repeatedly eat off
the growth buds. That way the weeds can’t renew their root resources and
they die out, leaving only good pasture behind.
(See before and after pictures of this type of “weeding” at: http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/meatgoat/companion%20pastures.htm
Minerals are more available
from forages in pasture than those in grains or in rock form.
Grazing increases the flavor
in milk products.
At Langston University
Goat Research Center, they found that the soft Egyptian Domiati goat cheese had
the best flavor when mid-lactation goats were pastured in June and July, and
had little or no grain supplementation.
Adding high levels of grain to grazing goats, decreased the cheese
flavor and increased the somatic cell count.
Goats will initially resist
change, just like people. When you don’t
give them the hay they’re used to, and put them out to graze, they will holler
their heads off for about 4 days. After
that they will settle down and start grazing.
The key is stick to your guns. Do
not give in and feed hay when they go in to be milked. (Hart and Min)
Goats don’t like rain and
wind. You must provide a moveable
Grazing must be managed, and
this takes some producer time.
You must set up temporary
fences ahead of where you are currently grazing, so you can move the goats when
they need to be moved. This is easy with
spool type reels that hook over the perimeter fence, and pigtail posts that
quickly and easily push into the ground.
You can set up several at once when you have time. So you only have to
do this occasionally. (Kencove Farm Fencing)
You must move the
shade/shelter when you change paddocks. (once or twice a week)
You have to go out and bring
the goats in for milking and treatments.
Other options that have been used:
Have a mobile milking parlor
and take it to the goats
Design your parlor in the
center of the field so that all paddocks lead to the parlor (New Zealand model)
You must pay attention to
the pasture itself so you don’t damage it.
Exterior fencing and
interior, moveable fencing costs money.
Grazing is seasonal in the
northern part of the United States, requiring that you cut and store pasture
forages (hay or wrapped hay for baleage), or buy forages for winter feeding.
Milk production decreases
slightly on pasture, but that loss in income is more than made up for in
reduced production costs, reduced vet and medicine bills and reduced labor time
in cleaning the barn and carrying feed.
grazing on milk production and components
A 2005 study at Langston University, found that "high
levels of milk production could be obtained on pasture alone, and that response
to concentrate supplementation is dependent on pasture quality."They said that milk production would be lower
if goats were grazed without supplementation, but that it might be cost
effective not to supplement.(Lower feed
costs can quickly offset milk production losses.)They found that dairy goats grazing fresh
forages without supplementation can produce 3.8 kg/day (8.36 lb.)Higher production than that would require
supplementation.They supplemented at
two levels, and found that 0.33 kg supplement /kg of milk produced over 1.5 kg
(0.76 lb. of supplement /lb of milk over 3.3 lb.)was adequate to increase production.There was no advantage to feeding the higher
level of 0.66 kg/kg of milk produced over 1.5 kg, (1.45 lb/lb milk produced
over 3.3 lb) since higher supplementation did not increase milk yield or milk
protein.They said that diets with low
levels of supplementation are more cost effective and that the response to
supplementation is highest when forage quality is low.If forage is adequate, then supplementation
had a less profound effect.
Their pasture contained wheat, berseem clover,
wheat/ryegrass, sudangrass and crabgrass.They used a 7 day rotation to provide 2-4 kg (4.4 - 8.8 lb.) of dry
matter per day. Their does kidded March to April.A Panacur drench was given before they
started grazing and was given again if Fecal Egg Counts exceeded 800 eggs /
gram of feces during the lactation period.Fecal egg counts were done once a month using a modified McMaster
Technique.The goats were milked twice a
day at and .
behavior of goats on pasture
Diet choice and
feeding behaviors are influenced by previous behavior. Goats raised in
confinement since birth, will be slow to adjust to grazing.But once over the initial resistance to
change, goats will eat pastures containing forage grasses such as orchard grass
and rye grass. They will eat chicory, and legumes such as red clover and
alfalfa.In one southern study, testing
food preferences, the goats preferred chicory, red clover and orchard grass
when allowed to select their own feed.Their preferences were not related to the quality of the forage, only to
type.When offered two patterns of
eating, one where types of grasses were planted in separate areas, and one
where they were all mixed together, goats preferred the areas where they could
eat just what they wanted to, rather than getting a mixture in one bite.
