A major decision is the type of goat enterprise desired for use in vegetation control. Do you want to have a brood goat operation, a stocker goat operation, or have mature wethers? Do you want to co-graze with cattle, horses, or sheep?
A brood goat operation where does produce kids requires the greatest management input and encounters the most problems due to kidding and raising kids. This enterprise also has the potential for the greatest profits. Grazing pressure must be limited or animal production will suffer. The animals must be fed and managed the whole year, even when the brush is dormant. Kidding time attracts predators because the kids are easy prey. Kidding time requires more labor and management.
Stocker goats reduce management requirements, but have the additional risk of bringing in sick animals that require doctoring. Predator problems are less than for brood goat production. Because of sale to market, stocker goats do not have to be fed through the winter. Profits are dependent on market timing. Stocker goat weight gains are variable ranging from slight weight loss when using high stocking densities for aggressive vegetation control to 6 lbs of gain per month under good pasture conditions. Weight gains vary depending on breed of goat with some breeds having greater potential for gains and some breeds being more aggressive foragers. Stocker goats will gain little to no weight during the first month following purchase while they are recovering from the stress of shipping. Generally, lightweight, growthy animals weighing 40 to 50 pounds are purchased at the beginning of the grazing season and all animals are sold at the end of the grazing season.
Mature wethers can be an appropriate grazing animal under certain cases. They require minimal management input and can be utilized for several years. Predator problems are the lowest of any production system. These animals can be “pushed” to eat undesirable species without adversely impacting revenues. These animals produce little income from sales and income realized is usually derived from savings in weed control or for being paid to use these animals for weed control. Animals must be replaced as they age.
Goats can graze in combination with cattle, horses, or sheep. Goats eat a diverse diet consisting predominantly of browse, and lesser amounts of grass and forbs whereas horses and cattle eat predominantly grass and sheep consume predominantly grass and forbs. Therefore, goats compete little with these other grazing species. Goats combine well with cattle in grazing systems and 0.5 to 2 goats can be grazed per cow. This co-grazing can enhance farm profitability and provide income diversification. Often, grass will replace the browse consumed by goats thereby enabling a future increase in cattle stocking rate. In pastures where forbs are a dominating unwanted plant, sheep may be a better choice to co-graze with cattle than goats. In terms of animal health, goats share very few parasites with cattle or horses and co-grazing these species can reduce parasite problems. However, goats do share parasites with sheep and co-grazing sheep and goats will not reduce parasite problems.
Hart, S. 2006. Goats for Vegetation Management. In: Meat Goat Production Handbook, ed. T.A. Gipson, R.C. Merkel, K. Williams, and T. Sahlu, Langston University, ISBN 1-880667-04-5.