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Ecosystems for goats defined: different eco-climatic zones for different animals

    D. de Treville.  An earlier version was published in: THE GOAT RANCHER MAGAZINE, Sarah, Mississippi, November 2003; the original version appeared in ChevonTalk.


To continue the question: 'What's in an ecosystem for (or against) good goat performance?' – first, let's answer the question: 'How do you figure out which ecosystem is 'yours'?'

Here's a brief description of ecosystems in Africa, based on Pratt & Gwynne's 'Range Management & Ecology in East Africa'.  Even though the analysis is for  East Africa, the generalities can be used to see where you 'fit', in many other non-African regions.  The Southwest in the States would probably be closest to Zone IV, whereas the Southeast would be closest to features found in Zones II and III - but excluding highlands characteristics.

Keep in mind that goats evolved - and continue to predominantly exist (in Africa) - in Zones VI, V and IV (below described), and that the Boer and Kalahari Red breeds of South Africa were developed primarily in Semiarid and Dry Subhumid Zones similar to IV and III.  The Kiko breed of New Zealand originated – I understand – in zones similar to III and II.


Touareg Camels browsing Balanites aegyptiaca, central Sahara
- Zootechnie des régions chaudes

Arid lands of the Red Sea Hills, eastern Egypt & Sudan, where goats will climb into acacia trees to browse.
- D. Haberlah

VERY ARID (Zone VI):  Rangeland of low potential, the vegetation being dwarf shrub grassland with semi-evergreen species, or shrub grassland with Acacia species often confined to seasonal water courses and depressions with barren land between.  Perennial grasses are localized within predominantly annual grassland; productivity is confined largely to unreliable seasonal flushes and grazing systems must be based on nomadism.  Camel, goats and some sheep predominate.

A mixed herd of goats and sheep in Eastern Senegal- Zootechnie des régions chaudes

ARID (Zone V): Land only very locally suited to agriculture, the woody vegetation being dominated by Acacia species and various semi-evergreen shrubs.  Perennial grasses can dominate, but succumb readily to harsh management.  Grazing systems are generally linked to seasonal nomadism.  Camel, goats, sheep, donkey, horse and indigenous cattle (boran; zibu) predominate.  Acacia species are high in leguminous-based protein - but also high in tannin, which is toxic - a feature to which goats adapted and are far more tannin tolerant than other species.

SEMIARID:  (Zone IV): Land of marginal agricultural potential, carrying as natural vegetation dry forms of woodland and savanna (often Acacia species.) but including deciduous or semi-evergreen bushland.  This is potentially productive rangeland - and is equivalent to much of the 'veld' of South Africa wherein originated the Boer and Kalahari Red goat breeds.

Black Hair buck, SE Morocco
- Zootechnie des régions chaudes Goats

Mixed grazing/browsing by cattle, sheep and goats on the Imbo Plain along Lake Tanganyika, Burundi

Intensive mixed farming in the highlands of Burundi, characterized by crop-agroforestry-livestock integration

DRY SUBHUMID TO SUBHUMID (Zone III): Land not of forest potential, carrying a variable vegetation cover (moist woodland, bushland or savanna), the trees characteristically broad-leaved and the larger shrubs mostly evergreen.  The agricultural potential is high, soil and topography permitting, with emphasis on hill farming.  Cattle, some goats and sheep, some pigs and chicken are raised.

EQUATORIAL - HUMID TO DRY SUBHUMID (Zone II): Forests and derived grasslands and bushlands, with or without natural glades.  The potential is for forestry, intensive agriculture including pyrethrum (a 'natural' insecticide), coffee and tea at higher elevations.  Cattle, some goats and sheep, pigs and chicken are raised.

AFRO-ALPINE (Zone I):  Afro-alpine moorland and grassland, or barren land, at high altitude above the forest line; limited use and potential, except as water catchment

- - - - -

You can see that in the natural ecozones for goats (Zones IV-V-VI), semi-evergreen shrubs are characteristically found and these - together with pods and bark of various Acacia and other leguminous tree species - have provided the diet base throughout the long, dry periods when other trees, shrubs and grasses would have died back.

Goats – as a result of evolutionary responses to environmental limitations - are very Spartan.   Muscle, not fat is their preferred add-on, providing energy reserves during hard times and sprint-power in the face of danger.

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