"My backyard is tiny! There's no way I can raise goats." Don't be in such a hurry to rule out backyard goats, even if your place is small. Even if you don’t have a big farm or a lot of acreage, you can still start raising goats in your backyard. In fact, our family got started raising goats years ago with our first two goats which we kept in the backyard behind our house. Later we expanded from there to our current farm, and now we have more acreage and a sizable herd of goats.
Our First Two Goats in Our Backyard
We had no idea what we were doing at first. So if we can start a successful farm from a small backyard operation, you can easily do it too. These are the first two goats we ever purchased. We found them on Craigslist and picked them up as we were driving back home from a vacation road trip. You can see our old backyard in the background where we kept them, until we moved to our current farm. Our dog, Turner, here is making sure the new goats pass inspection. You can successfully raise goats in your own small backyard by following these 5 easy steps.
Starting a small backyard goat farm can have a lot of benefits.
Maybe you want goats simply as pets, or as an educational project for your kids. Goats are one of the best animals for this purpose because they are small. They are easy to manage in a regular backyard and very people-friendly. If you spend time with goats when they are young, they grow up learning to follow you around and nuzzle-up against you. They can even be trained to do tricks if you take the time to work with them.
Video Credit: Happy Tails
Maybe, like us, you want to raise pure-bred registered goats so you can show them competitively at goat shows. If you do that, and begin winning awards, your goats can become more valuable. Then they can bring a higher price when you breed them and sell the new kids.
We raise dairy goats just like we did when we first got started in a small backyard. They provide the wonderful benefit of free milk for your family. And goat milk is a lot tastier and healthier for your family. Producing milk can also give you the added benefit of being able to make goat cheese which is in high demand. Another benefit of goat milk is that you can produce goat milk soap and other products. Many small backyard goat owners sell their goats milk soap for a good price at local markets and online. Beyond cheese and soap, you can even get into making yogurt, fudge, and other good products. These are great to eat, share with friends, and sell to others. Keep in mind that if you sell milk, cheese or other products for human consumption, you will need to comply with various legal requirements and get licensed before you can do that.
One of Our Does With a Full Udder
Although it’s hard for some people to think about, many goat farmers breed goats to be used for their meat. Certain breeds of goats are better suited for producing meat than others. Goat meat is in big demand for certain ethnic holiday celebrations. You can start raising meat goats even if you're just starting with a small backyard operation.
Many small backyard farmers also raise "Hair" goats for the fiber they produce. Mohair and Cashmere both come from goats.
You may not realize it but many leather products are made from goat skin. It is considered more supple and durable than other leathers. Because of this, some small backyard goat farmers raise goats to sell at auction for their skins. The benefits of raising goats in your backyard, listed above, are just some reasons people choose to keep goats. Now let’s take a look at the responsibilities that go along with your new backyard goat farm.
Backyard Goats Eating Hay in the Snow
Here are some of the responsibilities you will face if you raise goats in your backyard, which will be discussed in more detail below.
Those are just some of the basic responsibilities of keeping goats in your backyard. There are plenty of other things you will need to do later if you plan to sell goat products, show your goats competitively, etc. But it’s best to focus on the basic stuff for now. You can start off small and simple in your backyard, and then you can learn more about those other things later as you decide which direction to go in with your backyard goat farm.
One of Our Does in the Backyard
When you decide you’re ready for goats, then there are several things you will need to get ready first before you bring your first goats home.
Before you go any further, you will need to make sure that there are not any legal requirements which prohibit you from raising goats in your backyard. Check the deed restrictions or restrictive covenants in your neighborhood. That is the set of rules that all homeowners in the neighborhood must comply with. Some restrictions may prevent you from raising farm animals in your backyard. You will also want to check into any local city or county ordinances. Often there are local laws restricting the number and type of farm animals you can have on your property. Don’t spend a lot of time and money starting your new backyard goat farm until you check this out. You don't want to have to get rid of it because of some legal restrictions you didn’t know about.
You will need to be sure you have a place in your backyard where your goats can live, be protected and not run off. Make sure that the backyard area where you will keep them has proper fencing around it. Some good options for goat fencing are woven wire or cattle panels (sturdier, but more expensive). Many new backyard goat owners mount their fencing on “T-posts” initially. They are less permanent and less sturdy, but also less expensive and easier to install and move. Later, for a more permanent setup, you can change to wooden posts. Those are more permanent and sturdier, but more expensive and difficult to change. Goats are like little escape artists, and the fencing in your backyard will need to be extremely sturdy to keep them from getting out. Fortunately, goats like to stay together and they don’t usually run off.