The researchers decided that combining the “preferred” forage species with
familiar forage species is the best option for planting, or the goats would
only graze their favorites and not get enough variety in their diet..Goats that previously had a predominance of
corn in their diet or who were relocated before grazing and thus were already
upset, did not graze as well as those familiar with grazing. (Burgess)
Goats graze from
the top down.They do not like to graze
close to the ground.They have
been observed to
1) select grass over clover
2) prefer browse over herbaceous plants
3) graze along fence lines before grazing the center of a
4) refuse to graze forage that has been trampled and
It is better to put them into a small section of the pasture
and to move the fence as needed, rather than to let them roam freely.(Yoder)
goats graze better than their parents, who have been raised in
Grazing management goals
to ensure adequate nutrition
to maximize goat health by
reducing disease and controlling parasites
to maintain the integrity of
the pasture or browse area.
Green feeding (zero grazing)
If you decide you don't want to graze, an
alternative is "green feeding"" where you green chop the pasture
and bring the feed to the goats. (Called zero grazing)
They have the benefit of
fresh grass and legumes, without the parasites. (Considine, Dairy Goats
For Pleasure and Profit, page 65)
you must cut higher than 5 " from the ground to avoid parasites.
Managed, intensive (rotational) grazing, with moveable
Managed grazing means that the majority of the goat’s
nutritional needs are met on pasture.No
hay is fed in the barn, except during the winter or in bad weather.
fed at milking, and only to supplement the forage as needed. (You
test the pasture grass so you know whether you need supplementing at
all, then give only what is absolutely necessary.)
formed with moveable fencing, and the goats are moved every few days,
allowing them to have fresh pasture, and enabling the area they left to
This method allows you to control what the goats are eating,
and avoids letting them eat too low on the plants since parasites abound on the lower 5" of the plants.
Managed grazing does not mean feeding hay in the barn and
then letting the goats wander through a field.In this scenario, the goat will have little incentive to eat from the
You must have a parasite control program in place. See Don Bliss's Parasite Program on the Seminar Notes page, and in the medical section of this website under Parasites...
Portable fencing hook to attach to permanent
fencing Portable wire reel
stringing wire to pigtail posts
reel to permanent
Hooking clip from permanent to portable
the integrity of the pasture
Control stocking rate and
stocking density for each paddock at rates appropriate for stand density.
Graze the paddock uniformly
by adjusting goat numbers or by adjusting paddock size
Move the goats when they
have defoliated the area to a desired stubble height ( Note: 5” for parasite
control) and before they start re-grazing the new growth.
Rotate back to the first
paddock before it has become too mature to meet the goats nutritional
Stocking rate for goats on pasture
5 goats per acre on pasture (Greene, Understanding Pasture
Stocking Rate and Carrying Capacity)
6 goats per acre on improved or native pasture.
10 goats per acre on browse.(Brown-Crowder)
Time between grazings
Start grazing when grass is 8-10 inches. Animals can eat more at
that height, with the least effort
How often you move the goats depends on the carrying
capacity of the land, that is , the amount and quality of the available grass.
Generally, do not regraze land for at least 30 days,
especially where there is a lot of alfalfa because you will reduce the stand.Also to avoid parasite reinfection. (Greene,
nutritional needs on pasture
The goat’s basic nutritional
requirements can be met entirely with good quality pasture. (See table below
for definitions of pasture quality.) Supplementation is only required to meet
increased nutritional needs due to growth, pregnancy and lactation. (see
Nutrition section for supplementation levels for those stages.)
Test pasture forages so that
you know how much supplement is needed.
Supplement with grain by
moving the animals to a separate grain field 2 hours a day, or by feeding grain
at milking time, but ;limit it to just what is needed, or you suppress the need
Minerals: Use 0.75-1
oz. or 24-30 grams per day for mature goats on pasture.Note: Consumption of mineral may be excessive
immediately after introduction to the mineral, but it will generally level off
after 10-14 days.Copper should be 25-30
parts per million (ppm). (This section summarized from Machen, Minerals)
Build a PVC mineral feeder that clamps onto fence posts. Here are the directions: PVC Mineral Feeder
of seeding / reseeding pasture
Select late maturing
varieties that are palatable, adapted to grazing and persist well in your area.
Soil test pastures and bring
them up to recommended nutrient and pH levels.
If you don’t have machinery
to seed the pasture, you can:
add some forage seed
to the mineral mix (5 lb. of see to 50 lb. mineral mix), then put the animals
on pasture.They will
"deposit" the seed, walk it into the ground, fertilize it and water
it for you!
allow a pasture of
established legumes to go to seed, graze that field and then move the animals
to the pasture you wanted reseeded, letting them deposit the seen for you..
seed to the manure in your manure spreader and spread it with the manure.
