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Going “Green” With Dairy Goats

By Rona Myers Sullivan


In a day and age where “going green” is a common phrase referring to protecting the environment and living and using earth-saving management ideas, dairy goats are a perfect fit. Managed properly, dairy goats have a low impact on the environment and work like efficient

If you're going to use goats for clearing pastures and woodlands, make sure you know what plants are growing in the area.
If you’re going to use goats for clearing pastures and woodlands, make sure you know what plants are growing in the area.

grazing machines to control mixed pasture, weeds and forest undergrowth. Some people have even made a business out of dairy goat clean-up crews, hiring out and hauling herds around to parks, universities, and public right-of-ways to make use of the goats’ natural browsing tendencies.

“Going green” with goats takes thought, planning, physical energy, time and/or money, but getting on the bandwagon now could be a profitable long term investment. With energy costs rising almost daily, and more and more goods from afar in question; consumers are looking to support “safe, local, and green.”

Not only are “green” goats good for the environment, there are added bonuses of supplementing the usual nutritive plan of the goat with a variety of vegetation they might not otherwise get. During a rainy spring, brush and woody vines are high in magnesium, and don’t harbor any parasites; while pastures at that time are low in magnesium, and high in parasites. It makes sense to hire out the herd and supplement their diet with all-natural goat health food.

Two Distinct Green Goat Groups

There are two ways to group “green” goat herds. Group number one includes those who want everything to be small-scale and confined to only their own farm. Group number two takes things in a much larger scale, has an affinity for big equipment, and may be able to access a large number of bored, lounging dairy goats. Both groups have their place in the growing awareness of going “green” with goats. It’s just a matter of lifestyle and preference.

It takes a lot of goats to form an effective clearing crew. In fact, that would be the only way to have them clean up an area in a day that has more than just grass. (Just grass would not be good.) Otherwise plans for a several day outing could create all kinds of problems unless there’s already fencing, water, shelter, guardians, and most preferably, a camping goat herder.

Many people have asked me about leaving my dairy goats at their place staked for a few days, but I fall into that former small-scale group. First of all, it is never a good idea to stake out a goat. Most of the people who ask me in this rural area have no protective fence around their tall fescue, (bad on both counts), and they want to stake the goats in areas where dogs are free-range, and coyote are multiplying as house cats disappear! Also, I am not much of a camper and I prefer sleeping in my own house and in my own bed.

Professional Goat Herders of Note:

Truly, there are those, however, who hire out their “green” goats full-time.

  • Lani Malmberg has a Master’s Degree in Weed Science. With a goat herd that numbers over 1,000, she travels from job to job throughout Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and other surrounding areas. She was a mentor to Jim Guggenhime, the following goat herder.
  • Jim Guggenhime is a 30-ish professional goatherd who had spent some time teaching in East Africa after high school. It is in Africa that he developed his fondness for goats. After graduation from the University of Colorado, he decided he must to do something with goats besides the meat business; thus, his grazing business was born, appropriately named, ‘Nip It in the Bud’. Guggenhime travels with his herd of about 200, and they “clean-up without chemicals” on a full schedule.
  • GOATS R US, is a California based goat-for-hire operation that has been in the goat browsing business since 1995.

There are important considerations to contemplate before hiring out goats for a browsing business.

  • Is there a niche market for browsers in the area?
  • Rate of pay and added values
  • Dangers to public or property
  • Additional costs: fuel, transport equipment, temporary fencing, water and shelter
  • Time away, and the impact on the farm/family/dairy operation
  • Goats are best with weed and brush control, not grass.
  • Number of goats needed to do the cleanup for your area
  • Health regulations and possible damage and liability insurance
  • Would business owners be better off with one of those “green” lawn care and landscaping services?
  • Toxic plants and chemical residue

Goats are great for cleaning up weeds, since they love nuisance and invasive plants such as poison ivy, wild grapevine, willow, and honey suckle. Using portable fencing will keep them safe and contained while they browse.
Goats are great for cleaning up weeds, since they love nuisance and invasive plants such as poison ivy, wild grapevine, willow, and honey suckle. Using portable fencing will keep them safe and contained while they browse.

There are some risks associated with tall fescue, and early wet spring grass low in magnesium- high in parasites. Be sure to know the dangers of grass staggers/grass tetany; lowered milk production, and possible illness or parasite load, which could lead to death.

Of course the best way to keep mixed pastureland under control is to fence in the area to be cleared with cows, sheep, and goats. All would still need to be supplemented with minerals, and at least the cows and goats would probably require some hay and grain if they were to be milked during the clean up. They’d require some protection from predators, shelter from sun and inclement weather, and a clean source of water.

Some important questions to ask any potential customer in the goat grazing business include:

  • What type of forage is to be cleared?
  • What chemicals have been applied, and when?
  • Are there any health regulations regarding livestock in the proximity of the businesses or neighborhoods in the area?
  • What type of insurance/liability might be needed?
  • Do they have applicable insurance?

Goats and Clean Up At Home

Goats are the best weed-eaters! Some small ways to utilize this attribute is to prune or pull weeds and throw them in the pen. Or turn the goats into what’s left of the garden in fall to clean up for next season. More ideas for home “green” use include:

  • Have dairy goats clean up sections of mixed pasture, weeds, and forest undergrowth. Goats love such nuisance and invasive plants such as poison ivy, wild grapevine, willow, and honey suckle. Of course they also love cultivated grapevines, fruit trees, herbs, and ornamentals…. That’s where the portable fences come in; particularly those fences that are easily handled by one person.
  • Purchase a portable electric fence, or choose from several plastic construction fence options. Even snow fences are easy to handle and can work if they are secured to metal posts. Four or more cattle panels can be secured with cable ties to form foraging areas; but they can be a bit heavy and unwieldy to handle alone.
  • Dairy goats make great stump grinders! Storms, blight and regular yearly pruning can leave the excessive wood and brush far beyond home heating needs. Huge stump sections can go into the goat pen for “king of the mountain” games. Goats also chew bark for extra fiber and health needs. Over time the goats will make those stumps disappear. Even the sawdust from cutting the stumps can be shoveled up and placed in goat housing to be utilized as compost on the garden at a later date.

“Going green with dairy goats” is a subject of great interest in America at this time. We here at Sullivans’ Pond Farm believe that the time and energy we invest in research and development, and the sharing of ideas, will only serve to inspire and propel us all, our dairy goats, and our land toward better health and well-being.

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