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Feeding tree leaves to goats for winter fodder

Climbing goat

In the wild, goats would primarily eat tree leaves, which tend to be higher in minerals than grass and carry a lower risk for spreading internal parasites. So it's no surprise that when people talk about winter fodder for goats, they often talk about feeding them dried tree leaves. I love the idea, but, unfortunately, that's all it is to most people --- an idea. Only one website that I've found so far has provided actual information on how to gather tree leaves for goats, so if you want the long version, feel free to follow that link. For the short version, read on....

First of all, I should mention that, while goats will sometimes eat fallen autumn leaves, this isn't the kind of high-nutrition foodstuff that the goat owner should be looking for. As you probably learned in elementary school, tree leaves turn color in the fall as the plant sucks Winter goat foddermany of the important nutrients back out of the leaf and into the trunk, so fallen leaves are more akin to straw than they are to hay. A goat might eat some fallen leaves, but they're not going to fare very well on a diet of fallen leaves alone. Instead, if you opt to save tree leaves for winter feed, your goal should be to strip the leaves from the trees while they're still green, dry them, and then store the leaves like you would hay.

Okay, so how does one go about this process, which I've seen called "shredding," or making "tree hay" or "pollard hay"? Since trees leaves are often out of reach, the first step is usually to create a coppice or pollard system --- which we luckily have growing up in our powerline cut at this very moment. (No, we didn't create it. When the electric company whacked down all of the big trees after a storm, many small sprouts came up from their base --- instant coppice.) Once you have a coppice system, you harvest the small stems and their attached leaves in the summer at two-to-six-year intervals. At this time, the young branches are usually around four or five feet long, and they can be allowed to dry for a day on the ground, then are tied up into bundles (a bit like corn shocks) to dry another two or three days in the field before being moved to the barn.

AbigailThe trick seems to be finding tree species that handle coppicing well and that also hold onto their leaves when dry, since you don't want to be stuck raking dried leaves out of the summer grass --- it's much easier to simply carry leafy branches to winter storage all in one bundle. In Bulgaria, maple, hornbeam, ash, mulberry, some oaks, willow, linden, and elm are most frequently used and are harvested any time between mid July and the end of September, while in Italy, farmers focus primarily on ash and harvest in late August.

This process of harvesting tree leaves for winter fodder is often called shredding, probably because the leaves are plucked from the twigs in the winter before feeding. Then the branches that are left behind can be used for firewood.
I love the elegance of the system, and am curious to see how time-consuming it would be to pack away fodder for two small goats. The biggest stumbling block at the moment is where to store the tree hay --- I guess we'll need to put a hay loft on our winter to-do list!

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Try a search for " tree hay " it turns up lots of information
Comment by diogenese Mon Dec 29 17:34:58 2014
I would add that the goats benefit greatly from stripping the bark and eating the twigs off those harvested limbs. I put the limbs directly into the manger and let the goats strip them thoroughly before taking them back out. There is a lot of nutrition in that bark.
Comment by Michelle Tue Dec 30 14:05:06 2014

Great idea!!! I raised dairy goats for 3 years but found them to be way to high input.. Took a year off to try sheep.. Which failed! For many reasons ! Now I'm trying fainting goat and small dairy goat crosses with much better results,, much lower input! This would be perfect to do for them I think since they do not need near as much food as a high production dairy goat!! This is going on my research/to do list!

Comment by Angie Sat Jan 3 09:03:57 2015
good thing you made this the website you got the information from doesn't seem to have that page anymore, if the site even exists at all anymore.
Comment by Alex Ihlo Wed Jan 13 23:50:49 2016

A woman in Maine is giving classes on how to do pollarding.

Comment by DC Sun Jul 10 21:23:45 2016
We've had Nigerian goats for years, after a couple seasons noticing them racing through the pasture grabbing dried leaves, we decided to start gathering them up in the fall after they have dried. We stuff garbage bags full and usually get 12 to 15 large bags full. These are mostly maple. Through the winter we give them the dried leaves mixed into their hay. They love them. I don't think there's much nutrition value, but it makes them happy to have a variety I guess. We keep the bags of leaves out of the weather.
Comment by Oldgoat Wed Dec 28 10:07:10 2016