November 24, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Goats Part 2



By Dr Clive Dalton

Even with plenty of nutritious green pasture, milking goats relish
roughage feed such as good quality silage

  • Goats are ruminants but don’t have a split upper lip like sheep so don’t graze as close to the ground as sheep.
  • Goats are classical browsers and are used by farmers to graze out weeds if no chemical sprays are wanted.
Goats are browsers and like the coarser stalks and seed heads

  • They are effective ruminants relying completely on pasture by about 15 weeks of age when they synchronise their grazing behaviour with their dam.
  • Goats seem to be less concerned about prickly plants suggesting their lips are different to sheep.
  • They eat a lot of roughage that includes weeds, woody shrubs, leaves and bark. They are well known for ring barking trees. They have been shown to digest cellulose and lignin in plants more efficiently than sheep.
  • They eat plants from tip down to base - that's why they are so good at killing gorse and thistles and stopping them seeding.
  • Goats will also stand on their hind legs to reach up high to browse and will use their front legs to hold branches down. They'll even climb trees to get at leaves.
Goats love to browse brances of willows and poplars

  • They do not like clover so goat pastures end up being very clover dominant.
  • Dairy goats are fed grain to maintain their production, as they generally cannot eat enough pasture to maintain high yields (around 6Litres per day).
  • A study of NZ feral goats showed they spent 30% of their day feeding with their first period being from dawn to 10.30am, then resting till more grazing from 11am to noon.
  • Then there was another rest period till a grazing spell from 2.30pm - 3.30 pm followed by another rest spell. The final grazing spell was for 3 hours before sunset.
  • Of the total feeding period, 34% was grazing and 65% browsing. Ruminating took up 10% of the total time with 46% resting. Most resting took place in winter and least in autumn when mating.
  • About 12% of the goats' time was spent traveling about 3km/day while grazing or going to water.
  • They were seen to defaecate 3.4 times/day and urinate 5times/day, but these are very dependent on the diet.
Goats will climb on anything - even their pasture companion, to reach up and browse.
Photo coyright: Sue Edmonds

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