Goat’s milk is rich and sweet, and highly nutritious – a prominent component of the traditional diets of long-lived Mediterranean nations. Goat milk is very healthy, and is tolerated by many who cannot consume cow milk.
Goats can also produce fine meat.
Goats are the backbone of this mini-farm system. The success of the rest of the system rests on them, as they produce the fertilizer for all the fruit trees and gardens.
Their manure can be the main organic matter for the production of black soldier fly larvae for chicken feed. Not to mention, goats are friendly and have fantastic personalities!
The marvelous thing about ruminants (goats, cow, camels, sheep, deer) is that they actually get calories from cellulose (fiber). Cellulose is an undigestible carbohydrate and no other animal can get calories from it. Fiber is fermented in the rumen of this type of animal by beneficial bacteria, that then produce MCA, a type of saturated fat. This fat, then enters the animal’s bloodstream, and is metabolized like any other food source. Since ruminants are getting all of this fat from cellulose, they need to eat much less, and can make use of plant matter that would be totally useless to other animals. Fallen tree leaves, for example. In addition, ruminants possess a mechanism to spare nitrogen. When a diet is low in nitrogen, large amounts of urea, instead of being excreted in the urine, return to the rumen where it can be converted by microbes into amino acids and proteins, which are then passed on to the animal. In non—ruminants, urea is always entirely lost in the urine. So, you see the land can support many more ruminants than other types of animals, like rabbits or hogs. I think this is why the Jewish people were forbidden to eat non-ruminant animals (those that didn’t split the hoof and chew the cud.) Eating other animals, such as pigs, could result in famine eventually. On tope of it all, goats highest feed conversion ratio of domestic ruminants. In other words, they are the most efficient animal.h
GENERAL GOAT CARE
Goats are sometimes seen as high-care animals, but that need not be the case. They do require a certain amount of infrastructure, but once that’s up, they take little time and effort. Goats are seen as delicate or hardy depending on who you’re talking to. This is because they have few real needs, but will fail badly and quickly, if they are not met. The basics are: dry housing – good hay/forage – clean food.
Goats can take the scorching heat and scarce food supply of the desert as well as the rugged terrain, cold and snow of the mountains. However, they are not adapted to wet, swampy conditions, and will not thrive in such conditions. This does not mean you can’t raise them in a wet, humid climate, it just means you must provide some kind of shelter where they can lie down in a dry spot. The other requirement goats have is plenty of good quality pasture or forage, or at least good hay. This is something you can easily run into trouble with. Hay can be moldy, too stubbly, or even dirty. (We had a batch one time that had cow manure baled into it!) Bad hay is a particularly easy way to run into trouble. Goats need a high calcium-phosphorus ratio. They get their calcium from forage and/or hay. If they’re not really eating their hay, then they essentially will be eating only grain. Goats cannot live long on an all-grain diet. Grain is very high in phosphorus and very low in calcium. So, it just won’t work. A good safety measure is to feed at least half of their hay as alfalfa pellets. That way, if the hay isn’t just right, then you’re still o.k. Of course, if the pasture/forage is abundant, you don’t need hay or pellets.
Goats are very particular about cleanliness. Goats make sure everything smells good, before they eat or drink it. A goat would rather go hungry than even eat out of a dirty food pan or bucket. Sometimes, you can’t even see the dirt…. a mouse was in there last night! Gross! Of course, if the water isn’t clean, they’d rather just go thirsty!
I think the reason for this is that goats are adapted to drier climates. Bacteria, which is responsible for the bad smells, thrives in wet conditions. The goats’s digestive system is more efficient than a cow, and therefore whatever they eat takes longer to pass through the digestive tract. This makes the goat more vulnerable to bacteria, parasites etc. So the goat is instinctively protecting itself by only consuming clean food. They also prefer to pasture when it’s dry, sometimes they will wait after a rain until the pasture dries before really setting into it. I’ve had bottle-fed kids, (that thought I was their mother), fuss to me about wet pasture – they wanted me to do something about it!
So, a nice dry shelter, and good, clean hay and/or forage, are the main keys.
Grain has it’s purpose, but should be kept to a minimum, about 6-8 oz for a small goat – a little more if they are producing heavily. Their diet shouldn’t be overly rich in protein, either. Alfalfa, or other leguminous hay, should not be the sole forage, as it contains too much protein. So, some grass etc. should be part of the diet. If there is no pasture, you can feed alfalfa pellets and timothy pellets. They say goats must have some course forage (long strings of hay), so they chew their cud, and therefore, you cannot feed only pellets. However, I’ve seen a couple goats do just fine on Alfalfa pellets and some grain and bran. Ideally, goats should have some woody forage also – shrubs, grapevines, tree leaves etc. This is the beauty of having a multi-faceted mini-farm – you’re fruit tree and landscape trimmings get turned into milk!
