Stocking rates for cattle and some other species of livestock are based upon how many head can be run on an acre of land without over-grazing. This is not true for goats. Goats are not "little cattle" or sheep. They live and eat like deer and must be managed accordingly.
Stocking rates for goats cannot be based upon the availability of plant materials for consumption. Goat stocking rates must be based upon controlling internal parasites and avoiding wet conditions and over-crowding. Goats are very susceptible to internal parasites, particularly the blood-sucking stomach worm Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm) that causes anemia and death. Goats, like deer, need lots of land to roam over. By moving continually and eating "from the top down," goats avoid worms that are on plant materials that are closest to the ground. Having lots of land to roam over allows goats to keep distances among themselves, further reducing the chance of ingesting worms. Goats cannot handle the stress or the worm load that exists in wet and overcrowded conditions. WET = WORMS. No goat breed is resistant to worms.
Goats are primarily browsers and foragers of leaves and weeds. Goats will eat many types of nutritious plant materials, including grasses. In fact, they eat different plants at different times of the year and will even vary their choices from morning to evening. Goats are very picky eaters. There are many plant materials that cows and sheep will eat but goats won't eat because they cannot digest them. Goats have the fastest metabolisms of all ruminants, except deer, and as such, must eat easy-to-digest plant materials frequently. If the Acid Detergent Fiber (a measure of digestibility of plant materials) is 39 or higher, then too much lignin is present and goats cannot digest it.
Goats will always find and eat the newest and most tender growth. If you force goats to graze pastures, they are not going to eat the tall grasses but instead will go to ground level to get the youngest and most tender shoots -- right where the worms are . Worm eggs hatch, travel up the new blades of grass, and wait for goats to ingest them. Even in dry climates, worms can survive for long periods of time and can do much damage to goats if wet and overcrowded conditions exist.
Meningeal deerworm is another internal parasite devastating to goats living in areas of white-tail deer populations. The combination of standing water (bogs, marshes, ponds, lakes, and even heavy leaf litter) and white-tail deer too often results in Meningeal Deerworm Infection. Meningeal deerworm infection can be hard to diagnose, is difficult to combat, must be treated aggressively and quickly, and often leaves permanent damage (including paralysis). Read my article entitled Meningeal Deerworm Infection on the Articles page of www.tennesseemeatgoats.com for additional information about diagnosis and treatment.
Goats thrive best in dry climates. They can be raised in moderately wet climates if you are able to provide an environment that minimizes their exposure to internal parasites. You must have well-drained pastures, build at least three and preferably more rotational paddocks to move goats through about every three weeks (the life cycle of a stomach worm), and be prepared to feed supplementally when weather is bad or pastures cannot support the goats' nutritional needs. Running a second species like cattle behind goats through the rotational pastures can help clean up the stomach worm load.
Rotational grazing with cattle is done to make cattle eat the available plant material in order to avoid supplemental feeding. Rotating goats in pastures is done to control internal parasites and avoid the stresses caused by wet and overcrowding. Unless they are reduced to starvation, goats are not going to eat the coarse plant materials that cattle will eat as filler; it has no nutritional value to goats, they know it, and their bodies cannot digest it. You cannot starve the profit out of a goat.
Start small with just a few goats. Goats multiply quickly. Sexual maturity is as early as two months of age in some goat breeds, gestation is five months, and multiple births are common. Populations can double in less than one year. Your pasture/forage/browse will be depleted quickly, supplemental feeding will be necessary, and stress and worm loads will increase rapidly.
Controlling worm loads is critically important to the health of your herd. Stomach worms suck the blood from goats, causing anemia and death. No goat can eat enough to overcome a heavy worm load. Worms develop resistance to dewormers faster than goats can adapt to wormloads. And you cannot deworm your way out of heavy wormloads. If you insist upon raising goats in wet and/or overcrowded conditions and if you deworm as frequently as monthly, then you are creating super worms against which no class of dewormer will work for long.
Do fecal counts every few weeks and cull those goats that cannot tolerate a moderate worm load. Realize that if goats are in overcrowded and/or wet conditions, they cannot adapt to even a moderate wormload, so you have to keep your head count in line with what your land can support and the goats can handle.
Don't anticipate the development of new classes of dewormers. It isn't likely to happen. Most dewormers and other medications that we use for goats are off-label/extra-label because the goat population isn't large enough to justify the costs involved in getting products approved for this minor species of livestock.
If you can't make these recommendations work for you, then goats probably aren't suited for your land and your climate and you will save money and goats' lives by finding a different and more suitable species to raise.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10-10-16
Important! Please Read This Notice!
All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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