Raising goats can be an intimidating prospect for a newbie keeper. Anyone who has raised goats before surely has more than a few stories to tell about their antics. But, with a proper set up and armed with accurate knowledge, keeping goats can be both a rewarding and lucrative proposition. Let me share with you some tips on how and what you need for raising goats, save yourself a headache.
The needs of a goat herd are rather basic: a safe sleeping space, firm boundaries, an area to browse for food, clean food and water containers, and routine health care. Once you have these set up basics in place, looking ahead for potential problems can help you avoid them as much as humanly possible when dealing with such independent and ornery livestock.
Goats are notorious for getting out of their pen. My farming Papaw used to say if you can pour water through a goat pen fence then the members of the herd will find a way out of it too. Realizing from the start that I did not want a constant daily battle over pen escape, I opted to teach my goat to free range.
Living on a 56-acre survival homestead where both our home and barnyard are a half a mile up our private farm road, engaging in such a goat living situation was far less problematic than it would be for folks who are keeping goats on small acreage or in a small town or suburban backyard. But, goats are highly intelligent animals that can be trained as easily as dogs to learn their boundaries and to mind their humans.
If you want to teach your goats to free range I highly recommend starting with a single doe or nanny goat before purchasing more herd members. Once you have taught the goat her boundaries by tying her out during the daytime in areas that she is free to roam in – while still keeping her sleeping pen or barn stall in sight, you can begin to turn her loose for short amounts of time under your supervision to make sure she does not stray from her designated area or your homestead in general.
I have used this technique on more than a dozen goats and it typically does not take more than a couple of days for the goat to learn where it is and is not allowed to wander. Having plenty of browsing material and/or hay to munch upon in the central browsing location helps to keep the goat near the pen or stall area. I also use a healthy treat to reward the goat during the training process and to teach them it is time for “put up” at dusk. Goats should always be secured in a pen or stall to protect them from predators overnight – even if you keep a well-trained pair of livestock guardian dogs in the barnyard.
When you are satisfied that the nanny goat or doe is trained to free range sufficiently, then you can add a Billy goat to the mix. The intact male goat is going to stick to the female like glue, it is unlikely that you will need to tie him out for more than one day to teach him to remain within the designated boundaries.
After these two goats are trained to free range, any other goats you add to the barnyard will meld into the herd or veteran homestead occupants and roam around within the boundaries along with them – as will kids born to any nanny goats. It is only my herd started goats that I ever have to actively teach to free range and not their offspring or new additions – even if the new goats are mature or have rarely been handled by humans.
If free ranging the goat herd is not something you truly want to do and dedicate the time needed during the initial training – or are allowed to do where you live, then invest as much money and time as your budget allows into sturdy fence construction.
Use small gauge high tensile wire fencing attached firmly to wood posts with strands of barbed and/or electric fencing in between the panels to prevent climbing and scratching on the outer fence, which can weaken it to the point that it bows or collapses entirely.
Developing rapport and trust with the goats is a good thing, even if you are raising the animals for meat. A goat that is not accustomed to interacting with humans will be incredibly hard to catch if it gets out and equally difficult to tend to if it becomes sick or injured.
Some folks believe you need to bottle feed goats, removing them from their mother’s to do so, in order to tame them. This type of goat taming tactic has not been my experience at all. While I do firmly believe that handling the kids from their day of birth onward, I have never needed to engage in bottle feeding to develop a relationship of trust and even affection, with members of our goat herd.
Talk to the goats as you pick them up, always cradling their front and back legs against your body so they can feel something solid beneath their hooves. The kids will likely squirm and wail at first, but just keep petting them and talking to them, offering them a treat on occasion, before putting them back down into the stall with their momma. Expect them to bolt or run to their momma’s belly or back for safety for at least a few days after being handled.
Getting the goats used to human touch, sound, and smell from an early age makes working with them and training them a far simpler prospect. Every evening near put up time the entire goat herd runs up from the barnyard to greet me and then follows me back down to their stall for a little treat as I tell them good night. You will be tempted to start keeping goats as pets.
Goats are social animals and have a herd mentality like horses. When I got our first nanny goat, she buddied up with my female blue heeler until she received a mate and other herd members. Pearl (the Nigerian Dwarf nanny goat) and Jovie followed behind me everywhere I went and even napped cuddle up together at my feed on the porch. All dogs and goats do not get along so famously, keep this in mind when keeping both dogs and goats on your homestead.
A goat must have a companion animal of some type to prevent anxious and bad behavior – increasing the likelihood of escape attempts. There is safety in numbers, yet another reason to keep a solid herd of goats or to keep a goat alongside a safe companion animal to help protect it from predators. Goats and sheep often live together in the same pen quite well. But, I have seen more than one mean ewe or Billy goat cause damage or even death to herd members that are not of their same breed. It does not take long to notice that each goat possesses its own distinctive personality traits. You will have to judge carefully which herd members will tolerate intermingling not just with other animals on the barnyard, but with new additions to the herd, in general. A definite hierarchy will develop in the goat herd, not all new members will either be accepted or safe if a strong willed nanny goat or your Billy goat refuses to accept them.
