Then I remembered attending my daughter's wedding in Jamaica. On the hour-and-a-half-long bus ride from the airport to the resort, I saw goats everywhere! Unattended, wild, grazing where they wished, and looking quite well. Since then, I've learned that a variety of places are home to goats that have "escaped" into the wild and have flourished--a lot of these places are desertlike! AND I've also learned that for 75% of the world, goat meat is their main source of animal protein. How fragile can they be?
Before getting goats, I attended a couple of seminars held by the local Ag agents. None of these agents had any firsthand experience with goats, but that didn't stop them from holding the seminars and advising us on best practices, nor did it stop them from issuing me a "Master Goat Producers" certificate before I'd ever even owned a goat or could really tell the difference between a goat and a sheep!
This made me doubt what I heard from the Ag experts. I quietly went about challenging their assumptions. (Quietly, cuz who wants the humiliation of being wrong about such heretical practices as letting goats be goats in all their goat-ness glory?) Since I brought home my first goats in 2011, I have never wormed them and have never fed them anything but hay in the dead of winter when the pasture is dormant. If anyone asked about my wacky negligence, I quoted An Pieschel, a renowned goat expert who advises these practices and also advises culling goats that cannot carry a normal parasite load. She says treating them just makes the parasites resistant and the goats weaker. Amen, Sista!
My goats have a fenced "safe" pasture that they retire to at night (like chickens to roost), but they have daily access to the wider acreage of forest, pasture, brambles, and overgrowth. Without this, I doubt they would be so healthy. Twenty-three goats have been born on Persimmon Ridge in the past 3 or 4 years and I have lost only two goats to disease in this time. These were twin males that I'd weaned at 2 months--I'm guessing from Coccidiosis after the stress of such an early weaning. Now I band my males at 9 weeks and leave them with their mothers. Everybody is happier.
I am still learning from my goats. The first lesson that they have taught me is to be slow to intervene. When I try to "fix" things for them, I can more often than not make things much worse. The second thing is that the scientists who calculate goat rations are like the people who devised the food pyramid for humans--wrong! Like people, goats need what nature provides as a "whole food"--brambles, weeds, cedar bark, privet bushes, poison ivy and other vines, etc.
Last week I took a young buck to market because he was wrecking my fences and gates and trying to impregnate does before their time. He had never been wormed, had been raised only on pasture in spring, summer and fall--hay only last winter. He was graded as "choice."