Tree-Climbing Goats May Actually Be Helping to Produce This Luxury Oil - Modern Farmer

Tree-Climbing Goats May Actually Be Helping to Produce This Luxury Oil

We didn't just cover this in order to post pictures of goats in trees.

Photography Nadiia Zamedianska

The argan tree produces hard, green, olive-like fruits containing large seeds that can be crushed to produce a highly prized oil. If the seeds are first roasted, the result is used much like olive oil; oil from non-roasted seeds is also marketed and used as a cosmetic oil for skin.

Back in 2011, UC Davis published a study voicing concern about the argan oil boom. Researchers found that the high price of the oil encouraged unsafe and unsustainable argan harvesting practices. The study suggested that one possible unwise practice involved goats. Specifically, farmers used their new argan oil money to buy goats, and those goats love to chomp on the leaves and fruits of the argan tree. Was this harming the forests?

Quite the contrary, according to a new study from researchers of the Doñana Biological Station, a public research group in Spain, which suggests that the goats not only aren’t injuring the trees, but might actually be helping them.

In the autumn, when grazing is scarce, domesticated goats in this region of Morocco spend a great deal of time perched up in the argan trees, eating fruits. Here’s where it gets interesting. Evolution has enticed fruits to be delicious to encourage a process called endozoochory, in which animals eat tasty fruits and poop out the seeds. Those seeds are dispersed somewhere away from the plant, encased in fertilizing animal manure, which allows the plant to reproduce.

But argan seeds are very big, about the size of a Brazil nut, and the goats can’t quite handle pooping something so large. (We don’t blame them.) What the researchers found is something unusual: the goats are actually gnawing the fruit off the argan seeds and then spitting them out, pretty much the same way you’d eat an olive. But because goats, like cows, are ruminants, their whole eating procedure takes longer than ours: they take it into a special stomach, then bring it back up again (this is how cows chew their cud). At that point, the goats spit out the newly cleaned argan seed after a period of time that allows them to have moved farther away from the tree – exactly what the tree wants. So it turns out that the goats might not be hurting the trees at all! They might actually be helping to propagate them.

To help you understand, here’s a series of photos of goats in argan trees. Study them closely for science. Or for fun. Your call.

Alla Laurent

Alla Laurent

Nadiia Zamedianska

Nadiia Zamedianska

Nadiia Zamedianska

Nadiia Zamedianska

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