Are you trying to provide fresh foods to supplement your dairy goats’ diet? Here are some simple goat forage ideas from your backyard.
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.
FYI, if you’re wondering if you made the right decision about getting dairy goats instead of a dairy cow, I encourage you to check out the Homestead Livestock chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead
Goat Forage in Your Backyard
Just to warn you, if you are a tidy gardener, you may be uncomfortable with the following tips. The reason for this is because a large number of them involve allowing native weeds to sprout and grow in your garden. Why? So you can feed them to your goats, of course!
Weeds are expert nutrient foragers and grow without input from you. These are highly desirable attributes!
Spring and Summer Forage
During the spring and summer, it’s not too hard to find scraps from your garden, as well as prunings from various plants and non-toxic weeds in abundance to give the goats as forage food.
My goats particularly love:
- Alfalfa, rye, and other “green manure” crops – these can be grown in any empty garden space to harvest and feed to livestock.
- Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) – which is great because it grows in abundance where I live.
- Mallow (Althaea officinalis) or anything in the Malvaceae family – which is a very healthful herb. However, the goats will only eat it in the early spring when there’s nothing else coming up.
- Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) starts coming on in the early spring, too.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) – 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.
We often use wheat straw as mulching material in the garden 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.
Quick Safety Note:
A few things we routinely pile up for winter 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!
Winter and Early Spring Forage
Once the weather turns cold and you can feel winter approaching, the leaves have fallen from the trees and it’s harder to scrounge up quality forage to give your goats.
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.
- Try ivy or any vine that you know isn’t poisonous and that might need a good fall prune. Intrepid reader Bethany suggested berry canes below in the comments and I had to add those up here! Some of us have wild canes growing on our land that we’d like to remove via goat. Others of us are too lazy to prune our primocane berries back to the ground every year and would like the goats to help.
- 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! Speaking of seeds, if you need some quality heirloom seeds this year, please visit Seeds for Generations – a family seed company.
- With a few cold frames dedicated to your goats during the winter, you can be harvesting fresh veggies for them all year long.
- Look around, before the leaves are all gone, for branches from quick forming trees like willow. These are supple and tasty.
- A careful amount of evergreens is also appropriate – pine needles are a great Vitamin C boost.
- If you’ve secreted away extra pumpkins or squash, these can be given the goats during the cold months.
- Persistent fruits (which stay on the tree without dropping to the ground quickly) like Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) berries, rose hips or crabapples.
Garden of Goat Forage
As you’re planning your garden for this coming year, why not plant a few perennials from which to harvest goat forage? Here are some ideas:
- Expand your vegetable garden this year to include a bed dedicated to the goats. They’ll eat any seasonal harvest, but you can also plan ahead for the cold months by growing root veggies and pumpkins.
- 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.
- Mangels and other cover crops like clover and vetch can be consumed by goats. They’ll eat them like candy.
- Leftover stalks of things planted this season can also go to the goats. Examples are sunchokes and sunflowers, also pumpkins and other squash.
- As I harvest my herbs, especially during the fall, I take whole branches of them as I prune and stash their leafy limbs in the garage to give to the goats later. Fennel stalks with seeds, rosemary spears, branches of oregano for fighting infections are all good choices.
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?