This article is a guide to raising goats at home. There are a ton of potential uses for goats- they can be used to produce meat, milk and cheese, hides and fleece. They will also clear weeds faster than any herbicide, and they make great pets.
CHOOSING A GOAT
There are some things to take into consideration when selecting goats. First, remember that goats are herd animals, and like to be around other goats. Consider getting at least two, and from the same herd if possible to make the adjustment period easier.
Try and get goats from a similar environment as the one you’re bringing them into. A goat from a small herd will adapt better than one coming from a farm with hundreds of goats (unless, of course, you’re planning on keeping hundreds of goats on your property, then the opposite holds true!) If your goats will spend most of their time outdoors, make sure they are used to this, and vice versa. If your goat was raised on antibiotics, dropping it into a 100% organic environment may be too tough on its system.
If space is limited, look for a smaller breed of goat.
Goats from farms will generally be healthier than those from livestock auctions. The latter will have been exposed to other goats and may have caught something, and may suffer from “shipping fever”.
Registered goats cost more and are more valuable. With them you have assurance that they’re of the breed claimed, and they often have a tattoo or microchip that makes them easier to find if stolen.
Personality wise, goats come in a wide range. Some will be docile and obedient, some will be rebellious and a struggle to handle. When they’re young it will be hard to tell where they fall, and it is kind of a crap shoot. If you’re buying them as an adult, keep in mind you’re likely getting one that leans to the latter- owners tend to keep their good ones.
Questions to Ask Before Choosing A Goat:
Some questions to consider asking before choosing a goat:
1) Is the goat registered?
2) Has it been tested for disease?
3) What vaccinations has it received?
4) Have there been any health problems or sudden deaths within the goat herd in the past few years?
5) What was the feeding program?
6) If you’re raising the goats for meat, milk or fleece, make sure to ask what yields were received in the past.
Best Breeds of Goat
Different goat breeds are good for certain purposes:
1) Producing Meat: Boer, Spanish and Kiko goats are best for meat.
2) Producing Dairy: Saanens goats will produce a high volume of lower quality milk; Alpines and LaMacha goats will produce a rich milk; Toggenburgs will produce a thin milk; Nigerian Pygmy goats will produce a creamy milk; Nubian goats will produce milk great for making cheese with.
3) Producing fleece: Cashmere and Spanish goats produce Cashmere; Angora goats will produce mohair.
4) As Pets: Pygmy and Dwarf goats make great pets.
HOUSING YOUR GOATS
Your goats will need shelter from the elements. They will need shade from the sun, and protection from the wind, snow and rain. They also need a place to sleep when the weather is less than ideal. Non-insulated barns are generally enough in most of North America, provided there is no draft in the barn.
Newborns are particularly affected by the cold, so try not to have your goats kid (give birth) during the winter. If they do, bring the kids (baby goats, yes this gets confusing) inside for the first few days.
Over the winter, continuously add a layer of bedding to the bar floor. It will release heat and keep your goats warm during the cold months. In the spring, this stinky mess can be swept out.
Making a Sleeping Shelf
Goats will sleep outside in good weather, but need a place to sleep indoors when it isn’t. Building a sleep shelf in the corner of a barn or garage will give your goats a place to sleep as well as give your kids (DISCLAIMER: your baby goats, not your actual children, please) a place to curl up and not get stepped on.
Here is a great tutorial on how to build one cheaply and easily:
KEEPING YOUR GOATS SAFE
Goats are curious creatures, and have many natural predators. As such, you will need to find ways to keep them in, and keep the predators out.
Fencing and Tethering
In most cases you will need some kind of fencing around the areas your goats will graze and frequent in. Be aware that goats will constantly be checking for weak spots in your fence. They can also jump fences up to 4 feet high, sometimes higher. A high fence with some sort of electric wire added is usually the most effective way to keep goats in and predators out.
Tethering your goats is a cheaper alternative, but comes with some issues. First, it doesn’t keep predators away, and now the goats can’t even run away. They become sitting goats (see what did there?). Second, goats are social creatures. If they’re tethered too far from each other, they will be lonely. Too close, and they’ll constantly become a tangled mess. Also, goats like to climb things, and if there’s something within their reach a tether can inadvertently turn into a noose that hangs your goat. Consider these factors when choosing fencing and/or tethering.
Another good idea is to have some kind of animal protector for your herd. Guardian dogs have been used for ages for this purpose. They will bond with the goats and see them as their own, protecting them aggressively.
Donkeys and Lamas can also serve as a warning signal for predators, but offer less in the way of physical protection. Kind of like the difference a security guard and a good alarm system.
FEEDING YOUR GOATS
Your goats will need hay and grain every day, as well as a field to graze in and mineral and nutrient supplements.
They prefer weedy hay, leafy over stemmy. It should have a good mix of grass and legumes.
You can feed them some grain, but not too much. An adult goat should have 5 pounds of hay and 1 pound of grain every day to optimize milk production.
Supply your goats with a mineral supplement, a salt block and some dried kelp for other nutrients.
In general, you can let kids feed on their mother’s milk for a few days, then allow them to feed on hay as well.
If you’re raising goats for meat, let them feed off their mother’s milk for 12-16 weeks, then start to wean them. Weaning will cause separation anxiety between mother and offspring, but can be minimized if the young ones are kept in a place where the mother cannot see or hear them.
If you want to harvest the mother’s milk, you can take the baby away at birth and bottle feed them. This will cause them to see you as their mother though, which can lead to issues later on.
Supplies You Will Need:
Some items you will need in the goat feeding process:
1) Containers to store your feed
2) Water buckets
3) Food bowls
4) A manger for your hay
5) A Mineral feeder
6) A salt block
Goats will graze on your property, so make sure there are no poisonous plants on your land.
Goats can kill a small tree in minutes, stripping it of its leaves then its bark. Add protection to any tree in the area that isn’t fully developed.
Rotating the pastures your goats graze on can help reduce parasites and is better for the land.
MILKING, SHEARING, AND SLAUGHTERING YOUR GOAT
A goat must give birth (a process known as kidding, which offers the potential for hours of double entendre) before producing milk. They will usually breed after 1 year, and spend 5 months in gestation, after which producing 2-3 kids and being ready to milk.
If no kids are feeding off of the mother, you can milk her 2 times a day (make it at the same time every day).
Breed your goats once per year, which will keep them producing milk indefinitely (you should stop milking her 2 months before she’s expected to give birth). A goat will produce milk for about 7 years.
Avoid having bucks near your does if possible. They will make her milk taste bad. The best situation for mating is to rent a buck when your doe is in heat. You will know a doe is in heat when she wags her tail and becomes louder, especially when smelling a buck.
Make sure you know your local regulations before selling goat milk.
Selling goat cheese is about 5 times more profitable per gallon of milk then simply selling the milk is. It takes more work, but not much, and is generally worth it.
Shearing, Trimming Hooves and Slaughtering
Here is a guide to how and when to shear a goat:
Here’s a guide to trimming a goat’s hooves:
And lastly (particularly for the goat), here’s a guide to slaughtering:
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Good luck and stay prepared!