So you’ve been thinking about raising goats for a long time but there’s so much information out there on how to do it.
You’ve caught yourself admiring random goat farms on your morning commute and you’ve finally decided it’s time to start your own herd.
It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking to try to figure out the best ways to go about starting your first goat herd, but this guide gives you everything you need to do it right the first time.
- 1 The History of Goats as Livestock
- 2 Why Should You Raise Goats?
- 3 The Challenges of Raising Goats
- 4 Which Breed Of Goat Should You Raise?
- 5 How Much Elbow Room Does a Goat Need?
- 6 A Roof Over Your Goats’ Heads
- 7 Keeping The Escape Artists In
- 8 What Do Goats Enjoy Eating?
- 9 Where to Buy Your Goats
- 10 A Healthy Goat Looks Like This
- 11 Routine Goat Care Concerns
- 12 It’s Time To Get Your Herd
The History of Goats as Livestock
Humans have relied on goats for a very long time, in fact they are one of the earliest domesticated animals. We’ve called upon goats for life-sustaining resources and used them to barter for goods and services. Goats have even been worshipped as gods.
The connection we have with these amazing animals goes back centuries and it’s no wonder! The benefits of nurturing your own herd will prove to outweigh any of a goat’s quirky nuances (more on that later).
Why Should You Raise Goats?
Aside from the fact that goats, and their kids, are adorable and quirky, there’s a lot more they have to offer. Whether you’re looking for food and milk for your family, companionship, or profits, goats have a little something for everyone.
Food and Milk
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “As of 2010, the most recent year for which figures have been analyzed, goat made up about 6 percent of red meat consumption worldwide.”
It’s true, and if your goal is to make a profit from goat products, the market is teeming with consumers looking for this mild meat.
And of course, goat milk makes for delicious cheeses and supreme handsoaps. So if you simply can’t imagine butchering a goat for meat, other products can be created from these comical critters.
Goats are intelligent livestock that has been used for their milk, meat, hides, and strength…but they can also be trained to do many other things and often become a part of the family.
Goat kids are fun to watch and play with, and establishing a relationship with your favorite goat from kid-on makes for a long-term friendship that can be fostered in many rewarding ways.
Cart and Pack Goats
Yes, goats can learn to take on the heavy burdens you may face on your homestead. Goats have been taught to carry packs of essential equipment for long, or short, journeys to help their human counterparts.
Special goat carts are made for goats to carry wagons or youngsters. And while this may seem a tad rude (asking your favorite goat to carry your things) they seem to truly enjoy the work.
Goats Aren’t Lawnmowers But….
Goats are weedeaters. Some goat owners swear by their goats’ abilities to trim down the weeds and leave the lawn.
Most goats are excellent foragers and love unsightly, annoying, weeds like burdock. So if you’ve got a bit of a burdock epidemic, unleash your goats on it and you won’t be disappointed.
The Challenges of Raising Goats
Goats are mostly all fun and games…but not always. I like to refer to them as the Houdini’s of the cattle industry.
Well, let me tell you. These stinkers will escape any fencing that hasn’t been properly goat-proofed.
Goats can jump at least 4ft, which is the minimum height you should plan to have for your fencing. And if goats can go over a fence, you better believe it’s just as easy for them to go under.
Goats have a tendency to get down on their knees and crawl under fencing. So don’t be surprised if they shimmy under your hotwire without a single shock!
And a disappearing goat isn’t the only challenge you’ll face with your new herd:
Goats Need Pampering and Maintenance
Goats are a bit of a handful when it comes to their curiosity. They love to test the waters and try new things.
For example, goats love to forage…on nearly everything! So if you’ve got old wooden posts, they may even sample them in the pasture. It’s wise to check your pastures and shelter regularly for damage from a curious goat.
Remember, if they can, they will escape!
Which Breed Of Goat Should You Raise?
A goat isn’t just a goat. There are over 200 different goat breeds in the world! So if you want a variety in your collection, you can certainly find something to fit your fancy.
