These Hungry Goats Learned to Branch Out

At Circle Ranch we have also found that goats can be very useful as grazing tools to help maintain habitat for wildlife.

NOTE: This article was originally published to NYTimes.com on June 12, 2017. Photo credit: Dave Watts/Minden Pictures

No, this is not an illustration from a book by Dr. Seuss.

These domestic goats live in southwestern Morocco, where the climate is dry and in some seasons the only available forage is in the trees. So the goats climb up to get it.

Goats are good climbers — some sure-footed species live happily on mountains, leaping from ledge to ledge. But these domestic goats are not born with an ability to climb trees. They learn the technique as kids.

Their keepers help them climb, and they trim the trees to make it easier for the kids. The goats eventually learn to do it themselves. In the autumn, when there is little food on the ground, they spend most of their time grazing the treetops.

Now researchers have found that the trees benefit, too. Many animals eat the seeds of plants and then defecate them at another location. But the seeds of the argan trees that these goats graze on are about an inch long and a half-inch across — too big for a goat to pass.

Fortunately for the trees, goats are ruminants: They chew their cud and regurgitate it to be rechewed before being swallowed for good. The researchers suspect that while the goats ruminate, they spit out the large seeds, often far away from the mother plant, increasing the chance of seed and seedling survival.

Circle Ranch goats range widely – often we see them miles away – but they always return to their barn at dusk. They are fascinating and often hilarious to watch.

Posted by Chris Gill

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

  1. What breed of goats are you using?

    Reply

    1. Boer and a Boer/Spanish billy. Spanish would be my pick if starting over: They have more ‘street smarts’ according to the folks who I have asked.

      Reply

      1. Thank you, I may try that.

        Reply

  2. Howdy Chris, in watching more of your videos I see you now adding goats, donkeys and llamas along with cattle and wildlife. We have one guard donkey with our sheep herd. Do you feel the goats, donkeys, and llamas allow to utilized more of the ranch anf why? Thanks Alex

    Dear Alex,

    As you know, lamas and horses evolved in North America, alongside the plant community that survived their extinction on the ranges (contemporaneous with human arrival). So we operate in a default position in favor of biodiversity generally, and especially as to animals that would be on our ranges except for human impact.

    In my experience horses, burros, llamas, alpacas, cattle, goats, aoudad, deer, pronghorn, elk, bighorn each are found in different places, eating different plants or similar plants in different ways. The invasion biology bugaboo of ‘competition’ is fake science, insofar as I am able to judge by looking at the condition of the many parts of our ranch: high mountains, low mountains, escarpments, canyons, desert floor and grasslands. No way to generalize about all of these as to one species. Our country looks great and it is wonderful to ride around and see many kinds of free ranging animals. If the agency enemies of biodiversity are correct, they cannot prove it at Circle Ranch.

    Thanks,

    Reply

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