Goat farming and landscape management:
From controlled research to controlled grazing
T.A. Glasser1, S.Y. Landau2, E. Ungar2, H. Muklada2, A. Perevolotsky2
1Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park, P.O. Box 325, Zichron Ya'akov, 30900, Israel
2 Department of Natural Resources and Agronomy, Institute of Plant Sciences,
Agricultural Research Organization –Volcani Center, P.O. Box 6,
Bet Dagan 50250, Israel
In May, 2002 fourteen Damascus goats were bought and held at the Ramat-Hanadiv Nature
Park on Mt. Carmel, in central Israel. The main purpose of purchasing the goats was to collect
scientific information regarding grazing behaviour of different goat breeds and seasons and
apply it in the management of the nature park. The research aimed at bridging the agricultural
and ecological aspects of grazing in Mediterranean shrubland and reconciling the needs of
both farmers and landscape managers. Fecal NIRS calibrations were developed using the
MPLS routine of the Win-ISI II software (ISI, 1999) in order to determine dietary quality and
botanical composition of free-grazing goats' diets. Reference values for calibration were
obtained by a NIRS-oriented observation method that combined focal observation, digital
recording and computerized "reconstruction" of the diet. Further on, the equations were used
for determining dietary composition of three goat breeds (Damascus, Boer & Mamber) in
This data was implemented in the context of a yearly grazing program at the park. Due
to the relatively poor results of the Boer goats, they were excluded and the herd has expanded
(to150 head) with Mamber and Damascus goats. The herd forages daily at specific locations in
the park with specific management goals, such as suppression of P. lentiscus (approx. 20%
tannins) or consumption of forest understory vegetation. Most scientific results are
implemented in the park and herd management. The herd serves as a semi-commercial herd,
since milk and cheese are produced, as well as for agro-tourism activities.
Keywords: goat, grazing, near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, observations, behaviour
Since goat domestication about 10,000 years ago (Zeder and Hesse, 2000), some 180 different
breeds of goats have evolved (Porter, 1996). Many of these breeds developed more through
genetic isolation and natural selection rather than through deliberate intervention by man
(Devendra and Burns, 1983). Nevertheless, human selection has encouraged specific attributes
and some breeds have become specialized. For example, Saanen and Alpine goats are bred for
milk, the Boer goat is bred exclusively for meat, and the Angora and Cashmere goats are bred
When using goats for landscape management (i.e. combating shrub encroachment, fire
prevention, biodiversity conservation), the breed used must also be taken into consideration.
There are significant differences among goat breeds in grazing behaviour attributes, such as
dietary preferences (Dziba et al., 2003) and propensity to consume specific plant species
(Glasser et al., 2009). Furthermore, herds that are used for landscape management must create
a sustainable income. This income is usually gained by the production and sales of milk,
cheese and meat.
In order to introduce goat herds to nature parks, forests and/or areas that need grazing
services, there must be a profound understanding of the components involved, both from the
ecological aspect and from the agricultural aspect. The main factors affecting livestock
production are genetic potential and nutrition. In order to combine agricultural production
goals with those of landscape management, it is most important to choose the breed that will
consume the desired plant species as well as being able to produce under the limiting
conditions of landscape-use restrictions (herd size, grazing pressure, limited supplementation,
etc.). The objective of this project is to develop a sustainable goat farm combining shrub
control, fire prevention and self-sufficient economic production. In order to achieve these
objectives, the park authorities have decided to implement a research, carried out in
cooperation with the Volcani Center, for identifying the breed that will consume tannin-rich
plants, which are very abundant in the park and are encroaching and covering most of the park
Materials and methods
The study was conducted at the Ramat-Hanadiv Nature Park, located on the southern tip of
the South Carmel mountain ridge, in central Israel (32° 25' N, 34° 52' E), characterized by an
average yearly rainfall of 600 mm and a 180-d rainy season from October to April. The size of
the nature park is 450 Ha. In the center of the park are the mamorial gardens which sprawl
across approximately seven hectares, surrounding the Baron and Baroness Rothschild's crypt.
