Are you thinking about getting goats? Or maybe you’ve just bought some and you don’t know where to start. You’ve come to the right place!
I’ve created this article as a starting point for raising goats. I’ve compiled a wealth of information in this guide to goats for beginners.
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Decide What You’ll Be Doing With Your Goats
The type of goats that you decide to raise will determine how you need to set up your goat area and what type of supplies you’ll need. There are five basic ways that you can raise goats.
Keeping Meat Goats
Many goat farmers decide to raise goats to cash in on the rising goat meat market. You may not realize that goat meat is a hot market and brings good prices.
At the time of writing this, goat meat was bringing almost $8.50 per pound at my local markets. A 75-lb goat could easily bring $600 here.
There is a rising demand for goat meat, which is rich and lean. There’s so much of a demand in fact, that the U.S. has to import goat meat each year to meet the demands.
There are many breeds of meat goats out there, but the Boer goat is the most commonly raised meat breed. Their large frame is highly muscular and ideal for meat breeds.
If you’d like more information about raising meat goats, check out Penn State’s article about Meat Goat Production or Mississippi State’s article Meat Goat Management. Both of these are excellent resources that go into detail about the scientific side of raising meat goats for profit.
Keeping Dairy Goats
Dairy goats are another productive route that you can go. They can be a lot of fun as they are generally pretty docile and are used to being handled daily.
Plus, you’ll get milk and can dabble into cheese making.
And who doesn’t like cheese??
Goats can produce about 90 quarts of milk each month and usually lactate about 10 months out of the year. That’s a lot of milk!
To have dairy goats, obviously you’ll have to have females that are producing milk, which means you’ll have pregnant mommas.
However, just because you need pregnant mommas doesn’t mean that you need a male around.
Bucks, male goats, can be a handful, especially during breeding season. When a buck thinks it’s mating time, he will urinate all over himself (super attractive) and apparently the does think that’s hot stuff.
Aside from smelling like urine, bucks will also smell strongly of just… goat.
Bucks produce strong hormones that are responsible for that nasty goat smell that strong goat cheese or strong goat milk has.
Females that are around goats will also produce those strong smelling hormones and it gets into the milk, making it have that strong goat smell.
Do I need a buck?
Many people don’t like that in their milk or cheese, so dairy goat farmers usually decide to only keep nannies. When it’s breeding season, they will rent a buck or artificially inseminate their nannies.
This keeps the milk free of that strong goat odor.
Since nannies are the only goats needed to produce milk, males that are born can be sold as meat animals. Many dairy goat farmers will breed their nannies to meat goats in order to produce kids that they can market as meat goats.
Keeping Breeding Stock or Show Goats
I’ve lumped these two together as they tend to go hand in hand. If you want to raise breeding animals, one of the best ways to advertise and get your farm’s name out there is through showing them at livestock shows.
If you want to raise goats as breeding stock, you’ll need to get purebred animals. Make sure that they are registered, have good health records and come from a reputable breeder.
A good breeder will provide you with health and herd production records. Don’t attempt to purchase breeding or show animals from an auction as these are usually cull animals and not good quality.
Get the best you can afford.
One of the key things about raising breeding or show animals of any kind is to purchase the best quality animal that you can afford. It will pay off in the long run.
Even if that means that you can only afford to purchase two goats rather than ten. Buy the better animals.
They’ll be easier to sell, will be more productive and you’ll have less health issues, which will save you money in the long run.
If you’re interested in breeding purebred animals, you can really go in any direction as far as breeds. You can find more information about breeds of goats in Oklahoma State’s Breeds of Goats guide or check out this post from Morning Chores- 18 Best Goat Breeds for Milk and Meat Production.
If you’re a fan of rare or unique breeds (like me!), check out Heritage Livestock Breeds.
Keeping Brush Control Goats
Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past couple of years, I’m sure that you’ve seen something on the news about wildfires. A profitable way to raise goats, especially if you live in a wildfire prone area, is to use them as brush control.
Goats love to browse and would rather eat shrubs and twiggy material over grass any day. They make quick work of overgrown fields and wooded areas.
If you want to offer brush control, it’s a good idea to have some temporary electric fencing. Not all landowners have their land fenced off, and even if it is, it may not be goat-proof fencing.
What kind of goat do I need for brush control?
If you want to raise goats and use them as a brush control business, you can use any breed of goat, even crossbred goats.
A goat is great when it comes to eating overgrown fields.
Many people that raise goats for meat will also rent their animals out for brush control. It’s an easy way to earn extra money and also feeds your goats for free, putting more money in your pocket when you sell that meat animal.
Why is goat brush control better than conventional clearing?
Landowners love the idea of clearing overgrown land with goats. Goats tend to eat the shrubby plants that can’t be easily cut with a mower.
The land also has a clean, natural appearance after it has been grazed down by goats. Plus, the goats fertilize as they work.
