Thorns of plants such as green briars and blackberries pose no problem for goats. Additionally goats are nimble and can stand on their hind legs to access difficult to reach weeds, they produce minimal soil compaction and their droppings quickly decompose and improve soil. However, be aware that too many goats in an area can erode sensitive slopes and banks and goats should not be allowed in or near fish-bearing streams.
Note: if you are milking your does, you will not want to turn them out onto weed patches. The flavors of their forage will be passed through to the milk and tansy ragwort can appear in the milk. Keep your milking does on high quality, controlled feed sources. All goat breeds but Pygmy goats are suitable for clearing land.
Plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and poison hemlock should be avoided entirely as goats do not inherently know which plants to avoid. However, ash juniper trees, knapweed, oxeye daisy, common tansy, Canadian thistle, scotch thistle are all fine, just be sure there is enough variety in the field to provide a nutritious diet.
Browsing goats can be ideal weed controllers in situations where they are rotated through the same pasture as cattle, horses and other grazing animals. By putting grazing pressure on the weed population, goats give grasses the advantage, allowing them to thrive. However, be prepared to be patient as it can take several years for pastures to improve due to residual seeds. Some seeds such as tansy ragwort, can stay viable for up to 25 years in the soil. Additionally, other considerations for pastures are soil fertility, pH, grass species, stocking rates and grazing by other livestock.
Plants poisonous to goats and care should be taken that they not consume them. These include:
- Bagpod, baneberry, buckwheat, buttercups, coffee weed, crowfoot, goat week, ground ivy, inkberry (poke weed), klamath weed, lantana, lobelia, rape, snakeberry, spurge, St. John's Wort, white cohosh, purple sesban, rattlebox, soapwort.
- Oak leaves contain tannic acid and should also be avoided. The acorns are fine and goats consider them a treat.
Remember, regardless of whether you own goats for dairy purposes, meat, breeding purposes or simply as companions:
- Goats prefer a relatively dry environment that need to be mud-free to help hooves stay healthy.
- Provide a clean, dry shelter to get out of the elements
- Secure the goats with goat-proof fencing
- Make sure the fields are secure from predators or offer protection such as livestock guardian dogs
- Supplement with hay when the fields do not offer adequate forage such as in times of dry weather or winter.
- Provide regular health care procedures such as worming, shots and hoof trimming
- Plenty of clean water must be available at all times
How many goats will you need?