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!