Keeping Goats as Pets
If you are interested in keeping goats solely as pets, I would advise against it. Goats are domesticated livestock, but that doesn’t mean they are tame necessarily.
Goats, especially bucks, can be bad about headbutting and don’t care if they headbutt an adult or a child. This can be dangerous, especially if they have horns.
Goats are naturally very curious, which probably where the saying “goats will eat anything” comes from.
Goats explore their environment with their lips and will put anything into their mouths to check it out. Shirt buttons, wire, metal, your hair and small fingers are all free game to stick in their mouths.
They also love to climb.
Domestic goats are distantly related to mountain goats and love to be up high. This means that they will climb on anything like sheds, hay bales, fences and even cars if they get the chance.
I don’t want to scare you away from getting goats if you really want to, I just think they should be thought of as livestock, not pets. If they are properly managed, goats can be a lot of fun.
If you’re stuck on having a goat just as a pet, try a small breed like the Nigerian Dwarf.
Fencing and Housing Goats
Once you’ve determined what kind of goats you want to raise, you can think about their housing needs. Goats are pretty simple when it comes to meeting their housing needs, as long as you think like a goat… 🙂
Goats are notorious escape artists.
When you are putting up your fence, keep this in mind. If they could possibly climb out, they will. If they could potentially squeeze out, they will.
Heard the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side”? Must have been spoken by a goat because they all believe that.
If you meet their needs inside their fencing and housing, then they’ll be less likely to try to escape. And not all goats will give you trouble, but enough of them will that you need to be prepared.
Goat Fencing Tips
You can fence a larger range off with goat fencing or electrical fencing. If you have an existing fence that you want to make goat-proof, add a wire or two of electrical wire inside the fence that’s already there.
Make sure that any corner supports or support posts are on the outside of the fence or they will get climbed. Even if you think they can’t, they will.
Goat fences need to be at 4-5 feet tall. Active and large breeds will require the taller 5 foot fence.
Plan on the fact that your goats will climb on the fence and stand up it to see what’s on the other side. Choose sturdy fencing materials so the goats don’t break the fence and create holes.
Check fences regularly, daily if you can.
A short walk down the fences is easier than trying to herd goats that don’t want to be caught. If you notice something that needs to be repaired, fix it ASAP before it has the chance to turn into an escape route.
Use gate latches on the outside of the fence and use something that requires two steps like this one. Remember, goats love to explore with their mouths.
That includes gate latches.
Goats that learn to open latches didn’t learn by trying to open latches to escape, they just had it in their mouths when it opened and they could get out.
As far as housing goats, that is much simpler than fencing for goats. Goats don’t like to be in the rain, and won’t even graze in pastures in the rain. They need a place to escape the rain. A three sided run-in building with dirt floors will work fine. Make sure to put bedding down for them and keep it clean and dry.
For bedding, you can use straw, wood shavings or even leftover hay. Goats, just like any other livestock species, will waste some of their hay. Pick it up off of the ground and chunk it into their house so they can use it for bedding. Don’t be alarmed if they eat some of it while they lay in it.
I would also have a small stall or enclosed space where you could keep a sick goat or a nanny that’s about to give birth.
Goats are ruminants, similar to cattle and sheep. However, don’t think about them the same way that you would cattle and sheep.
They aren’t grazing animals and can’t survive on fresh grass alone. Goats are actually more similar to deer in terms of their dietary needs.
Goats need some sort of forage as the main source of their diet. They need about 2-4 lbs of forage each day. They can get this through hay or pasture. Keep in mind though that even goats on grass pasture will need hay to supplement their diet.
Almost any kind of hay will do.
You can get a mixed grass, which is usually cheaper. Just make sure that it’s clean, good quality and free of dust and mold. (TIP- to check hay for dust and mold, shake a flake of it. If you see a cloud, it’s probably moldy.)
Legume hays like clover or alfalfa are also good choices.
Alfalfa is going to cost a little bit more than a mixed grass hay, but it has a higher protein content, which means you’ll spend less on supplemental grain or feed. Alfalfa also has higher calcium, which makes it a good choice for goats in milk.
You can keep goats healthy by providing them good pasture and quality hay.
There are times that you’ll need to give your goats grain or feed. Does that have kids may need some extra calories so she can produce enough milk to support multiple babies.
You may also need to give your goats extra feed in the winter so they don’t lose weight.
Are they getting enough?
The goats will let you know if they need extra feed or not. Make it a habit to touch them every day and feel down their sides. If they start to feel ribby or you can feel bones protruding, they need extra calories.
A pot-bellied goat is not a fat goat. Healthy goats have a pot-bellied goat because of their ruminant stomach. Ruminant stomachs are quite large and when full, take up a lot of space.
Always provide your goats with free choice minerals.
Most feed stores will carry goat minerals.
