A balancing act with goats – 3

Goats are an easy-care option able to thrive under harsh conditions,
but they need some attention, says Roelof Bezuidenhout.

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Goats can be kept on many different veld types, but prefer hilly, rocky areas with enough browsing and good shelter against cold and heat. In the Oudtshoorn district of the Little Karoo, Angora goats are increasingly replacing ostriches on lucerne lands. However, they’re more susceptible to diseases and parasites under moist, intensive conditions such as on planted pastures and in feedlots.

While goats are hardy survivors, they still need adequate feed to produce and reproduce well. A ewe must be in reasonable body condition to conceive and wean strong kids. And the kids need a good supply of milk from their mothers in the first few weeks of life, and tasty feed to help them grow.

It may pay to keep kapaters (castrated rams) in veld that’s unsuitable for ewes with kids because of predators, or that is too rugged or too far from home. Kapaters are tougher, need less attention and grow much larger than ewes. Kapaters are kept for meat, while Angora kapaters yield far more mohair than ewes do.

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Mixed veld
One of the many advantages of goats is that they can be kept with sheep and/or cattle. In mixed veld their diet consists of around 75% leaf material and 25% grass, which means they don’t necessarily compete with cattle or sheep for food. Standing on its hind legs, a goat can reach up into a tree or shrub to nibble at leaves, pods, flowers and twigs. Goats with coloured hair or kemp (a brittle, weak fibre) must not be run with wool sheep, as the kemp can contaminate the wool clip.

Sweet thorn veld is ideal for goats as it supplies different types of feed – green leaves, pods and flowers – at different times of the year. The animals browse directly from the tree or pick up pods when they have dropped to the ground. It pays to keep an eye on the browse line, and note when leaves become scarce at goat browsing height. Check their body condition when deciduous trees have lost most of their leaves towards the end of winter. It might be necessary to reduce the number of animals in the camp, or to give them supplementary feed.

Veld management for goats ranges from complex, multi-camp rotational systems designed to move the animals quickly from one area to another, to very simple continuous grazing systems in which a shepherd controls the flock. Giving parts of the grazing area a complete seasonal rest improves the veld and ensures enough fodder for critical times in a goat’s breeding and production cycles.

Resting veld is easy when there are enough camps with goat-proof fences. On the other hand, erecting a new fence at R15 000/ km is a costly exercise. The expense is increased by providing a watering point – reservoir, pipe and trough – in each camp. An alternative is a reliable shepherd with a sheepdog that moves the flock around the grazing area in a pre-arranged pattern.

Regular checks
Whatever method is used, goats must be regularly brought into a kraal to be counted and checked for health and condition.
Look for lice or ticks as well as for digestive disturbances. Clean, drinkable water must be accessible at all times, but especially in summer. Check for poisonous weeds in the veld, as animals can be tempted to browse these when food is scarce. Angoras should be kept out of areas where seeds and burrs are a problem, as they can get stuck in the hair and contaminate a mohair clip, reducing its value.