Beginner's Guide to Goat Ownership
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
We hope this post gets you started on your research if you are interested in raising goats! Goats were something we under-researched and learned the hard way - but in retrospect, they are some of the easiest & most adorable animals to raise.
There is so much to consider when it comes to animal ownership. Primarily: what is your goal in adding these animals to your homestead? By the rules of permaculture, this means: are they going to create more output than the input they require? Or, are they going to give back more than they take? This is always an important consideration in a permaculture ecosystem, because elements that require more input than output are going to become unsustainable over time.
We chose goats for these outputs: milk, land maintenance (eating grass & trees), and soil fertilization (poops). While we could never bring ourselves to eat our goats, some people do choose to and goat meat is considered a hot commodity in some areas. Even without their meat, though, we knew we wanted a breed that would be ideal for fulfilling this variety of purposes. We chose Nubian goats for their size & ability to produce a lot of milk: however, the fat content of their milk is less than some other goat breeds.
Now let's talk about goat input. Goats require: shelter, food, mineral & supplements, water, and about 20 minutes of your time, twice each day, for milking (per goat). Some considerations when getting goats:
It makes it all worth it to get to snuggle baby goats at the end of the day.
You cannot just have one goat, and goats cannot be left alone. They will die of loneliness. This isn't an exaggeration .. it's the truth! We have had many friends tell us stories of raising one goat who mysteriously died. This brings new considerations when it comes to kidding. Pregnant goats normally only birth one baby goat at a time, less often two or three. Therefore you may want to avoid breeding only one of your goats at a time if you plan on separating the babies for milking. For example, our goat gave birth to just one baby and, for the few months before our other goat gave birth, if we wanted to separate him (so we could milk his mom) we had to keep him in the house in a pack-and-play so he wouldn't be lonely. Apparently a lot of farms do this, but it was 100% not our favorite ... baby Blue wined and yelled for his mom constantly, and many times I slept in the bottom of the pack-and-play with him to get him to calm down. We also didn't diaper him and the result was all of our bath towels now smell like baby goat pee. It's not great. : ) If there is a big gap between when your goats are birthing, make sure your housing has a separate area where the babies can live, where they can see (but not access) their moms.
Milking is hard, but goats are trainable. Before we had our goats "trained" to be milked, getting them onto (and keeping them on) the milking stand was not a pretty sight. It often included Ben pinning her against the wall while I rushed to milk her as quickly as possible (which, when you're just learning to milk, was not quickly at all). We built our own milking stand, but keeping them on it was not nearly as every blog made it sound. Our advice: stick with it. Your goat is not unmilkable. After a few weeks of this, our goats would walk to and get on the milking stand of their own accord, and even seem to enjoy it.
Veterinarians can de-bud the horns. When our first two baby goats were born, we could not bring ourselves to take on the common practice of using a hot iron to "de-bud" (essentially, burn off) the glands on their head that later turn into horns. Only later did we learn that large animal veterinarians will often do this for a minimal fee ($15-20). If you miss the critical time period, though (within one week-ish after birth), you won't be able to remove them later. We learned a hard lesson when we had to decide that ultimate selling Blue to another farm was necessary, since he is also not castrated and his size + horns + buck behavior might be an issue for our family.
Goats need minerals & baking soda. Our goats go through their blend of goat mineral + baking soda pretty fast, and we make sure they have access to it at all times.
Goats are picky eaters! But they're also as picky as you make them. They are not the animals that are going to eat all your food scraps. In the summer, our goats are absolute champions at keeping our fields clear and taking down areas that are lightly wooded (they especially love sumac [not poison]). But their pickiness presents a problem in the winter, when they need a steady supply (way, way more than we anticipated) of mold-free, dust-free, yummy hay. Our goats could absolutely tell the difference between first and second cut hay, and even between hay from different farms. If we gave them anything but their faves, they knew it - and they would stand outside and whine and protest. The thing that we learned, though, is goats (like most things) will gladly eat whatever before they starve & die. So if you don't spoil them (like we did), you won't have an issue. We don't give our goats any grain - if you're in a cold climate, this can actually make them colder because of the energy it takes to digest it. One of our goats even had a seizure once due to high sulfur levels when we tried to incorporate grain in her diet.
Goats DNGAF about electric fence. Electric fence? HAHA. They mock it. We splurged for a high-end electric setup from Premier One supply that was advertised for goats specifically ... let's just say, if a goat wants to get out, they're going to get out. Even when we switched to hog panels and other fencing systems - there have been many a time that we sit and scratch our heads wondering how our goat ended up on the wrong side of the fence (I guess she jumped it!?). With electric, they don't seem to mind to charge right through. Goats love to scratch up against their fence, so don't go for anything flimsy .. especially if they have horns. We use t-posts with hog panels and one high electric wire running, so they can't jump it.
Goats don't mind the cold. People told us this .. we didn't believe it. But after observing them on many negative-10 Maine winter nights, we now know it to be true. As long as their shelter is dry, draft-free, and they have plenty of food, they really don't mind.
Got more questions about goat raising?? We'd love to hear them!