Proper goat care will directly impact the health of your herd. A hardy herd begins with the purchase of quality and healthy goats but it is the daily maintenance of the livestock that will create happy farm pets, brush clearers, milk producers, and a source of protein. Learning the basics of goat husbandry might feel a bit overwhelming at first. But, once you garner a little knowledge you will easily get into the routine of conducting quick and simply daily pen and health checks while doing morning barn chores. Being able to identify small problems before they become large once is vital to the health and proper care of the goat herd. It is important to first learn about raising goats. Read our guide on raising goats here.
Goats Are Herd Animals
Goats are herd animals and should never be kept alone. A lonely goat will become a bored and destructive creature that will be far more prone to escape attempts.
Keeping at least two goats at a time is recommended, but other barnyard livestock can also provide companionship to goats in a safe manner. Sheep and miniature donkeys are the most common type of goat companion animals.
Miniature donkeys also help provide protection against one of the most common goat predators – coyotes. Mini donkeys thrive on chasing and relentlessly kicking coyotes. Dogs are not recommended to keep as companion animals with goats. Sometimes the two animals can live together forever and get along fine, but then one day all of that can change in a mere second after a goat decides to horn a dog that it had previously gotten along with.
Top 10 Goat Care Priorities
- Pen Construction
- Feeding Habits
- Watering Habits
- Mineral Supplements
- Breeding Habits
- Hoof Trimming
- Medical Care
- Record Keeping
Goat Pen Requirements
A wood shed style or small barn shelter is the most common way keepers protect goats from the elements. Free ranging goats are often herded into a horse stall inside of a barn at night and given free access to the space during the day so they can retreat to the area in times of inclement weather.
Straw or hay will be necessary inside the shelter for the goats to use as bedding. If you are keeping miniature goats, using dog houses to allow each one an individual living space is fine, but the animals will still need at least a 3-sided lean to for gathering inside when they feed and to stretch their legs instead of remaining cooped up inside of the dog houses during times of inclement weather.
How Much Space Does My Goat Need?
The shelter should provide approximately 20 square feet of space per goat for sleeping. The pen itself should allow for a 4 foot by 5 foot space for each goat to move about – at a bare minimum.
The goat pen is the most important line of defense the goat herd will have against predators. Because goats are highly skilled escape artists and can also be prone to poking their heads into places that they cannot retreat from because their horns get stuck, the materials you use to create a pen and how you use them is extremely important. Free ranging your goat herd vastly decreases the amount of space required to pen them when needed, but does not change the basic safety and security care that must be taken when constructing the habitat.
Even if you choose to free range our goats so they can browse for their own food and keep the wooded and grassy areas of your homestead neatly trimmed, they still should have a pen or stall in the barn to be kept at night.
Goats should not be kept in a pen that is made of barbed wire, electric fencing, high tensile metal panels, hog panels, or wood alone. It will take a combination of two or three of these common livestock fencing types to keep the goats in, keep goats from getting hurt climbing or poking their heads through the fencing, and to prevent predators from getting inside.
The best fencing set up for proper goat care would be a wood panel fence with strands of electrical fencing strung in between the wood panels that are separated by no more than three inches of space.
Hog or cattle panels with openings no wider than four inches are also commonly used to pen goats safely. These panels should also be reinforced with a topper or wood and either electric fencing or barbed wired – or both.
Standard size goats can climb fencing that is less than 48 inches tall. If you are keeping miniature goat breeds like Nigerian dwarf goats, Pygmy goats, or Kinders, the fencing can be as short as 36 inches to keep the goats in – typically.
Goats, especially Billy (buck) goats are known to push roughly onto fencing. All goats will likely use the fencing around their pen to scratch in between their hooves and their bodies. To prevent the fencing from sagging or giving until it falls over entirely, use hardwood posts and not metal T-posts are supports every six that are a minimum of 4 inches in diameter. Corner posts should also be made out of hardwood and be a minimum of 10 inches in diameter.
The livestock entry gate into the goat pen should also be comprised of thick gauge metal or hardwood. Goats will attempt to climb out of the pen gate if it too is not tall enough or topped with some type of enclosure deterrent like electric fencing or barbed wire.
