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Planting a Goat Garden

Variety is the Spice of Life

By Suzy Hassler

The following information is taken from Good Beginnings With Dairy Goats by J.E.Eberhardt (which is one of the best goat books ever written!), and a few details from The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey. Reprinted with permission from the Caprizette.

Gardening and goat keeping go hand-in-hand, and while goat manure can be beneficial to the soil, the garden produce will help to keep dairy goats in the peak of health. When gardening for goats, certain vegetables and plants pop into mind; carrots are one of the first. The greens are rich in manganese. The seeds contain volatile oil, which is soothing to the digestive system. A tea made from the seeds helps colic, and the roots contain vitamins C, B, B2, and carotene, as well as being an excellent source of vitamin A and minerals. Over 1,200 IU of vitamin A are found in one cup of cooked carrots; raw carrots contain nearly double the amount. Carrots expel worms, are an antacid and aid in the function of the liver. In addition, the juice has a reputation for having anti-cancer activity. The pulped root makes an excellent first-aid poultice.

Pumpkins and winter squash are a "must" crop for goats. Both the seeds and the meat are relished. The seeds contain more protein than most grains—oats included. Because the seed is an embryo of future life, nature packs it chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Extremely abundant amounts of iron and phosphorus are found in these seeds along with lots of the B complex vitamins. For centuries, Hungarian gypsies have known that these seeds preserve male potency among humans and animals, containing a hormone-like component and zinc, which both benefit the prostate. Such squash as Buttercup, Pink Banana, Hubbard, Butternut and Sweetmeat are good winter keepers. While pumpkins are also good to use, the skins are thinner so they will not store quite as long. Goats love both pumpkins and squash as winter feeds. Just put the fruits on a wooden surface in a cool cellar or somewhere where they will not be touched by freezing weather. Pumpkins will last two to three months while squash will last over six months. To feed, two methods can be used. Either crack the hard-rinded fruit with an axe and let goats scoop out the contents, or cut the whole thing into bite-sized pieces.

Every goatkeeper should plant lots of sunflowers, for they are the finest of feeds available. The entire plant—leaves, seeds and stalk—is edible and greatly relished. While the seeds are well-liked, goats will hungrily gobble up the entire seed head when the seeds are at the early "dough" stage. Just break or cut the head into pieces and the goats will fight for them. The stalk too, will be devoured if cut into pieces. Sunflower seeds are eaten any time of the year. Room can be made for sunflowers, even in a small garden, by using them as stakes. Place one sunflower seed on either side of your tomato plants when setting them out. As the stalks grow, feed the leaves to the goats and use that strong stalk for staking your tomato plants. Sunflowers are extremely rich in phosphorus and have large amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamins A, D, and E, lecithin and are over 25% protein. Sunflower seeds contain a staggering 7.1 mg of vitamin E per 100gm of seed, as well as vitamins B1, B3, and B6.

Most goats relish comfrey and will eat it either fresh or dried. Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to allantion, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone and cartilage.

Kale is the leafy member of the cabbage family. Long grown by English goatkeepers for their animals, kale is a storehouse of nutrients.

Waste products of the fruit orchard are valuable goat food including leaves, branch trimmings and fruit unfit for human needs. Do not, however, use trimmings that have been sprayed. When feeding fruit to goats, do not overfeed, for most fruits tend to have a laxative effect if fed in large amounts. Overfeeding fruits will also cause the milker’s butterfat production to drop. Do not feed branches of cherries or plums to goats because of the possibility of prussic acid poisoning.

Don’t be in such a hurry to rid the garden and yard of dandelions. The humble dandelion is one of Nature’s great medicines. Dandelion has the ability to clear obstructions and detoxify poisons. It should be considered a valuable survival food. It contains all the nutritive salts that are required for the body to purify the blood. The leaves, which in spring are excellent in salads, are a powerful diuretic. Unlike conventional diuretics, dandelion does not leach potassium from the body. The leaves contain nearly twice as much vitamin A as spinach. 

While most plants in the garden and woodlot are good for goats, there are a few things grown that can be fatal. Rhubarb stalks are good to eat but the leaves are not. Wilted chokecherry leaves can cause prussic acid poisoning. Some commonly grown flowers are deadly: Lily-of-the-Valley, delphinium and its cousin Larkspur. The common potato, along with the tomato, eggplant, red pepper, tobacco, ground cherry and garden huckleberry are all members of the deadly nightshade family. Some parts of the nightshades contain alkaloids in either their fruits or green parts. For this reason, keep the fruits, leaves and vines away from your goats. If the pasture contains some wild strawberries, lamb’s quarter, purslane, nettles, poison ivy, thistles, plantain, chicory, curled dock, smartweed and cocklebur, the owner should consider it lucky. Goats are wild about these and consider them a delicacy. For a goat’s roughage needs, "Variety is the spice of life."

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