Quick Start Guide to Raising Goats
I’ve always wanted to add goats to our homestead but was always a little nervous since I knew nothing about goats. As a kid, the only memory of having goats on our farm was that of coming home from church to find a goat standing on our dining room table eating my mother’s lace tablecloth. I don’t remember what my dad did with that goat but I knew we never had goats again! So see I never was exposed to raising goats.
However, my blogging budding Tracy Lynn (I know, it’s crazy that there’s another blogger named Tracy Lynn out there!) over at Simple Living Country Gal is a goat expert and she has put together this great beginner guide to raising goats I just had to share with you.
If you have always wanted to own a dairy goat (or 5!) but you just weren’t quite sure where or how to start, then you have come to the right place.
This quick start guide will not make you a goat raising expert by any means, but it will answer a few of the big questions on what you need in place before you bring a dairy goat home.
Goats are very social, so your herd should start with at least 2. If this is your first venture into raising livestock I would keep the starting outnumber small. It is important that you grow with your herd so as you feel more comfortable you can easily add more goats.
There are many different breeds of dairy goats. Each breed is known for its milk in one way or another. Do your research so you choose a breed that has the temperament and the milk that you and your family will love.
Getting Started With Dairy Goats, A Beginner’s Checklist.
- Housing. When just starting out with goats, less is more. I say this because as with any new venture and especially with livestock, simply reading is only part of the answer. Firsthand experience will go a very long way to teaching you all you need to know about goats. Like I said above, start small so you grow with our goats. This is especially true with housing.
Sheltering a goat is pretty basic really.
All you need is a place for them to get out of the rain and wind. A lean-to, a dog house (for smaller breeds) a revamped shed, even those plastic igloos will work quite well. The point is until you know if goats are the right addition to your family, I would not suggest investing money in building an elaborate shelter.
- Shelter-something you can house 1 or 2 goats in until you find a more permanent home for your little herd.
- Bedding-straw, wood shavings or sawdust will work well as bedding for your goats.
- Rake-this will help you to keep things clean.
- Wheelbarrow-toss dirty bedding in until you have enough to dump into your compost pile.
- Fencing. When you have goats, a little fence goes a long way. Build it sturdy and strong from the beginning to avoid any issues later on. You know the old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? Well, I believe that was first uttered by a goat. For some reason they believe with all their hearts that the grass is greener and unless you have a good sturdy fence in place they will try to get to it from day one.
Not all fencing is alike.
What this means is you don’t need an expensive fence to keep your 1 or 2 goats in place. Pallet fencing will work just as well (and is free in most areas). I prefer to use cattle panels for my goats’ housing and electric fencing for my pasture. The panels are pretty affordable and can be found at most feed supply stores. They also hold up quite well with large bucks, so if they can withstand a buck they can pretty much hold up to anything.
Goats are very nosey animals so they will always stand on a fence to see over it. This is where the “sturdy” comes into play. Make your fence sturdy enough to withstand constant pressing from a large goat and you will be just fine.
When I bring a new goat home I spend some time watching them in the pen. I can usually tell right away if this goat is a jumper or not. If she is I waste no time and get that fence reinforced or “lidded up” right away. As soon as a goat figures out how to get out, she will know that little trick forever.
Now, I don’t want to scare you, not all goats are Houdini’s! I have raised dozens of goats over the years and I have only had 2 that were a challenge. I just want you to be prepared so you can stop any issues before they have a chance to start.
- Cattle or pig panels-either will work but cattle panels are much taller and better able to keep goats where they belong.
- Stakes-you will need these no matter what fence option you choose.
- Zip ties-my favorite homestead tool! I use these to attach my fencing to the stakes and keep things sturdy and in place.
3.Pasture or grazing area. Most new goat owners begin with just 1 or 2 goats to get their feet wet. If this applies to you, then you won’t need to think in terms of “pasturing” to a large degree. Having a small fenced in a patch will work just fine for a couple of goats. They love the sun and they LOVE to climb. Make sure they have access to sunny areas and a few things to climb on and you will have some happy goats.
A tip is to include some rocks and if you have any, excess blocks or concrete. Goats have hooves that need attention, having rough places for them to walk and climb on will really help to keep hooves from getting overgrown.
- Fencing of choice for your pastured area.
- Rocks, tires, or other items for your goats to “play” on.
- Feed. Nothing is more important in this list than the feeding of your goats. Without the proper feed regimen, all the other prep work you do will be wasted.
First and foremost, your goats need hay. A good quality hay with alfalfa being your best choice. If you are not able to get alfalfa like we are other hays are fine as well. We feed a timothy/grass mix with alfalfa pellets to help up their protein intake.
If your goats are able to forage or graze on pasture during the day then you do not need to give them hay during that time. Our pasture is not the best quality so I do still give some hay. It all depends on your situation and the condition of your goats. If what you are feeding is promoting a healthy goat and frame then I would not change anything. Let your animals give you the clues you need to determine whether a change in feed needs to be made.
Let’s talk about grain. I am not a big feeder of grain to my non-milking does. I believe that good quality hay and free choice minerals (we will talk on these in a bit) is all I need for my goats to thrive. This may not hold true for you and your goats. Like I said before, let them tell you what is working and what is not. Get into the habit of touching your goats daily. If you feel a rough coat or a thin frame then, by all means, consider adding grain or increasing what you are giving now. This is not a guide set in stone, this is a starting point for you in your new venture.
