Do you love the idea of getting some goats, but have no idea how to move forward? This Beginners Guide to Raising Goats will help. I know how you feel. I was in that same place years ago, just before we got our first goats. We stumbled through and gradually figured things out along the way. Because of that, I can save you a lot of wasted time, energy and money by sharing with you this 9-Step Essential Beginners Guide to Raising Goats. This is stuff we learned by experience , and from other people who helped us over the years, and I wish someone had shared this with us back when we first got started with goats.
Before we start the 9-Step Essential Beginners Guide to Raising Goats (below) it's important to take a moment here and focus on the benefits of raising goats. This is the stuff that motivates us goat farmers to do the things we do. There’s a reason why people have been farming goats for centuries: they are incredibly versatile and have many uses. Some people raise them for their milk, meat or hide - others for breeding, showing and selling. Others raise them simply for the enjoyment of owning them as pets. Sure, you can get some of the same results from cows or sheep, but there are certain things goats just do better. Let's look at the benefits of owning goats, and then we'll explore how you can get started with your own goats. To start off, here are the top benefits of raising goats.
If you’re just getting started with goats, you’re probably not too concerned with the intelligence level of your animals. However, I can say from experience that I appreciate an animal that is smart enough to train and handle. For example, sheep tend to do the opposite of what you tell them to do which gets kind of old when you have 100 sheep that need to be sheared or moved from one plot to another. Goats, on the other hand, are generally much smarter, making them easy to handle and train. Because of those smarts, they also relate easily to people and often develop relationships with their owners. Some goats are way too smart and find ways to get out of fences and into feed storage.
Goats Checking Out the Camera
Goats naturally reproduce, unless you do something to interfere with the process. Goat kids (babies) are some of the cutest creatures on the planet. Look for baby goats on YouTube and they will be near the top of the viral video lists. Not only that, there's big demand for them from people who raise goats, so they can bring a good price when sold. The value of goats goes up if the owner registers and shows them in goat shows. So, it's not surprising that lots of people are hooked on breeding, showing and selling goats as a hobby. Lots of them have taken it even further into a full-time money-making goat business.
Video Credit: University of Minnesota Extension
Many people love goat milk. It has an enjoyable, distinct flavor and is full of nutrients. Goat milk is low in saturated fat and carbs while high in tein, calcium and various other minerals and vitamins. Believe it or not, goat milk is actually easier to digest than cows milk; some people who are lactose intolerant don’t have a problem drinking goat milk. If you’re not convinced by the magic of goat milk, you should try goat cheese. Cheese lovers will go nuts with goat cheese. In fact, it brings a relatively high price for those who produce and sell it. It’s an aromatic and flavorful cheese that goes well, crumbled over eggs in the morning or spread over crackers for a snack. Later in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats we will talk about how to select the best goats if you're interested in diary production.
Dairy Goat With Healthy Udder
If you’re not in love with the taste of goat milk, give goat milk soap or fiber a shot. Goat milk soap is very soft and mild. It’s made with goat milk and is actually fantastic for people with sensitive skin. Also, fiber from goats can be used for the softest yarns you’ll ever come in contact with. Ever heard of mohair? Well, mohair is made from the fiber of Angora and Pygora goats. Then there’s cashmere which is made from the fiber of cashmere goats. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even spin their fiber yourself for yarn to knit, weave or crochet with. If that’s pushing it, you can still buy these soft yarns from most craft stores.
Certain goat breeds make for fantastic meat. They can provide for your family’s food needs and can even turn into a business. That’s right, you can actually start a small business by selling goat meat. You just need to do your research ahead of time, have potential buyers in mind and determine how much you’re willing to put into your goats and how much you expect to get back from them.
