If you were to trust comics and cartoons, you would think that goats will eat anything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked whether goats really eat tin cans. (I’ve learned, over time, not to roll my eyes.) But those of you with well-fed dairy goats will probably agree that goats can, in fact, be pretty picky. There are precious few things that all 34 of my goats will reliably eat. But over the years, we’ve found several good crowd pleasers. Many of them are quite easy to grow. Here are a few of our favorite goat snacks.
Lots of folks add black oil sunflower seeds to their feed mix. The seeds are high in fats that help heavy milking goats keep on weight and help all goats maintain glossy coats. These snacks also are a good source of vitamin E and essential minerals. Plus, goats love them. But if you’re buying only the seeds, you’re missing half the fun. Our goats enjoy eating every part of the plant. You don’t even have to buy seed packets, you can literally plant the feed grade ones you might already be buying. Throw a few in the ground next spring. Your goats will thank you.
We started growing bamboo because my husband just loves it. But we experimented by using it as fodder during droughts, and now we offer it as snacks for the goats—or to bribe them when we need to move the entire herd. The goats will follow a nice, leafy stalk anywhere. I will issue a word of advice, though—while bamboo is almost indestructible once settled, it can be tricky to start. You’ll need to fence it off to keep your goats from grazing before it is well established.
For us, willow was another experiment. We planted the bamboo during droughts. We planted the willow during times of flooding. The goats have loved both for snacks. Willows are an all-around great addition to any farm. They remediate soil and water pollution, and they are as easy to grow as sticking a twig in the ground. You can buy bare rootstock (a stick, basically) and end up with trees overhead in less than two years. You can propagate your own with cuttings over and over again. The rate at which they renew growth make them a great prune-and-feed treat.
4. Cole Crops & Turnips
I have yet to grow any cole crop that the goats won’t eat. (Cole crops include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards and so on.) I don’t ever plant these only for the goats, but I like to plant a lot of them for us and then feed the goats, for example, the tough outer leaves from cabbages as treats. As for turnips, I routinely plant too many and start desperately feeding them to our livestock for snacks when I get tired of them. They are ridiculously easy to grow, and the greens are prolific and make a great treat.
5. Sweet Potatoes
We planted three or four little purple, organic sweet potato slips about four years ago. No matter how well I think I have harvested and turned the beds, they reliably come back every year and put on yards and yards of vines. Sometimes we get potatoes, sometimes we don’t. But the leaves have fed us through the summer after all other greens have given up in our heat, and they have provided the goats with plenty of snacks, too. Sweet potato leaves make great goat snacks; they are high in lots of vitamins and provide a small boost in calcium, a welcome nutrient for goats in milk.
There are lots of great things you can grow for your goats. These are just some that I have found to be ridiculously easy to grow. That could be because of our specific soils, climate and so on, so I encourage you to see what you’re good at growing and then to plant a little extra if your goats enjoy those things, too. But if you’re looking for a place to start this spring, I will always recommend sunflowers. Even as a non-snack plant, they add a lot of cheer and charm to any farm.