Got goat fever? Well, you’re not the only one – after chickens, goats are the fastest growing livestock animal in the US today. But how can you get started with goats on the homestead? They’re becoming very popular on homesteads because they’re easy to care for and useful. They are great for small homesteads because they don’t require pastures, are easily handled and housed, and can provide meat, milk, fiber, fertilizer, and brush control. Goat milk cheese and goat meat are becoming a fast popular item in the States as well. But, before you bring them home, here are some things to think about.
First, why do you want goats?
Goats are divided into three types; meat, dairy, and fiber. There are several breeds in each category. Any of the breeds can be used for both meat and milk; but they’re classified according to their main use. There’s also one breed within each type that’s considered miniature (the Pygmy, Pygora, and Nigerian Dwarf), and that can be kept in suburban settings (if local zoning allows it) because of their small size.
Once you’ve picked a breed, it’s a good idea to visit some reputable breeders, look over their goats, ask questions, and make sure you’re happy with the support they’ll provide if you buy from them. Finding an experienced goat vet can be difficult in many areas, even rural ones, so having someone to call if you have an issue is invaluable. There are also several serious goat diseases that you’ll want to avoid (CAE, CL, Johnes, Brucellosis, and TB); and reputable breeders will provide evidence that their herds are disease free. It’s better to avoid goats from auctions, as they can bring hidden problems or diseases with them.
Goats Are Social Animals
Goats are very social, so your herd should start with at least two. Male goats are called “bucks” and can be quite smelly during mating season, so you may choose to NOT keep a buck if there is a breeding buck close by. If you choose to keep a buck, you will want to provide separate housing from the females, called “does” so you can control when they are bred. The buck smell can also affect the milk, so that’s another reason to keep them separate. Most does can have 2-3 kids per year, so your herd will grow quickly if you want it to.
Housing Your Goats
Goat housing ideally includes a barn with room for the goats and their kids, water, feed storage, lights, and an area to milk in (if you’re going to be milking). All that’s absolutely required; however, is a three-sided shelter to keep them dry and out of the wind. They do need protection from predators (coyotes, mountain lions, stray dog packs, etc.), so housing them in a barn often makes sense. Goat chores such as milking, kidding assistance, feeding, and watering are also much more comfortable for us when they’re in a barn. Our barn consists of an old 8×10 metal shed and that seems to be just fine for our 2 girls. Just keep in mind that goats are addictive, habit forming and you may find you will have more than 2 in no time at all.
For general care, you will need to provide food and roughage for your goat. Roughage can be in the form of quality hay alone if you don’t have an area for them to “browse”. Goats generally like to eat up and will happily munch on poison ivy, brambles and other nuisances. For that reason alone, goats are becoming a popular animal to own, in order to clear brush from a field. You will also need to provide hoof trimming and worming for internal parasites.
Goats Are The Houdini Of Farm Animals
Goat fencing is a very important, as goats are escape experts. Ours could escape UNDER the fence by squeezing her body through a small gap. There are many options available, but woven wire fencing that’s at least four feet tall is highly recommended, and welded wire fencing is not (goats break the welds by rubbing and standing on the fencing). Many owners combine woven wire fencing with electric strands at the top and bottom (on the outside). The electric at the top keeps the goats off the fence and the electric at the bottom helps keep predators out. Woven wire spacing of 2” x 4” rather than 4” x 6” is recommended if horned goats or miniature breeds are being fenced (so the horns don’t get caught as easily and the miniatures can’t slip through).
As you can see, owning a herd of goats doesn’t really require much, but careful planning before you buy will keep you and your goats happy and healthy! And besides all the practical reasons, they are so cute and will steal your heart!
What are some goat breeds you are considering? What do you want to keep them for?