Parasite control on pasture
You can use dewormers or you can try some the sustainable methods below. (Remember that parasites are
becoming increasingly resistant to dewormers, so eventually we will all have to
learn to control parasites without them.)You will need to use a combination of techniques.
period avoidance: shifting goats from permanent pasture to annual pasture or
browse areas, and remaining off permanent pasture until parasite load
decreases. (PPPP=permanent pasture promotes parasites)
haying off the
permanent pasture (exposing parasites to sunlight)
permanent pasture to destroy parasite load
goats to graze below 5” on the stem. (larva is found on the lower 4” of forage
breeding goats who do not get high parasite loads (natural resistance) and
culling those who do.
planting tannin-producing plants that have natural anthelmintic properties.
(Langston University, Texas A&M and Purdue)
Treatments with chemicals:
Dr. Bliss Method: Treat the goats
on dry lot prior to moving the goats out to pasture. (If you use Safeguard
Block you will need to start sooner that if you give paste formIt takes a while to lick enough of the block
to be effective. See Medical section, Dr. Bliss method for instructions on
using block dewormers.)
for 24 hours before deworming so they will eat the dewormer.
Use dewormers by
mouth.Do not use pour-ons, as goats do
not usually have sufficient body fat to prevent nerve damage to the spine from
pour on dewormers).
Use twice the
cow dosage for all dewormers except Levamisole.Use Levamisole at 1 ½ times the cow dose. Most people would assume that
because a goat is smaller than a cow, it should get a smaller dosage of drugs,
but that is not true. You also have to take into account the ability of
the animal to process the drugs in it's body. Drugs move through a goat's
digestive system much faster than through a cow's system, so not as much of the
drug gets absorbed.. You have to give a higher dose, as much of it gets
washed out of the system. The reason a goat's body processes things
faster is because they have small bodies and don't have room to store as much
food. Thus they eat more often and process the food quickly in order to
get nutrients. A cow on the other hand, has a lot of body room for food
storage, so drugs stay in a cow's system longer and there is more time to
absorb the drug.
Keep them in the
dry lot for at least 24 hours after giving the dewormer, to allow them to
release the parasite eggs on the dry lot. Then move them to pasture, and
disinfect the dry lot with Virkon, or use a separate place in the pasture to
keep them after deworming and never use it for anything else but deworming.
levels a week later to make sure the drug is working.You should see a 95% reduction in worm
load.If you don’t, then your herd is
resistant to the drug you are giving.Switch to a different class of dewormer and repeat treatment. (See
Medical section under “Parasites” for dewormer classifications.
application of dewormer every 21 days, three times during grazing season to
control parasite load.
(see Medical section under Parasites, and read the Parasite Seminar notes here for more information on parasite
Pasture forages for the southern U.S.
Sorgum, sorghum sudan grass
Clovers (red, ladino)
* legumes thrive on a soil pH above 6.7
(Adapted from Mauchen, What About Hay? and Greene,
Maintaining Permanent Pastures for Livestock)
Pasture forages for the tropics
The best resource for grazing goats in the tropics is
Christie Peacock's book, Improving Goat Production in the Tropics: A
Manual For Development Workers. Published by Oxfam/FARM-Africa.
1996. You can buy it at www.Amazon.com.
This information is based on Wisconsin plants, and
temperatures in the winter that may extend below -20 degrees F., and in the
summer, above 100 degrees F. People in the Southern U.S. may find
the links under the Value Added-Meat goat section to be helpful, as much of the
research on grazing goats in the south is contained in those articles.
For people in the tropics, Christie Peacock's book Improving Goat Production in
the Tropics: A Manual For Development Workers is a very useful resource.
Cool season grasses:
survives on infertile, overgrazed pastures but produces good yields only if
Orchardgrass-has a higher
yield than timothy and smooth Bromegrass and recovers more rapidly after
grazing but is extremely competitive.Grow a competitive legume such as red clover with it to control it.
Reed canary grass-will grow
in flood areas.It is difficult to
establish, but is extremely persistent.Plant the new alkaloid-free varieties.It has the potential to invade and displace native plant communities,
especially where there are heavy silt deposits or other soil disturbances.
bromegrass-recommended pasture forage for southern Wisconsin because of it’s
high yield potential, high quality and good legume compatibility.It should be grown with other forages, since
it doesn’t produce a lot of re-growth when grown alone.
