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The Weird World of What Goats Eat

Goats are famous for eating hats and stealing washing from the line, but I always assumed these must all be old wives' tales and that what goats would really love eating most of all would be grass.

How very wrong! For one thing, a little known fact about goats is that they are browsers, rather than grazers. This means that, unlike sheep and cows, who will happily munch grass all day long, what a goat would really love to do would be to pick its way along a hedgerow, snaffling up whatever leaves or branches took its fancy. Goats can be kept on pasture, but they much prefer a varied diet and enjoy picking through food to find the best bits. When they are kept in fields, they won't necessarily eat all the grass or keep it down.

Because it's winter, and goats hate the cold and wet, our goats live inside at the moment and so don't get too much opportunity to browse hedgerows. However we like to give them a varied diet and plenty to do! The main things we feed them are hay - from the lovely wildflower meadows at Earth Trust - and a concentrated pellet that's actually designed for sheep. The goats pick through the hay to find the best bits to nibble. We add some soaked sugar beet to the concentrated food and the goats go absolutely wild for it! Doesn't look like much does it?

The goats absolutely love picking through the straw, too, when we put down their fresh bedding every day. They'll drop everything and run over as soon as you come near the gate with an armful of straw, pushing each other out of the way to get the best bits. Here they are happily grazing their freshly replenished bedding:

We also pick branches and fresh leaves for the goats to eat, as they would if they were in the wild. Their absolute favourite is, believe it or not, brambles. They don't only eat the leaves, but also crunch right through the branches and prickles. Their lips and tongues are really tough so they don't seem to mind, but we pick up any twigs left at the end so they don't get any thorns in their hooves. They also like nettles and thistles, amongst other things. Unfortunately not very easy for us to pick!

And then there are all the other things goats eat. They particularly love crackers and stale bread, so we sometimes give them some of those as a treat. They also like carrots and vegetable scraps. That must be why they used to be such popular animals for people to keep in their back gardens - a useful combination of weed control and compost bin.

So what about goats eating hats and clothes? I have been told by wise goat keepers that the idea that goats eat anything is a myth and that they just like to nibble things as they use their mouths to feel and explore, a bit like human babies. Most of the time that's true - our goats will nibble away at sleeves, pockets, belts, skirts, shoe laces etc...but give up when they realise it's not going to be edible and a tasty scoopful of sugar beet appears. However I have lost quite a big chunk of my hair to a goat's mouth (she swallowed it) and I've lost the the zip tags off both my coat pockets, so personally I'm not so sure!

Goat with my coat between her teeth: a familiar sight to leave you with.

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