Goats are wonderfully clever, friendly, and social animals, and while they can be a lot of fun, they can also be challenging! If you are thinking of adding goats to your homestead, there are a number of things you will need to prepare for.
The first things to think about are whether you have the time to care for them, the money to spend on their care and feeding, plenty of pasture and room for them to roam, and most importantly, a strong desire to raise goats! If these things don’t apply to you, you may want to consider supplying your milk needs through a herd share or a willing neighbor instead.
Here are some tips for success, as well as some of the main considerations to keep in mind if you want to raise goats.
Getting Started with Goats
Determine your purpose for keeping goats. Do you want to raise meat, dairy, fiber, brush- clearing, or multi-purpose goats?
Identify your conditions, requirements, and available resources for keeping goats. What infrastructure do you have or can you build to house goats? Do your goats need to be family-friendly or predator resistant? Is climate a concern (e.g cold winters, hot summers)? How much land do you have for pasture? How will you confine your escape artists?
Plan your budget. Goats need housing suitable to their purpose (e.g. minimal shelter for meat, plush shelter for milking), fencing, minerals, clean straw, and nutritious food. Bucks need separate housing and pasture or you need to factor in stud-related costs. Pasture development is costly and is labor intensive. Goat prices varies by breed and pedigree. Common breeds are easier to find, cost less to transport, and may already be well-adapted for your area so they save you on vet bills. Goat registration and showing goats may be necessary for selling speciality breeds. And stuff happens, so build in a fudge factor.
Choose the right breed(s). Your local agricultural or extension office should be able to direct you to breeders in your area. Wikepdia has a table of goat breeds with utility noted. Goat societies, breed clubs, and owner forums are also good sources for breed info. Typing “goats and homesteading” in your search engine can give you information on the breeds other homesteaders keep. Dig deep and get the dirt on potential breeds so you are fully prepared to meet the challenges of goat ownership.
Rely heavily on experienced goat owner information. Newbies like me are so thrilled about having goats that we want to share our joy with the world, but problems like parasite build-up in pastures, identifying and treating illnesses, and caring for or culling older or weaker goats are still distant concerns for us. Spend time on the less-polished websites and forum posts from long-time goat keepers.
Along with all that prep-work, make sure you know goat math…
Goat Management 101
If you have ever worked in an office environment, then you know what it’s like to work with goats. Does are wonderful workers, with great personalities, and they sure know how to schmooze up the boss (see this recent study to find out how).
They can also be moody and try to gore the guts from the doe in the next cubicle over. They are competitive eaters, are always in cliques, and are a.) lazy unless motivated or b.) high-strung and irritating if not sufficiently challenged. They are prissy when it comes to rain and wind and they poop everywhere – even in their food and water.
As far as I know there are no “drama-free” offices or goat herds. But as any good manager knows, you can make an environment more amiable and your workers more productive by considering needs, appreciating strengths, and encouraging collegiality and good health…
If you plan to milk goats, three separate spaces are recommended. You need: 1) a Milk Parlor, 2) a Kid Pen, and 3) a Goat Living Room. If you have resources for a goat mansion, then two others spaces are useful: 4) Birthing Rooms and 5) Bonding Chambers.
Goats are browsers and require a diverse diet for good health. As a new goat owner, I spent a lot of time studying up on goat feed. Initially, stories of malnutrition scared me into using “grain” as my main food supply. Grain, in the goat world, means something other than pasture or hay. I chose bagged pellets because they were convenient and formulated for goats. But I also took my goats on long walks and paid close attention to what they ate. I identified the plants and researched nutritional content.
Based on those observations, we fenced off an area that included all their favorites like black locust, red sumac, sourwood, maple, oak, and pine trees and lots of berry bushes and brambles. We then added pasture powerhouses like alfalfa, rye, mustard, lupines, cowpeas, hairy vetch and birdsfoot trefoil.