Raising goats can be part of the process when becoming self sufficient. Goats can also be kept for profit. Goats are versatile animals that can be used for meat, milk, fibers, and even kept as pets.
The following provides basic information regarding how to care for goats.
Preparing For the Goats
Goats need several acres of land to roam and feed on in order to be healthy and productive. These are not the kind of animals that will do well in small or confined areas.
Goats need adequate shelter from the elements. A barn is fine but not always necessary. In milder climates a three sided structure that is kept dry is usually adequate.
There also needs to be a sturdy fence to keep the goats inside and predators out. Strong fencing is just as important as shelter. Goats are intelligent animals and will try to find a way to get out.
Predators include wolves and wild dogs. Even tame dogs that are allowed to roam free in the area can be a potential threat. Goats will eat smaller trees. They will eat the bark off of larger trees to the extent that the trees will probably die.
Any trees in the area where the goats will graze must be fenced off so the goats can’t get to them. In general, goats will eat and climb on things most other animals would ignore. Keep this in mind when designating an area for the goats.
Choosing the Best Goats
Different goats are used for a variety of purposes. Some goats are used primarily as dairy goats. Some types of goats that are used for dairy purposes include the Alpine goats and the Nubians.
The Nubian goats have the classic floppy ears. Nubians are a good choice if you also want to make cheese or eventually use the goat for meat. Nubians, however, have loud, high pitched cries that can be annoying.
Goats that are bred for meat are usually larger animals. These include Boar goats, which can easily weigh over 300 pounds. Spanish goats with long hair and large horns are also used for meat.
Some goats are kept for angora and even cashmere. The goats used for these purposes are actually called Angora and Cashmere goats.
Before purchasing any goats there are several questions that need to be asked. Are the goats being bought registered anywhere?
Registered goats aren’t always better, but they usually have a tattoo or microchip for identification purposes. There will also be official papers to ensure the buyer that the goats are the type the seller claims they are.
Before buying goats a prospective owner should also ask about vaccinations the goats have received. Some of the basic vaccinations goats need include those for rabies, pneumonia, and tetanus.
A buyer may also want to know whether the goats are polled or disbudded. Polled means the goats are naturally hornless while disbudded means the horns were taken out.
Even if a buyer wants to start small, it’s still recommended to purchase at least three to five goats. Goats are social animals and do better in herds.
Feeding the Goats
Goats eat hay, grass, grain, and a variety of supplemental feed. Exactly what a goat eats depends on the stage of life and specifically what they will be used for.
If dairy goats are being raised the quality of the grass and supplements being used are extremely important. If an owner skimps on the quality of food, the quality of milk will suffer.
Goats usually prefer to eat forage that is less than 6 inches tall. It is recommended that they not be allowed to graze any lower than 2 inches from the ground.
Grazing too close to the ground will make them susceptible to parasites and intestinal problems.
Goats need a variety of minerals and natural occurring elements to remain healthy. Selenium, potassium, iron, salt, and sulfur are a few that are necessary for goats.
Some of these occur naturally in the soil and grassy parts of the environment. These minerals can be added to feed or mineral salts to make sure the goats get the proper nutrition.
Some of the equipment that will be needed for the feeding process include, water buckets, a hay manger, general food bowls, and food storage containers. There should be a separate container or box for a salt and mineral mix.
They will need clean, fresh water on a daily basis. Goats can drink water from a creek or other natural water sources as long as the water isn’t stagnant.
A constantly flowing creek or small river will keep most germs and parasites from breeding. It is best to have the water tested before allowing the goats to use the creek as a regular source of water.
Breeding is something many people are interested in when learning how to care for goats. Most female goats reach puberty between four and eight months.
The goat then has a cycle of approximately 21 days. During this 21 day cycle there are approximately one to three days when conception can occur.
The gestation period is about five months. Female goats that are pregnant may drink over three gallons of water a day. Keeping a constant supply of water is important when goats are pregnant.
The nutritional needs of goats increase dramatically during the last two months of the pregnancy. Twins are the most common number of kids a goat will carry. But it is not rare to have a single or triplets.
During breeding season bucks will usually urinate on themselves as a way to attract the females. It is recommended to bring individual females to the bucks for breeding instead of placing the buck with a large group of females.
Keeping the Goats Healthy
Before purchasing goats make sure to have a qualified veterinarian lined up. Not all vets have experience working with farm animals. Find a qualified vet who has knowledge about how to care for goats.
Make sure the vet will come to the farm or wherever the goats are being raised.
Adequate ventilation is necessary for healthy goats. That is why a three sided structure if often recommended as opposed to a barn. If goats are kept in an area that is airtight it can lead to respiratory problems.
There are several general signs that a goat is not healthy. Runny nose, runny eyes, and crusty eyes are signs that a goat may be ill. Not eating, drinking, or isolating itself from the rest of the herd are indications that the goat is sick.
A hot udder or grinding teeth are also signs of a sick goat.
To check if a goat is dehydrated pinch the skin in front of the shoulder in the neck area. If the skin snaps back quickly the goat is probably not dehydrated. If the skin stays folded for a while after pinching, dehydration is probably a problem.
To prevent bloating and other intestinal issues, don’t allow goats to graze if the pasture is wet from rain or even dew. Goats can also suffer from ticks, mites, and lice.
New goats brought into the herd should be initially quarantined until it can be determined that they are free from these external parasites. Goats are sometimes susceptible to stress. This can adversely affect their health.
Traveling, changes in their feeding schedule, and even dogs barking excessively can bring about stress related illnesses.
Finally, goats’ hooves grow rapidly and need to be trimmed on a regular basis. Some owners do this quarterly. Goats are smart, independent, and curious. These same qualities that can make them adorable can also make them infuriating.
Being well prepared and educated is the key to successfully raising and caring for goats.