Over the past five years our goat herd has been growing and learning how to eat on our local range, in the Galisteo Basin, here in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. Originally accompanied by one or more herders on foot and one to four mixed breed farm/house guardian dogs, the 200+ goats are now herderd from horseback. And with a pair of young Australian Shepherds in training the mutts are now retired, keeping watch at home, and have recently been replaced on the range by Three Maremmas acquired from good friend Nancy Coonridge who uses and breeds the Italian Livestock Guardian Dog at her OFFGRID Goat Dairy in the rimrock country of Catron County.
SunStar Herbs' Horned Locusts are now employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to browse the Galisteo dam keeping the growth down on the dam itself and in the basin where the Tamarix has been mechanically removed . The goats' interest in re-sprouts has been growing since the beginning of the project in July of 2007. In April of 2008 they had the forage figured out and would spend the morning eating Saltbrush, grasses, and a variety of dry feed on the hillsides. Then in the late morning and afternoon Tamarix would be eaten. In April the trees were barely budding and three or four feet of vaguely green branch wold steadily dissapear into the goats. In August that order of palatability allows tamarix and cocklebur to be consumed alternately along with ragweed, and young foxtail grass.
The first year was a challenge as any beginning is wont to be. We started out understaffed (around 70 head of alpine, boer and crossed goats) and the goats had to learn to manage their intake within the new Management intensive Browse (MiB) situation. The first few pens took a long time to get through and after awhile we realized we were trying to feed them a diet that was not palatable. The Lambs Quarters which had bolted with the late July rain seemed to be too full of nitrogen from the soil to be edible. And the plants were so tall and full that it was difficult to move through it let alone see where the few tamarix re-sprouts were. Then the goats began breaking out. This was mostly due to a group of kids we had bought which were not respecting the electric fence and would knock it over diving back under when Zuli or I came near at which time the herd took advantage and would leave. This became a big problem when neighbor's dogs began to come around after hours and when I was absent. Zuli learned to track the herd, and eventually alerted me to the problem one midnight while following the trail past the neighbor. The dogs confronted us and then 7 month old Zuli chased those three full sized marauders back to their place, protecting me and my horse. A challenge faced is an ability learned.
These goats have been developed over time browsing through a variety of range types and have evolved a good understanding of where and what the good feed is at any given part of a season. They know how much of what to take in when. Much is already there handed down through the generations from time first spent with humans. But much also is learned from first hoof experience, which actually takes time to pick up, but is then transferable allowing other situations to be delineated and palatable foods to be seen, smelled, and felt in determination of use.