The purpose of the integrated research and extension project is to assess and demonstrate: goat weight gain in woodland settings, how goats affect desired and undesired forest vegetation, and the working relationship that might exist between woodlot owners and goat producers. Many goat producers lack the land base to keep a larger herd through the summer. At the same time, many forest owners and maple producers would like a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive management strategy to control understory woody brush without damage to their mature trees. This project blends these two needs.
When goats are in the woodlots, we use well maintained electric net fencing with good fencers, well-charged deep cycle marine batteries and adequate grounding rods to keep the fence "hot". This prevents the goats from wandering off, and keeps the predators at bay. Fence lines were checked and maintained daily. The goats are observed and given supplemental feed and fresh water daily. Salt and mineral blocks are always readily available. Each woodland paddock also has a portable "shelter pen", designed to protect the goats from heavy rain and provide an "emotional" connection to a "home". The research paddocks cordon off a quarter acre and hold 20 goats -the equivalent of 80 goats per acre. The frequency of moving the goats to a new paddock is dependent on many factors, including the purpose of the treatment to the woodland area, the quality of underbrush available in that paddock, and the type and amount of supplemental feed offered to the goats.
When in the woods, the goats greedily consumed the underbrush and stripped the striped maple of bark. In fact, they typically girdle 100% of the striped maple stems larger than 0.5 inches in diameter. They haven't girdled nearly as much American beech, with a 2001 season average between 30 - 60% of the stems girdled for the paddocks with higher stocking rates. Each paddock is also monitored daily to assess any harm to the mature trees by the goats. The 2001 research paddocks will be reassessed in the summer of 2002 to determine effects of those treatments. While the goats did experience minimal to modest rates of gain in 2001 for the 10 weeks while in the research paddocks, they bloomed nicely and grew rapidly during four weeks out on pasture after the research concluded. The compensatory gains were considered excellent and all of the goats were sold as good quality market animals. The average weight gain among the goats of the daily supplement feeding treatment was 0.21 pounds per day overall (23 pounds average total gain) with an average of 0.14 pounds per day in the woods and 0.31 pounds per day compensatory in the pasture.
This year, for the 2002 season, we will be exploring
feed trails and paddock treatments with the goats that differ from the preceding
years, looking for reasonable weight gains of healthy, market-ready meat goats.
"Goats in the Woods" will also have separate collaborative research teams in place, each consisting of a woodlot owner, a goat producer, and a Team Leader. Teams will ideally be in the twin-tiers region of southern NY and adjacent PA identifying the practical application of the project.
Funding for this project is provided through USDA
Northeast SARE, the National Agroforestry Center, and the Cornell University
Agricultural Experiment Station. 2002 promises to be an exciting year rich with
valuable information for all meat goat producers.