Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Goats
Goats are a lot of fun. And a lot of work. They’re like a bunch of toddlers that you just can’t turn your back on for one second. They will get into everything they shouldn’t. They will get out of fences, chew the buttons off your coat, nibble your hair, sniff your pockets looking for treats, and just generally be adorable and annoying at the same time.
If you’ve decided this is the time to add goats to your homestead (ahem, even though I’ve given you fair warning here, here, and here), but don’t know where to start, this is my starting up with goats guide. Everything you ever wanted to know about being a goat herder.
What Type Of Goat Do I Get?
The breed of goat you get fully depends on your purpose for them. Any breed can be used as a pet but if you’re looking for a milk goat or a meat goat you’ll do best to stay with the breeds designed for that.
Dairy breeds include: Saanen, Nubian, La Mancha, Toggenburg, Nigerian Dwarf, Oberhasli, Alpine, and Sable
Meat Breeds include: Boer, Kiko, Spanish, and Tennessee
Wool Breeds include: Angora and Cashmere
Pet Breeds (can also be used as meat breeds): Pygmy and Mytonic (fainting goats).
What Does A Goat Eat?
The first thing I need to make clear is goats are foragers not grazers. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking of a goat as a lawnmower. If you just want something to mow your lawn get a bison, because you will be highly disappointed with a goat. Goats want twigs, leaves, weeds, and your favorite rose bush. There are no two ways about it. They will wander around and nibble a little of this and a little of that, until they find your rose bush of course, at which point they will pig out until there is nothing left but a little stump.
Hay is a good thing to have in their diet as well. I feed ours a mixed grass hay. The weedier it is the happier they are. How much hay you go through will depend on the size of your herd and if you have full sized or dwarf goats. We are currently feeding 9 dwarf goats (5 adults and 4 kids) and go through a square bale every 3 days. 800 pound round bales last us about 3 months. We have our goats on a dry lot until we can get more fences put in so we hay feed year round. If you have grazing land you won’t have to feed much hay which will reduce your cost.
Grain is really only needed if you are milking the does. Goats were made to eat grasses and roughage so you need to be careful how much grain you feed. Grain can cause a goat to bloat very easily by upsetting the rumen (the goat’s stomach). Sadly bloat is very serious and if not addressed quickly it will lead to death.
Goats also need minerals in their diet. You can use a 2:1 dairy cow mineral mix or a formulated goat mix. Do not use sheep/goat mineral mix as goats need copper and sheep do not. A sheep goat mix is actually just for sheep.
I highly recommend kelp in a goats diet. Mine love it, and they get a good sized dish full each day. Kelp is full of minerals, including iodine, and vitamins. It is a very healthy all around mineral supplement.
You can read more about how I feed my goats here.
How Do I House A Goat?
If you throw water at the fence and the water gets through then a goat can get through. This is just the cold hard truth to it. In my experience bucks are waaay worse than does. Goats will go under, over, or simply through if they can. Make sure you have a strong fence. We use Red Brand sheep and goat fence and it has held up well. The only problem is it is a little on the short side and our buck can jump it. We have it doubled up in a few spots so he can’t jump into the doe pen.
Goats also need some kind of shelter. We use a 4 sided shed for our goats. This provides shelter from all the elements. Since we live in a cold climate being able to close them in at night helps keep them warm and keeps the snow off of them. I have also found that goats hate water, so they need somewhere to get out of the rain as well.
If you life in a warmer climate than a 3 sided shelter that faces away from the wind would be sufficient. However you need to be sure it is predator proof. We have coyotes here so being able to close the goats in every night ensures that they don’t become dinner.
Goats are herd animals. They need to have a companion and cannot live alone. A pair is recommended. Breeding bucks and does shouldn’t live together as he can “back breed her”, which means he can get her pregnant again right after she has kidded. This is very hard on the doe and should be avoided. You also won’t know when the breeding date is so will be unable to prepare for kidding. A buck can live with another buck or a wether. A wether is a neutered male. A doe can live with another doe or also a wether.
How Do I Get Milk?
Like any mammal a goat needs to have a baby first before producing milk. A doe can be bred at 8 months or 40 pounds (80 for a full sized goat). Dwarf goats are pregnant for about 145 days, standard goats are pregnant for 150 days, or approximately 5 months. Does usually give birth to twins but singles or even quads are not uncommon. When the babies get to be about 2 weeks old you can start separating them from their mother at night and milking her in the morning before letting them all back together for the day. When the kids are 8 weeks you can sell them or move them to a different paddock and start milking the doe twice a day. Does need to be milked every 12 hours when they don’t have their kids on them.
