1 While much of the scientific agricultural community attempts to
provide more and better forages for specific animal use, goats do well
on what they have, provided they are given the chance to choose.
Although their nutrient requirements exceed those of most other
livestock species, goats succeed while others fail. The reason for
this success is that goats are particular. They consume the best parts
Vegetation is often divided into three groups: grasses, forbs, and
browse plants. Grasses are monocotyledons and belong to the family,
Gramineae. Leaves of these herbaceous plants appear as blades, with
parallel veins. Forbs, often called weeds, are dicotyledons and include
individual plants from many families. Veins in the leaves are not
parallel but are netted or branched. The general term, forb, refers to
any herbaceous, broadleaf plant without regard to family
classification. Browse plants include plants other than grasses and
forbs but are usually taller plants, such as trees, shrubs, and vines
having woody stems.
3 Nutritional Values of Grasses, Forbs, and Browse Plants
Even though grasses are usually considered the most desirable type
vegetation for livestock production, forbs and browse plants often
contain higher levels of nutrients. Leguminous forbs and browse, for
example, commonly contain more than 25 percent crude protein, whereas
perennial grasses seldom exceed 15 percent in crude protein content.
The energy contents of flowers, fruits, seeds and nuts of forbs and
browse can exceed 1.6 megacalories digestible energy per pound of dry
matter. In grass foliage, 1.2 megacalories per pound of dry matter is
considered high quality.
4 Each plant, whether a grass, forb, or browse plant, is composed of
many plant parts that differ from one another in nutritional value.
Generally, leaves are more nutritious than stems and new leaves more
valuable than old leaves. There are some exceptions to this
generalization, especially when certain plant chemicals, such as
tannins prevent proper digestion of the plant tissue. The total effect
of these binding chemicals on the nutritional values of plants are not
fully determined, especially in many of the browse plants.
5 The Goat and Diet Selection
Goats are agile and have exaggerated control of their mouth parts,
allowing them to be very selective for diet. They are able to stand on
their hind legs and climb rock cliffs and low growing trees to gain
access to relished plants and plant parts that are unavailable to other
livestock species. Goats have a mobile upper lip, effective in nipping
off plant parts very selectively. As a result, the goat's diet is very
diversified, consisting of small components of a large number of plant
species. Very simplified vegetation, an all-grass meadow, for example,
does not provide good nutrition for goats over a long period of time.
Goats need access to a wide variety of plants in order to exercise diet
selection, as different plants increase and decrease in nutritional
value with seasonal changes.
6 The Goat as a Brush Control Tool
Many of the browse species have invaded or become overabundant in
old, abandoned fields or on range and pasturelands following prolonged
grazing by other livestock species. These invading species,
collectively called ''brush'', often can be suppressed or eradicated
using goats. Goats are effective as brush control tools, when the
following requirements are met:
1. The brush is either low-growing or is reduced to low growth by
2. The brush species is preferred by goats,
3. Goats can be concentrated in large numbers for a relatively
short period, then removed for an extended period.
7 Each time the goats are concentrated, they consume the leaves and
twigs of the brush species, as well as a substantial portion of the
grasses. When the goats are removed, the grasses recover more quickly
than the brush. After several sequential grazing and rest periods, the
brush is reduced to a density easily controllable, with a few goats
included in the grazing herd. This method of brush control has proven
successful in several regions of the United States, as well as at many
locations around the world.