Grazing with Goats

Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Goat Herd.

Unlike cattle, which predominantly eat grass, goats are adapted to browse woody material like trees and shrubs

Originally from feral populations on the coasts of Devon and North Wales, the Trust’s goats are very hardy. The grazing team obtained the first goats in 2009 and now have a total of 53 bucks, does and kids.

Goats, like cows, are ruminant animals. Their stomachs have four-chambers, the first of which is used to store semi-digested food (cud), which they then bring back into their mouths to chew for a second time. Whilst it’s not true that goats will eat anything, they are very curious and eat a wide variety of plants.

However unlike cattle, which predominantly eat grass, goats are adapted to browse woody material like trees and shrubs. They eat the leaves and strip the bark, climbing and rearing up on their hind legs to reach up into the canopy. This woody food is harder to digest than grass, but as it does so it generates a lot of warmth for the goat.

Goats are able to eat very prickly plants easily; favourites include gorse and bramble. This makes them excellent scrub managers.

The goat's job is simply to eat! They are put out onto nature reserves in small paddocks to eat woody species and stop them from taking over precious habitats such as heathland and chalk grasslands.

In the summer you may find the goats on heathland sites like Wisley Common and nearby Esher Common, where they munch through young pine and birch trees, or on chalk grasslands like Hackhurst Down and Betchworth Quarry, where they protect the precious chalk grassland from invading brambles, ash saplings and other shrubs. In the winter they travel to Lightwater Country Park on behalf of Surrey Heath Borough Council.

 How You Can Help

Adopt a goat and help protect Surrey's precious heathland through conservation grazing.