As part of our series of blogs from Fife Diet members, smallholder and goatmeister Alec Milne, from Gatehouse of Duloch in Dunfermline, has written this piece about domestic goats. We’re contemplating digging up our veg patch and building a goat house already….
Read any topical smallholders magazine and you will come across many advertisements for the various breeds of goats which are to be found in this country. It may even have crossed your mind that buying a small highly mobile lawn mower which is the ultimate in ecological good practice will benefit your smallholding/garden……………….think again !!!
Nobody has actually told the goat community it;s meant to eat docks and weeds, their understanding of their role in the smallholding/garden is significantly different from our expectations. i.e. they expect to laze in the sun, be feed three times daily on the best hay and hard feed, and only if pushed hard enough by the goat owner may decide to crop some grass to help with the general lawn keeping and tidying up.
These wonderful creatures have been associated with mankind since feral goats were domesticated and studies of DNA evidence suggests 10,000 years ago as the approximate domestication date. Neolithic farmers began to herd wild goats for easy access to milk and meat, primarily, as well as for their dung, which was used as fuel, and their bones, hair, and sinew for clothing, building, and tools. All in all a very useful animal to have around if Tesco or Asda is closed.
But moving on, today we see a more focused use for the modern goat. It is generally agreed the milk from most goat breeds is beneficial to sufferers of eczema and those who may be lactose intolerant giving an alternative to cow’s milk. Consequently commercial dairy goat herds are now fairly common in the UK producing 900,000 liters annually, some of which goes to make goat cheese.
Coming back to our reasons to keep goats, my experience has been they are inquisitive, playful, mischievous and absolutely hopeless at any form of grass maintenance but are delightful creatures which enhance any smallholding and can provide a few liters of good quality milk per day. They are also excellent companions for horses and ponies.
Our own herd (10) provides replacement milk goats to commercial herds. Generally most goats will kid twins (goatlings) with the mother easily able to provide sufficient milk for both goatlings.
They make good pets for children although a single goat is an unhappy goat so you need two. Also, their pastime is head-butting so don’t be surprised if you see them mock fighting it’s a form of exercise and an embedded behavioural trait. (Don’t get in the way as it hurts)
So as a prospective goat owner now convinced of the absolute need to have your own mini herd, what type do you choose? For the smaller acreage or large garden the Boer goat is the perfect choice. Small friendly and despite its horns exceptionally calm (except at feeding time), either male or female is suitable (males will have had the essential bits removed).
For the larger smallholding or acreage I recommend the Toggenberg goat. This is a native of the Alps, it is a high milker and like all goats every one has its own character. Toggies like to climb hence good fences are a prerequisite on the property, and if you have trees on the property expect to lose all foliage at stretched goat height.
In conclusion we consider our quality of life is enhanced by our association with these animals and I recommend them to anyone who savours a challenge.
Best of Luck
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