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11a Camino Ancon, Santa Fe New Mexico 87506 (USA)

Goats and Sheep

Do you want to know how to incorporate animals on your land? It is said that sustainability is impossible without animals, their contribution to the landscape and nutrient cycling. At our demonstration site, space allows for small livestock – and here come dairy goats and meat sheep, our grazers and browsers. They produce milk, meat and manure. They eat woody weeds. They build soil. They are fun and it would be boring to live without them.

Our goats are browsers, that means they prefer to eat woody plants (trees and shrubs). Our sheep are grazers, that means they are most interested in grassy and leafy forage. For a number of years we worked on pasture restoration to create forage for both, to meet their needs. Grazing and browsing animals are adept at converting plants that are non-palatable to people, into palatable foods: meat and milk.  In essence they extract nutrients that we cannot digest. About 20 trees that we planted for a goat forage system will indirectly feed us by feeding the browsing animals.

Out of elm, black locust, lilac, apple twigs, and other clippings, goats make fragrant, sweet and pure milk. Their meat is delicious and lean, another welcome contribution to our table. And our ecological footprint is just a little less significant, too.

Goat pasture was restored from the original monoculture of alfalfa/grass mix into a wild, diverse, beautiful and productive setting that also offers forage to bees and native pollinators. It is a grazing ground for sheep, full of nutrient rich plants that are forage and medicine for the animals – and it is a grazing pasture for bees as well. Goats, sheep and poultry like each others’ company. They form a guild of mutually beneficial connections. The guinea fowl, typically very emotionally unstable, instantly calm down around hoofed animals. Guineas follow the goats on their pasture, controlling for parasites,  and plucking any grasshoppers that are disturbed by moving goats.

Animals taught us about their preferred plans very fast. Things that got chewed up in the first few weeks, while we were getting things goat-proofed, look very good after this refreshing pruning. All of the trees (ash, apple, cherry, locust) are sprouting new branches in response, reminding of the old permaculture adage of working with resources that are not diminished by use, but that are actually increased. Browsers use woody plants as that type of resource.

Goat/ Bee/ Sheep Pasture Plants – partial list:

Maximillian Sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichoke, Rosa rugosa, Raspberry twigs

Apple (no need to butcher some wonderful productive tree – plant a prolific crab apple or a hawthorn), any other fruit tree including Mulberry

Honey Locust, Black Locust, NM Locust

Native Plum, Silver Lace, Grape, Willow

Return to our demonstration site for more inspiration.