The nature park borders on two populated communities (one on the north and one on the
south), which increases fire hazards. The ecosystem is a disturbed Mediterranean woodland
(garrigue) featuring steep rocky slopes with rare patches of shallow soil. The vegetation is
dominated by low trees (mainly Phillyrea latifolia L.) and tall shrubs (Pistacia lentiscus L.
and Calicotome villosa L.) which form 2- to 3-m high round coppice islets that are sometimes
covered with climbing Rubia tenuifolia Dum.-Urville, Clematis cirrhosa L., Smilax aspera L.,
Isolated Kermes (Quercus calliprinos Webb) and Thabor (Q. ithaburensis Decaisne) oak trees.
Carob (Ceratonia siliqua L.) and buckthorn (Rhamnus alaterna L.) trees can also be found.
Occasional bushes of Ephedra foemina Forskk., Asparagus stipularis Forskk., Sarcopoterium
spinosum L. Spach are located between the coppices. From January to mid-May, green annual
herbaceous vegetation covers the soil patches.
The main woody species that dominate the park are Pistacia lentiscus, which contains
more than 20% PEG-binding tannins (on DM basis), and Phillyrea latifolia, which contains
only 3% PEG-binding tannins (on DM basis). For this reason goat breeds that are considered
suitable for landscape management are breeds that can cope with the physical conditions of
the terrain and the shrubs that are thorny, sclerophyllous, and contain high concentrations of
During the spring (January-May) a cattle herd (~200 head) is introduced into the park.
The herd enters the park when average herbaceous vegetation exceeds 1,200 kg (DM)/ha and
leaves the park when it is lower than 700 kg (DM)/ha. This leads to an average of 88.5 grazing
days per year. The cattle herd is then turned off from the park until the next grazing season.
The cattle herd exploits 77% of the whole park area.
The initial herd was composed of three goat breeds, Boer, Damascus and Mamber (12, 11, 11
head, respectively). After studies regarding grazing behaviour and dietary attributes of the
goats under free-grazing conditions, Boer goats were excluded and the herd was expanded by
the introduction of Damascus and Mamber bucks. Controlled mating within breeds took place
and since 2004 the herd has expanded to comprise 100 goats and 50 yearlings (50% of each
Determination of dietary composition
Goats' dietary quality and botanical composition was determined by the fecal NIRS (Near
Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) method (Lyons and Stuth, 1992). Calibration equations
were developed using the MPLS routine of the Win-ISI II software (ISI, 1999). Fecal NIRS
calibrations had reasonable precision for predicting dietary percentages of the three main
botanical components: herbaceous vegetation (as one category), Phillyrea latifolia; and
tannin-rich Pistacia lentiscus, (R2 = 0.85, 0.89 and 0.77, respectively) with SE of cross-
validation (SECV) of 7.8, 6.3, and 5.6% of DM, respectively. R2 values for the prediction of
CP (Crude Protein), NDF (Natural Detergent Fiber, IVDMD (In Vitro Dry-Matter
Digestibility), and polyethylene glycol-binding tannins were 0.93, 0.88, 0.91, and 0.74,
respectively, with SECV values of 0.9, 2.1, 4.3, and 0.9% of DM, respectively. The predictive
ability of intake values was generally lower, with R2 values for intakes of herbaceous
vegetation, P. latifolia, and P. lentiscus of 0.80, 0.75, and 0.65, with SECV values of 71, 64,
and 46 g of DM/d, respectively. The R2 values for the daily nutrient intakes were below 0.60
(Glasser et al, 2008).
Reference values for calibration were obtained by a NIRS oriented observation method
(Glasser et al., 2008) that included 45 focal observation sessions (total of 360 observation
hours), accompanied by digital recording and computerized "reconstruction" of the diet.