Anything Else I Should Know?
Goats need clean drinking water. My experience has been that if there is a fleck of dirt in the bucket they will just turn their noses up at it.
Goats need their hooves trimmed. How often really depends on the land that they are walking on. If it is rocky and they are able to wear down their hooves they won’t need to be trimmed as often.
And finally they are a lot of fun. My milk does and I share a bond that I don’t share with any other animal. There is something about being together in the quiet moments of the morning, her eating and me milking, that bonds you to your goat. If you are just looking for a pet they are goofy, curious, and overly troublesome. And, while I’ve never raised meat goats, I can understand not missing them when butcher day comes. They can really push one to the edge of themselves.
So are you ready for a goat? The answer is yes, yes you are. You just need a lot of patience. If you have that you are all set, if you are like me and weren’t born with an ounce of patience in your body, then well, be prepared, the good Lord is about to do some teaching all up in your life!
12 thoughts on “A Simple Guide For First Time Goat Owners”
I just started milking one of our girls. They are lamancha, Nubian and alpine mixed. Super sweet and smart. Of course I tell them how smart,pretty, and sweet they are all the time so I think that helps 😉 I bottle raised them on raw Jersey cow milk. Now hopefully we will get some Back 🙂
Wow that sounds like a nice mix! And of course you have to talk to them! 😉 I call my girl a bum… “Get up on the milk stand ya bum” but she knows it’s in love. She gets her dried cranberry at the end and that’s all that matters to her lol. Hope the milking is going well! They sure can be stubborn when they’re first timers.
Great guide! I raise full- sized meat goats that are Boer Cross, Kiko, and Texmaster. It’s been quite a learning process for sure!
Thanks for visiting Mindy!
Great post! Goats are hilarious, my husband loves having them. I do too, but he really does. I pinned both your posts, I’m so glad you shared on the Homestead Blog Hop!
I am losing my mind. Got goats as a surprise birthday gift about a month ago and a couple weeks in our doe changed our schedule. Instead of 9 and 5 o’clock feedings (they get some goat feed twice a day), now she is waking us up at the first sight of light. I was NOT made to be awake at the crack of dawn and my neighbors are going to hate me. I’m at a loss. The boy”s voice is quiet but she SCREAMS until fed and will not quit. HELP! If I can’t break her of this, she’s going to have to go back before the clocks turn.
Oh Tina, I feel for you. Goats have been the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. Some things that come to mind: she is new and it takes awhile for them to adjust. Every goat is different but in my experience it takes my females waaay longer to adjust than any males I’ve had. Is there room for her to graze in her pen? Is the pen too small? Is the male castrated? If he is intact he could be tormenting her by always trying to mount her. If she is just yelling for food the best thing to do is stick to your schedule and do not adjust to hers. You are boss. Do you lock them in a shed or stall at night? That will drown out some of the noise in the morning for your neighbours and give you a spot to lock her up to help her calm down for a few hours if she gets too unbearable. Also do you feed free choice hay? This is a lifesaver. Goats always want to be eating something. By filling a hay feeder with hay each day she has something to nibble on if there is no grazing in her pen. Good luck! Feel free to email me anytime through the contact form on my About Me page.
We are new at all if this, but we are so excited. We are waiting on our baby boy Cooper , hes a fainting goat and we just purchased a full blooded pygmy. We pick her up in a couple days. Im so excited.
I got a pregnant goat and it the first owner I worried about it
Hi Tina, do you know how far along in the pregnancy the goat is? Or when she was bred? Why are you worried? Is she eating ok? Laying down a lot? There are lots of groups on Facebook that can answer some of your questions or feel free to shoot me an email so we can talk back and forth. I hope everything goes well for your girl!
Hello my name is Moriah, my dad owns a dairy farm and I would like to get some dairy goats because I love being a farmer but I don’t have enough land to be a dairy cow farmer, so I am going to try goats but I don’t quite know where to start there are so many breed choices and this is my first try with goats. This article was so helpful I’m just wondering if you have any more advice?
I know you may think I am a bit crazy, but I rescued a goat last week. She is 5 years old and has never lived with another goat. I had to keep her in a horse stall because fencing is not proper. I am a bit worried. She is not eating much (but is nibbling). My main concern is she doesn’t seem to be drinking much. I use a goat halter and lead rope and walk her out to the pasture. Her only goal is to get back into the stall. She is not overly afraid of me, but she doesn’t enjoy being touched, etc. Any suggestions????