Tree Hay: Establishing Coppices for Goats

We’ve owned goats for almost a full year. In that year, we’ve learned a LOT, made a lot of mistakes, and learned some more.

One thing we decided to try after watching the goats forage last summer was to set up a coppice system for them.

For those unfamiliar, a coppice is basically a grove of trees which are cut in such a way to encourage sucker branches to grow. These shoots are allowed to grow up to a point, harvested, and fed to our goats when we put them up in the evening, in place of hay.

So to establish our coppice, we first spent time observing what the goats liked to eat. We’ve found that they have a few favorites which include:

Sassafrass

Tulip poplar

Eastern Redbud

And Red mulberry

These trees are quick growing and send up nice straight coppice branches. Occasionally, the goats even munch up maple,but it is slower growing being a hardwood and less easy to coppice. The goats also occasionally munch the invasive honey suckle bush we have around here, but only early in the season before it blooms, so it isn’t reliable as an all season forage, and cutting it is like slicing off a hydra’s head.

And high-tannin leaves and shoots (which they supposedly, according to all the textbooks, hate) from oak, hickory, and black walnut. This I think is due to their own innate sense of knowing when they need parasite control or prevention. Rather than force feed that and risk potential illness due to overfeeding tannic acid, we let them free choice it like we do with baking soda and minerals.

This cuts our feed costs down significantly in the summer and fall, and especially when we factor in the kudzu, which I’m going to attempt drying for winter (supplemental) fodder.

We have had a lot of success with this feed method. Our goat Luna is currently in milk and we are milk sharing with her buckling Tumnus. We are getting between 7 and 8lbs (or roughly 57-64 oz/ 7.5-8 cups) daily from once a day milking and it is the best tasting goat milk I’ve ever had. With Honey last year, her milk around day 3 in the fridge, would develop a goaty smell/flavor. Some people get used to it- I’m not a huge fan. I’m told the Guernsey does produce less goaty milk than the Swiss or Nubian does. Our girls were both bred from Swiss lines, so that may account for the goaty-ness? I also (having been a breastfeeding mother for the last 6 years) have decided it has a lot to do with their diet and hormones. Honey is more dominant, Luna is more passive. The sweeter goat gives sweeter milk! I have only ever tried our Guernsey milk so I can’t vouch for the validity of the breed to breed differences, but I can say Luna’s milk is superb. Not at all goaty. And her coat is soft and smooth, her eyelids and gums are nice and pink, and she looks generally healthy, so we assume our tree hay is keeping her happy.

Downsides to coppicing: We end up with a lot of sticks, which would get run through our woodchipper if it were currently functioning (it’s always something getting broken around here…) But you can also compost them or use them to set up a hugulkultur bed.

The only other drawback in addition to the surplus of sticks is that it makes the coppiced trees look rather more bushy which may offend some neighbors who aren’t used to the asthetic of a “coppiced wood.” I’m pretty sure my one neighbor thinks I’m just really bad at cutting down trees; they keep coming back!! But the overall goal is feed sustainability.

Has anyone else tried this feed system before? Let me know about your experience in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Tree Hay: Establishing Coppices for Goats

    1. I’m glad you found it! I don’t have any elm to speak of in any quantity. I would compare it to the high tannin trees and see how it compares. If it’s relatively low, it’s probably safe for goats. They tend to avoid things they know are a potential danger.

      Liked by 1 person

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