Twenty-five observations were carried out during the spring when woody vegetation was lush
and herbaceous vegetation was green and of high nutritional quality. Twenty observations
were carried out during the fall, when herbaceous vegetation was dry. Equations were then
developed from spectra of observed goats’ fecal matter and implemented on fecal samples
(n=147) from all grazing goats for determining dietary composition of the three goat breeds
(Damascus, Boer & Mamber) at the different seasons (Glasser et al., 2009).
Dietary differences among goat breeds
During the fall, Damascus goats consumed an average of 14.8% of P. lentiscus in their diet
(on DM basis); Mamber goats consumed 5.5% and Boer goats only 5.0%. Therefore,
Damascus goats ingested diets richer in tannins than did Mambers or Boers (Damascus >
Mambers = Boers, P < 0.0001). On the other hand, Mamber goats' diets' contained a higher
percentage of herbaceous species in the spring than did the other two breeds (38.4 vs. 27.7%,
respectively). Boer goats selected the most nutritious diets in terms of CP content and
IVDMD. In spite of their differences in foraging selectivity, the local Damascus and Mamber
goats had similar dietary percentages of CP and similar IVDMD (Glasser et al., 2009)
Dietary differences between seasons
Data regarding dietary botanical composition between seasons is based on 45 focal
observations (Glasser et al., 2008), with data averaged over all three breeds. The number of
plant species (Herbaceous vegetation grouped) was higher during the spring vs. fall (21 vs.
14). Herbaceous vegetation, P. lentiscus and P. latifolia comprised more than 50% and 70% of
the diet during the spring and fall, respectively. Total woody vegetation (including climbers)
consisted of 65.7% and 75.3% of the diet (on DM basis) during the spring and fall,
respectively (Figure 1). Thorny and tanniferous species (i.e. Calicotome vilosa, Sarcopoterium
spinosum) were eaten more readily during the spring than fall. It is important to note that
species such as Asphodelus ramosus, Euphorbia sp., Asparagus aphyllus, Scabiosa prolifera,
Tamus communis, Allium sp., Eryngium creticum and Sinapis arvensis are not present over
ground surface during the fall.
*Others include plant species that compose less than 2%
(each) in the diet. These are: Ephedra foemina; Quercus
calliprinos; Rubia tenuifolia; Ceratonia siliqua; Asphodelus
ramosus; Quercus ithaburensis; Calicotome villosa
*Others include plant species that compose less than 2%(each) in
the diet. These are: Asphodelus ramosus; Euphorbia sp.;
Herbaceous (dry); Asparagus aphyllus; Prasium majus;
Scabiosa prolifera; Olea Europaea;Tamus communis; Allium
sp.; Eryngium creticum; Sinapis arvensis
Figure 1. Botanical composition of goats' diets' in Mediterranean shrubland during fall and
The grazing plan is based mainly on research results regarding grazing behaviour of the goats
in the different seasons, combining park management goals. Park managers have designated
specific areas/polygons (Figure 2) that need specific treatment (Table 1). The grazing plan is
based on a herd size of 100 goats. The total area of the polygons adds up to 57.6 hectares.
Grazing takes place in more than one polygon in parallel, according to feed availability, shrub
species and management objectives. Synchronized grazing in more than one polygon enables
greater consumption of the vegetation by the goats and is, therefore, more efficient.
Table 1. Grazing plan objective for the different polygons.
Main management objective
1) olive groves
reconstructing the groves for
the benefit of visitors and
Grazing in winter and spring
(higher intake of herbaceous
2) "Cabara" stream (goats &
Preventing fire hazards by
creating a firebreak between
the neighboring village and
the park, as well as
continuing opening of the
ancient olive groves
Grazing at the end of the
cattle grazing season or after
they leave this area;
completion of clearing by the
3) Northeast of memorial
vegetation volume in favor of
the herbaceous vegetation
Entering after cattle leave the
area at the end of spring
4) Water spring &
Reducing fire hazards
Grazing at the beginning of
5) Areas dominated by
Calicotome vilosa and
Diminishing the cover of
Calicotome vilosa shrubs
Grazing in spring and
summer mainly to reduce the
cover of Calicotome vilosa;
in the spring this species is
eaten willingly by the goats.