Goats make epic lawn-mowers. I’ve yet to meet a piece of machinery that did quite what a goat can do. If you don’t believe me, pen up a few hungry goats in an overgrown plot of land and they’ll clear it out in just a few days. Best of all, goats can clear brush out of rocky and steep areas that can't be easily reached by regular mowing equipment. Lots of goat owners make money renting out their goats to clear brush from property, especially land in hard-to-reach areas. However, don’t pen goats up with your favorite fruit trees, because goats are enthusiastic and nosy climbers; they’ll find a way to eat the fruit and leaves off of your tree while chewing the bark off as well. And if you have goats with horns, they tend to scratch their horns on your trees.
Goat poop is actually quite amazing. If you’re into compost for a garden, goat manure is perfect. If you have goats already, you know that your goat will make plenty of manure. Don’t let it go to waste. Throw it in a pile with some vegetation to create compost. It will be full of potassium, potash and nitrogen, all of which your plants will thank you for. Also, goat poop naturally comes out in little pellets that are fairly dry, easy to handle, don't attract as many flies and don't require as much waiting time to break-down before being used as fertilizer. Now that you know some of the great benefits of goats, let's get on with the...
There is no one goat that can serve all of the above purposes. There are goats that are ideal for milk, others for meat and others for different purposes. Let's take a look at the key things you need to know to choose the right goat for your goals. Then, later on in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats we will talk about preparing for your goats and how to care for them.
If your goal is to produce milk, cheese and other dairy products you will want to choose a dairy goat breed based on several factors. Each breed has a slightly different milk taste, so that's one consideration. You may want to sample milk from several different milk goat breeds before you can decide which you like best. Their milk is all different, as well as their behavior.
One favorite is Nubian goat milk. Nubians are one of the most charismatic goat breeds out there, but they can get quite loud and obnoxious. Another good goat breed is the Oberhasli. Some farmers are quite passionate about their love for Oberhaslis. In general, they’re a very lovable breed of goat with a unique appearance. They even make good pack goats. Some other dairy goats include the Alpines, LaManchas, Nigerian Dwarfs, Saanens and Toggenburgs.
LaManchas are of Spanish origin and make very friendly milk goats. They provide a rich milk. One of their most identifiable features is their small elf ears. Nigerian Dwarf goats are from Africa and are relatively small, so they are easier to handle. That's important if you have children and want them to experience dealing with goats. Nigerians can provide up to 3-4 pounds of milk a day. That milk is richer in butterfat and creamier than the milk of some other goat breeds. Yes, Nigerians are also adorable. However, something you should consider when buying a smaller dairy goat is that you may get creamier, better-tasting milk, but you will get less quantity than you would get with larger goats. As for the Saanens and Toggenburgs, both of these breeds are proud goats with heavy milk production. However, the Saanens make a very thin milk while the Toggenburgs will make a fattier milk, perfect for cheeses.
Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Although any goat could be used for its meat, the two most popular meat goats you will come across are Boer goats and Kiko goats. Boer goats are probably the least intelligent of all goats but are one of the biggest (ie, produces the most meat per goat). They are a strong breed with a white body, brown head, and backward curved horns. Some people say Boer goats are the hardiest and easiest meat goats to raise while other people prefer other meat goat breeds. If you raise Boer goats, make sure they have lots of food and browse (trees and plants) to eat as they tend to eat too closely to the ground when grazing down low, leading to worms and parasite problems. Kikos are slightly smaller than Boer goats, but are also excellent meat producers. They can maintain themselves better in harsh conditions with very little input from goat owners. There are plenty of other breeds and mixed-breeds that also make good meat goats.
If you’re looking for that soft goat fleece that goes into cashmere and angora, then you should be looking for Angora, Pygora, and Cashmere goats. These goats are equipped with a thick under-coat, perfect for yarn. These are all great goats for producing fiber, and it really comes down to personal preference in making a choice. Producing goat fiber is a popular hobby and a thriving business for many people.
Many different breeds of goat can make great pets. One example is a Pygmy goat. Pygmys are mostly enjoyment/pet goats. Sure, you can use them for meat or milk, but many goat owners have one or two pygmy goats just for the sake of having them. There’s nothing like going out to the barn and having your little Pygmy goat follow you around, keeping you company on your morning rounds. These goats come in different colors and are typically short in stature with round bellies and pointed ears. Once you've settled on a breed choice, you'll want to take certain important steps to get ready before you bring home your first goats.