Goats are like little escape artists
Whenever one of our goats gets outside of the fence, they usually stand there and eat the grass just beyond the fence. They like to stay near their herd, and they are afraid to go too far off where they know they are threatened by outside predators. If they see us walking toward them, they usually realize they are "busted" and they run back inside the fence line before we reach them.
At our farm we had trouble with our goats pushing around fence edges or jumping over the fences. So we installed electric fencing along with our regular fencing, and they rarely escape now. It’s totally safe and once a goat gets a little “zap”, they tend to stay away from the electric fence after that.
The biggest concern with fencing is more about keeping predators out than keeping goats in. You will need to research and find out what type of predators live in your particular area. We used to live in Virginia in an area where the main predators around us were foxes. They were mainly a threat to our baby goats which we were raising in our backyard. Now we live in South Carolina where the main threat around us is from coyotes. Because we have a more sizeable heard, we now have livestock guardian dogs to protect our goats from the coyotes, especially at night. If you grow your little backyard goat herd to a larger size later, you will need to also research getting some livestock guardian animals to protect them. Most goat farmers have guardian dogs, donkeys or llamas living with their herd as natural protectors against predators.
Cattle Panel Fence Keeps Predators Out
Goats like being outdoors. However they hate to get wet. So you need to create some kind of shelter in your backyard where they can get in out of the weather when needed. Also, you will need to make sure to keep your goats in an area of your backyard that is somewhat dry most of the time. Too much moisture can cause them to get sick. A higher patch of ground that drains well is a better place to put your goat shelter than an area that is low where water tends to settle. Some kind of small shed is usually fine as long as it has a good roof on it. It should be well-ventilated and allow the goats easy access to get in and out. Don’t make a shed that is fully enclosed. That will trap moisture inside. A shed with three walls and one side open usually works well. On the floor of your goat shed you will want to layer a bunch of pine flakes, shavings or straw to absorb pee. This will keep the shed dry and provide a soft, warm place for your goats to stay at night. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a shed. Goats are pretty rough and will tear it up anyway. Most people just hammer together some spare wood to make a goat shed. Many people get free wooden pallets from local companies which they can use for this. Goats are pretty rugged and can live in some fairly extreme temperatures. They just need a place in your backyard to huddle up together and be protected from the wind when it’s cold. When it's hot, they need a place to get in the shade and have plenty of water to drink. Goats are natural climbers. They love to have anything to climb on. Many backyard goat owners will put big wooden cable spools, playground equipment, old tires or other objects in their goat area to give the goats something to climb and play on.
Some people think that goats will eat just about anything, but that is not true. They can actually be fairly picky, and the wrong kinds of food can make them sick. Their favorite type of food is “browse” which refers to leaves and shoots from woody plants. Goats will eat certain grasses, but they prefer browse. If you keep your goats in an area of your backyard where there is lots of browse, then you won’t have to buy as much goat feed (grain) to supplement their diet.
When you get your new goats you will need to be careful to examine any plants in your backyard because there are certain particular plants which can be poisonous to goats. If you find any of those in your backyard where you will keep your goats, you will need to make sure and remove them from the area before you let your goats eat there.
One of Our Bucks Buries His Face in Hay
You will also want to supplement your goats diet with some hay (NOT straw). Just make sure it’s fresh, dry hay, not wet or moldy. Hay can be purchased in small bales from feed stores. We save money by arranging for a local farmer near us to deliver large bales of hay to our farm. At our current farm we have most of our goats in pastures where there is more grass than browse. So we have to provide more hay and store-bought feed (grain) than someone who might have a lot of browse in the area. We have wooded areas available nearby, but there is more of a threat from predators there, so we keep our goats in the pasture most of the time along with the livestock guardian dogs. We purchase our goat feed in large bags from local feed stores. There are different kinds of feed, some of which are healthier, so you will need to research any feed before you provide it to your goats. We raise dairy goats, so we select feed that is good for that purpose, and we even buy different feed for the does versus the bucks.
There are lots of different choices for feeders, feed buckets and feed troughs you can choose from. What you choose to buy is really up to your personal preference depending on how you have your goat area set up. It is usually best to use hanging feeders, rather than feeders that sit on the ground, because goats tend to knock over or poop on just about everything on the ground.
Goats drink a lot of water, and spill a lot as well. Therefore, it is recommended that you set up a water bucket in your backyard which automatically refills itself. Otherwise you will be constantly taking water to your goats. And, just like with feeders, use buckets that hang, rather than sit on the ground. At our farm, we have water hoses running to the goats' buckets with automatic shut off valves that refill the buckets anytime the goats drink.
