Determining the area to be fenced to carry a certain amount of goats — or alternatively purchasing the number of goats that can be carried on an area already fenced for them — requires some knowledge of potential stocking rates.
Unfortunately there are so many factors to be taken into account that it is almost impossible to provide figures of any value.
A goat’s feed requirements is the same, on a bodyweight basis, as that of a sheep. And on established pasture it is generally accepted that a doe is about .7 of a stock unit.
However, on country that has a substantial amount of gorse, blackberry, thistles, etc. which sheep will not touch, several goats could be run with sheep without requiring any reduction in sheep numbers at all, since the amount of grass the goats will eat is likely to be balanced by the improvement in pasture they achieve through reducing the weed content or scrub weed cover.
Thus, on a considerable amount of our farmland, especially on hill country, it is not so much a question of how many goats or how many sheep, but how many goats and sheep can be run. But determining the correct ratio of sheep to goats is very difficult.
Many factors have to be taken into account. For one thing, sheep graze pasture lower than goats, so that if sheep numbers are too high the goats will not get sufficient pasture. Yet at certain times of the year they need top quality feed, so it may be necessary to remove the sheep, or reduce their numbers, at those times.
Also, the ratio is likely to change over the years as weeds are increasingly eliminated or controlled by the goats, and as the clover content increases. Thus, an area may start off with a stocking status based on goats being .7 stock units, but change as the goats reduce the weed population to the point where a doe has to be considered equal to a ewe, or 1 stock unit.
The ratio will also depend upon the role which the goats are expected to fill. If they are used primarily to reduce weed infestation or regrowth and to improve pasture for sheep, they will probably be stocked at a heavier rate and put in after the sheep have taken the pasture down to below goat level.
But in the main, goats are too valuable to be treated this way, and the stocking ratio and grazing management needs to be worked out to ensure that the goats have every opportunity to produce as many kids as possible, and to rear them as well as possible, and to grow fibre to their full potential.
In the final analysis, therefore, stocking rate — and the goat-to-sheep ratio — can be determined only with experience. It will change as the grazing conditions change, as the goats’ genetic status is upgraded, and as management ability improves.