Sustenance you can't get from a bag of feed.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
By Daisy Pieraldi
When acquiring our small herd of Nubian goatlings, goat herding wasn’t a word in my goating vernacular, yet was destined to transform our lives. A journey began when I noticed members of our fledgling herd were already expressing an inherent desire for something more. I noticed what I describe as a longing one can see in their eyes, gazing out beyond the fences. Their glances high above their white-capped heads, eyeing the trees. What were they pointing me to, what are they wanting? I became aware these enchanting creatures were uniquely designed for an essential purpose. Innate to their physiological and behavioral development, they yearned for it.
Like so many, I too followed the industrial livestock management system. Promoting the common practice of maintaining goats in confined spaces, with little to no access beyond the fence. In a manner depriving them of necessary, beneficial stimulation and nourishment, unable to interact with the land.
This was the beginning of a rediscovery revealing the struggle my herd experienced when confined and unable to satisfy the one unquenchable instinct they are born with. The pursuit of sustenance. I was unaware that goats are innately designed to forage, sniff, browse, walk, run, climb — on a daily basis! All unattainable from a bag of feed and servings of hay.
Engaging in a period of research, the practice of the most ancient form of goat husbandry repeatedly came across my path. Pastoral goat husbandry, a little-known practice among American farmsteads and production enterprises. Yet the world over, this unrivaled method of raising goats still endures. Goats produce far more than just the sustenance to humans of food or fiber. One of the most overlooked benefits and key advantages of goats is their symbiotic relationship with the land, in their ability to help maintain it. Pastoral husbandry is the tried-and-true method of raising goats that ties all these processes together. Behooveful.
“Every species of animal opens the gates to the paradisiacal world. If you follow living beings, assiduously in the field ….. they lead you to an understanding of their lives, and all life.”Brad Kessler, Goat Song
BEYOND MERE EXISTENCE:
Goats, like you and I, are uniquely designed for life on Earth. That life depends on species-specific environmental factors that can completely alter the physiological performance, cognitive development, progeny, and longevity of any species when absent. Our existence as living beings is bound to the Earth, to the land. Removing oneself and one’s animals from this existence is to sever the very essence of that which tethers each of us to our intrinsic nature — to dwell and be fruitful. Behooveful.
(1)With the advent of industrial agriculture and livestock management practices, the modalities that served mankind and the animals for thousands of years were replaced. The cumulative, negative effects of that transition are manifest everywhere. Evident in our bodies, our food, land, water, skies, and animals. We unknowingly partake and even help propagate this decline with the continuity of modalities that studies prove to have a dire need for improvement. Conventional livestock management practices are one such dilemma.
(2)Studies have factually established that systems utilizing intensive indoor housing and full-time confinement are designed for production, with little to no consideration of the animals’ needs during the period of production. Yet the same studies conclude by suggesting a shift in commercial housing to mimic goats in nature, thus reducing the negative impact on the goats and instilling positive feelings from consumers.
After reading numerous studies, one has to beg the question. Why settle for imitating ideal natural habitat when one can just as easily train a herd to go out and tap into what the land has to offer?
Modern husbandry practices manifest the absence of an essential element. That true husbandry is rooted in provender. Pastoralists from time immemorial have understood this ancient principle — that provender for the goat is also sustenance for the goat walker. Together, they are the mutual companions and fellow stewards of the land. Behooveful.
The resurgence of regenerative, pastoral husbandry is reclaiming its rightful position in the disciplines of agriculture, farmsteads, and land management. Bringing with it a litany of benefits that cannot be ascertained with simple dollar signs.
“For the farmer food is necessarily the product of their labor. For the herder, food is a gift, eternally regenerating itself.”Jim Corbett, Goatwalker
WHEN THE LAND SPEAKS:
For centuries goats have been raised in harmony with local conditions of climate, terrain, vegetation, and even toxic plants. Despite this amazing history, they’ve been blamed for causing environmental degradation. This being a misappropriation of blame. A problem is arising not from herds but improper management practices at very high grazing pressures. Indicative of yet another missing element in modern husbandry — the knowledge of experienced herders.
One such case shared on a TED Talk is based on (3)Allen Savory’s African disaster. By his opinion, the removal and termination of over 40K elephants from African grasslands was undertaken to stop desertification. A modern idea, with no substantial proof, and contrary to the natural processes of land regeneration. Allen Savory’s idea was his detrimental error. He has openly admitted to, regretted, and is now amending this, only after realizing that herds’ foraging for sustenance and proper herding practices are essential for soil regeneration.
This photo is of the (4)Kroon Boundary in S. Africa, where The Herding Academy helps restore true pastoralism and holistic land management to local communities. National parks and wildlife reserves worldwide are already suffering from the same symptoms of soil degradation as a result of current conventional agri- and conservationist paradigms. Land desertification and exponential forest fires are both problems stemming from the absence of herding animals.
WHEN THE LAND GIVES:
Moreover, when goats attain healthsome sustenance they are designed to procure naturally, this beneficial native interaction further enriches them. Improving cognitive development, improving genetics in progeny, superior milk, meat, and hair. (5)All the while, reaping this advantage as the land on which the herd is foraging is being regenerated. The rekindling of symbiosis — the land sustains the goat, and the goat sustains the land. What arises is a completely different creature from the one fed grain and hay strictly and confined behind a fence. Regardless of how well it is formulated, no grain amount will surpass the nutrition and beneficial stimulation that nature is indwelled to provide. Behooveful.
Trail and forage time is an essential aspect of the life of herding animals. They form discriminatory skills required to distinguish appropriate forage and increase gut memory through biofeedback. Goats have the perfect digestive system and body structure to forage in some of the roughest terrains. (6)Able to consume plants that many other ruminants would leave behind. Easily adapted to changing conditions, highly efficient adjusting to a variety of vegetation, digesting poor-quality roughage, and a wide range of weeds. They have a natural gauge for taking in small servings of plants with anthelmintic benefits, tolerating bitter flavors and compounds that are potentially toxic to other animals.
Other problematic botanicals, like plants and tree that have thorns or spines, are standard dietary intake for goats. Flexible lips and tongues allow for their selection of individual buds, leaves, fruits, seeds, and flowers, containing high protein levels, and are far more digestible than old stems. (7)Dry hay cannot compete with the nutritional content of fresh, native forage. An ideal copper supplementation method is derived from the consumption of deep-rooted plants, weeds, and tree foliage. All containing high levels of essential minerals.
The advantages of starting kids foraging early is eventually passed onto their progeny. Raising goats in nature with nature increases the hardiness of their offspring and resistance to disease and parasites. In my herd, the four goatlings I started with don’t have the superior conformation and resistance to disease as their offspring. Behooveful.
“What animals learn from early stages of life — beginning in utero-has a lifelong influence on food and habitat selection and encourages animals to mix plants of complementary nutritional characteristics by eating different forages … animals allowed to graze areas composed of a diversity of eatable plants, where each animal will have the opportunity to express its competence as a wise consumer.”Michel Meuret and Fred Provenza, The Art and Science of Shepherding
Seven years later, I am no longer a manager of goats but a pastoralist — engaging daily with my goats on the land. I’ve committed to the research and restoration of pastoral goat husbandry, with the goal of putting forth knowledge of this modality to goaties around the world wanting to learn how to GOAT YOUR LAND. Stop by and peruse our website: www.goatyourland.com, or connect with us on Facebook and on YouTube.
Originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.