Milking does are another story altogether. Since they are producing daily, that takes a toll on their bodies. Feeding a good quality protein-rich grain will help your does stay in prime condition. I suggest if you are just starting out, to feed the premixed grain you can find at your local feed mill or feed supply store. If you are in the suburbs or in the city (yes, I have friends with goats in the city!) you may not have a feed store close by. You can always find the feed you need at an online store such as Hoeggers or Amazon.
The amount of grain you feed your milking does all depends on milk production and the size of your goat. You want to feed enough to keep them in prime shape without overfeeding. I would start with 2-3 cups of grain while they are on the milk stand and increase/decrease as needed.
Tip: Whenever you are adjusting, adding or changing feed for your goats it is important to do so slowly. Making a change too quickly can cause your goats to get bloated and very sick. Slow and steady is key with feed and goats.
- Hay feeder-I would have 1 feeder for each goat or a large feeder they can all eat from. You can find feeders at the supply store or make your own.
- Feed bowls-make sure you have at least 1 feeder per goat. I am not a fan of group feeding. I want to see who is eating what and how much.
- Minerals. Goats above all things need free choice minerals to keep in optimum health. Free choice simply means available at all times. You can find a good mineral mix at your local feed mill. Look for one that is specifically meant for goats to ensure it contains the copper that all goats need. Goats prefer minerals with salt if you cannot find one you will need to offer free choice salt as well.
Keep 1 cup minerals per goat available at all times. Don’t panic if they devour the minerals when you first give them. Keep rations to a cup per day and add new as often as needed. Your goats will eventually slow down and taper off. Goats know what they need when it comes to minerals. If their body is craving them, they will eat them.
Another free choice item is baking soda. This is good to have out because it aids digestion by keeping the rumen pH-balanced. Baking soda also helps to treat bloat and basic tummy aches. Again, your goats will know when they need some and will eat it when they do.
- Mineral containers with at least 4-5 holders (minerals-2/baking soda/salt) They make ones that can be attached to the wall of the shelter you are using.
- Storage container to hold your minerals.
- Measuring cup-for dosing.
- Water. If you want healthy goats to make sure they have fresh and clean water at all times. I change my goat’s water 3 times a day. Our barn is dusty especially in the summer, it takes just minutes to keep water fresh and clean and it goes a long way to keep your goats healthy.
Wash and clean water buckets weekly. This is another simple tip that is easy to do and has many benefits. Clean and wash out water dishes to make sure they stay free of poo from your goats and any other animals such as birds that may be around.
- Water dish-at least 1 per goat unless it’s large.
- Cleaning supplies-scrub brush and soap.
- Dewormers. One of the number one things that can kill a goat is worms. Because of this, I want to make sure you are aware that a regimen from day one is important to have in place. On our homestead, we do not like to use chemicals unless it is absolutely necessary. We choose to herbal worm weekly and have been doing so successfully for 2 years now. However, I do realize this is not something everyone is open to doing so please know that chemical wormers are available and quite easy to get and use.
Your local feed store will have what you need. I do highly suggest that before you treat anything on your own you contact a veterinarian for advice first. Most if not all vets will help you determine what wormer will work best in your situation and walk you through the medicating process.
I don’t want this to scare you, but it is important to catch worms before they get out of control. All animals have worms. Period. We just need to make sure that those worms stay in check.
If you have a goat that is off feed, losing weight or body condition, pale eyelids or gums, rough coat or is just acting “off” then you may need to look into a worm problem. Having a fecal test done is quite easy and very affordable. Until you are comfortable dealing with worms on your own a vet may be your best way to become educated. Ask questions and take notes. My vet was my best source of education when I first got started with goats. She was better than any book or website I could access.
- Herbal wormer
- Chemical wormer
- A vet’s phone number
- Hoof trimmers. A goat must have their hooves trimmed or they will just keep growing and splitting and causing all sorts of issues. It is simple to trim hooves and there are many videos out there showing you how. Get yourself a good pair of trimmers from your feed supply store or online. Do not scrimp on these, your trimming chore will be so much easier if you have nice sharp trimmers.
- Hoof trimmers
- Milking supplies. Last but not least we will quickly go over your milking supplies. First and foremost, you need a milk stand. You can purchase one or make your own like we did. I know folks that milk without one, but having a stand is so much easier you will want to invest in one. You will also need a good steel pale to milk into, a steel funnel and milk filters to filter your milk before drinking. I say steel because it will keep your milk from absorbing any smells that may be in the barn.
You will also need a place to milk. If you do not have a large shelter for your goats, try to find a place that is close by so it is easy to take your goat to and sheltered to stay dry if it should be raining.
If you have never milked a goat before, I suggest you watch as many videos as you can. You can also visit a farm and ask to try hand milking one of their goats. This is what I did. I wanted to make sure I was able to do the milking before I committed to actually getting goats of my own.
- Milk stand
- Milk pale
I know I just threw a lot of information at you, but I truly want you to be confident and prepared before your new family arrives. So many times, people put the cart before the horse. This may not be the best way to approach animals.
Be prepared, do your homework and have a system in place. This will all go a long way to a healthy and happy herd.
Tracy Lynn gives aspiring homesteaders simple tips for simple living. She teaches others how to make it, grow it or raise it so they don’t have to buy it. She is a coffee drinking lover of all things goat and she will help you on your path to a more natural homestead.You can find her hanging out at her blog: simplelivingcountrygal.
Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA guidelines, the information offered in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a veterinarian for any advice on your own specific animal.