Forage For Thought....
Forage is very important to goats during the spring, summer, and fall months when producers feed less grain or hay. Goats require ruffage in their diet to maintain a healthy digestive tract. For producers with limited acreage or producers that run a large number of animals per acre forage becomes scarce in a hurry especially during times when rainfall is sparse. Some of the things that I have learned in experimenting with different seeds and types of forage is that goats are very selective and will only eat what pleases the pallet and are browsers, not grazers. Goats have to be forced to graze and if they have a food source that they enjoy, grazing becomes much easier for them to do.
I have found that a special blend of New Zealand brassicas that contains Barnapoli Rape, Barkant Turnip, Rangiora Rape, and Temuka Rape, provides a lot of forage and the goats enjoy the flavor as well. Brassicas can be broadcasted on top of the soil or planted using a cultipacker to lightly cover the seeds with soil. They are easy and fast to grow and provide up to 10 tons of forage per acre and also provide up to 38% protein. They are also drought resistant and during periods of little or no rainfall and the sweltering summer heat, the broad leaves will fold up to conserve the plants moisture to ensure its survival. Brassicas can also winter over in climates that are mild even though they are classified as an annual plant. The broad leaves of this plant provide maximum forage production. Brassicas also have a bitter taste that goats will not eat until the plants reach almost a foot tall and are able to withstand grazing. When the leaves mature, the sugars from the root system are expelled into the leaves which makes this plant desirable to a goat. Thus, brassicas can be planted in pastures where goats are present during planting, germination, and growth without the plant being compromised.
This is a field of brassica's just after germination.
This is a picture of the same field just 30 days after germination.
Brassicas also work well when planted with other forages such as clover or wheat. The brassica plant is fast to germinate, provides large leaves and shelters the tender dense clover or wheat that lies beneath its leaves from being plucked and eaten prematurely. Brassicas also work well when planted in strips in a pasture. We have planted strips of annuals and perennials to provide constant food sources though out the growing season.
Sudan grass (Sorghum) is also a very viable grazing source. Sudan grass grows with very little moisture and can reach 4-5 feet tall in around 30-40 days and goats love it. Sudan grass is drought resistant and with its unique root system it can maximize moisture absorption. Planting of Sudan grasses needs to be done in warm soil and can be sown the end of May or begining of June in most climates. Sudan grass is ideal for rotational grazing because livestock should be fenced away from this plant so it is able to get established and not be damaged by trampling because the stock is much like that of corn. Plants will reach their growth potential when it is very hot and dry in mid-summer which can provide summer feed when other pasture plants reach their summer slump. Sudan grass yeilds about 17% in crude protein.
By using both annuals and perennials together you can maximum the yeild of your pastures, provide your goats with a variety of different food sources, and provide forage from spring to fall.