Stocking Rate

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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.

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17 comments on “Stocking Rate

  1. DM says:

    I did something similiar with free range pigs. had some spare pasture I thought would support 1 sow and a handful of little ones….thought if I rotated their rooting areas, I could grow lean piggies w/ just a little supplemental, food. Boy did I miss the mark on both how quickly a pig can turn up ground and secondly, how long the ground would take to recover,… (also learned free run pigs are not free)..they don’t put on weight, will eat a lot of food and stay runts) 😉 Thanks for pulling back the curtains in Realville! DM

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    • Bill says:

      Our last two hogs are going to the processor this week. I’ve never kept them over the winter before. They were particularly hard on the pasture once they had to root for forage. Plus they gained little weight over the winter. Lesson learned.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joanna says:

    My friend with goats is having a similar problem. She has 70 now, including kids and thinks around 50 might work, but then she has to find hay for the winter. Not too much of an issue around here, but still an expense. She has got plenty of requests for cheese though as soon as she is in production, so might work out for her and growing veg is not so much an option on the site she lives on.

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    • Bill says:

      It seems to be just a question of figuring out what works and that’s going to vary by farm. I used to need very little hay in the winter. My goal is to figure out a herd size that is sustainable on our pasture with minimal use of hay. 70 was clearly too many for us. We could probably carry more than we have now, but I’m going to be conservative until we have a better handle on that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. shoreacres says:

    This may be my favorite goat photo yet. The kids are darling, but this is flat artisitic. As for goat stocking practices, maybe you could add some of these to your holiday offerings at the farmers’ market. 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      I like the photo too. I took it the morning of our big snow, so it hadn’t fallen off the trees yet. The goat is Justine. It’s rare that I can get a picture of just one alone, as they all like to crowd around me in hope of a treat. Every goat has a unique appearance, but Justine’s horns are particularly distinctive.

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  4. Bill, you are finding out that perfectly logical scientific plans are rarely what works in reality. Confinement operations come the closest to logical scientific raising of animals but we all know that’s not the answer for humane raising of animals. Each year has different pasture conditions that would support more animals one and less the next. In some ways even what we would like to call free range is not really free range. We still have fences around confined pastures. Granted it’s still much larger than the corporate confined operations and maybe a better word would be controlled pasture area. I’m not sure that any one could give you reliable information for your pastures. You are doing it the right way by keeping records and seeing what works the best for your goats and pasture. There’s just no substitute for experience.

    Have a great pasture/goat managing day.

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    • Bill says:

      Exactly Dave. If I could control everything about their environment, as the industrial operations do, then I’d know exactly what the stocking rate should be. But nature is going to vary that for us every year. Sometimes cattle farmers are forced to sell cows they’d rather keep, due to drought for example. I’m trying to figure out a herd size that we can reliably and sustainably maintain on our pastures.

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  5. Sounds like one goat per acre is about right. Hmmm. Maybe I should get five goats. They would cut way down on weed hacking. Nah… they would cut way down on traveling as well. 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      I’m pretty sure where you are one acre per goat would work. In parts of Texas the recommended rate is 3-4 acres per goat. It varies.

      If you have an automatic watering system and a good fence you can leave goats for a while (but it would be best to have a neighbor check in on them from time to time). You shouldn’t automatically rule it out. 🙂

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  6. valbjerke says:

    It’s not so much about how many goats you can stock on a pasture – it’s about what is your pasture made up of – and how much are you willing to supplement their feed. Does your pasture fence also encompass browse? As you mentioned – goats aren’t really a ‘grazing’ livestock. Watch your pesky deer – and you’ll see how goats are meant to eat.
    We used to raise up to thrifty happy goats in an acre size pen – but we cut browse for them every day (willow branches, poplar, rose bushes, field grass) and I gave them all the garden gleanings (carrot tops, kale stalks etc), plus full access to good alfalfa hay. A friend of mine raises a similar number of goats in a similar fashion, excepting that in the summer she moves them onto one of a number of small fenced off pastures for the day and rotates pastures each day.
    I think it boils down to the work load you can accommodate, and whether or not you are getting the best use out of that pasture. It might be more worth your while to turn some of that pasture into a dedicated goat garden you can harvest from – which might reduce your overall feed bill and produce healthier goats. 😊

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    • Bill says:

      We raise Boers (meat goats). Ideally I’d like the pasture to sustain them without anything other than hay on the worst winter days. We were able to do that for years until the herd size climbed too high. We have a lot of browse, but they also graze and that’s where they pick up the parasites. The best way to eliminate intestinal parasite problems would be to keep them on a dirt lot and feed them, but that doesn’t fit what we’re trying to do. I think it’s just a question of adjusting the herd size to fit what the pastures can sustain. I’ve thought about trying to implement some sort of managed intensive grazing program, but I haven’t figured out how to manage watering and I can’t spend a lot of time in the pastures during the vegetable seasons (which are labor intensive and generate our farm’s primary products).

      Liked by 1 person

      • valbjerke says:

        We used to mix diatomaceous earth in with their hay every few weeks. I swear by that stuff – never had a parasite issue of any sort. Always kept a bottle of injectable ivermectin on hand ‘just in case’ it’s long since expired – unopened. If you’re able to rotational graze on your pasture – it sometimes breaks the parasite cycle. One advantage of the winter temperatures here – many parasites/eggs freeze. I love your goat pictures – I often thought of raising the Boer breed – but our biggest market in this area – preferred the dairy breed kids. Go figure.

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  7. BeeHappee says:

    Overoptimistic overestimations … 300 kids 🙂

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