Any goat could technically be used for meat or milk, but some are better at one job than the other. It’s important to understand that some goat breeds serve different purposes better.
Let’s take a look at the best breeds for the following purposes:
Dairy Goat Breeds
The best milking goats are also referred to as dairy goats. These are goats that tend to produce the most milk in the shortest amount of time. They have a lot of kids in their lifetime (15-18 years) and have the body structure to bare the breeding, kidding, and their own udders.
Good dairy goat breeds include:
- Nigerian Dwarf
Each of these breeds has unique characteristics that make them attractive to different goatherds.
(A goatherd is a person who tends a herd of goats…get used to it, because that’s what you’ll be after you finish reading this post)
Meat Goat Breeds
Meat goat breeds tend to be stockier than their dainty dairy counterparts. They have wide chests and build astounding amounts of muscle mass. They can still be milked, but if you’re looking for high production, consider one of the above-mentioned dairy breeds.
Good meat goat breeds include:
Some goatherds prefer one of the above breeds over the other due to hardiness, or personality for example. Which breed you decide to nurture depends on your priorities, landscape, climate, and many other factors.
For example, Boer goats are an extremely hardy goat breed with a fantastic personality. So if you live in cold climates and are looking for a breed with a docile temperament, a Boer goat may be your best bet.
Fiber Goat breeds
Fiber goats are often kept for their “hair” and in many cases, this fiber is highly sought after by crafters, knitters, or other fiber artists.
Fiber goats have specific care concerns that other breeds of coats don’t typically have. Their hair is their most prized product and care must be taken to ensure they remain clean and “tag-along” free.
Some of the most popular fiber goat breeds are:
Pet Goat Breeds
Truth time…any goat can be a pet goat.
Goats come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments but what it really comes down to are your preferences.
For simplicities sake, the following goats are the best goat breeds for pets due to their charming temperaments:
- Nigerian Dwarf
A word of caution when it comes to pet goats: does and wether’s (a castrated male) make the best pet goats. Intact bucks can be considered but they may become aggressive when they are in rut (more on this soon) and sadly, they become quite smelly and non-snuggleable as they mature.
No matter what purpose you’d like your goats to serve, you can always mix and match breeds.
Because goats are like chips, you can’t have just twenty.
How Much Elbow Room Does a Goat Need?
Goats can thrive in fairly small areas, especially if you compare spacial needs to that of other livestock, like steers for example.
With that being said, it’s always wise to evaluate the space you have available before you consider purchasing your first goat herd. And it’s important to consider your end goal when assessing your land and shelter space because a large dairy operation might need more space than you think.
So let’s take a look at general (average) requirements for how much space you need per goat:
Indoor Space Requirements for Goats
If you intend to confine your herd to the indoors, you need to have at least 20 feet available per goat. Now, this doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t, but many dairy operations use this format for their herds and the goats do just fine.
I always say that it’s more polite to give your goats more elbow room rather than squeezing them in tight conditions. A cramped barn creates a musty environment and the possibility of respiratory infections if proper ventilation is not provided.
So if you aren’t sure, give ‘em a little more space.
How Many Acres of Pasture Do You Need Per Goat?
Six to eight standard-sized goat breeds do very well on one acre of land if it provides the kind of nutrition your goats are seeking.
Remember, goats aren’t like horses or cattle, they like woodsy weeds and whatnot. And if they don’t see what they like in their dedicated pasture, they’ll undoubtedly move on to weedier pastures despite your fencing-in efforts.
If your pasture doesn’t have a hodgepodge of grasses and legumes, it’s important to plan ahead and plant these types of pasture mixes. And in the meantime, hay that has a good mix of both legumes and grasses will provide the nutrition your goats need to thrive.
As a last resort, grain formulated for your type of goat can help supplement what they are missing in their diet. Often, feed mills employ an animal nutritionist that can help you create the perfect mix for your goats.