Never use chain link fencing around any goat pen, even if you are keeping miniature goat breeds. Goats will attempt to climb the fencing and often experience broken legs or broken necks when a hoof or horn gets caught or a leg slips in between the chain link panels.
In addition to building a goat pen with a shelter to protect the herd from the elements, you also should create a spacious nursing stall and goat quarantine area. Separating an injured or sick goat from the rest of the herd can help protect both it and the other animals in the herd.
A nanny goat or pregnant doeling should be placed in a nursing stall before she gives birth to protect her and her newborn kids from other goats while she is in a weakened state, especially rowdy Billy goats. The nursing stall should be large enough for the momma and her babies to move about freely because they should remain in the stall for at least the first two weeks after the kids are born.
The kids will be too small to be placed with the rest of the herd until they are about four weeks old, on average, Allowing the momma and her babies time outside of the nursing stall on a daily basis is highly recommended. The stall should have a covered top to prevent hawks, eagles, and other predators from climbing inside and killing the baby goats or the nursing nanny goat. Bird netting, chicken wire, or hardware cloth (rabbit pen wire) are inexpensive options for coviner a nursing stall or an entire goat pen. Predators like bobcats could easily chew through bird netting, but no animal typically wants to climb out onto something that gives and sways beneath their weight for fear of falling through.
The interior of the nursing stall should have some type of playthings to prevent the kids from getting bored and to stimulate their natural desire to climb and romp. Some logs, a tree stump, tires, or a wooden ramp can do the trick.
Like with the shelter you will make to house the entire goat herd at night and during inclement weather, the nursing stall must also have straw or hay for the goats to use as bedding, a waterer and a feeder. The bedding must be mucked out of the shelter and pen regularly once it becomes soiled to prevent the spread of bacteria from droppings and the spread of disease.
Remove all of the hay and straw immediately if a member of the herd becomes ill. If possible, relocate the entire herd temporarily during a suspected illness and disinfect the entire shelter, feeders, waterers, and fencing to prevent potential spread of the illness.
Goats are ruminant animals, they have four chambers in their stomach. They must have the proper ratio of roughage and grain to sustain a healthy and fully functional. When a goat’s ruminant gets out of whack it will cause the animal to become bloated – which can be deadly.
Hay and naturally foraged items like twigs, leaves, grass, and brush should be the basis and bulk of their diet. Standard size goats consume between two to four pound of hay per day – minus any natural roughage they browse for when free ranging or via crops that are planted in or around their pen for their consumption.
Grain or pelleted feed and cracked corn should be fed sparingly – if at all during the months of the year when the goats can browse extensively on their own. Never feed a goat more than one-fourth of a one quart scoop of grain feed daily.
The grain feeders must be washed out once a week to prevent any scrap bits of food from decaying or molding and exposing the herd to bacteria – or droppings from rodents that scurry to eat the tiny bits of scrap food.
If a member of the herd becomes ill, either dispose of the feeders or thoroughly disinfect them before replacing them inside the pen.
Goats always need access to clean water. Provide a natural water source or water tubs for the goats to drink out of throughout the day. Pregnant and nursing nanny goats typically consume more water than they typically would when not preparing for kidding.
Clean the waterers out once a week with hot soapy water to remove any residue, debris, harmful bacteria or growths, etc. that could be in the water or is stuck to the side of the water tub. If you discover a sick goat in your herd, remove all waterers immediately and thoroughly disinfect or dispose of them and replace with new ones.
To help prevent goat bloat, keep baking soda inside of a feeder tub in the pen for the herd to consume as a free choice snack. The baking soda can help release the build up of grass that makes the stomach of the goat swell up like a drum.
Mineral blocks and salt blocks (especially in the summer) should be placed inside the goat pen as another free choice snack.
If you want to grow your herd for personal homestead use or to start a breeding operation, goat breeding best practices should always be followed. Over breeding of a nanny goat or breeding a doeling or a buckling before they are large enough and mature enough to do so safely can cause harm or death to the breeding pair and the kids.
A female goat is ready for breeding when she enters estrus – more commonly referred to as heat. It is during this time that a doeling or nanny will standing willingly for a Billy goat to mount her and mate.