(Photo Credit: Kevin Payravi)
No Beginners Guide to Raising Goats would be complete without covering what you need to do initially to get ready for your new goats. For an additional summarized guide, you may also want to check out our article, "What's Needed to Raise Goats: 10 Critical Things to Know". Before you get into raising goats, you will need to make sure you have the right equipment. You probably won’t know exactly 100% what you need for your goats until you get a few. For example, you can have a state-of-the-art fence, and your little Kiko kid somehow magically finds his way out of it. With a walk around the fence you might find that your state-of-the-art fence was not as great as you initially thought. Goats are known as expert escape artists. So some people start with temporary fencing until they see the weaknesses that are discovered by new goats. Then, they decide what permanent fencing they want. The same thing applies to food supplies. You may find that a tiny goat can eat A LOT when the feed you bought runs out quicker than you thought. Don't worry. As you spend time getting to know the habits of your own goats, you will eventually figure out any additional equipment and supplies you may need to buy. Until then, here are some basic preparations you will definitely want to take care of before you buy goats for the first time.
The quantity of food and the type of feeding equipment is largely dependent on your terrain, housing and fencing. If you go for a traditional wooden or wire fence, you can attach feed buckets or troughs to your fence. If you have an electric fence, you’ll likely have some sort of housing within the fenced space where you can put a feeder. You don’t want to arrange feeders so they are inconvenient for you to fill at feeding time. When it’s 110 degrees outside or 20 below, you don’t want to have to take a quarter-mile stroll into the pasture to feed your goats. Other important considerations are water and hay feeders. If your area faces harsh winters, consider heated watering buckets. This will make things easier for you, so you don’t have to keep changing the water all day in the blistering cold. In regard to hay feeders, goats (especially pregnant goats) should NEVER be exposed to moldy hay. This will lead to serious health conditions like bloat and miscarriage. Basically, you want to make sure the hay stays dry and off the ground. For this, construct or purchase covered hay feeders that keep the hay a good distance from the ground.
One of Our Goats Eating From Homemade Hay Feeder
Next in our Beginners Guide to Raising Goats we need to talk about how you should contain and protect your new goats. There’s a variety of housing and fencing options out there for your goats. But, when you’re getting your setup ready, there are a few cardinal rules. First, you’ll want some sort of enclosure, whether you’re in a cold area where your goats will want to escape the wind and stay warm, or whether you're in a warmer area where your goats will want to escape the beating sun. Also, consider terrain. Goats love to climb, and a bored goat is a goat that will want to escape. If their enclosure is pretty bland, consider adding something your goats can climb on towards the center of the enclosure. Just don't put it near the fencing where they may be able to jump over and get out.
As for fencing, woven wire and electric fences are some good choices. Make sure the fence is taut with restricted space between the wires. One-strand wire fences may work with larger livestock, but won’t cut it with goats. You can also try a wooden fence. That can work for smaller farms with one or two goats in the backyard. Again, make sure the boards are closely spaced and high as to not allow your goat from squeezing through or hopping over it.
Earlier in this Beginners Guide for Raising Goats we covered dairy goats. If you’re going to keep dairy goats, you will also need some special equipment for dairy needs. One key item is a milking stand where you can milk your goats. A milking stand is usually pretty simple, something you can even put together yourself. It typically has a small feeder towards one end with a place to tie-up your goat so she can't jump off of the stand while you're milking her. The floor of the stand typically stands about 1-2 feet off of the ground, whatever is comfortable for you while you are sitting on a stool next to the stand taking care of the milking. The purpose of this stand is to raise your goat off the ground so that you can milk your goat while you're sitting comfortably, and while she enjoys a sweet treat or goat feed. This keeps your goat occupied while saving your knees and back from discomfort. The hardest part is training your goat to hop up on the milking stand. Luckily, that’s usually not a problem if you have feed ready on the stand. After awhile, when your doe has learned to associate the milking stand with eating something yummy, she will gladly jump up into place when it's milking time. Once you have your basic equipment in place, you're ready to bring home your first goats. When you buy goats for the first time, keep the following important tips in mind.
