Pastoralism is founded on the symbiotic relationship between land and animal, this being the path from which pastoralists maintain a close bond with their herd. Ensuring proper nutrition and exposure to natural stimuli is obtained daily. It is a modality that begins with an understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of the care required by goats and their relationship with the land. What is a symbiotic relationship?
This is foundational, as a goat is not like a cow, a horse, sheep, or the family dog. Therefore, the same bale of hay, pasture, run, or even the same paddock for that matter, truly does not fit all species. What’s good for the donkey isn’t necessarily ideal for the goat. If you’ve never raised goats, but have had sheep, cows, and/or horses – you will become keenly aware that goats, unlike other ruminants, are in a distinctive class of ruminants all their own. Capable, of giving much more in return, than just meat, milk and hair.
As a modern goat herder, my desire was not to rear my herd in the CONVENTIONAL, CONFINEMENT SYSTEM of livestock management that is so common with homesteaders today. Although it seems to be the most common method I observed being used everywhere I looked. When seeking more ideal methods for raising a healthy herd, my searches continually resulted in the same subject matter. Typically on the basics of caring for goats. Topics repeated by multiple bloggers, writing about similar facets and in many cases the same exact content throughout various websites, verbatim! Did they really just copy and paste word for word? Granted, some of this basic information is necessary, but once it has been mastered, is that really all there is to goat husbandry? How could this be? If goats are so cut and dry, why did my herd seem like it wasn’t thriving?
“I was unsettled by the idea that goats being truly amazing creatures, designed to provide so much help towards land management, remained in an unending cycle of being fed like cows, handled like sheep, inferior to horses and looked down upon as the lowliest species on the farmstead. An afterthought, meant to be paddocked and handled as little as possible. Deep inside I knew beyond these traditional stereotypes, was the place where my herd would connect with its true purpose and nature. Finding that place, I came to understand, and overcome many of the problems I encountered and even created.”
My herd would painstakingly teach me, gently nudging me to come to the knowledge of behooveful methods. What I needed to do was to stop, watch, listen and learn from them.
HOW MODERN GOAT HUSBANDRY IS NOT PASTORALISM.
1. Pastoralism is not like the endeavor of venturing into goats for the sole purpose of turning over quick cash.
I was momentarily struck by the idea of monetary value being the supreme goal for homesteading. The flaws in that soon descended upon our endeavor. It is an awful practice to sell any animal to the first person that shows up to buy. This practice has put a multitude of animals in the hands of fast buyers, that later prove to be incapable in patience or resources to properly care for them. One reason why places like SAFE HAVEN FARM, have to pickup where others have dropped out.
Then there are buyers with sadistic intentions, the animal abusers seeking creatures to torture, or as the punching bags to unleash their bent up rage, or to post their perverse thrills online. I have seen it with my own eyes. To many breeders the bottom line is priority, and animal sales that can yield a $100 in quick cash is all that matters. When money, THE LOWEST STANDARD, becomes the primary goal, the bottom dollar many times rules against the welfare of the goat.
2. Pastoralism is not a fad, but a lifestyle commitment.
At times we are driven by an appeal for trends in homesteading. This practicum of goat walking is not the latest rage, or compulsion. Pastoralism is not a fad, but a lifestyle commitment. Fads lead to one becoming bored and eventually burdened with the upkeep of a creature they are no longer fond of. You know, like the bunnies and chicks during Easter, puppies for Christmas? This leads to the inevitable moans later, of regrets and buyers remorse. Then neglect sets in.
Pastoralism is not a here today, gone tomorrow idea. You know, been here done that, then onto the latest fad society and social media is pushing. On Facebook, I have responded to posts by enraged “homesteaders” with a goat crisis. So much so they were ready to put a bullet in the head of an animal they could not silence. Their frustration borne out of a lack of understanding of very vocal breeds. Or having no knowledge of how goats react to changes in environment when separated from their herd mates. Not realizing their bleats were possibly due to hunger, isolation, or that innate desire to walk and forage.
Confinement in some herd members will never squelch its yearning to to forage for a nibble. Yes, these are all their simple attempts at communication with us. Pastoralism is an ancient art, fostered through the deliberate and immersed in a anachronistic relationship of us with the earth, our goats and The Creator.
3. Not for the slack, or those with too many irons in the fire.
Raising a healthy herd will require a basic foundation of proper nutrition. However nutrition is not solely found on what one can get in a bag of feed. The idea of tossing into a feeder whatever is scrounged-up from the kitchen leftovers, may hold over as a snack, but it won’t provide the enormous amount of minerals goats need daily. Looking to impress the world on social media with numerous selfies as one’s demonstration of success in having a farm, will only go so far, before the neglect begins to show on one’s herd.
Then there are the busy people, too in a hurry to properly wean the kids from their dam. So much so they find using hot sauce on the doe’s teats is a viable method of force wean the kid. I must ask is this brilliant or brutish? No, I did not make that up and seems to be a common practice among “busy” goat owners. These examples represent the manner of herd management that causes the industrial, mega farmers to label all others that do not engage in conventional farming as mere “hobbyist”. FOR IN THEIR EYES, it seems the animals are better off headed to the sale barn than living in neglect and under minimal care. To them it’s better caged and fed, than caged and not fed.
But I do have to ask. Does it have to be this way? I DON’T BELIEVE SO. If you have found yourself trapped in these patterns, I hope I can convince you THERE IS A BETTER WAY!
4. Pastoralism transcends beyond the arena.
Pastoral husbandry extends beyond the arena, with a focus on connecting the goat to the land, while fostering the symbiotic nature of regenerative husbandry. Much like many other ventures we Americans experiment with, raising goats successfully can mean different things to different people. Success to some is how much the kid factory rendered in a given kidding season. To others it’s how many ribbons are hanging on a wall. While these are not completely undesirable standpoints, they do not express pastoralism in the least. I am grateful for the champion breeders who excel in the arenas. It was a breeder of this class that I chose to seed my initial herd members with. There may even exist champion herds that are raised using pastoralist methods. It would be a delight to hear more of that. However, in 2014 when I was seeking guidance on implementing natural trail focus and field focus methods for my herd, I couldn’t find it.
It is common to find oneself absorbed by the novelty of breeding for competition. Consumed with building muscle mass, and increasing milk production as a primary goal. Even if it means pumping supplements and special grains to achieve it. Unfortunately, in modern confinement system of conventional livestock management, grain holds a major part of the animal’s diet. In it’s basic form, grain is not the ideal form of food for ruminants. Yet is the root cause for many of the ailments goat herders are attempting to resolve. This is all compounded by the goat’s inability to live and express, as Joel Salatin would say, “the goatiness of the goat”. Today many herds are demonstrating a myriad of complications with health and behavior that arise from improper housing, grain as primary nutrition, little to no forage, and complete confinement in dry lots.