How to Raise and Care for Goats
Goats are friendly, curious and, at times, feisty. They make good pets, helpful dairy animals, and a wonderful addition to the homestead. Maybe you are just in the beginning stages of deciding if you want to add goats to your homestead, or maybe you are just looking to know more about the care and needs of these animals. I am here to give you a run down of what it takes to keep and care for these animals.
Goats are pretty easy when compared to some farm animals. They don't require a lot of constant care, and there is the added bonus that they eat all those pesky weeds in your yard—including poison ivy! I know some cats and dogs that are more needy than most goats. Give them a shelter, food, and water, and they are happy. Remember that goats are herd animals, so plan to have enough space for at least two goats in order to keep them happy.
Goats are pretty hardy, but they do require a shelter to allow them to get out of the elements. They do not like to get wet and can also become sick when they are out in inclement weather with no shelter available. The shelter does not need to be fancy: a simple three-sided structure is sufficient. The open side should face south, unless this happens to be where you wind comes from. Also be sure to pitch the roof away from this opening. You should plan on having at least 20 square feet of space indoors per goat, though you can go a little smaller if you have chosen a miniature breed. A dirt floor is best for goats as it provides better drainage and won't rot like a wood floor.
Bedding isn't necessarily a must: straw or sawdust is good to use in the wintertime but I usually don't add any bedding unless it is needed in the warmer months. They make quite a mess with their hay, so they make their own bedding in the summer. If you do provide bedding, be sure to clean it out at least once a week in the warmer months. In the colder months, you can layer bedding and clean it out completely about once a month.
Goats can be hard on fences, so make sure you construct a strong one. You can choose from a variety of options, such as electric, woven wire, welded wire, or cattle panels, but it should be at least four feet high, and tight enough so that they cannot push it down. Goats can jump higher than you think when they can get a running start, and they also have a tendency to push on a fence, especially when they see you coming with treats or attention. It can be a good idea to run a strand of electric wire along the top of your fence to keep them from leaning on the fence and knocking it down or bending it over.
You will need to provide at least 200 sq. ft. of space per goat in your fenced run, although again you can go a little bit smaller if you are raising miniatures. Remember this is a minimum, and your goats will be much happier with more space to run and play. They also lead very well and can be tied out to eat in different areas of your yard. Just make sure you check on them often when they are tied out, since they can, and will, get themselves wrapped around things as they eat their way through leaves, grass, and weeds.
This should go without saying, but your goats will need a constant supply of good fresh water. You can give them warm water in the winter, which they will appreciate.They drink a lot, so invest in an automatic waterer or check daily. We use five-gallon buckets filled once a day around here.
Goats require some supplemental feed—especially does who are in heat, pregnant or in milk. Bucks in rut also require more feed. Most feed stores will carry a feed suitable for goats. Open does only require one to three cups per day, depending on their size and weight. Pregnant does and bucks will need about three cups a day. Milking does need a lot more: I let mine eat as much as she wants while she is getting milked, and I also feed her a bit at night too. Wethers only need a small amount, no more than a cup.
You also need to make sure you provide hay for them daily as well as forage. They will make a huge mess with their hay, and it will seem like they are wasting most of it since they won't eat it after it is on the ground. Buying or building a hay feeder with some type of surface to catch all this hay is a good idea and they will waste less. Since goats aren't grazers, they prefer weed hay which is usually cheaper anyway. They love alfalfa too, and you can give them that as a treat now and then.
Forage is very important. If they have eaten down their yard, try and let them out to browse at least once a day and throw them weeds and trimmings from your yard work. My kids have a great time bringing treats to the goats: leaves, weeds, dandelions. Make sure you know your yard too....goats love to eat, but they can't eat everything, and some things are poisonous to them. Fias Co. Farms has a great list of plants that are toxic to goats. Most of the time they will avoid those things that will make them sick, but not always, especially if forage is hard to come by.
The only other thing you will need to provide for your goats is loose minerals. They need their vitamins just like us! Most feed stores or Tractor Supply will have minerals for goats. Make sure they are labeled for goats and not sheep, as sheep cannot have the amount of copper that goats require.
Now that we've covered living and feeding arrangements I want to talk about the routine care you need to provide to keep your goats healthy.
- Hoof Trimming: Goat's hooves are like fingernails that need to be trimmed. Invest in a good pair of trimmers that are nice and sharp. Keeping their hooves in good shape is very important and isn't a job to be ignored.
- Worming: You will also need to keep an eye out for intestinal worms and treat as needed. You can go with chemical wormers- which are becoming more and more ineffective as worms get resistant to them. Or you can go with herbals. We have always used an herbal dewormer and have only had one goat have a problem that couldn't be solved with them. And I blame myself for forgetting to give the weekly dose of the product. Your local feed store will have all the chemical worming medicines and you can purchase a great herbal formula from Molly's Herbals.
- Vaccinations: As in people, not everyone believes in vaccinating their animals, so if you are one of them you can skip this part. I don't vaccinate for everything but I do believe that every goat should be vaccinated for Tetanus. It's not a pretty disease and it can be near impossible to recover from even if caught early. Do your research and make an informed decision, but I would highly recommend vaccinating against this one thing.
- Emergency Situations: As with any pet, make sure you are prepared for an emergency. Have a medicine cabinet with basic supplies and the number of a vet who is knowledgeable about goats. Goats are hardy, but they can get into trouble. They could break a horn, get injured or come down with a severe case of worms. You don't want to play around so be prepared.
Can't Decide Which Breed of Goat to Get?
- Raising Goats: How to Choose a Breed
Do you want to get goats? Read this summary of the many different goat breeds to find out which one suits your needs best.