Tall fescue-not recommended
for pastures because of reduced palatability and persistence.However, it works well where you have heavy
traffic.Will withstand a lot of
trampling, and it’s fall growth is superior.It is commonly used in grass waterways since it establishes
rapidly.Use fungus-free see if you
intend to graze it.
forage for northern Wisconsin because of it’s high yield potential, high
quality and good legume compatibility.It should be grown with other forages, since it doesn’t produce a lot of
re-growth when grown alone.It has a
poor tolerance for heat and drought.
Warm season grasses:
warm-season grass, which complements cool season grass.Slow to establish.Doesn’t compete well with weeds, but once
established it is vigorous and persistent.
warm-season grass, which complements cool season grass.Slow to establish.Poor competitors with weeds, but once
established is vigorous and persistent.Lower in quality than Big Bluestem, but easier to establish and lower
Sudangrass- annual.Can grow to 6-7’.Provides thick stand.Goats will refuse sourghum sudan grass larger
than a pencil. (Machen, What About Hay?)
Legumes: (thrive on pH above
yielding legume with excellent summer re-growth.Drought tolerant.Persistent.Doesn’t tolerate flooding.Will
not tolerate overgrazing.Bloat can be a
maintains quality better than any other legume or grass.It is a good choice for stockpiling.It doesn’t cause bloat.it grows well on poor soils.It is the most persistent legume.It is difficult to establish, relatively low
yielding and does not tolerate drought.It is easy to overgraze this plant.
from 3-4 years.It is high
yielding.It is the easiest and fastest
legume to establish.
mix specifically recommended for pastured goats in Shawano County, Wisconsin
(Larry Brummond, Grazing Land Specialist, Natural Resources
Conservation Service, USDA)
planting recommendations by soil type, for Wisconsin livestock
Lbs. of pure
Very poorly drained or flood prone soils
Mix A. Reed Canary Grass
perennial Rye (or light cover crop)
Trefoil, Alsike or Red Clover
Mix B. Smooth Brome grass or orchard grass
Birdsfoot Trefoil, Alsike or Red Clover
Perennial Rye (or light cover crop)
Somewhat poorly drained to well drained soils
Mix A. 2 legumes:
either Red, Alsike, or Ladino Clover
(or) Birdsfoot trefoil
perennial ryegrass (or light cover crop)
Mix B. Reed Canary Grass or Orchard grass
Perennial Rye (or light cover crop)
trefoil, Ladino or Red Clover
Mix C. Perennial Ryegrass
Dutch or Ladino Clover
Excessively well drained soils
Mix A: Alfalfa, Ladino or Red Cover
Bromegrass or Reed Canary grass
Perennial Ryegrass (or light cover crop)
birthing to make best use of pasture forage
If you want to kid on pasture*, in order to make best
use of pasture forage, kidding should be planned for a time when pasture is
Plan a late
spring birthing for warm season forages such as Bermuda grass, native range,
browse and forbes.
a fall or early spring birthingfor cool
season grasses such as rye grass, wheat, Orchard grass and fescue.Cool season grasses produce less per acre,
but it is higher quality energy and protein.Rapidly growing pasture is high in protein and energy. (Langston,
Training, Nutrition section p. 26)
(* kidding on pasture should be used only for dairy goats
that have been tested and are CAE free on at least two consecutive tests, so
the babies can safely suckle. Otherwise, teats must be taped shut to
prevent suckling, and the colostrum has to be milked out for bottle
feeding. It may be difficult to move new mothers to the barn from the
pasture, necessitating hand milking, or using an Udderly Easy Milker. (See the
Equipment supplier list in the reference section.) Mothers that have already
given birth will have to be kept separately from those who have not, to avoid
having the babies suckle on milking mothers.)
Training Goats To
let me know if you find another method of training. The following
method was all I could locate, and it may be objectionable to some
If you choose to use electric fence,
Train the goats to respect the fence in a small area before releasing them to a
large area. If you don’t do this, they will be out
all the time.This is not good for you
or for the goat.
Set aside a
small area for training, so they are sure to touch the fence.
should be standing right there when doing the training.
When the goats
are first shocked they may go right through the fence, so be ready to grab them
or you may play chase all afternoon.
You might put a
second row of fence around the first so they can’t get away so easily..
It may take
repeated lessons for some goats to accept that they can’t go through the
Once they learn
the lesson they will continue to test the fence with their whiskers
occasionally to make sure it is still on.
