I’m a Goat Newbie
In fact, I brought my goats home less than two weeks ago! So what lessons can I teach you about goats? Admittedly, I have a ton of lessons yet to learn, so this list will undoubtedly get longer as time goes by. However, these past few days have taught me some valuable lessons I’d like to share.
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Goats Are, Shall We Say, ‘Headstrong’
Now this wasn’t a new concept. I’ve read about goats and their cantankerous nature. And I’ve had some pretty headstrong animals in the past. (Many thanks to our pony, Duncan, for teaching me the meaning of ‘headstrong’ at a young age.) But these goats test my patience at every turn. They push out of their stall to eat the chicken feed, they fight over their goat feed, if one is getting pets and the other isn’t…they butt heads over me. Their previous owner didn’t milk them and, although I’m making headway in training them to stand for it, they are sure to voice their opposition in more ways than one.
They are Susceptible to Stress and Infection
Bringing home new goats seemed like a pretty straightforward operation. Bring goats home, feed them, make sure they are warm and dry…no sweat, right? Wrong! Moving goats to a new home is stressful for them. This makes them more susceptible to illness and parasites. Within days of bringing home two dairy does and their kids, I had one kid fall ill with pneumonia. A trip to the goat doctor and five days of antibiotics did the trick. However, I should have been more prepared for the possibility of sick goats before I even brought them to my homestead. Lesson humbly learned.
Don’t Change Their Feed Quickly
Ok, here’s another mistake I made right out of the starting gate. I didn’t have any hay available when I brought the goats home. This all happened so quickly because the goats were going to the slaughter house if I didn’t buy them. In the process, I had no source for good quality hay. And that is pretty much all that they were eating before I bought them. I was warned not to change their diet too quickly, but my search for hay has been slowed by the time of year and low availability. So I gave them a limited serving of alfalfa cubes and slowly added grains to their diet. They had lots of straw for roughage in their diets, but it provides few nutrients.
These changes in their diet caused some bloat (free choice baking soda is helping with that) and their urine started to smell ‘fruity,’ a sign of ketosis. This is a condition in late pregnancy (Pregnancy Toxemia) or after kidding caused by undernourishment. In an attempt to provide nutrition for their unborn kid or milk for their newborn, the doe’s body begins to break down her own body fat for energy. To combat this issue, I’ve been harvesting dried grasses from our property, added a small amount of hay that I was able to scrape together, and have allowed them as much alfalfa as they want. I’ve also given them a mineral block for cattle and goats (contains the needed copper) and have slowly increased their grain allowance. They have also had an herbal worming session and I’m adding molasses and corn syrup to their water to increase hydration. ‘Sweet pee’ smell is going away…disaster averted!
The Land of Goat Milk and Honey
I grew up with cows…well, not literally. It’s not like I was raised in a barn. But we had beef cattle when I was a kid. And although they don’t give as much milk as a dairy cow, they will provide enough for a family as well as their calf. So I used to milk the cows in the spring when they were still in the barn and the calves were little. You can get a LOT of milk from a cow.
At this point we are definitely not swimming in milk and honey on our homestead. The does are producing enough milk for their kids and that’s about it. Every day I go out in the morning and milk them. But it’s more of a training session than a true milking session. Since these does were undernourished and are now getting increased rations, slowly, they are not in great milking condition. When the kids are two weeks old I will be able to remove them from their dams for the night, milk the goats in the morning, then return the kids to their mothers’ side for the day. Hopefully our production will increase to fulfill our appetite for milk at that point. When the kids are weaned I will be able to keep all of the milk for our family.
Selling or Eating the Bucklings
At first I figured I would sell the young bucks when they are weaned. Now I’m not so sure about that. They sure are cute little blighters right now, but gosh, are they a pain in the hinter regions! They jump up on me like dogs, inevitably getting goat poo on my pants. (I’m doing a lot more laundry now!) Playful is an understatement. It’s hard not to get attached to cute, playful baby goats. However, the more I consider my options, the less I like the idea of selling baby goats to people I don’t know. How do I make sure they are kind, caring, and responsible? Unless you know someone, that’s a pretty tough call. I don’t want to sell these little guys if the new owners are going to neglect them (or worse).
I’ve decided that I would rather give these little guys the best life I can for the short time they will be here with us, then process them as humanely as possible. We want to be more self reliant and provide more of our own meat. It also seems pretty likely that these guys will be a real handful when they get older…not something I look forward to. So I’m not naming the goats or getting attached. Period. End of story! So far the names that come to mind all have cuss words in them anyway…so there ya’ go.
Before You Bring Home Goats…
Make sure you’re ready for them! Don’t do what I did. I made an emotional call and picked up these animals before I was really ready for them. I didn’t have hay, feed, or equipment on hand. The day I bought these goats, I ended up running to the feed store to get everything I had to have immediately. Now I’m still adding things to my list and pretty soon I’ll feel like I have it all under control, I think. But if you are planning to add goats to your homestead, there are some things you should get ready in advance.
- Housing – draft-free, well ventilated.
- Pasture – with strong fencing.
- Hay – high-quality grass or alfalfa hay.
- Water – clean water at all times.
- Feed – try to find feed formulated specifically for goats.
- Minerals – goats need calcium, phosphorous, copper, and selenium…as well as others.
- Grooming tools – brush, hoof trimming, and cleaning tools.
- Halters and lead ropes – for ‘easy’ handling.
- Probiotics – helpful for their digestion and making any dietary changes.
- Thermometer – get the rectal kind that gives a reading in 60 seconds or less.
This isn’t a complete list. If you are milking your goats you will probably want a milk stand and maybe one of those hand held milking machines. Hobbles will come in handy for preventing the doe from putting her foot in your milk bucket or kicking it over. If you think of your goats more as pets than livestock, you might want some toys and treats…just don’t overdo the treats.
A Few Handy Tips for Goat Newbies:
- If you have your goats in a pen or stall together, tie them up for feeding. This will prevent one dominant goat from eating all of the grain.
- Build a hay rack to prevent the goats from wasting their hay.
- If they have horns, be careful around them.
- This should go without saying, but don’t leave your children unattended around goats.
- Change goat rations slowly and increase feed for lactating and pregnant goats.
- Keep an eye on your goats for the first couple weeks after bringing them home. Watch for lack of appetite, heavy breathing or wheezing, coughing, loose stools, or standing off by themselves. Take their temperature if they seem to be acting sick and be ready to call the vet quickly, as a goat’s health may decline rapidly.
- Many sites give conflicting information about a goat’s normal temperature. One site listed a normal temp as 104 -106, another 101-103, and yet another at 101.5 -102. The gentleman I bought the goats from said that 102 was a mild fever. From what I’ve read, it sounds like there is some variation between individuals and the time of day and conditions. So learn to take your goat’s temperature and find out what is normal for them, before they start symptoms of illness.
- Don’t bring home just one goat. They are herd animals and I’ve read that they will die of loneliness if they don’t have a friend.
- Try goat milk before you make the plunge. 🙂
I Have Long Road Ahead of Me…
and I’m sure there will bumps and potholes that will test my patience and resolve to keep goats. Life is always like that. As I learn more about keeping goats, training them, and (sorry) butchering them, I will share my experiences with you. I hope you’ll share your stories and expertise with goats too!
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