PHOTO: Jodi Helmer
When our Boer/Kiko wether, Huck, started limping, we knew Waylon was to blame. Waylon, the donkey that shares a pasture with our little herd, likes to play chase. The goats are not willing playmates and run off when Waylon puts his ears back, lowers his head and gallops toward them. Huck tripped and sprained his front leg, leading us to reconsider their living situation—and start asking questions about which animals are the best—and worst—pasture-mates for goats.
Best Friends Forever
Goats can benefit from having a bovine best friend. Cattle and goats do not share the same parasites, and having a cow on the pasture can help break the parasite lifecycle. While both animals love eating fresh greens, goats browse while cattle graze, so there is little competition for food. Their different appetites also make them a winning team for clearing pastures of invasive weeds and keeping grass low.
Despite their size difference, goats and horses are ideal pasture-mates. The animals are susceptible to different parasites, so there are no worries about an increased risk of disease in this multispecies pasture. In this pairing, horses have the most to gain: Goats eat invasive weeds and underbrush, which improves pasture grazing for horses.
Goats get along well with a feathered flock but must not be allowed access to chicken feed. A buffet of chicken feed could cause diarrhea or bloat, which, in severe cases, can be fatal. Chickens might also roost or lay in the hay manger, and goats will reject hay if it has any signs of droppings. Rambunctious goats could also run over slow-moving chickens, especially if space is tight.
Because of their similar size and calm temperaments, sheep might seem like ideal companions for goats. In fact, the ruminants share many of the same parasites, including brown stomach worm and roundworm (also known as barber pole worm). Thanks to their grazing behavior and lower immunities, Michigan State University warns, “Be prepared for parasite problems with sheep and goats grazing on pasture.” If you want to keep these two species together, rotational grazing can help reduce parasite loads. The ruminants also have different mineral requirements. Goats need a mineral supplement that contains copper. For sheep, however, too much copper can be fatal, so separate feeding locations are a must.
Worst Pasture Pals
Famished pigs root up all the lush browse that your goats love, leaving little forage for your herd. All that rooting creates big holes in the pasture, and rain turns them into mud holes. Pigs love this, but you know how goats feel about getting wet. These species also have different nutritional needs and would need separate spaces to eat. The biggest reason to keep pigs in their own space is safety: Pigs can be aggressive and pose a major threat to newborn kids.
Animals, like humans, are distinct. You need to consider health, housing and nutritional needs as well as their overall behaviors when deciding whether to ask your goats to share a pasture with another species.
We tried separating Huck and Waylon, and they spent their days at the shared fence line looking for ways to get back together. So, despite the occasional, ill-tolerated game of chase, the boys seem to like living together and are back to sharing a pasture.