A Roof Over Your Goats’ Heads
Your new herd needs access to shelter to escape the elements when necessary. While goats are hardy little critters, they do need to get out of the cold, wind, snow, and rain.
If you have a barn, that’ll do, but if you need to provide shelter for your goats, simple field shelters will do nicely. Lean-tos are great for a large herd of goats to snuggle into and keep each other warm during the winter months.
Small, mobile, shelters are perfect if you want to have the option to rotate your herd to different pastures throughout the year.
When constructing a shelter, taking the following into consideration:
- The shelter should allow at least 10 sq feet per goat
- The opening should face away from winds
- A lower roof holds heat
- Ensure there is proper ventilation
Repurposed calf hutches, chicken coops, carports, or Quonset sheds work just as well for goats. I promise they aren’t picky about housing.
Keeping The Escape Artists In
Goatherds have differing opinions about the best kind of fencing for goats. For me, all I ask is that it’s safe and keeps my goats inside.
Easier said than done, right?
Well, here’s the best goat fencing options for you to consider for your new herd:
Electric Fencing for Goats
Use a minimum of 5 strands of electric fencing, at least 4 ft tall, if you go this route. Most goats will respect a hot-wire fence after their first shock. But remember, they’re smart little buggers and will probably test the fence over time, so don’t be caught with a short!
A note about electric fencing for Angora goats: Unfortunately, hot-wire will only keep Angora goats in when they have recently been sheared. This is true for most fluffy-haired breeds. Their hair insulates them, and unless they are touching their noses to the fence, they may not get the shock they need to keep them from trying again.
Cattle panels are extremely tough fencing options and are great for keeping a rutty buck separated from the does. This option is more costly than the others on this list, but it may give you peace of mind to have a strong structure in place.
Some panels aren’t good for young kids, as they can escape through the openings, nor are they suitable for goats with horns. Horns have a tendency to get stuck in fencing that stands between a curious goat and some scrumptious-looking brush.
4-inch Woven Wire
Woven wire is a less costly alternative to panels, but be sure the square openings aren’t large enough for your goats to get their noggins caught in. This type of fencing is superior to welded wire because it’s sturdier and holds up to climbers and leaners.
What Do Goats Enjoy Eating?
Goats get most of their nutrition from the browse they eat. A lot of this will include brush, weeds, saplings, and shrubs. But goats can also chomp on green pasture, so while the rumors are true that goats can eat a lot of different things…it’s also a fact that they are very picky eaters.
Goats are Ruminants
No, I didn’t sneeze, ruminants are animals that have a special kind of stomach. Food travels through four different compartments of the stomach in ruminant animals.
So what does that mean?
It means your goats need roughage, like hay. And each goat needs around three pounds of hay per day when they don’t have access to the browse and pasture they’d normally munch on during the warm months.
You can give your goats alfalfa hay, legume, or horse hay and they will be plenty happy. But you may also need to provide proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the form of grain if your goats aren’t getting the nutrition they need out of their pasture or hay stock.
Where to Buy Your Goats
Alright, are you ready? It’s time to think about where you’re going to find your first goats.
Did you notice that when I’m referring to your goats I’m using the plural form of the word? That’s because goats thrive best when there’s more than one of them. As a herd animal, a goat needs companionship, protection, and direction, from its fellow herd mates. So if you are planning on getting a goat, just know you’re actually getting at least two.
Goats can be found almost anywhere, and once you start looking, your options will start to surprise you and open your eyes to the community of goat lovers local to you!
Get to know your fellow goat enthusiasts and learn as much as you can from them. You’ll encounter good goatherds and not-so-good goatherds so choose your company wisely, and then take it all in!