Goat’s most essential need is pasture or hay. They need a little grain for health, but it’s mostly to increase production. Carbohydrates increase the rate of fermentation in the rumen, and thus make higher forage intakes possible. Carbohydrate intake determines milk production to a great extent.
Alfalfa or timothy pellets can take the place of the hay.
I feed a 1-1 grain mix and alfalfa pellets when the pasture is good, and 1-2 grain to alfalfa pellet ratio (or, ideally 1-1-1- grain/alfalfa/timothy in the winter.
Here is the grain mix I use:
1-2 parts whole oats
1 part whole corn
1 part wheat bran
1 part beet shreds or pellets
Mix molasses in with this mixture.
A word of WARNING on grain: Goats do not know when to stop eating grain, and they can easily die of bloat if they gorge on it. Make sure you grain is secured and the goats cannot get into it. Note: they can open or overturn garbage cans, so they aren’t safe. Grain is also a potent source of phosphorus with little calcium. Goats need more calcium than phosphorus. Focus on hay, pasture and alfalfa and/or timothy pellets. Grain/phosphorus also causes urinary calculi in wethers. Again, keep the focus on hay, pasture and alfalfa and/or timothy pellets.
ALTERNATIVE FOOD SOURCES FOR GOATS
FRUIT IS SUPERIOR TO GRAIN: Experiments were done feeding goats bananas; in one instance bananas constituted 20 to 40 percent of the total ingested dry matter. The result was significantly increased milk production in animals fed bananas as opposed to those fed cereals. Weight gains were also significantly higher in animals fed bananas than in those receiving cereals.
Citrus fruit and/or peals, Bananas green or ripe, Pumpkins, ane Banana peels, are examples of non-grain carbohydrate sources.
Other alternative feed sources include (ripe) acorns, maple seeds (helicopters), and fallen tree leaves. Yes, if you live up north, bag clean, dry leaves and the goats will go crazy over them all winter!
GOOD CUT AND CARRY FORAGES for the south:
Clumping Bamboo, loquats, Mulberry trees, Brazilian peppers (Do not plant), Bolivian sunflower, Kenaf, Sunn Hemp
Goat society is very hierarchical. There will be a boss goat, and depending on her personality, she may push the others around a bit, or she may smash them into the fence just because they disrespectfully walking too close in front of her! After the main boss, comes the 2nd in command, then the 3rd, 4th and on down. Goats need to have enough room to get away from each other. If tighter housing is a necessity, then each goat should have it’s own stall, with the exception of twin siblings – (they always remain special friends). Unless you have particularly docile goats, they will need to be fed grain and pellets either on the milk stand or chained by their feed station. Otherwise, the goats that are higher in command will eat the other goat’s food. This results in one goat getting overfed, and another being malnourished
SHELTER – Goats main shelter-need is dryness. They like cold weather, but they absolutely hate getting wet. In the north, they do need a barn, but at three-sided shelter is enough.
Doors, gates and fences. Goats are notorious for being difficult to confine. But, there is no need for this frustration, if you mind one central fact: A goat will stay in only if it can’t get out. Period. If there is any way to get out, a goat will find it, and find it fast! Usually in less than 15 minutes! So, you must start with fencing with holes or slats too narrow for escape, and sturdy enough they can’t bend it down, high enough they can’t jump it. The fencing has to be strong enough to take goats rubbing on it. Goats groom themselves by leaning into the fences and running down it. This is hard on the fence in the long-term. They also will stand up supporting themselves with their front hooves on the fence. This tends to mash the fence down over time also. Rigid stock panels are hands-down the best for goats, But high-tensile cattle fencing will do, but it won’t stay looking nice, and you may have to repair it now and then. Nigerian dwarfs are a lot easier to contain, since their weight is so much less. You can use welded wire fencing for them, especially for pasture fencing. It still comes apart in the areas that they choose for rubbing on. That’s typically the area in the immediate vicinity of the barn.
BUCKS AND DOES
Dairy bucks and does should not be run together for several reasons One, you will be closely dealing with the does, and you don’t want his interference and danger. Two, all of the does will get laden with buck musk, and it will taint the flavor of the milk, making it taste “goaty”. Three, you will not be able to control when does are bred, and breedings will be too close together.
The buck pen should be at quite a distance from the house, since they have a very strong musk. About 200 feet for a standard buck, and 100 feet for a Nigerian dwarf buck, should be sufficient.
