Angora Goats and Soil Health
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Soil is not just a medium in which to grow plants. It is a natural ecosystem in itself, a dynamic and changing environment, much of it microscopic, including fungi, bacteria, crustaceans, algae, nematodes, and other critters, all working symbiotically to create an environment helpful to plants. They, with the help of the sun, make nutrients available to plant roots so they can prosper. The interconnectedness of the complex life within the soil is necessary to provide proper nutrition for plants. Without it, plants do not thrive. Roots are the hotspot where microorganisms perform their magic. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are regulated by the microorganisms present in healthy soil. Good soil must have the appropriate balance of living biological content, physical characteristics, and chemical elements. Healthy soils sustain plant and animal biodiversity, conserve water, and improve air quality while supporting human health and the surrounding wildlife habitat. Healthy soil is not a matter of “dirt with fertilizer,” as many have believed until recent years.
Unfortunately, soils have been unintentionally compromised for many years through toxic dumping and through what has recently become recognized as poor farming procedures. Traditional farming has reduced soil quality through tillage, row cropping, mono-cropping, and chemical applications of fertilizers and various insecticides, herbicides, and other “‘cides.” By using no-tillage methods and extended crop rotations, soil health would improve over time by the natural infiltration of organic matter into the soil. Organic carbon input through animal manures, green manures, and legumes will benefit microorganisms, make nutrients available to plants, create humus, suppress disease, and benefit livestock.
According to Dr. Zach Bush, “A dysfunctional and toxic agricultural system is robbing crops of nutritional value, accelerating the decline of human health, destroying the environment and paving the way for mass extinction.” Bush believes that by changing agricultural practices, farmers can counter this decline by creating healthy soils that will sequester carbon, help reverse climate change, while at the same time produce highly nutritious food, “Successful revolutions start with farmers through specific practices.”
Bush and others believe that soil health, animal health, human health, nutritious produce, and the health of wildlife are all inter-dependent and can be obtained if steps are taken one at a time. A worldwide agricultural revolution has begun, attempting to return farms and farmers back to the people and away from large corporations that may choose profit over people.
Livestock grazing adds an important contribution to this process. Proper management of the grazing program is equally as important. Natural grazing by livestock is the cheapest source of animal feed, but for it to be sustainable, grazing rotations must be managed with the health of the land as a paramount consideration. That health is what keeps the process sustainable without external, unnatural interventions. Healthy soil with green forage is less vulnerable to drought, diseases, or parasites. Grazing management includes avoiding overgrazing, which exposes the earth to erosion and moisture loss and maintaining a diversity of plant life. Appropriate grazing enables the preservation of soil as a natural ecosystem by reducing the need to till or use other heavy machinery, which degrades soil, contributes to air pollution, and increases the farmer’s financial outlay. Livestock grazing has surprising benefits in keeping soil healthy and fertile.
Grazing goats serve unique purposes in grazing management and in maintaining soil health. They contribute to plant diversity in the pasture since they can digest the cellulose in plant-life that sheep or cattle do not eat, meaning that farmers do not have to remove undesirable plants by artificial means physically. By increasing the variety of native plants, which contributes to microorganisms’ vitality, soil quality improves continuously. Goats perform additional grazing services by not grazing down to bare land and by the fact that they are constantly on the move, evenly distributing natural fertilizer across the pasture.
Angora goats, in particular, have additional features that enhance positive environmental processes. They make unique contributions to the environment. Their long hair sequesters large amounts of carbon ingested from their forage, helping to reduce global warming. Fifty percent of mohair’s weight is pure, organic carbon — carbon that remains sequestered after the mohair is fashioned into fabric for clothing. Goats can rotate through the same pasture with other grazers, such as cows or sheep, since each animal’s grazing choice is different: cattle eat grass, sheep will eat broad-leafed forbs, and goats browse a variety of brush and bramble not consumed by the other ungulates.
Angoras sustainably produce hair fiber eliminating the need for large machinery and reducing the need for synthetic fibers’ chemical production. The sun’s energy converts into forage and the goats convert this renewable feed source into a long-lasting fiber. This is an ecological impact at work. Additionally, Angoras’ feeding habits leave a healthy forage height. They don’t graze down to the roots of a plant, which further helps retain soil carbon, preventing it from returning to the atmosphere.
These animals harvest their feed, effectively disposing of the need for harvesting or tilling machinery. Their pastures are permanent sod reducing the loss of organic matter. Angoras are commonly given “goat houses,” shelter from inclement weather, and create another unique contribution. The soft straw bedding from their stalls is easily composted and spread, adding to the soil’s fertility with no negative environmental impact. Goat manure is nearly odorless and contains nutrients that plants need for optimum growth. Angora bedding straw is enriched with both droppings and urine, increasing the nitrogen level.
Soil health can be defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, and Angora goats can aid both in its creation and maintenance. Healthy plants require healthy soil organisms to provide essential nutrients to their roots. Billions of bacteria, fungi, and many small multi-celled animals form symbiotic relationships with 80% of land plants’ roots. Healthy roots produce healthy crops, and good soil can be maintained with eco-friendly practices. When the life and variety of the unseen organisms within the soil are protected, they perform magically. When the resulting growth is grazed upon, the soil’s nutrition is increased by re-introducing organic matter into the soil without causing damage. Once ingested by Angora goats, a regenerative process takes place through the animal waste and straw manure they provide, through their foraging habits that maintain ground cover and their contributions to carbon sequestration. Angora goats can be a part of a world where everything is recognized as connected. They do this by helping to maintain and regenerate the healthy soil necessary for nutritious food, by aiding in the sequestration of carbon and reducing the need for heavy machinery. The ecological impact of these fiber-producing goats is a renewable, sustainable source of fiber. Angora goats create a low carbon footprint. “Unless they are ill or very young, they do well with cold temperatures,” says farmer Debbi Stanfield. “We have recently started interspecies rotation with two horses in two front established pastures. The reasons are two-fold; to keep our pastures from being overgrazed and for parasite prevention. As a health benefit, Stanfield cuts tree branches and leaves where they will eat all leaves and bark. We are feeding the goat and the mohair they produce.” She adds.
To summarize, the health of Angora goats and soil becomes a symbiotic relationship that predicts all life’s health — the beings in it, on it, and through its products.
Originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.