3 min read
browsing goats

Alabama is known for its acres of forestland that covers over 70 percent of the state. This forestland supports a variety of plant and animal life, including understory vegetation. While understory vegetation is vital in maintaining forest ecosystems, it can negatively impact forest health, biodiversity, and management efforts. For example, it competes with overstory trees for resources, increases fire hazards, and provides habitats for pests and diseases that can cause other forestry concerns. Additionally, understory vegetation is known for easing the spread of invasive plants that can prevent forest renewal and adversely impact soil properties and natural wildlife habitats.

The good news is that forestland offers a unique and valuable opportunity for meat goat production. Utilizing forested areas for raising meat goats can provide ecological and economic benefits.

Forestland Study

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Alabama A&M University (AAMU) initiated a goat browsing demonstration study on forested land adjacent to the small ruminant training site at AAMU’s Agribition Center. This project was designed as an interactive educational opportunity to engage underserved audiences, particularly forest owners and meat goat producers with limited knowledge of best agriculture or forestry practices.

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), this three-year project commenced in 2019 and showcased alternative practices in raising small ruminants.

Project Goals

The following were the goals of this project:

  • Increase awareness of agroforestry’s economic, social, and environmental benefits to farmers and forest landowners on small and medium-sized farms.
  • Educate stakeholders about key success factors for meat goat enterprises, including revenue from carcass weights, average weight gain, and reduced mortality due to internal parasites.
  • Provide training on developing operational cost budgets, encompassing all variables affecting value and total income to determine the break-even point.
  • Educate producers on determining the in-out price analysis necessary to cover the costs of goat meat production under forestland management.
  • Inform producers about goat browsing benefits, soil erosion control, and enhancing soil fertility through carbon and nitrogen recycling.

Benefits of Using Forestland

Study results highlighted various benefits of using forestland for meat goat production.

Enhanced Goat Health and Welfare

  • Natural Diet and Nutrition. Forestland provides a diverse and natural diet for meat goats. Access to various plant species ensures a balanced intake of nutrients, which can lead to better overall health and improved meat quality. The presence of medicinal plants in forests can also offer natural remedies for common goat ailments.
  • Reduced Parasite Load. The diverse plant species and terrain in forestland can help reduce parasite loads in meat goats. Rotational grazing and natural foraging can disrupt the life cycles of internal parasites, leading to healthier goats and reducing the need for chemical dewormers.
  • Stress Reduction. The natural and spacious environment of forestland can reduce stress in meat goats. Lower stress levels are associated with better immune functions, reduced susceptibility to disease, and improved growth rates. Shade provided by trees also protects goats from extreme weather conditions, thus enhancing their welfare.

Improved Land Management

Improved land management practices on forestland are facilitated through the following:

  • Sustainable Grazing Practices. Forestland provides a sustainable grazing environment for meat goats with natural vegetation. Goats are effective browsers that feed on varied plants including shrubs, weeds, and tree leaves. Feeding on these plants helps to control underbrush and reduces the risk of forest fires.
  • Soil Health Enhancement. Goats that graze on forestland can improve soil health. By grazing they help native plants to grow, increase soil organic matter, and enhance soil nutrients. Goat manure fertilizes the soil leading to a healthier and more productive ecosystem.
  • Erosion Control. Goats can help control soil erosion in forested areas. Their browsing patterns reduce the density of underbrush and ground cover, which can stabilize soil and reduce runoff. This is particularly beneficial in regions with steep terrain where soil erosion is a significant concern.

Economic Benefits

  •  Cost-Effective Land Use. Using forestland for goat production can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional pastureland. Landowners may already have forestland on their property that can be used for raising meat goats.
  • Diversified Income Streams. Forestland presents opportunities to diversify income. For example, the land can be used to raise meat goats for consumer markets. Land can also be used for timber, firewood, and non-timber products from plants growing on the property.  
  • Segmented Marketing. Meat derived from goats raised in forestland can be marketed as a source of high quality. Goats are naturally fed, thus improving their meat quality. This creates a niche marketing opportunity, which allows producers to ask for higher meat prices. People seeking natural and alternative food products may find this goat meat more appealing.

Preserving Natural Habitats

  • Environmental Sustainability. Forestland aids in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, filtering rainwater, and purifying air.
  • Fosters Pollination. Forestland provides a variety of plants for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Goats that graze on forestland aid in keeping forests healthy by enhancing ecosystems and the growth of flowering plants for pollination, while providing other benefits.

 

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This project was made possible in part by the USDA. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.