If you are using
woven netting, the goats may really get tangled up until they catch on.One person can go and turn off the fencer
while the other works to get the goat loose.
If the goats are
not touching the fence:
1) Wrap strips of peanut buttered aluminum foil on the
fence. (Leave enough bare to wrap around the wire.)
2) Drill a hole in a metal bottle cap.Run a piece of wire through the hole, then
fill the cap with peanut butter. Tie the wire to the fence and turn on the
3) Put grain right along the fence line.Do not leave the area.
4) Some goats have heavy hair and won’t be shocked unless
they touch bare skin on the wire.If a
goat is constantly putting its head through the fence and is not getting
shocked, this may be the problem. You may need to dampen their neck
before putting them in.This is not done
to be cruel.They have to get an
effective jolt in order to learn not to touch the fence.If not, then they will be out all the time,
and you will be upset and angry with them, and this affects their milk
production as well as eating up your time.(Parsons)
To see examples of exterior fencing and movable interior
paddock fencing for goats, with installation information and costs, see:
An excellent watering system can be laid out right on top of the
pasture soil. Black plastic water pipes are laid out in a grid
that makes sense with where you want your paddocks to be. In each
paddock, you put in a Plasson
Coupler that attaches to a portable water tank with one click.
When you are ready to move the goats, disconnect the water tank, dump
the water and move the tank to the next paddock. Click it in
place and you are set up to water again. (You can buy the Plasson
couplers at Kencove Farm Fence http://www.kencove.com/fence/.
Even better, get their excellent catalog. It is full of helpful
information for laying out fence and water pipe.) We have used
this system for ten years, and it still works great. We've had
cows and goats stepping on the pipe, and hay harvested right over
it. Once in a great while you will spring a leak, but it is
easily taped up, and if the pipe has to be replaced, it is easy to cut
another piece of pipe with a utility knife. You can get the
black water hose at any farm supply store, Menards, Fleet Farm or Home
Depot. (M. Flores, Red River Farm LLC)
Two parts of the Plasson Coupler, and the Hudson Valve. The
yellow capped part of the coupler attaches to the black plastic water
pipe in each paddock with pipe clamps. The plain end of the
coupler attaches to the hose on the portable water barrel.
This is what the Plasson coupler looks like when attached to the black water pipe in the pasture.
This is the homemade portable water barrel that we use. It is sturdy and can be dragged anywhere you need it.
This one has been used for both cattle and goats for over 10 years and is still in usable condition.
It has standard metal water pipe fittings bolted to half a food grade barrel.
Add a hose to the outside pipe, and screw the plain end of the Plasson coupler on the end of the hose..
In the field,
attach the other half of the coupler (with the yellow cap in the
picture above, to the pipe in each paddock.
You can walk up to the yellow capped fitting, flip open the cover and click in the hose end from the barrel.
barrel as you like it, and watch it fill. The Hudson valve makes
sure it doesn't overflow and allows it to refill automatically as the
You will need to take
the Hudson valves apart and clean them periodically. Better yet, keep
the barrels clean so they don't get algae that clogs the valve!
Beginning Grazier Information Packet If you want
to learn everything you need to know about grazing in Wisconsin, this is the
manual to buy. It was written by Paul Daigle, Marathon County (WI) Conservation,
Planning and Zoning, and Paul Nehring, of GrassWorks, Inc. It is $17.50,
plus shipping, and you can order one by emailing Paul Nehring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is worth every dime.
Frequent Cutting Shaves Yield, Life (Frequent early cutting
(of alfalfa through a season increases nutritive value, but significantly cuts
yields and kills off the plants in one growing season.)Wisconsin Agriculturist, August 2006 p. 27
Goat Nutrition and Feeding, Oklahoma Meat Goat Conference
2006. Excellent, concise overview of what to feed and when to feed
it. Based on latest research from Langston Universities La Kika De Garza
Goat Research programs. (The link is so long, it may be best to just Google the
title to find the article.
Meat Goat Conference 2006
Maintaining Permanent Pastures for Livestock http://www.agnr.umd.edu/MCE/Publications/PDFs/FS720.pdf
This is a good article about general pasture management, but be aware that this
publication is for all livestock, so when it recommends starting grazing when
low-growing grasses are 4-6 inches high and then removing livestock after
grazing when the grass is 3-5 inches long for tall growing grasses and 1-2
inches for Kentucky bluegrass, that you cannot do that with a goat. They
need to never eat below 5" from the ground in order to avoid parasites.