Thinking about raising goats? You’re not alone. After chickens, goats are the fastest growing livestock animal.
They’ve become increasingly popular on small farms because they’re easy to care for and also very useful.
In fact, a goat that’s raised right can be as loyal, companionable, and charming as a family dog, and in some cases, a lot more useful too.
If you’re intrigued by goats and are looking to care for some yourself, you’re in the right place. Here, we’re sharing everything you need to know about raising goats. From food to shelter, wellbeing, and everything in between, this article covers it all.
Get at Least Two Goats
They get bored and lonely when alone. It is never a good idea to just have one goat, you need at a minimum two goats. Two does or a doe and a wether (a neutered male goat) or a buck and a doe, if you are ready to start a little herd. They huddle and cuddle, they eat and they sleep together.
In fact, I don’t like selling a single goat to anyone. I have had too many people contact me over the years desperate to find a second goat because someone else sold them a single goat that is now getting into trouble. Goats are herd animals, which means they are not happy when alone.
Coccidia: A Parasite Found in All Goats
If you see diarrhea among your goat herd, especially among the kids, then it’s likely that your animals are suffering from coccidiosis. Coccidiosis in goats is both common and easily prevented. Treated, it’s minor. Untreated, it can kill young animals and have lifelong health effects on survivors.
Coccidiosis is an infection of the coccidian parasite Eimeria, a common protozoan. There are 12 different kinds of this protozoan that affect goats, but only two cause problems (E. arloingi and E. ninakohlyakimovae). Other species of Eimeria are found in chickens, cattle, dogs, rabbits, etc. Because it is species-specific, goats cannot pass the parasite to or receive it from other livestock species.
De-Worm Your Goats
Gastrointestinal parasites (worms) are a common problem for many goat owners, particularly those living in humid environments. Internal parasites can affect animals in subtle ways resulting in decreased growth, milk production, and lower feed efficiencies. They steal resources from their host sheep or goat meaning your animal needs more feed to achieve the same amount of growth and production than they would without high numbers of worms. Internal parasites can also affect your animals more severely leading to serious disease and death in some animals.
It is impossible and more importantly unnecessary to eliminate all internal parasites in your goats. Goats, also called small ruminants, tolerate some level of internal parasites well with minimal consequences on their health. That said, gastrointestinal parasites pose a greater threat goats than to other livestock species.
This is because goats graze closer to the ground than cattle, increasing exposure to parasites. Additionally, goats are less adapted to high parasite loads, are more likely to develop disease from internal parasites, and produce very concentrated feces. These concentrated feces allow worm eggs to reach high levels.
Give them Baking Soda
Baking soda can be a useful addition to your goat’s diet. It can aid in digestion issues and help to prevent bloat, a sometimes deadly condition caused by overeating or eating the wrong food.
Goats usually pass gas as they digest their food, releasing the fermentation gases. Bloat happens when the gases form in tiny bubbles and the goat is unable to pass them.
Signs of bloat:
- When you look at a healthy goat head-on, you should see their abdomen bowed out evenly on each side. If the left side (the rumen side) is extended (i.e., sticking out considerably farther than the right), your goat may have bloat
- When you tap the abdomen, it might feel like a tight, hollow drum
- When bloated, your goat may show signs of pain such as teeth grinding, pawing, moaning, resting their head against a fence, etc.
Offering your goat baking soda on a daily basis can help balance the pH levels in the rumen (similar to how heartburn relief works in humans).
Give Goats Mineral Supplements
Mineral supplementation is always necessary for goats on pasture. Although the grass may appear lush and green, there are natural deficiencies and/or excesses that exist in soil — and if certain nutrients aren’t available, the forage will be lacking.
Additionally, some minerals that are found in soil, water and other feedstuffs may bind with different minerals, rendering them unavailable. Examples of these negative interactions include excess calcium interfering with the availability of magnesium and excess sulfur interfering with the availability of copper.
These deficiencies or excesses may not be noticeable overnight — but what happens when the mineral requirements are not met over time? Production will be negatively affected before clinical symptoms even appear.
When the immune system is compromised and growth and reproductive function decline, the animal is inefficient and, ultimately, costs the producer money.
Probiotics are Important
Probiotics help to maintain normal appetite and digestion following stressful events for goats. Replenishes beneficial microbial populations to help get animals back to a healthy state quickly. Maintains digestion so animal utilizes feed more efficiently.