Buck goats can be dangerous! But this is not a problem if they are handled correctly. The first rule is do not expect to walk around in the pen with him. Buck goats are territorial; when you come into one’s pen/pasture he will dominate you. He will start with threats, rearing with his ears back. I’m not sure how quickly this would escalate, but you don’t want to find out! Bucks should be fed through a little window in their house. You can throw the feed in a bucket, over the fence, but you have to watch and make sure it doesn’t rain in uneaten feed; buck goats are just a little pickier than does about their feed!
Buck should have housing that allows you to feed and care for them from the outside. It’s safer, and you don’t have to deal with the musk.
One buck living by himself will do just fine, but I have found it’s better to have two or more. They spar around with each other instead of the fence. In the months before rut season, they will imagine that the fence is another buck and will engage in a major battle with it – very hard on the fence.
And, I’m sure they’re happier with a buddy. Don’t try putting a wether with an intact buck, though. He will be too rough on him.
The main breeding season runs from September to through January. There are several signs that show the doe is in heat. They will bleat a lot more than normal, they will be switch their tails, and sometimes there is a clear discharge. If there is a buck around, they will try to get to him. . If you have your own buck, the best way to get the doe bred is to tether the buck, inside of his pen, then let the doe in. Once she’s bred, you just pull her out. You can keep a leash on her as well; simplifies things. If she’s in heat, she should accept service immediately and you can count on her being pregnant. Occasionally a doe may actually be in heat, and showing other signs, but may not cooperate. In this case, holding the doe for the buck can get a doe bred that otherwise would not.
Gestation is 145-155 days. With standard goats averaging 150 days and Nigerian Dwarfs 147.
Milking does are usually bred once a year, but it’s probably better on the doe if you wait a few months longer. She will continue producing milk, although the quantity will diminish.
LABOR AND BIRTH. As a goat approaches parturition, two main signs should be evident: the udder (which has been slowly developing over that past couple months), will suddenly fill. It will get at least 30% larger overnight. Then the end of the spine (right before the tail) will raise, leaving two hollows on either side. Most people recommend feeling for “lost ligaments”, but it’s much easier just to look! The next two fool-proof signs are repeated pawing the ground (nest making) and occasionally arching the tail (mild contraction). They will usually get “talkative”, too, especially if the goat is people-friendly. The kid should be born with 2-4 hrs after you observe these signs. As soon as the kid is born, make sure it’s nose is clear so that it can breathe. If the kids are to be bottle-fed, they should be removed immediately, preferably without the dam ever seeing them. This will prevent goat anxiety and grief! If, however, they are going to be dam raised, then set the newborn near the mother’s nose, so she can lick it and bond with it. The doe should pass the afterbirth within an hour.
Milking first time does can be an ordeal! The goat may kick, dance, and sit down on you. But, no matter how badly it goes at first, they do get on to it, usually in 3-4 days. You just have to be determined, it will get better! It’s best you know how to milk before you have first-time doe on your hands. Both learning at the same time makes near impossible situation! It’s best to take an extra container with you, besides the milk pail to pour the milk (colostrum) into a little at a time. That way, if she kicks the pail, you still have something to feed the baby!
Milking must be done at least once a day, preferably twice a day. You will need a milk stand. People usually milk is a separate area of the barn, but having the option of milking outside, under a roof in the summer time, or year round in warm climates makes for a much more pleasant job!
Milking does are usually bred once a year, but it’s probably better on the doe if you wait a few months longer. She will continue producing milk, although the quantity will diminish. Does are usually milked until two months before kidding; but again, it is better for the doe if you dry her off soon after being bred. If you need the milk, and choose to breed every year, and milk until two months before kidding, just make sure the doe is very well cared for.
If you foresee leaving your animals more than 24 hours, then you have to have a plan for milking. I suggest letting the kids with the mother at night, and separating them during the day (or vice versa) so you get one milking and the kids get one. This way, the kids will do the milking for you while you’re away. A kid will gladly do this chore for a year or so! There are drawbacks, though. You won’t get as much milk, and it’s very tricky to get a kid that still has access to it’s mother to take a bottle. Also, the kids don’t turn out as tame and friendly as those that are fully bottle-fed. But, finding someone that can milk every day for you while you’re away, can outweigh these drawbacks.
KIDS can be dam-raised or bottle-fed. However, dam-raised goats will never be as tame and friendly as bottle-fed. This can be a major issue when it comes to milking. I highly recommend bottle-feeding does destined for milking. Bucks turn out fine either way; a buck that’s slightly shy can actually be an advantage.