If you choose to raise dairy goats, you will need to pull together all of the equipment required for milking. That is a whole separate subject that will be covered in other articles. You can easily start raising and milking dairy goats in a small backyard like we did years ago. If you choose to go that direction, you will need things like a milking stand, stainless steel buckets, etc. As the size of your heard increases, you may want to spend money down-the-road on a milking machine. That can save a lot of wear-and-tear on your hands. And it greatly reduces the amount of time required to milk your goats.
Goats need to have their hair clipped every so often. It's good for them to have a shorter coat in the Summer to stay cool. It's also important to have them clipped if you show them competitively. You will want to buy a good pair of electric clippers for this. They usually come with different cutting blades. Goats have extremely coarse hair so you will need to get your clippers sharpened frequently.
Just like people trim their fingernails, goats need their hooves trimmed occasionally. You will need to buy a good pair of hoof trimmers for this. Hooves need to be trimmed parallel to the ground to avoid problems when your goats walk. Also when you trim their hooves you will need to learn how to clean their hooves out at the same time to prevent a condition known as “hoof rot”. For farms that do a high volume of hoof trimming, there are even electric hoof trimmers available.
Hoof Trimming a Doe on the Milk Stand
You will want to learn your goats' behaviors so you can recognize when something doesn’t seem right, which can be a sign of illness. Of course, it’s always best to consult a veterinarian. But your vet can show you how to do some things yourself to save money. You can do things like giving antibiotic injections, treating for worms and drawing blood for testing. Be sure to have your herd tested at least annually for diseases. Goats almost always have worms since they nibble grass in the same areas where they poop. You will need to treat them proactively to keep the worms under control. Some people prefer natural, holistic treatments while some people prefer man-made medicines. More natural treatments are preferred for goats producing products for human consumption like milk, cheese, meat. etc.
If you leave bucks and does together, they will breed constantly. This isn’t good because sometimes a doeling (young doe) may be fertile, but may be too young to safely carry and deliver a kid. Sometimes you may have a doe who has just birthed some new kids and it may be hard on her to get pregnant again so soon. Or maybe you have a bunch of new kids that have recently been born and you don’t want to have more kids produced too soon, which could be overwhelming for you. For these reasons, we keep our bucks and does separated in different areas and only put them together when we want them to breed. If you start with a small backyard area, you can simply keep the bucks and does in separate pens. Another benefit in doing this is that you can monitor them more closely and know exactly when a breeding occurs. This allows you to know approximately when new kids are expected so we can notify potential buyers in advance. In fact, many farms publish their breeding schedules and kidding schedules for potential buyers to view online. With our herd we also do pregnancy testing to be sure. We can teach you how to do that in a separate article.
Birthing new kids is a normal part of owning goats, so you will need to be prepared to handle this. You will want to do some research beforehand. But the best way to learn is to connect with others who raise goats in your area, and ask to be present when one of their new kids are being delivered. Most goat owners are happy to do this and love to help others learn, since they learned from others themselves. In fact, we are members of a local goat farm Facebook page where farm owners often show live goat births in progress on Facebook Live broadcasts so they can exchange advice with other goat farmers.
One of Our Does With Her Kids
Once you have fencing, shelter, food and water ready to go in your new backyard farm, you’re all set to buy your first goats. It’s really important that you not purchase one goat alone. Goats are herd animals. You must have at least two or more. We have heard plenty of stories from people who tried to purchase a single goat alone. When a goat is alone by itself, it gets extremely agitated and will go to great lengths to avoid being left alone. In cases like that, a goat will continually break out of fences, jump over things and try to enter houses just to be with a human or other animals in order to avoid being alone. Always have two or more goats together, not just one.
Make sure you buy the right breed of goat, depending on your purposes. When we got started with goats, we were raising them in a small backyard area. Therefore, we selected Nigerian Dwarf goats which are smaller and don’t require as much space as bigger goats. Also, we were mostly interested in showing competitively and producing dairy products from our goats. Nigerians are good show goats and dairy goats, so that is another reason we chose that breed. Other breeds may be better suited to your purposes if you have different goals than we have. For example, if someone has a larger area to work with, there are larger standard goat breeds. Some larger breeds can produce larger quantities of milk. And some are better suited for meat production than the smaller Nigerians. You will want to do some research on the different breeds available and decide which is the best fit for your goals and your small backyard farm.
