Bill Mollison once wrote that goats in any large number are incompatible with permaculture. Goats when overstocked can quickly turn a forest into a desert. Dairy goats in small numbers, however, can be an appropriate choice for many situations, including the backyard, and this is what I will write about.
Producing food in towns and suburbs
Suburbs and towns yield a wide variety of trees that can be discreetly harvested as goat fodder. The waste streams of greengrocers and bakeries can be tapped into and fed to goats, and the home garden will also yield outer cabbage leaves, broccoli stems, and other food for goats. Some goats even appreciate banana peels and orange skins.
Nitrogen-fixing trees such as acacias and tagasaste can be grown in larger yards, where they can provide nourishing food for goats, as well as nourishing the soil and nearby plants. Comfrey easily finds a place in many yards and is good goat food. Hay can also be brought in as feed.
The foods that are fed to goats are usually unsuitable for people to eat, which means goats occupy a niche in a backyard ecosystem where they are producing a wonderful source of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals for the family, while being fed on what some people view as waste.
Goats in a small corner of the backyard will create manure that can easily be harvested to fertilise the garden. Goat manure is a ‘cold’ manure that can be used on the garden right away, and manured straw from the goat yard is often already at the ideal balance for making great compost. When we factor in the fertility gained from keeping goats in the backyard, this can often counter any arguments made about goats using space that could otherwise be used for gardens.
On larger properties or on invading edges, goats can be used to clear invasive plants, and to gently clear scrub from overgrown pasture. They clear land while manuring the soil and producing milk – the same things cannot be said for tractors and mechanical land clearing.
The packaging from dairy products can often be a large part of a household’s plastic waste. By keeping goats for milk, we no longer create any plastic waste from milk bottles. Homemade yoghurt can easily be made from excess milk, and soft goat cheese can be spread on bread instead of butter. Composting food scraps also becomes easier when goats can eat the bulkier and tougher vegetable scraps that are difficult to process with chickens or worm farms.
Goats milk as survival food
Feeding a couple of dairy goats in hard times is easily achieved with a pleasant daily stroll to gather weeds and tree branches. Fresh raw goats milk arrives at the table every day and doesn’t need to be stored in a fridge. This milk will reduce your family’s need for other proteins, and is a source of food that is ready to drink now, with no heating or other preparation required. Cheeses, yoghurt and kefir are easily made and add more goodness and variety to an already great food.
About the author:
Kate Downham is the author of the upcoming ‘Backyard Dairy Goats: A Natural Approach to Keeping Goats in any Yard’, currently a Kickstarter campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/706848724/backyard-dairy-goats-book-quickstarter?ref=85yo4y.
She also blogs about permaculture, homesteading and cooking at thenourishinghearthfire.com.