Goats can be productive farm animals or enjoyable pets, but they’re not quite the outdoor garbage disposals that nursery rhymes would have you believe. While they do enjoy dining on leaves, small twigs, vines, and some shrubs, they’re not after your empty tin cans. Goats, after all, need a balanced diet just like every other animal. More likely than not they were just interested in the can’s tasty paper label.
Have you ever thought about raising goats? One of the things that separates them from some other animals are their ruminant, four-part stomachs (similar to those in cows) used for slowly and repeatedly digesting their food. This process allows them to take the nutrients from plants that other animals will not (or cannot) consume and make a decent meal for themselves. They are also excellent at cleaning up brush where mowing is not possible. Did you know that they even like to eat poison ivy? While this won’t transfer to the milk in dairy goats, it may keep you from needing to reach for the chamomile lotion.
Goats can have many uses on a farm. While some people like to put goats with race horses to keep the horses calm, others raise goats for their meat (a very popular protein in some Indian and African cultures). Dairy goats also produce milk that can be used as-is or transformed into cheese or even soap. They’re also sometimes used to clean up pastures after other animals have left or to help keep unwanted plants in check.
This time of year you also see plenty goats at county and state fairs. People bring them to be judged on all of their attributes and abilities. One of my favorites to watch at the fair is the cart class. This has nothing to do with production, but everything to do with training an animal. Handling a goat cart is not easy - it requires skill along with hours of practice, practice, practice! Growing up I took one of my goats every year to the cart class and it was always a great time. Using an old pony cart modified to fit a goat we went on many rides all over our farm and back roads near our home.
How would you (or do you) use goats on your farm or in your backyard? Would you raise them for their meat or milk, or have them help out with tidying up the place? Let us know in the comments.