If you goats will be kept solely or primarily in a pen, providing boredom busters is an absolute must. Bored goats are destructive goats – never forget this valuable tip. Provide the goats with items to climb on, climb through, and play with.
Make sure that any upcycled or purchased material you use to make the goat playground do not have any old nails sticking out, sharp metal edges, or other attributes which could lead to mild injuries that could easily become infected or severe injuries. Goats, even miniature breeds, are excellent climbers and jumpers, situate the play areas in the middle of the pen to avoid the “toys” being used as an escape ladder.
Bloating is one of the most common goat ailments you will have to deal with when keeping this type of livestock. Goats, like cattle and sheep, are ruminant animals. When one of the four chambers of their stomach get out of whack from eating the wrong thing or even too much of the right thing, bloat occurs.
Goat bloat can be deadly if not detected and treated quickly. Keeping goat drench on hand or making your own natural version is highly recommended. But, daily prevention measures can help thwart the occurrence of goat bloat – this goat husbandry chore is both simple and cheap. Simply offer baking soda as a daily free choice snack to the goat herd. Goats like baking soda and will instinctively munch on it when their rumen begins to feel off.
Resist the urge to get too many goats at once – even if that means you are going to pass on what seems like an awesome deal. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. If you are new to goat keeping or are switching from keeping one type of goat either in size or use another – or branching out in either breed or type, you must be able to commit the time to work with each goat and acclimate them into your husbandry routine. If you become overwhelmed by taking on too many goats, expect the training to go poorly and bad behavior or injuries to result in the herd.
Billy Goat Woes
I have been blessed with the best Billy goat on the planet, he behaves perfectly 99.9 percent of the time. Whether it was just this particular Billy goat’s laid back nature or his training, or both that prevented him from becoming aggressive and territorial I will never know. Before purchasing a Billy goat you should definitely spend at minimum of one hour watching how he interacts with both his herd and humans.
Keeping more than one Billy goat is usually recommended against, but due to Not Negan’s docile personality and likely because of the space my goat herd has to free range, I have never had difficulty with allowing one of his male kids to remain intact.
Regardless of how friendly a Billy goat is, you will have to ensure he does not overly tax the does and nanny goats in the herd, doing so can substantially harm them and disrupt their milk production. Some goat keepers do not allow Billy goats to be in the same pen with the rest of the herd except at mating time, you may need to go this route with an overly amorous or aggressive Billy goat to protect the rest of the herd from his potentially harmful behavior.
I have found that allowing the goat herd to behave as close as possible to their natural instincts, just as they would if living without human intervention, the bad behaviors often associated with Billy goats going into rut as part of the mating process, has successfully been averted. But, no matter how you decide to keep a Billy goat or how many you possess, there is absolutely no way to escape that nasty Billy goat musk the intact male goat will release when he is looking to mate.
Removing the horns from goats when they are still in the bud stage not long after kids are born is a matter of keeper preference. Removing the horns of the goats will not prevent males from head butting each other or you, but can make the hit a lot less painful.
When horn buds are removed properly, the goat does not experience any pain during the process. I recommend against removing the only mode of self-defense goats have against predators. I too was once concerned about keeping goats on our homestead with big old horns that could cause damage to the property and people, especially children. But, by training the goats thoroughly day one I have never had any such dire results from allowing the herd members to keep their horns.
Install some type of a narrow scratching post in the pen for the goats to use to scratch in between their horns to deter them for using the fence, gate, or other items on the homestead to satisfy this need.
Nursing Stall – Quarantine Stall
In addition to setting up a goat pen or goat stall in the barn to keep the herd members at night, you should also create an equally secure space that can be used to quarantine sick goats and new herd members to ensure they are not sick. Keep any new goat members in the quarantine stall of small quarantine pen for at least one week so you have time to inspect them thoroughly for any wounds or signs of illness – or worms, before allowing them to mingle with the rest of the herd.
A nursing stall should be kept created and kept separate from the quarantine stall and the primary goat pen. Pregnant nanny goats should be moved into the nursing stall several days to a week prior to the expected kidding date and be kept in the same space for two or three weeks with their kids after they are born. Not only will jealous Billy goats attempt to attack the kids, they may also try to mate with their nanny goat before she is even remotely ready for such attention.
I strongly urge against purchasing goats at a livestock auction unless it is localized so you know the reputation of the breeders or keepers and get the opportunity to view the animals in advance of them being led across the auction block.
The rules governing the livestock auction should also clearly indicate what type of health checks have been done on the animals as well as include their vaccination record. Doping livestock to make an aggressive animal of any breed seem demure or to hide the pain the animal is in when walking, is unfortunately always a possibility.
These top 10 goat tips can help you avoid pitfalls that could easily derail your efforts of establishing a healthy and productive goat herd. Doing the due diligence when inspecting goats before purchase, during pen set up, and throughout the training process is vital to the overall success of your goat keeping efforts. Failing to properly train, house, or manage a herd can easily lead to illness or injury overtaking an otherwise healthy herd in mere days or weeks.