I recently came across a note I wrote about 10 years ago. It was a list of our pastures and their acreages. Next to the total number of acres in pasture (29) I had written, “175 to 290 goats.”
I had researched stocking rates and concluded that our pastures could support 6-10 goats per acre, so my plan was to grow our herd size to as many as 290 animals.
That seems crazy to me now. At our peak we had about 70 adult goats and I felt they were putting too much stress on the pasture. We’re down to 26 now (plus 19 kids), which seems about right to me.
With goats it’s not just a question of the available forage. Ideal pasture for goats will include a lot of brush, not just grass. Goats prefer to browse rather than graze and if they are eating close to the ground their chances of picking up intestinal parasites increases greatly.
A managed intensive grazing plan would be better for the pastures and would enable us to increase our herd size, but it just isn’t practical for us now. We devote one paddock to pigs 8 months out of the year and I try to use that paddock to stockpile winter forage. Ideally I’d like to only feed hay on snow days, but the last few years that hasn’t been possible.
We’re still trying to figure out what our ideal stocking rate is, but 6-10 is definitely too high for us. Because the question is so dependent upon the particular pastures and how they’re managed, it seems to me the only way to really know the perfect stocking rate is by experimenting. If any goatherds out there have any wisdom to share on stocking rates, I’d love to have it.
For now we’re going to try to keep our herd size in the 25-30 range. It’s too bad my original plan didn’t work out. The thought of having over 300 kids in the pastures does make me smile.