Goat Milking Stand
Next in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats we need to talk about how you should choose your first goats. Picking the right goats isn’t an easy process. One should never simply “go out and buy a goat" without doing some homework first, or you will pay for it later in wasted time, effort and money. Do your research. This involves a number of steps.
First, start by reading a variety of goat-related websites and forums online (like this one). Get involved. Ask other goat owners about their experiences with the different breeds, but always get input from a variety of different people because a breed that worked well for one person may not work well for you.
Second, have a clear idea of what you want to get out of your goats. If you want milk and cheese, you probably don’t want to waste your time with Boer goats. If you’re looking for meat, a Pygmy is not the way to go.
a breed that worked well for one person may not work well for you
Finally, be realistic about your available time and budget. Look for goats that are healthy without any problem behaviors. This is especially important if you have a full-time job outside of farming, in which case a goat that needs constant supervision, maintenance or expensive veterinarian care is not a good choice. Keep your budget in mind when choosing goats. For example, Boer goats, as meat goats, can eat a LOT. The same goes for dairy goats which need a lot of calories when they are pregnant, kidding and freshening (coming into milk). Unless you have plenty of natural browse or pasture available for your goats on your property, store-bought grain feed can get really expensive. If you’re running tight on money, keep these factors in mind.
It's a myth that goats will eat anything. They can actually be pretty selective. However, they do like to eat quite a variety of things. There are some things they like more than others. Next in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats we need to talk about what makes up a proper diet for your goats. Goats have a complex digestive system which can develop serious life-threatening problems if they don't eat right. The main thing to be careful about is to make sure your goat's diet includes a proper balance of the following.
The healthiest food for goats is the food normally found in their natural habitat. Goats originally came from dry, hot, arid climates where the terrain was rocky. They prefer to eat "browse", which is the leaves and shoots found on woody trees and plants, and which is fairly high off of the ground. They like to nibble bark from trees as well. Eating high off of the ground is healthiest, because it helps them avoid the eggs of worms and other parasites they pick up more easily if they graze near the ground. Despite this, goats will eat grass down near the ground if no browse is available.
If you don’t have a pasture or browse available, stock up on hay. Make sure this hay is not moldy. A really good hay choice is alfalfa, but it's more expensive than others. Even if your goats are pasture-raised, alfalfa hay is a good supplement. However, there are other types of hay that are also good. The main thing is, look for hay bales that are green on the inside, and leafy, with few coarse stems. Make sure the hay is not moldy, smells fresh and doesn't have too much dirt or dust packed with it. You will hear hay farmers referring to "horse hay" versus "cow hay". "Horse Hay" usually refers to fresher hay with little dust or mold in it, since most horse owners prefer that. "Cow Hay" usually refers to hay that contains a little more mold or dust, because cows are less sensitive to those things. For goats, you definitely want "horse hay" rather than "cow hay" to keep your goats healthy.
One of Our Bucks Burying His Face in the Hay
Grain is the standard form of goat feed you can purchase at a feed store. It's convenient to feed your goats grain if you don't have enough natural browse or grass available, and you want them to have more nutrients than you get with just hay alone. Grain can be whole, pelleted, rolled or texturized. You’ll want to look into the types of grain before purchasing though, especially considering whether a certain type of grain is genetically modified or organic. Organic grain is generally healthier. Goats love grain and eat it up, like a human child goes for chocolate ice cream. But it's more important to make sure they get plenty of browse, grass or hay, before grain. Goats will tend to eat too much grain if you give it to them, which can cause "bloat", a digestive problem that can get pretty serious. So, when feeding grain to your goats, feed it in limited quantities. Most people will give extra grain to does when they are pregnant or in-milk.
