Why You Need Goats on Your Homestead

Why You Need Goats on Your Homestead

Goats were one of the first animals domesticated by humans, if not the very first. For 10,000 years they've been by our side, feeding us, clothing us, and fertilizing the soil. It’s no wonder people around the world still rely on goats for their primary sustenance.

My journey with goats started when I was a teenager and learned about the sources of the meat and milk products I was eating. I was disgusted and depressed to learn how factory farms operated-and that I was contributing to it by shopping at the grocery store. My desire to eat food treated with respect started me on the path I'm on today. I went from being a vegan to what some might call a modern-day hunter-gather, to a simple goat herder.

Goats have taught me what it means to be connected to the food I eat and what it means to be a steward of the land. Raising goats offers a healthy, local, and sustainable food source. They also contribute to land regeneration and are highly sociable and trainable-making for a herd of energentic and amusing companions.

Goats Provide All-Natural, Local Food If you want to have fresh, delicious milk on tap right in your backyard, you might like having goats. They’re easier to milk than sheep and are smaller and easier to keep than cows. One good dairy goat can produce a gallon of milk every day. Two milkers can cover all the dairy needs of an average-sized family, with leftovers to share. Their milk is an excellent source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Additionally, some people find it easier to digest than cow’s milk. With a few simple processes, it can also be made into yogurt, cheese, and kefir.

These versatile livestock can also be harvested for meat. It’s naturally lean, rich in nutrients such as iron and potassium, and contains less cholesterol than beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. Once you harvest an animal, you can also use or eat the bones filled with creamy marrow, the organs, and the hide.

If you already have chickens on your homestead, it’s worth noting that goats and chickens are complementary species. The birds will follow the herd around, raking and eating insects that the goats attract and eat meat scraps that goats will not, helping you achieve zero food waste from your kitchen.

Another benefit to raising goats is that their feed can be supplemented with wild forage. If you have enough space, they can graze within an electric fence or out on walks. If you live in a neighborhood and your neighbor trims their tree, your goats can eat the clippings. Beware that you might quickly turn them into scavengers: these hungry four-legged critters will have you gathering Christmas trees and pumpkins after the holidays. If you’re willing to get creative, you can feed them almost for free.

How Goats Contribute to Land Restoration and Regeneration Over the years, goats have gotten a bad reputation for being hard on the land. They can survive where cows cannot and eat a wider variety of foods than cattle, sheep, and horses. Historically, after the land was no longer able to support cattle, farmers would pasture goats on the over-grazed landscape. This ability has made them a “scapegoat,” if you will. Modern farming practices recognize goats as valuable players in restoring and regenerating land.

Goats are foragers not grazers, meaning they eat leaves, twigs, stems, and bark–not only grass. This makes them excellent at not overtaxing any one species on the landscape. They also eat a variety of invasive species and noxious weeds. It's amazing what plants goats can eat, from poison ivy and thorny rose bushes to toxic plants like knapweed and pokeweed.

Goats evolved in the tropics, near the equator in very arid areas. To survive in these climates, goats evolved the ability to detoxify noxious compounds to eat otherwise poisonous plants. There is research suggesting that seeds have reduced viability after they pass through a goat’s digestive tract, a useful attribute for controlling the spread of invasive species.

Goats are also great at reducing fuels for fire mitigation because their browsing patterns clear understory. They stand up on their hind legs to eat, allowing them to thin small- to medium-sized trees. Their smaller hooves and lighter bodies cause less soil compaction than larger animals, an attribute making them ideal for land restoration without erosion.

Soil even benefits from goats, because their poop makes fabulous compost. This effect is enhanced when combined with urine and straw from their bedding. Goat manure is not as “hot” as other animals' waste and is ideal for fertilizing garden beds. The value of goat poop is known around the globe. For example, the Tarahumara Tribe in Mexico uses goat manure to grow corn in the desert soil.

Goats for Companionship and Entertainment Goats provide 24-hour amusement that does not involve a screen. "Goat TV" is my favorite streaming service because they are fun to watch, especially when they’re playing and foraging. Not a day goes by that the goats don’t make me laugh out loud with their antics.

Goats are as sociable and trainable as dogs, each with a unique personality. People often ask me if all my goats have names. Not only do they have names, but they even respond to their names and come to me at a whistle. Their agility and ability to follow without a lead are just a few attributes that make them great pack animals for hunting and hiking as well. They can be trained to pull carts or sleds, jump through hoops, and more. It’s very rewarding to work with and train goats and there are endless possibilities to what they can learn.

If food security and weed control aren’t enough of a reason to want goats, kids may put you over the edge. Young goat or "kids" have to be one of the most fun animal babies out there. Within a few hours of being born, they’re up on new legs jumping and bouncing around. They will bring immense joy into your life.

Raising Animals Isn't all Sunshine and Rainbows Goats are amazing and I love having them as an integral part of my life, but there's a reason they call it animal husbandry. Caring for animals is a huge responsibility. You truly are married to them! Here are a few things to know before reading your vows.

Goats are herd animals and it’s not okay for them to be by themselves. It’s best to have at least two goats, but they can be companions with other common livestock animals such as cows, sheep, and horses.

They have similar needs to other livestock but do require a mineral block with selenium to fulfill their nutritional demands. Milk goats are a special commitment because they need to be milked daily, but there are fewer demands for weed-eaters kept for meat or as pets.

Goats are smart and mischievous. These attributes make them harder to fence in than other animals. Four-strand barbed wire will not do as they slip in between the strands, but chain link, hog panels, or electric netting work well. They also pay attention to how a gate latches and can sometimes figure out how to open them.

They can strip the bark off young trees, a desirable activity for clearing unwanted vegetation like Russian Olive, but undesirable for your young fruit trees. Keep this in mind when letting them loose in an area slated for browsing. If I have my goats eating in an area with young trees that I don’t want them to injure, I’ll wrap the tree trunk with an old sheet.

Caring for goats is a serious commitment and there are hard days, but to me, it’s worth it. My goats have made my teenage goal possible. I longed to feel good about where my food came from, and now I do. While out walking my goats, I stop and sit on a rock and take a big swig of milk from a Mason jar. I’m drinking the forest filtered through a goat. I can taste the difference between Doug fir needle milk and willow leaf milk, and as I drink I watch them eat. It’s all worth it for this relationship, not only to the animals, but to the land. I have to pay attention to what the land needs to live this way, but it allows me to see my place in the cycle and in the ecosystem.

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