When picking out a mineral to use, choose one that is loose, not a block. Also, make sure that it has copper in it. If you get a goat and sheep mineral, it probably won’t have copper, so double check that.
Goats also tend to prefer mineral mixes that have salt in them.
You can feed goats kitchen scraps as treats if you want to. They love fruit peels and can take care of most fruit or vegetable scraps that you don’t put into your compost pile.
Make sure that your goats always have access to clean drinking water. Dirty water can make goats sick, so keep it clean. Elevating it helps keep it clean. You can put it up on a platform to lift it off of the ground.
In the winter, make sure the water doesn’t freeze. They can’t get to it if it’s frozen. Use a bucket heater or a heated bucket to prevent their water from freezing. If you use a bucket heater, make sure the cord is out of the way of being chewed on.
Goats that are well taken care of don’t have many health issues. Remember when I said to make it a habit to feel of your goats every day?
If you spend a few minutes observing them and touching them each day, you’ll be able to quickly tell if something is wrong.
One of the biggest issues goats run into is internal parasites. All animals have worms, including goats. You can’t ever get rid of them. They’ll always be there and it’s more a matter of keeping them in check than ‘getting rid of them’.
Make it a habit to perform quick eye membrane checks occasionally on your goats.
When you pull the lower eyelid down, the inner eyelid should be dark pink or red. If it’s light pink or white, your goat is anemic, probably due to worms and needs immediate wormer.
Only use chemical wormers when necessary to avoid creating wormer-resistant parasites.
Perform FAMACHA checks on your goats occasionally to check your herd for parasite loads. It’s easy, quick and can save your goat’s life. Your veterinarian can help you set up a parasite worming and checking routine.
Goats can have nutritional deficiencies that can make them sick. The two most common are from copper deficiency and selenium deficiency. This can easily be avoided by providing your goats access to a good quality goat mineral mix that has copper and selenium in it.
Copper deficiency is usually first detected by poor coat quality.
When you feel of your goats, the hair should be smooth. If it’s rough and lacks shine, they probably need copper. Copper also helps their bodies fight off internal parasites. Goats that don’t get enough copper can become anemic due to parasite overloads.
It’s a good idea to give your goat a copper bolus if you have to worm them just in case the worm problem was due to a lack of copper.
Selenium deficiency is a little harder to detect. It causes reproductive problems and can result in weak kids at birth. Make sure that right before the breeding season (late summer/early fall) your goats are getting plenty of selenium to avoid issues.
Goats can have issues with their hooves if not taken care of properly.
Goat hooves grow continuously, similar to horses and should be trimmed regularly. Plan on trimming hooves about once a month unless the goats have access to rocky areas or concrete, which will wear the hooves down some.
A good, sharp pair of hoof trimmers will make the job easier.
Goats that are kept in wet, soggy conditions can develop foot rot. Foot rot is caused by a fungus that gets in between the two sides of the hoof and wreaks havoc. You can always tell easily if a goat has foot rot because of the strong odor.
For more information about goat diseases and health, check out Common Diseases and Health Problems in Goats from Purdue University.
Goats are social animals and require other goats to be happy and healthy. The question then boils down to, should I have males or females or both?
To answer this question, let’s talk more about breeding goats in general.
I mentioned earlier that if you want dairy goats, you probably don’t want to keep a buck on your farm. That means that you’ll have to locate a buck from a local farm to breed your does each year.
Make sure that you can do that before you decide not to get a buck.
Bucks become different creatures during breeding season. Their only focus is breeding and it’s best to leave them alone during the breeding season.
Bucks will urinate on themselves before breeding a doe, so don’t think there is something wrong with your buck if he does that (even though it seems wrong!).
Goats are short-day breeders.
This means that they come into heat as the days get shorter, so in the fall. You’ll be able to tell when it’s breeding season because the girls will become very vocal for no apparent reason. Make sure that your herd is healthy and has access to plenty of selenium before and during the breeding season.
Does will give birth once a year to at least one kid. It’s common for goats to have twins and not unheard of for them to even have triplets. (TIP- if you plan on breeding goats continuously, having twins or triplets is hereditary, so females that were a twin or triplet are more likely to give birth to twins or triplets.)
Make sure that pregnant mommas have a warm, dry spot to give birth. You may want to have a separate stall for pregnant nannies so that they have a private place to give birth and you can watch them.
Goat births will usually go naturally as planned without any assistance from you. Be present for the birth to monitor her and make sure everything goes ok. Have your veterinarian’s phone number just in case of an emergency.
Goats are a great livestock species to raise for beginners or someone that has small spaces. They have hilarious personalities and will not cease to amaze you with their curious minds and athletic abilities.
Make sure that you have a plan in place before you get goats, or decide what you want to do with your goats if you already have some! Goats can be a profitable venture if you go about it the right way.
Are you buying goats soon? What do you plan on doing with them? I’d love to know! Hit me up below!