The estrus stage typically lasts between 12 hours to three days. Most goat breeds enter estrus once roughly every 21 days. To keep the nanny goat in optimal health and to produce strong and healthy kids, it is recommended to allow a female goat to breed no more than two – or at the very most three times per year.
When a Billy goat realizes a female is in heat, he will try to entice her by urinating on himself and making all sorts of odd noises and facials expressions – as well as release his stinky buck musk scent.
If penned separately, a Billy will constantly work as hard as he can to get to a potential mate – often pushing through pen walls and hurting himself in the process. Penning the nanny or doeling in heat with the Billy goat throughout the estrus peak and allowing nature to take its course is usually the best option for each of the animals. If you keep two Billy goats, they will fight each other over a female in heat – relentlessly.
To determine if a doeling or nanny goat is pregnant you can pay for a vet to take a blood test or do the “pooch” test. Two weeks after mating, simply lift up the tail of the nanny goat and visually inspect both her anus and her vulva. If the anus appears to be sagging and the vulva is elongated, she is probably pregnant. Allow a pregnant doeling or nanny to have double her typical grain rations, roughage, and access to mineral supplements. As she gets closer to her kidding date and while nursing, pour molasses on her feed to help beef up her energy and nutrient levels.
Stop milking a nanny goat and allow her to freshen about 60 days before she is expected to begin kidding. The gestation for goats is approximately 121 to 152 days long. When the goat begins to nest and eat less, kidding should begin within several days.
Once the nanny goat or doeling is settled into the nursing stall, check her multiple times per day for signs that kidding has begun. Many goat breeds need help easing the kid out, especially when giving birth for the first time.
Once baby goats are born they start both walking and nursing immediately. Be prepared with goat milk replacement and livestock nursing bottles in case the nanny goat becomes injured or dies while kidding – or simply cannot produce enough milk to satisfy all of her kids.
Just 24 hours after coming into the world newborn kids begin eating roughage and grain in small amounts. Never force feed onto a baby goat, they will eat something other than their mother’s milk when they are ready. Their first droppings will often look fairly orange and be runny.
A goat’s hooves will need trimmed about every six weeks. If you goat herd free ranges in an are that includes rocky terrain, you may not have to trim the hooves at often or at all. You can pay a veterinarian or ferria to trim the hooves of the goats in your herd, but that will probably cost a minimum of $15 per animal. Learning how to safely goat hooves is really not difficult and the manual tools needed to complete this goat husbandry task cost less than $100 and should last for decades.
There are multiple vaccinations that can be given to goats to prevent contagious and deadly disease. Most of these vaccines can be purchased from an agricultural supply store and administered at home by you.
How many vaccines are given is largely a personal decision or one influenced by livestock guidelines to suppliers who purchase meat and milk from your herd. The two vaccines I consider the most important to give to my goats include the Tetanus and CL bacterin vaccine.
Your livestock veterinarian can give you far more guidance on the pros and cons associated with each vaccine type.
Goats should be wormed between four to six times per year. You can purchase liquid wormer that can be messy to give to the goats because they often fight the process. Using flavored worming pellets is no more expensive and far less problematic – most goats look at the pellets as a treat and beg for more.
I sprinkle diatomaceous Earth into my feed tubs because it is a natural parasite fighter and offers other benefits to not just goats but other livestock – and possibly humans as well. This helps prevent a parasitic infestation in between more conventional worming methods. Do not worm pregnant or lactating goats. Baby goats should be wormed when they are eight weeks old.
Keeping the goat pen ground area cleaned regularly and rotating the browsing pasture can also help prevent worm infestations problems from developing. Worms in droppings have the time to dry up and die without a host if the herd is rotated into different areas about every three days.
Learning the signs and symptoms associated with common goat disease and sickness will help prevent the loss of one goat- or the entire herd in mere days. Keeping track of the weight of each goat, general food intake of the herd, and details about mating and kidding will help you determine when something might be amiss with any of the animals and to alert you when a Billy goat or nanny might be aging out of the mating process.
Keeping detailed records about new husbandry habits and feed changes can also help you learn which methods and feeds are working best for the herd and help you track your feed spending to develop an accurate budget for the next year.
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