Most people buy their first goats from a small farm or breeder in their local area. Try searching for the term “goats” or “goat farm” or “goats for sale” on Google, Google Maps, Facebook or Craigslist. Be careful who you buy from. Look at the seller’s farm website. See if there are any customer reviews. Join local goat groups on Facebook and ask for referrals to good sellers. Ask the seller if their herd has been tested for common diseases. This is standard practice. We test our goats on a regular basis and advertise the results. Some diseases can get into your soil and prevent anyone from being able to raise goats on your property.
If you speak with a seller by phone, you can usually get a sense about them. Consider whether they seem to be focused on raising quality goats. Or do they seem to be cranking out a large quantity of animals with little concern for quality. Also, a reputable seller should have no problem if you ask them if you can stop by their farm once or twice to inspect their goats for sale before you make a decision. We have often had buyers come by several times to visit our farm before they make a final decision. Ask the seller about their return policy if you run into a problem after buying goats from them.
be careful who you buy from
If you plan on showing your goats competitively, like we do with our Nigerian Dwarf goats, then you will need to make sure that you purchase only registered goats. A registered goat has had its pedigree recorded in the records of one of the official goat associations, such as the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) or another similar association related to the type of breed you are purchasing. You will be prevented from showing your goats competitively if they are not properly registered. With goats you intend to show competitively, there are many standards you will want the goats to meet. These involve the shape and positioning of the goat's head, back, udder, legs and other parts that will be judged in a show. A goat's coloring, demeanor, etc. can also be important. These considerations can get complicated and will need to be covered in a different article.
Checking Goat Registration Paperwork Before a Goat Show
If you buy a registered goat, you will want to make sure you receive the goat's registration certificate and examine it carefully. Look at the pedigree in the paperwork to see which goats were the parents and grandparents of your new goat. Each of the ancestor goats in the pedigree will be coded to indicate if they have won any top competitive awards in the past. If there are any top award winners in your new goat's pedigree, this will greatly increase the desirability and the value of the goat you are purchasing. You will probably have to pay a higher price for the new goat compared to other goats which may not have the same pedigree. The higher price may be worth it because you may be able to charge more eventually for any new kids which are offspring of your new goat. If you do some research and compare goat prices in relation to their pedigrees, you can begin to develop some skill in assessing reasonable prices for different goats in your area. This will come in handy when your goats eventually have kids which you need to sell. You will never have perfect information. Once you feel comfortable and have found some goats you like, just go ahead and take the plunge and buy them to get your new backyard goat farm started. It's preferable if you buy two goats together which already know each other, to reduce their stress. The best way to gain experience in raising goats is to get your first goats, bring them home and start enjoying and working with them. The best way to learn is just by “doing”.
Some goat sellers will deliver the new goats to you, like we do. If a buyer is far away, we will often meet them halfway on the road somewhere and do the sale there. Or some people prefer to come to our farm to buy the goats. For small goats like ours we use large dog cages to transport the goats in the back of our pick-up truck. We put a tarp over the top to protect them from rain and wind during the trip, making sure they aren't too hot or cold. For larger goats, it may be necessary to use an animal trailer to transport them. We have a small horse trailer which we use to transport our goats if we have to go a longer distance. We usually put hay in the bottom of the cages or trailer because the goats will pee and poop during the trip. We also put in some kind of food and water containers for longer trips. If you're transporting goats across state lines, you will need to make sure you comply with any laws that control interstate transportation of animals.
When you first bring your new goats home to your backyard, they will be "freaked out" in the beginning, until they get used to their new environment. Just make sure they have a comfortable place to sleep, food and water, and be patient with them. Try not to change their diet at first. Try to feed them the same diet at first which they've been accustomed to with the previous owner. Sudden, drastic changes in diet can often make a goat sick. It’s probably a good idea to avoid too much activity until they have time to adjust to their new home in your backyard. After several days, your new goats should settle in. You’ll begin to see their real personalities come out as they relax. Watch them closely at first. If there is any weakness in your fencing where they can get through, they will find it right away and then you can see where you need to strengthen your fencing. If there is any way your new goats can get into trouble in their new living area, they will find it.
We delivered some new goats to a buyer one day and the goats were able to break into the buyer's shed immediately and start eating from bags of feed that she had hidden away. She realized right away that she needed to secure her shed better. Keep an eye on your new goats for the first few days and they will show you where you need to make any corrections.
As your new goats settle in, you can begin to develop a regular routine of feeding and watering them. Goats love routine, and you will have them trained in no time at all to follow your schedule. If they seem afraid of you at first, don’t worry. Once they learn that you are the person bringing them their food, they will begin to bond with you, especially if you scratch their necks and spend time with them. As they relax, they should begin to get more playful and friendly with you. Be patient, enjoy your new goats and have fun.
Video Credit: P. Allen Smith