Goats in the Garden
Gardening and goat keeping for us go hand-in-hand - whilst my dad swore by goat manure for his tomatoes and its benefits to the soil, the garden produce we produce helps to keep our Rare Breed Goats in the peak of health.
While most plants in our garden are good for goats, there are a few things we grow that can be fatal, and so good fencing is essential. Rhubarb stalks are good to eat for both goats and us but the leaves are not. Some commonly grown flowers are deadly: Lily-of-the-Valley which were used in our wedding bouquet, and delphiniums that are a stately, elegant perennial that is a standard in any British garden.
The common potato, along with those wonderful tomatoes, aubergines, and red peppers that are a base of ingredients in our kitchen are all members of the deadly nightshade family. Some parts of the nightshades contain alkaloids in either their fruits or green parts. For this reason, keep the fruits, leaves and vines away from your goats and no matter what the goats tell you don't give them the key to the greenhouse.
So when your out in your garden don’t be in such a hurry to rid the garden of dandelions. The humble dandelion is one of Nature’s great medicines. Dandelion has the ability to clear obstructions and detoxify poisons. It should be considered a valuable survival food, so having them doted around the garden is something we always do, and if they are in an area that doesn't suit the rest of your garden I.e makes it look untidy cut it and feed to your goats.
Dandelions contain all the nutritive salts that are required for the body to purify the blood. The leaves contain nearly twice as much vitamin A as spinach and in spring are excellent in our salads, they are just as delicious in our goats 'salad' too. Dandelions are also a powerful diuretic, unlike conventional diuretics, dandelion does not leach potassium from the body.
If the grazing area for your goats contains some wild strawberries, lamb’s quarter, miners lettuce, nettles, poison ivy, thistles, plantain, chicory, curled dock, smartweed and cocklebur, you should consider yourself lucky. Goats are wild about these plants and consider them a delicacy. For goat's, as we humans do, require a varied diet and good roughage is key to a healthy diet, after all "Variety is the spice of life".
So when your gardening for your goats, certain vegetables and plants are a must; carrots are an obvious one as everybody loves to hold a carrot and let the goat eat from your hand.
The greens of the carrots are rich in manganese, and their seeds contain volatile oil, which is soothing to the digestive system. If ever my dad had a sick goat he would brew a tea made from the seeds for them, something I have continued to do for them. Carrots contain large amounts of vitamins C, B, B2, and carotene, as well as being an excellent source of vitamin A and minerals.
Over 1,200 IU (international unit) of vitamin A are found in one cup of cooked carrots; raw carrots contain nearly double that. Carrots expel worms, are an antacid and aid in the function of the liver. In addition, the juice has a reputation for having anti-cancer activity. The pulped root makes an excellent first-aid poultice.
Pumpkins and winter squash are a "must" crop for goats, and they love to devour this wonderful food. The seeds contain more protein than most grains—oats included. Because the seed in pumpkins is an embryo of future life, nature packs it chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Extremely abundant amounts of iron and phosphorus are found in these seeds along with lots of the B complex vitamins.
Our goats love both pumpkins and squash as their winter feeds, we just take the fruit and crack the hard-rinded skin and let goats scoop out the contents, theirselves as this keeps them entertained in the cold winter months.
Pumpkins and butternut are very good to use, the skins are thinner so they will not store quite as long, but squashes like yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and scallop are good winter keepers. We just put the fruits on shelves in our store where they will not be touched by freezing weather. Our pumpkins normally last two to three months while our squash will last over six months.
Most goats relish comfrey and will eat it either fresh or dried. Comfrey is one of the most famed healing plants. Its remarkable power to heal tissue and bone is due to allantion, a cell-proliferant that promotes the growth of connective tissue, bone and cartilage.
Kale is the leafy member of the cabbage family. Long grown by traditional British goatkeepers for their animals, kale is a storehouse of nutrients.
Waste products from our fruit orchard is a valuable food for our goats, including the leaves, branch trimmings and fruit that hasn't made it to our kitchen. When feeding fruit to goats, do not overfeed, for most fruits tend to have a laxative effect if fed in large amounts. Overfeeding fruits also causes the butterfat in the milk production to drop. We do not feed branches from our cherries and plum trees to our goats because of the possibility of prussic acid poisoning, we don't spray our fruit either so we don't need to worry about poisoning in that way, but if you do spray avoid feeding this produce to your goats.
In our garden each year the delight we get from looking at our Sunflowers is something we can not do without and as this is the holy grail of goat food we know it's a food our goats can't go without to. Sunflowers are extremely rich in phosphorus and have large amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamins A, D, and E, lecithin and are over 25% protein. Sunflower seeds contain a staggering 7.1 mg of vitamin E per 100gm of seed, as well as vitamins B1, B3, and B6. We believe every goat keeper should plant lots of sunflowers, for they are the finest of feeds available. The entire plant is used, the leaves, seeds and the stalk are all edible and greatly relished especially when the seeds are at that early "doughy" stage. We just break the head into pieces and the goats will dive in and fight for them and the stalks too, so make sure you have enough to go around.
Growing some of our animal feed is something we have always done, but for someone starting from scratch it's a goal that is not easy to meet overnight, and is a steep learning curve. It does take time, and can be up to two years before you and your goats reap the rewards,
Above all, realise this is a learning process, so just enjoy the process, and the fruits of your effort and give yourself just another reason to look forward to summer, your goats will...