You can find goats in the following ways, but start looking at reputable breeders with references and work your way down the list:
- Breeders (Google goat breeders, search for websites, and join breed-specific facebook groups)
- County Fairs (check out the show ring and mingle with other goatherds)
- Classifieds (craigslist, facebook groups, or newspapers)
- Auctions (Auction houses local to you)
A Healthy Goat Looks Like This
When you first start goat shopping, certain things may not be as noticeable. It’s hard to look beyond the adorableness of goats and find their flaws. But try your best to ask questions about goat health history, herd history, deworming program, and vaccination records.
A good goatherd has their goats tested for Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) a virus that causes arthritis mainly affecting the back legs and inflammation of the brain in young kids. So always ask if the goats you are interested in are from a CAE negative-tested herd.
A healthy goat should be alert, not appear malnourished, have a clean backend, and a healthy gate. Limping is never a good sign, nor is diarrhea or lethargy. No matter how cute the goat is, if it looks sickly and the owner hasn’t answered all your questions, you should probably pass.
Herd Behavior or Misbehavior
As you now know, goats love to be social. They thrive off each other, protect each other, and learn from one another. But sometimes goats do some strange things—things we don’t understand.
So it’s important to understand the social nuances amongst your goat herd so you can understand why they do what they do and help keep them happy and healthy.
They Move Together
Goats move as one big unit. The doe decides when and where the herd moves and leads them to her ideal browsing location. You may hear fellow goatherds refer to the alpha doe, as the queen of the herd.
And like most royal families, there’s a king in this herd, and it’s the alpha buck of the band. He usually follows behind the herd, protecting them from potential dangers.
The King of the Land
While the buck isn’t the leader 24/7, he does get to take the lead when he is in rut.
Rut is a term used to describe a buck who has a hormone “high” and is ready to take on the breeding season. Does usually come into heat a short time after the buck goes into rut. And, for most breeds, breeding takes place from August through January.
During rut, the buck is in charge and the does don’t really seem to mind too much. Other young bucks may challenge the alpha buck during rut, or other times of the year. If a buck is old or ill, he may give his position up to the challenging buck, and the same goes for the queens of the herd.
What About the Kids?
Goat babies are referred to as kids. A baby boy is called a buckling and a baby girl is referred to as a doeling.
Kids are rambunctious and playful and are often given a free pass for their curiosity. Adults will teach the kids what is acceptable and what is not, with a gentle hand of course.
Remember, the herd is a unit, and the queen has the attention of the whole group, so if she respects you, the rest of the gang probably will too.
Routine Goat Care Concerns
Goats take care of themselves pretty well…for the most part.
But there are a few things you should do routinely to ensure your goats are comfortable and healthy.
Check out your new goat care to-do list:
Hoof trimming will probably end up being one of your least favorite interactions with your goats. They don’t like it, and after a goat screaming in your ear while you try to give them a pedicure, you won’t like it much either.
Goat hooves should be trimmed 2-4 times per year depending on the terrain your goats live on. If they are out and about, on rocky land, gravel, concrete or otherwise, your goats’ hooves may not need as much trimming.
Goats that are confined, and have little room to move will need trimming more often or their hooves will become overgrown.
If you own fiber goats, typically they should be shorn twice a year. Once before breeding and once before kidding to ensure the hair stays clean and the newborn can find the does teats.
Some goatherds deworm their goats 6 times a year, but this depends on your herd, your cleaning practices, and where you live. For example, if you live in a humid environment, you’ll be deworming much more often than in the drier climates.
Moisture is a parasite’s happy place.
The most important part of parasite control in goats is to always be on the lookout for signs of an infestation and to treat immediately.
Some things you should watch for are:
- Weight loss
- Abnormal hair texture
It can be hard to determine which kind of parasite your goats have, so it can be helpful to take fecal samples to your local veterinarian to know for sure and get the right kind of dewormer.
It’s Time To Get Your Herd
Well, do you feel ready to finally go out and find your first herd?
You know all the basics now, and I’m giving you the green light.
Goats are inquisitive, humorous, and productive animals and now that you are going into your goat herding career with the knowledge you need, you can confidently build a nurturing foundation for your future herd.