Goats are often considered to be very destructive critters and rightly so. They are not grazers or lawnmowers as popular culture might have us believe, they are browsers and prefer the leaves and bark of trees and shrubs.
For some, this might be a bad thing. Who would want a goat nibbling on their prize rosebushes or freshly planted orchard? For others though, it is incredibly useful.
Those of us who homestead in the mountains often have to contend with rocky, hilly, shrubby, tree-filled landscapes. We lack smooth grassy pastures and meadows that would normally sustain cows and permit pasture poultry methods. Instead, we have to adapt our permaculture techniques to a different sort of terrain. Wildfires and droughts, followed by heavy rainfall and flooding are the seasons we live by and goats fit in perfectly.
Forest management is one of our largest concerns in “the hills” along with reaping some sort of profit from our land. Goats, along with the products they produce such as dairy, meat, soap, and other beauty products are excellent sellers in farmer’s and crafter’s markets. The work of the goat’s brush clearing provides room for propagating native edibles such as fungi, berries, fiddleheads, ginseng, and more.
When you couple the work of the goats with chickens and ducks or geese following behind them in a rotational system, the poultry animals will eat the smaller vegetation that the goats missed. Chickens will till the soil, eating insects and ducks or geese will help the chickens eat non-native grasses that the goats have missed. Planting these areas with native seeds and plants after the animals have moved on to the next section provides the woodland area with a restoration of native plants that feed native animals. These may be hunted at a later time when populations become too large to be sustainable but nature has a way of keeping things fairly balanced in this area.
The extra abundance from these native plants can feed your family, your neighbors, and your customers. Wild-crafted goods made from native herbs and fruits are in high demand. Native berries, fruits, and foods are a welcome addition to farmer’s markets and niche markets are still wide open for ginseng, fungi, and fiddleheads.
The wood from the trees that are thinned as the goats and their throng of poultry allies renew the land, can be used for firewood, lumber, woodchips, fence posts, and much more. The branches from the trees and brush make excellent wood chips as well. We use them in abundance in our gardens, pathways, and for animal bedding.
All the while, they provide us with milk, which we drink and sell. We make some of it into cheese, some into butter, some into cream, and we feed the whey to our meat chickens. Of course, they also provide us with meat and funds from the sale of the kids.
Besides all these wonderful gifts they give us, our goats are also an endless supply of entertainment and joy. We love and care for each of our animals. We treat them with dignity and respect and they give back to us in return.