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Backyard Goat Nutrition, the Herbal Way

By Kat Drovdahl

Wait! Don’t throw away that dandelion! You think I’m crazy, don’t you? You might even think I am off my rocker if I told you that I grow dandelions on purpose among my flowers and other herbs. And what if I told you I have a mug of tea next to me right now, of which one of the ingredients is fresh dandelion leaves? So I won’t tell you I do these things and you might begin to think that I really am a sane person; but then, no person who raises dairy goats and milks those animals twice every day, in every kind of weather, and on holidays is a sane person in my thoughts (grin). Walk the dandelion over to your goats and they will be glad to remove this vitamin A, B, C, D, and E herb off of your hands. Or could they be relishing the calcium and other supportive micro–minerals? What about the kidney, liver and gallbladder support and gentle system cleansing? With nutrients like that it’s really an every cell body support. How about the blood building organic iron, which won’t build up in their system and harm them like a lab created supplement might. Maybe it’s for all of those reasons. You can give them the flowers, leaves and cleaned root.

Another backyard herb that has found its way in my tea because of its gentle blood cleansing action is the stinging nettle. It also is a vitamin A and C plant with a lot of protein, iron, calcium and again calcium supportive minerals. Nettle helps break up congestion in the body (including the lungs), and helps clean stagnated lymph. It is excellent for kidney and bladder support as well as general tissue support. I just cut it, let it wilt, and then feed it to my goats after it has wilted so it doesn’t sting. It is quite easy to start from seed, likes moisture, and needs to have some form of shade in hot climates. I truly love this herb. 

Comfrey, though not often found wild (unless someone planted it there) is an herb that every farm should have as it has useful medicinal qualities. It can endure up to 40°F below zero, but needs some protection from hot sun. It’s a very deep–rooted plant that pulls up nutrients and water from deep down under the earth’s crust. It is a powerhouse for tissue rebuilding whether it is bone, nerves, muscle, tendon or other. It also is a great lactation support herb and a good lung support herb. Nutrients from the leaves and the cleaned root work to enhance many health benefits. The leaves work so well, however, that I never want to waste the root. If a goat has liver issues then those should be addressed for a while before comfrey is fed. With a healthy liver, there are no problems.

Raspberries are so yummy, and the leaves are beneficial as another mineral storehouse for goats. Raspberry leaves containing pectin and malic acid and the goats, of course, love them! When eaten the leaves help build the strength of uterine muscles through the gestation period, enabling the doe to have a more efficient birthing process. The leaves also, being astringent, are helpful in situations where there is mild diarrhea, and the tea can be used as a wound wash. Raspberries like to have root moisture during hot summers, and where I live they tend to do better where they don’t have the hot sun on them all day long. We use the leaves, and of course the rumen benefits from the long stem fiber of the twigs.

Lavender is another herb that every farm should have a few bushes of. This herb helps relax the nervous system without drugging it, is anti–inflammatory, and is something I really like to use in situations where tissue repair and/or bacteria may be an issue. It can even be prepared and used on bad burns. I mostly use the flower buds, but do get really good results from the leaves. This herb tolerates sun real well once it is established and is usually considered a deer resistant plant.

Plantain, considered a menace or weed by many people, also has good backyard health benefits for goats. There are several forms of this herb with the two most common being Plantago lanceolota and Plantago major. Both will send up a tall stem with almost cattail–shaped inflorescence (the blooming part of the plant) coming out of them. The leaves on the lanceolota are lance or spear–like with vertical ribbing, and the major has almost spade shaped leaves that are basal. The seeds are a good source of vitamin B and fiber. The leaves are a great source of vitamins C and K, as well as being another mineral–rich plant that makes a nice dressing for wounds, burns, and is noted for its toxin–drawing capabilities in the case of bee stings and bug bites. Just chew up a leaf and put it on the assaulted location. I also like it as a kidney support herb.

Goats seem to know that wild roses are beneficial; they love to eat them whenever possible. After the first frost, rose hips become a natural whole food vitamin C supplement. Fresh, they taste like mild apples; the flower petals can be dried and made into a tea and used as a wound wash, too. I have planted an old rose variety on my farm on purpose, for the hip production. The flowers are small compared to the beauty varieties, and the thorns plentiful, but that’s not what I’m after in this plant. 

Often the plants people already have growing around their farm can be useful in keeping the goat herd healthy. Instead of ripping out those weed varieties and throwing them in the compost bin, perhaps the feed rack is more appropriate. It is important to remember that any herbs harvested should be at least 50 feet from roadways (further for busy highways) and should not have had any chemical exposure (fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) for at least the previous three years. Remember to save seeds to get these plants going where you want them to grow.

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