HOW MANY GOATS PER ACRE?
Asking the wrong questions about stocking rates
A critical part of raising livestock is establishing correct stocking rates. For cattle and some other species of livestock, stocking rates are based upon how many head can be run on a given acre of land without over-grazing it. This is not true for goats.
Goats are not "little cattle." Stocking rates for goats must not be calculated based upon plant materials that are available for consumption on a given acre of land. Instead, goat stocking rates must be based upon controlling internal parasites and avoiding over-crowding. The purpose of this article is to make clear to producers that goats will get sick and die if they don't utilize this information.
Goats are very susceptible to internal parasites, particularly to the microscopic blood-sucking stomach worm Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm) that causes anemia and death. Goats, like deer, need lots of land to roam over. Moving continually and eating from the top down creating a browse line, goats avoid worms that are waiting for them on plant materials that are close to the ground. Having lots of land to roam over allows goats to keep distances amongst themselves, further reducing the chance of ingesting worms.
Goats are primarily browsers and foragers, eating leaves and weeds. This does not mean that goats will eat nothing else. Goats will eat many types of nutritious and tasty plant materials, including grasses. Goats will eat different things at different times of the year and will even vary their consumption from morning to evening. Goats are very picky eaters, preferring top quality plant materials. There are many plants that cows will eat but goats won't. Goats have the ability to survive on plant materials that other species cannot, but this is certainly not their preference. Under such conditions, goats will survive until better conditions occur.
The important thing to remember is that goats will always find and eat the newest and most tender growth. If the producer places goats into a strictly pasture situation, they are not going to eat the tall grasses but instead will search at ground level to get the newest most tender shoots -- right where the worms are. If the land is wet from standing water or heavy rainfall, worms hatch, climb the new blades of grass, and wait for goats to ingest them. A two-inch rainfall will hatch many thousands of worms.
Meningeal deerworm is another internal parasite devastating to goats that are raised in areas of white-tail deer populations. Standing water (bogs, swamps, ponds, lakes) and white-tail deer are not good combinations for goat health. Meningeal deerworm infection is hard to combat, must be caught and treated at early onset, and leaves permanent damage to many of the goats who contract it. See this author's article entitled Meningeal Deerworm Infection on the Articles page for additional information about diagnosis and treatment.
Goats are dry-land animals. They thrive best in arid climates. Goats can be raised in moderately wet climates if the producer is able to provide an environment that minimizes their exposure to the things that sicken and kill goats. The producer must maintain well-drained pastures, build at least four and preferably more rotational paddocks to move the goats through every three weeks (the life cycle of a stomach worm), and be prepared to feed supplementally when weather is bad and/or pastures cannot support the goats' nutritional needs. Rotational grazing with cattle is done for a very different reason -- to consume as much of 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 over-crowding.
Where do you begin? The information in this article should serve as the basic blueprint. Start small with just a few goats. Goats multiply quickly. Sexual maturity is five months of age or less, gestation is five months, and multiple births are the norm. Populations can double in less than one year. Supplemental feeding will be necessary if you overpopulate your land; wormloads and stress loads will increase rapidly. Keep a close watch on your goats' impact on the land to help you control and adjust stocking rates.
Remember that controlling worm loads is critically important. Stomach worms suck the blood from goats, creating anemia and causing death. No goat can eat enough to overcome a heavy worm load. If you insist upon raising goats in very wet areas and deworm as frequently as every three weeks or monthly, then all you are doing is creating super worms that will soon not respond to any of the available dewormers. Do fecal counts every few weeks and cull those goats that cannot tolerate a moderate worm load. There are no new livestock dewormers in the developmental pipeline or on the drawing board. If you can't make the regimen outlined in this article work for you, then goats aren't suited for your land and your climate and you would be doing the goats and yourself a favor to find a different species to raise.