Sustainable goat farming: Pasture enhancement and diet selection by goats

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,493.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Uma Karki
Tuskegee University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - multispecies, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures


    Meat-goat farming is becoming popular to many small-scale farmers in Alabama. However, making this business sustainable is a challenge, especially with the existing poor pastures and grazing practices. Not much information is available on suitable forages for improving goat pastures and managing them sustainably. The objectives of this study were 1) to improve the existing goat pastures by incorporating selected cool-season forages, and 2) to determine goats’ preference for the selected forages. The study was conducted in Selma and Phenix City, Alabama as a randomized complete block with three replications in each site. Five treatments: mixture of Marshall ryegrass (Lolium multiforum) and one of the selected cool-season legumes (arrowleaf clover, Trifolium vesiculosum; berseem clover, Trifolium alexandrinum; crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum; hairy vetch, Vicia villosa; and winter peas, Pisum sativum) and a control of sole Marshall ryegrass plantings were tested. Pastures were managed with rotational grazing. Forage biomass before grazing, and forage height both before and after grazing were measured. Marshall ryegrass-crimson clover and Marshall ryegrass-hairy vetch mixtures were most productive among the treatments. All selected legumes and Marshall ryegrass were readily eaten by goats from the very beginning, except winter peas, which was consumed well from the second grazing. The study results show that 1) crimson clover and hairy vetch are the most competitive legumes to be planted with Marshall ryegrass for enhancing goat winter pastures although goats would readily consume any of the selected forages, and 2) the selected forages can be managed well with rotational grazing. Cooperator producers were able to save $221/month or more in the feeding costs of their goats because of developing winter pastures. Findings of this research will be very useful to goat producers and Extension personnel for improving and managing goat pastures, and eventually promoting the sustainability of goat farming.

    Keywords: Marshall ryegrass, arrowleaf clover, berseem clover, crimson clover, hairy vetch, rotational grazing, winter peas


    Meat goat is the major small ruminant species in Alabama, and becoming popular among small-scale farmers basically as a part-time business as it requires low initial investment in comparison to many other agricultural enterprises. Moreover, because of its smaller size compared to large ruminants, retirees or people towards the retirement age are feeling comfortable with goat farming and initiating this enterprise to continue their active life and support income. Goat meat has a niche market for different ethnic and faith-based groups: Asians, Caribbean, Hispanics, Africans, and Muslims (Kebede, 2005). This market is growing with increasing ethnic population (Jones, 2003; Solaiman, 2007). Future demand for goat meat is expected to increase at a very high rate as Hispanics and Asians are projected to share respectively 30 percent and 9 percent of US population by 2050 (USCB, 2008). Despite the increasing popularity and market of meat goats, the production practices are still not very much sustainable. One of the important reasons for this is poor pasture. Most of the producers do not have a good pasture improvement and management program, so need to depend on hay or commercial feeds to sustain their goats for about five to six months from late fall to late winter or early spring. Supplementary feeding is costlier than grazing because it involves 1) investment to buy feedstuff, and to develop and maintain storage facilities, 2) extra labor to feed goats, and 3) storage and feeding loss of feedstuffs. Thirty percent or higher loss of hay dry matter may occur when stored unprotected in open fields (Ball et al. 2007). Kallenbach (2000) mentioned that storage and feeding loss of hay dry matter may reach 50 percent or higher. Farmers may make negligible or no money when production costs are high. From different farm visits and communication with the producers, the investigators of this project found out that livestock producers were spending a lot on purchased feed including hay. Many producers initiate goat farming before developing a good pasture required to sustain their goats. Mostly, producers depend on the existing pastures, and hesitate to introduce new forage species, especially legumes. There are several reasons for this reluctance: 1) they are not sure which forage species, especially legumes, is readily eaten by goats, 2) which forage species would be most suitable for the soil and environmental condition of their pastureland, 3) most farmers do not have established facilities for rotational grazing system, which is required for the sustainable management of most of the multi-species pastures such as that involve different species of grass and legume, 4) costs involved for the required inputs and facility establishment, and 5) not sure whether the enhanced pasture and rotational grazing management would benefit them significantly after making all the required spending and time involvement. The improvement of the existing pastures and managing them sustainably by adopting sustainable grazing systems would be possible by conducting on-farm research, demonstrating the research results to the producers, and educating them on the important steps involved in this process.

    Cited References
    Ball, D. M., C. G. Hoveland, and G. D. Lacefield. 2007. Southern Forages, Fourth ed. International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Norcross, GA.Jones, K. 2003. Meat goats: a growing industry. Economic Research Service, USDA.Kallenbach, R. 2000. Reducing losses when feeding hay to beef cattle. MU Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia. Accessed on Dec. 24, 2013.
    Kebede, E. 2005. Goat meat demand in the U.S. and goat meat marketing potential in the Southeast. George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station, Tuskegee University, Publication No.113-905.
    Solaiman, S.G. 2007. Comparing goat production economics on different production systems in the Southeastern U.S. Notes on Goats. Tuskegee University Publication No.07-11. Accessed on Dec. 24, 2013.
    USCB, U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20233.

    Project objectives:

    1. To improve the existing goat pastures by incorporating selected cool-season forages
    2. To determine goats’ preference for the selected forages

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.