6) Thickets over "Timsach"
Treatment of understory,
including dense shrubs and
As in 5 (above); however the
understory in this area differs
from 5 and the rotation
between them during the day
7) Pine thickets at southeast
side of the park
Treatment of understory with
high cover of Calicotome
vilosa and climbers and
enabling this thicket to be
attractive for hikers coming
up from the water spring area
Entering this area when
calicotome vilosa shrubs are
blooming; during this period
they are eaten willingly by
8) Long-Term Ecological
Research (LTER) plots
The objective of grazing in
these plots is for research and
Grazing upon request of
researchers. Due to the small
size of the plots (0.1 ha each;
total of 10 grazed plots) there
is no problem to allow the
goats to graze for short
periods throughout the year
Figure 2: Ramat Hanadiv Nature park location and Goat grazing polygons.
During 2008 the herd was registered as a bio-organic farm. Since then the farm is managed by
the obligatory regulations for this type of management. During 2009, after parturition of the
goats, a milking parlor was constructed and 60 goats were milked in parallel to kid suckling.
A small cheese plant was rented and yogurt and cheese were produced and marketed for the
Goat kids are sold yearly for meat consumption. All kids are naturally reared by mothers
and are weaned at the age of 90 days. They are then raised, up to a weight of 30 kg, upon
which males are all sold and females are sorted for replacement or sold for meat.
Several times a month special tours take place at the park, during which visitors join the
goat herd and the shepherd. Tourists have a chance to learn about the Mediterranean
landscape, fauna and flora, as well as learning about the history of livestock farming in the
region, the importance of local farming and the use of goats as a tool for achieving landscape
management goals. All tours are paid for by the participants.
Determining dietary quality and botanical composition of a goat herd is a complex task. There
are many methods that can be used (alkanes, microhistological analysis, focal observations,
fecal NIRS, etc.). The only method that can be used under commercial farm conditions is the
fecal NIRS method. After the development of calibration equations this method can be used
for determining dietary quality of free-grazing livestock rapidly and at low cost (Foley et al.,
1998). This method is already in use for the determination of grazing cattle in the U.S.A
(Stuth et al., 2002).
The introduction of a goat herd into a nature park must be determined by the main goals
of the park authorities as well as by the farmer. These may lead to some points of conflict,
Limitation of herd size by park authorities and landscape management professionals, which
limits commercial production and efficiency by a small herd.
Goat breeds that may be most productive may not be durable enough or productive under
Some parts of the land of high foraging quality may be suceptible to destruction under
grazing or may lead to competition with wildlife or other livestock. These areas must be
fenced and herds must be excluded from them. Fencing large parts of a nature park may
not be favored by park managers or hikers.
These points and others must be discussed and resolved beforehand and well understood by
the farm owner as well as by park management. In cases in which the herd is owned by park
authorities and no production is expected, most conflicts can be resolved relatively easily.
Local breeds usually are very well adapted to local terrain and vegetation but not
necessarily suitable for maximum production. This situation may lead to a conflict between
the importance of conservation of genetic diversity and the importance of conservation of
local farming units. One way to overcoming this conflict may be by compensation of farmers
for breeding and conserving local breeds, as well as paying for landscape management
Using local breeds for landscape management requires that most of the roughage
consumed by the livestock come from grazing. In many cases the nutritional quality of the
grazed forage is low. This leads to an undesired situation in which the farmer must increase
concentrate feed supplementation, which is very costly and in some cases leads to lower
consumption during the grazing bout.
In order to develop sustainable local farming that will meet the goals of landscape
management as well as genetic conservation and economic sustainability, a plan that includes
all ecological and agricultural aspects must be established. It is of great importance that the
local public be aware and involved in such projects. This awareness may prevent antagonism
and also serve to promote understanding of the importance of sustainable livestock farming for
agricultural, ecological and social values.
The authors wish to thank the Ganei Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park staff for logistic help during
the entire experimental period of this research.
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