Your goats won’t mind occasional special snacks and treats like sweet feed and certain human foods. Sweet feed is usually grain with molasses. They love it! That’s a good choice to put in the milk stand feeder. Most feed stores sell small bags of goat treats also. Some human foods are good, too. Goats love dried fruits, veggies, cheerios and more. You will want to study-up to understand those things that are healthy, versus things that can be harmful for goats.
You will want to make mineral supplements available to your goats, especially if you live in an area known to be deficient in certain minerals. Supplementing minerals for your goats can be critical to avoid certain health risks. Minerals for goats can be purchased at most feed stores and come in the form of loose minerals, or in a block form they can nibble on. Make the minerals available to your goats and they will usually be fine controlling the amount they take in.
One of Our Does Eating from Our Mineral Creep Feeder
Be sure to make baking soda readily available to your goat herd. They will simply eat it as-needed. It helps them to regulate the pH of their rumen (digestive system) which can be thrown off, especially if they eat too much grain. In addition to feeding, there are several things you need to know to properly care for your goats' other needs.
Any Beginners Guide to Raising Goats wouldn't be complete without considering the importance of the care you need to provide for your new goats. Set a care schedule and keep to it. Goats are smart and get accustomed to routines. Check on them before you head to work, milk them a couple of times per day if they are dairy goats in milk, and check on them before settling down for the night. If you’re a full-time farmer, this is a little bit easier as you have more time.
You will want to take care of certain periodic needs of your goats as well. They will need their hooves trimmed occasionally, so you will need to buy tools and train yourself to do this. Goats also need to have their hair clipped every-so-often. It's a good idea in Summer when it's hot, especially if you have goats with thick coats. Clipping hair is also important if you plan to show your goats. For hair clipping, you can do this yourself. Just be sure to buy some good electric clippers that are designed to handle really coarse animal hair. On a daily basis, to avoid illness, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled to make sure your goat's living area is relatively clean. Make sure water feeders are clean, the goats' enclosure doesn't have an excessive accumulation of manure, and the hay is fresh with zero mold. Most importantly, keep an eye out for signs of potential goat illness. From time-to-time, any goat owner will notice signs that a goat is sick. However, you won't need to panic if you have taken certain steps to understand goat illnesses and to prepare in advance to handle them by following the steps below.
Next in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats, let's talk about goat diseases and illnesses. About goat illness, there are 3 big things to focus on.
When you start to “learn” your goats, you’ll easily be able to recognize when they may be sick. For example, if your normally perky Pygmy starts walking with his head down and his stomach looks expanded, you will want to act fast. Behavior like that can be a sign of bloat, a serious digestive problem that can lead to death in a goat if not resolved properly.
A Lethargic Goat Avoiding the Herd Could Be a Warning Sign of Illness
All goats should be tested at least annually for some of the most common goat diseases. This should include CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis), CL (Caseous Lemphadenitis) and Johne's ("yo-neez") disease (Paratuberculosis). When buying new goats, make sure you get proof they have been tested for these diseases, and make sure you test your own herd annually. You will want to keep new goats segregated in a different pen for awhile to make sure they are okay before you put them into your herd. Coccidiosis is another common disease caused by goats being kept in overcrowded, dirty, wet areas or by unclean water. A symptom is diarrhea, and you can do your own fecal testing to see if your goats have this disease.
If you see any signs of worms or other parasites in your goats, take action immediately. Symptoms include poop pellets that are sticky and clump together or diarrhea. Normal goat poop usually comes out in individual pellets that are fairly dry and don't stick together. Most goats always have a few worms, simply because they live and eat outdoors. The main thing is to keep your goat's "worm load" at a reasonable level. There is fecal testing you can do yourself to detect your goat's worm load. You will need to study the management of worms in your goat herd, and take proactive actions to keep the worm load under control, such as pasture rotation, proper feeding, cleanliness and use of de-wormers when appropriate. Be sure to study the complexities of de-wormers because overuse of these can cause them to lose effectiveness for your herd.