Kids that will be bottle-fed should be taken from their dam immediately after birth if possible, so they don’t bond. That way there is no separation anxiety or grieving and the kids learn the bottle more easily. If they must be taken away after they have bonded and nursed, they will balk at the bottle at first. Don’t worry, just hold them down and put the bottle in their mouth. If they fight too hard, let them go. They will start sucking when they get thirsty, usually withing 24 hrs. They will be fine. They should be fed at least 4 times (or more) per day during the first week. Just an 1-4 ounces at a time, gradually increasing. After the first week, they should get 6-8 ounces 3 times per day, gradually increasing, at 1 month they should get 16 oz twice a day, morning and evening, along with a handful of baby feed, which is the same as the big goats, except you must crush the pellets up with a hammer. Make sure they get 2 parts alfalfa to 1 part grain mix. Kids need to be bottle-fed or with their dams for 12 weeks. Kids can be weaned at only 8 weeks, but giving them 4 more weeks saves a lot of trouble! Eight weeks is simply not enough.
A word of warning on grain: Grain is needed for optimum development, but it is dangerous for kids. They get scours (diarrhea), it is hard to cure, and kids die very easily. More kids are lost to scours than to anything else – by a long shot. You will be told it is coccidiosis, and yes, that organism does play a role. But from my experience, it’s grain and rich feeds that empowers the coccidiosis. Should a kid show signs of scours, it must be taken off of all feed (including milk) immediately, and given only dry hay and water for a day or two. If it’s just grain, it will be fine in a day or two. Otherwise, you have a battle ahead. Prevention is much easier than cure! I once cured a very difficult and despaired of case with this protocol: wet carob powder and mixed with crushed alfalfa pellets. Feed nothing else for at least a week.
PARASITES - Again, grain and rich feeds seem to be the main causative factor. A kid that’s been run down by scours is a prime candidate for further parasite infestation, particularly tapeworm. If you see evidence of parasites, don’t try to cure it naturally. In my experience it’s not effective enough. Just dose with appropriate wormer and be done with it. The “lost cause” I referenced above, ended up with tapeworm. Two doses of fenbendazole fixed the issue and set him on his way to full recovery and normal development.
To recap: Keep you hay/pellet/pasture ratio up, don’t over-feed grains and rich feeds, and you should have no problem with parasites – at least that is my experience! And… for crying out loud, don’t get a microscope to inspect goat droppings!
If your goats have a healthy weight and a shiny, full coat, everything is fine!
DISBUDDING – Should you disbud your goats? That depends on your situation. Horns do bring these potential problems: If small children are around them, they can get their eyes – bad! Goats will used them to get your hand off of their collar if they don’t want it there! (They don’t respect you as much.) They get their heads stuck in fences, and they will be rougher on each other. Goats with horns shouldn’t be in with goats without, as a general rule.
Disbudding is done by applying a hot disbudding iron to the horn bud. It’s not a nice process, but it’s over in a matter of seconds and the kids forgets about it.
Process: Wait until you can feel the horn tips start to emerge. Shave the horn buds, so you can see exactly where the horn tip is. I use the Rhinehardt X50 iron, and apply it exactly over the bud for 6-7 seconds per bud. Rock it in a rotation, but DO NOT twist it. I have a bag of ice ready to apply immediately after disbudding.
When disbudding a tiny bit too much is better than not enough. Scurs (malformed partial horns) can become a major problem, especially for bucks. So, it’s very important to make sure it’s done right! I recommend the Rhinehardt X50 iron w/ a buck tip – even for Nigerian Dwarf bucks.
HOOF-TRIMMING- In most situations, goats should ideally have their hooves trimmed once every two months or so. I put them on the milk-stand, and use a bypass pruner to trim away any overlap, and maybe just a tiny bit of the tip. Only a little bit! Hooves can bleed a lot if you go too deep. Also, be careful, goats don’t really like having their hooves trimmed, and can kick and make you hurt yourself on the pruners! I have found hoof trimming to be by and largely unnecessary for goats on pasture in sandy soils, particularly in the rainy season. The sand does the job for you! But, keep an eye on them anyway. And of course, that’s more important if you plan to show.
REGISTRATION – The American Dairy Goat Association maintains a registry of eight breeds of dairy goats. The sole purpose of the registration is to record pedigree and performance. The goats must be tattooed for this. I do this the same day that I disbud.
Process: Your herd initials go in the right ear, and the ADGA year number + kid birth sequence number in the left ear (or tail web for LaManchas). The ear is cleaned with alcohol, and tattoo ink applied. Then the letters/numbers are punched in with a tattoo pliers, more ink applied and rubbed in. Always best to test you numbers/letters on a piece of paper first, so you don’t accidentally get backwards tattoos!