Maintains normal health and longevity of livestock. It helps restore digestive balance after periods of stress and maintains ongoing healthy digestion and nutrient uptake in animals. Administer to goats at times of stress: during ration changes, birth, weaning, shipping, weather changes or post-antibiotic treatment. Can also use as part of a prevention program.
Provide Proper Shelter
Goat shelters do not need to be expensive. Three-sided shelters that protect the goats from wind and precipitation are adequate. Goats will need shade and protection from drafts. Straw, shredded paper, and shavings can all be used as bedding.
Goats need about 1.3m2 of bedded area per goat to be comfortable. Goats like to sleep with their heads uphill and enjoy sleeping on raised areas such as shelves or bunks.
The biggest challenge in meat goat production is protecting goats from drafts. Cold, damp drafts will decimate a group of young goats more quickly than any other single factor.
Do not confuse drafts with fresh air. Goats need fresh air, but fresh air needs to come from above the animal where it can mix with warmer air before it contacts the goat. Drafts blowing under doors and across floors can reduce healthy kids to animals with pneumonia and scours overnight.
Keep Goats Warm in Winter
If you raise goats, keeping these animals warm in the winter is an important consideration. No matter whether you are raising goats for fun or profit, if you don’t keep them warm, you can kiss all the fun and profit goodbye. What follows are some tips to make sure that your goats stay warm and dry during the cold winter months.
Goats need to feed on roughage to create heat from the inside out. In fact, if goats are fed only grain and no hay they can freeze to death. Roughage comes from things like hay, silage, beat pulp shred, brush, grass, and fodder.
Insulation is key. Insulating your barn can seem like a large investment but you will get your money back in the form of warm and comfortable animals.
Ventilation is good, drafts are bad. Cold air on the floor of the barn can accumulate toxic gases but proper ventilation will push cold, unhealthy air out and bring warm, clean air from the barn ceiling down. Keep in mind, however, that improper ventilation will create drafts and cold air will blow on your goats. This leaves them susceptible to things like pneumonia.
Keep fur healthy. Goats grow furry coats in the winter. Most breeds have a two-layer fur coat with long hairs on top and fluffy cashmere underneath. To ensure that this fur coat remains healthy, consider supplementing your goats with the minerals that support fur growth. Zinc and copper are two such minerals.
Provide proper hydration. In the winter, water is vital to avoid dehydration. It is important to remember that goats rarely eat ice or snow and hate dirty or stale water. To keep your goats healthy it is imperative that you provide them with plenty of clean, freshwater or risk dehydration.
An active goat is a healthy goat. Unless it is bitterly cold, windy or raining or snowing, getting outside for a few hours a day is a great way for goats to create heat. It also provides fun and excitement. Multiple feeding stations is a good way to get goats moving, as are things like toys and climbing platforms.
Get goats off the ground. Goats are most comfortable resting and sleeping off of the ground on platforms or deep bedding piles. Fresh, deep bedding and platforms keep goats from lying on cold dirt or concrete which pulls heat from their bodies.
Give Them Lots of Fresh Water
Water is an essential nutrient for all animals, including goats, but it can sometimes be overlooked in the bigger picture of livestock health and nutrition.
All goats need a continuous supply of fresh, clean water at all times. This can be water from a spring, well, or municipal supply depending on the farm. Regardless of origin, a farm’s water supply should be tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any mineral or organic contaminants and is free of bacteria like coliform or E. coli.
Overall, goats are more particular about water quality than other livestock, so cleanliness and freshness is very important to ensure goats are consuming enough water. Some goats are also sensitive to water temperature. For dairy goats in particular, a water temperature of 15°C is ideal; their water consumption will drop off if the water is below 5°C.
Trim Their Hooves
Depending on the environment goats live in, they may need more or less frequent trimming. For example, goats living in rocky conditions where the hoof will wear against the ground may need less frequent trimming than a goat that lives in a grass pasture. Be familiar with the environment your goats live in and keep accurate records of when you perform hoof care. This will help you determine an appropriate schedule for your herd.
Goat’s hooves should not be allowed to over-grow as this keeps the animal walking properly. The goal of the trim should be to make the bottom of the hoof be flat and at the same angles as the hair line at the top of the hoof. All dirt and manure should be removed from the hoof prior to trimming.
As always, when trimming your goats’ hooves, pay attention to the health of the hoof. Look for any signs of founder, abscesses, contagious hoof rot or granuloma. Goats that may have hoof infections should be treated accordingly.