There is a particular type of worm which can be deadly for your goats, known as a "Barber Pole Worm". Usually with this type of worm, when your goats show symptoms of being sick, it's often too late to save them. Fortunately, there's a way to detect Barber Pole worm problems before they get too bad. These worms drink blood from inside the goat. As a goat's blood supply is reduced and the goat becomes anemic, the membranes inside the goat's eyelids change from a red color to being very pale.
There is a color chart that has been developed, called a Famacha chart, which can be compared to your goat's eyelids to determine if there is a problem. You will want to make sure to perform this "Famacha test" on your goats periodically to keep an eye on this (no pun intended). If you determine there's a problem, you can act proactively to treat it, rather than being caught off-guard later when it's too late and you could possibly lose your entire herd. For more information on goat health care, check out our free guide, "Goat Health Care: Diseases, Symptoms, Treatment". Now that you know a little bit about keeping your goats healthy, let's move on to another important topic you need to learn - breeding.
The next step in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats is to be aware of the importance of your goats' breeding habits and to be prepared to manage them properly. Goat breeding is a lot like dog breeding. Some goats are like "mutts" and may be fine as pets. But some goats are "pure-bred" within a particular breed.
Some Goats Will Breed Constantly if Not Separated by a Fence
Pure-bred goats can be "registered" with one of the national goat associations and will have registration certificate papers to prove their pedigree. Registered goats are typically more expensive and their kids can be sold for a higher price. Goats are required to be registered if they are to compete in most official competitive goat shows. If you’re simply concerned with meat or milk production, with no intention of showing your goats, then you don't need to spend the extra money on registered goats. The details of goat breeding and how to manage your herd is a subject which is broader than the scope of this article. We can can share more with you about that outside of this guide. In the meantime, you can learn more about goat breeding HERE.
Owning registered pure-bred goats is required if you intend to show your goats and compete in official goat shows. In this case, you will need to pay the higher prices for registered goats. If you’re thinking of showing your goats, you will need to be selective about your goat breeding. When purchasing goats for show, you will also need to be careful to look for a reliable seller who has similar interests at heart. Showing goats is a subject that is more involved than we can cover in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats. For now, we just want you to be aware of the possibilities. You can learn more about showing goats HERE.
Milking goats is an art. There’s a technique for milking that you’ll only master through practice. While you practice, keep your dairy goat happy with some sweet feed or other treats. They’ll be a lot more cooperative and will gladly jump onto the milking stand when they know food is involved. The number of times you have to milk your goats is dependent on the breed. Some goats produce milk several times a day while others are only good to milk once a day. Also, some breeds give birth ("kid") and come into milk ("freshen") in the Spring season each year, while Nigerian dwarf goats can birth new kids throughout any season.
Milking a Dairy Goat
When milking, you will need to have a plan in place for handling that milk carefully. Pasteurization is a good idea, unless you plan to refrigerate and drink the raw milk fairly quickly.
Many families (like ours) drink raw milk with no problem. It has some benefits that are destroyed by pasteurization.
You just have to be careful to keep things clean and to refrigerate the raw milk quickly after it's produced, to keep bacteria from growing.
You will also want to make sure not to administer medications to a doe just before milking, to avoid any contamination of the milk.
Some states allow the sale of raw goat milk, subject to certain regulations, but it is illegal to sell raw goat's milk in many states. Many people have successfully turned their family milking hobby into a profitable dairy business, and some have started commercial creameries where they produce and sell goat cheese and other dairy products. Beyond this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats, you can learn more about dairy goats HERE.
I hope this 9-Step Essential Beginners Guide to Raising Goats was a helpful introduction to your goat-raising adventure. As you can tell, a lot of work is involved in raising goats, but it's a lot of fun, and extremely fulfilling. Goats can produce life-long benefits for your family, including self-sustaining food, products and hands-on learning for your children. We love our own goats, and we love helping others like yourself learn how to create more fun, success and money by starting your own goat herd. To learn more, save this article and dig into the various links above to go deeper - or check out the suggested additional learning below. Once you get started, we know you will love your new goats as much as we love ours.
Video Credit: Chick-A-Woof Ranch