For those of us raising dairy goats in our backyards it can be a challenge to find healthy forage to give the goats to supplement their diet; a goat cannot live by alfalfa alone. Goats are browsers by nature and, although they don’t particularly care to eat off the ground, they’ll happily eat vines, twigs, branches, leaves and anything remotely resembling your prize roses. All of which can be classified as goat forage in your backyard.
During the spring and summer, it’s not too hard to find scraps from your garden, prunings from various plants and non-toxic weeds in abundance to give the goats as forage food. My goats particularly love pigweed which is great because it grows in abundance where I live. We also have mallow, which is a very healthful herb but the goats will only eat it in the early spring when there’s nothing else coming up. Once the lamb’s quarter starts coming on, that’s what they crave and we grow it all over the homestead on purpose so that the goats can benefit from it. Borage, which is technically an herb but reseeds and grows like a weed, is also a favorite and its one of the first things to pop up in the spring. The goats LOVE it.
We often use wheat straw as mulching material and there are always seeds left in it that germinate so we get wheat sprouting up everywhere. You guessed it – we let it grow and harvest it once it sets a seed head but before the seed dries and falls off and into the soil. Weed is a very relative term. I’m grateful for my weeds and use them all year round to supplement my animal’s feed. Incidentally, poultry will eat most of this stuff, too but since they hog most of the kitchen scraps, I usually save the big stuff for the goats.
But once the weather turns nasty cold and you can feel winter approaching and the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s harder to scrounge up quality forage to give your milkers.
A few things we routinely pile up are listed below but the bottom line is to be creative and safe with finding goat forage. Make sure you peruse this list of edible and poisonous plants from Fiasco Farm and others like it and be aware of what plants grow near you that may be harmful to your animals. Goats are usually smarter than cows about what they eat but they also have been known to eat the paint off the barn so we won’t be completely trusting their judgment, now will we? If you don’t have much in your yard, don’t be shy about asking around with your neighbors – many will be happy to have you cart off their garden trimmings. Make sure you find out what kind of pesticides and/or herbicides they use, if any – none is preferable!
A few ideas for backyard goat forage include fall leaves (mine eat them like potato chips), which can be bagged up and saved for winter treats as long as they’re bagged dry. You can also try ivy or any vine that you know isn’t poisonous and that might need a good fall prune – my lace vine grows like crazy and could certainly stand some goat attention. As you’re treating them to anything still living, be sure to watch them closely so as not to let them eat anything down to the bare stems or the root.
Another idea for goat treats is various in-ground veggies that you may have planted specifically for your goats – beets, turnips, carrots, radishes. I have radishes that volunteered in my scrap pile and now I have a whole bed of radishes to give the goats and I didn’t even have to plant the seed!
I’m a few months late getting this post to you and the snow has since come with a vengeance. With a few cold frames dedicated to your goats during the winter, you can be harvesting fresh veggies for them all year long. A careful amount of evergreens is also appropriate – pine needles are a great Vitamin C boost. We also have a beautiful Mountain Ash that puts out these gorgeous, fat berries that are persistent – which means they stay on the tree until the new flowers pop out in the spring. Or until the birds eat them. Or the goats come by and clean them up.
If you’ve secreted away extra pumpkins or squash, these, too, can be given to feed the goats during the cold months.
As you’re planning your garden for this coming year, why not plant a few perennials from which to harvest goat forage. I grow Rugosa roses that produce abundant hips, which are great fresh during the growing season but that I also dry and parcel out to my goats all winter long to boost their immune systems. I do the same with my Goji berries. If you’re into xeriscaping or using any native shrubs, consider tucking in a few extra bushes to cut branches from as the seasons progress.
As I harvest my herbs, especially during the fall, I take whole branches as I prune and stash their leafy limbs in the garage to give to the goats later. As we’re packing the garage for our pending move, I keep finding my stashes – fennel seed here, sunflower stalks there and swaths of oregano for fighting infections. My kids have taken to helping out; if you look closely, you can see that my seven year old tied this dried lavender with pine needles so that, and I quote, “The goats can think about Christmas and flowers!”
It makes me smile to realize how often I’m thinking of squirreling away treats for my goats – almost as much as I do for my kids! The human kind, I mean.
What have I missed? What do you love to grow and give to your goat-dears? Does it store well or is it strictly a fresh/seasonal treat?
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