Goats are the backbone of this mini-farm system. Goats give you fantastic milk, meat, and fertilizer for your fruit trees. They can help maintain your orchard/groves. 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 medium-chain fatty acids, 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 say a horse. For example, fallen tree leaves. Ruminal bacteria also are able to convert non-protein urea into amino acids and proteins, which is then passed on to the animal. 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 used by the microbes. 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 animals that didn’t split the hoof and chew the cud. Eating other animals, such as pigs, could result in famine eventually.
Goats are very hardy. They 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, (I raise them in Florida!), 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 to have plenty of good quality forage, or at least good hay. This is a subject you can easily run into trouble with. Hay can be moldy, too stubbly, or as I’ve even seen, hay with 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 have to 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, then just go thirsty!
I think the reason for this is that goats are 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 make 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 until the pasture dries, before really setting into it. I’ve has bottle-fed kids, (that thought I was their mother), fuss about wet pasture – they wanted me to do something about it!
So, a nice dry shelter, and good, clean hay and or forage, and that’s about it.
Emphasis should always be on pasture and hay, while grain should be kept to minimum, about 6-8 oz for a small goat. 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. 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!
Maintenance for standard goat is about 2.75 lbs of dry matter per day (ll lbs fresh); for a Nigerian it is about 1.6 lbs (6.4 lbs fresh). An additional 1 % lbs DM (6 lbs fresh) of med quality forage is needed for each quart of milk. Of this, about 1.5 lbs ideally would be fruit.
A calcium-phosphorus ratio of between 2-1 and 4-1 is satisfactory for cows and goats. Higher than 6-1 can cause problems. Most forage is about 4-1 ratio. Legumes and bamboo (along with their high 15-19% protein content) contain a higher calcium to phosphorus ratio (up to 6-1) than grasses (less than 2-1). So grass or high phosphorus forage such a Bolivian sunflower balance these forages. Alfalfa (6-1) balances well with grain.
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.
Fiber in the form of long particles is essential to stimulate rumination. It stimulates ruminal contraction, and it increases the flow of saliva to the rumen. Saliva contains sodium bicarbonate and phosphate salts which help to keep the pH of the rumen content almost neutral. Rations lacking fiber generally result in a low percentage of fat in the milk and contribute to digestive disturbances.
HOUSING AND FENCING
In the colder parts of the country, goats need some kind of barn or shed. In the south, it is sufficient to have a three-sided shelter. Remember, goat have to have a dry place to be! Fencing should be of the woven or welded wire type. Stockade fencing, just doesn’t work for goats. That’s why they say in Australia, “to see if a goat will go through a fence, throw a bucket of water at it. If the water goes through, so will the goat!” Well, it’s not quite that bad, but you see they’re trying to use cattle fencing for goats. Now, you will not fool a goat into staying in a pen. If there’s an opening, they will find, in five minutes or so. It’s amazing. 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.
Goats are extremely prone to founder, and it can kill! Goats have no idea when to stop when they get into grain. They will make themselves sick. So, grain must be kept secure. Goats can never free-choice grain. If you are going to be away from your animals for more than 24 hours, you can set up a automatic deer feeder for the grain, and give them free-choice hay and hay pellets.
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 to 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 bucket. Otherwise, the goats that are higher in command will eat the other goats food. This results in one goat getting overfed, and another being malnourished
Standard does come in season (in heat) from August-September to January-February for standard goats. Nigerian Dwarfs can be bred all year. A doe in season will act nervous, may bleat a lot, and will try to get to the buck. She will usually have a discharge also. She will switch her tail a lot, especially in the presence of a buck. 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, it simplifies things. Sometimes a doe doesn’t have very strong seasons, and may no cooperate. While this isn’t the norm, it does happen, and holding the doe for the buck can get a doe bred that otherwise would not.
GESTATION AND KIDDING
Standard goats will usually kid right around 150 days, Nigerian dwarfs usually kid around 145 days. Five days sooner or later is considered normal. Signs a doe is going into labor include doe pawing at the ground, lying down, and getting back up, slightly arching her back and tail. In the hours before kidding, the area on the sides of her tail will develop a kind of hollow, the spine will be sort of raised. A goat lying for a long time, is not in labor, no matter how miserable they may be acting. A goat simply lying down, looking miserable is just that – a miserable goat. It may be bloated or something, but it’s not in labor! While there are bad kiddings sometimes, it is best to resist the urge to interfere unless you’re sure it’s necessary.
As soon as the kid is born, make sure it’s nose is clear, so that it can breath. 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 after-birth within an hour. As soon as this happens, wash the doe’s hind parts in warm, soapy water and dry her off. Then milk her. This first milking can be tough job in first time milkers. The goat may kick, dance, and sit down on you. You just have to be determined, it will get better! Make sure you know how to milk before you have first-time doe on you hands. You don’t want to both be learning at the same time. It’s best to take another 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!
Bottle-fed kids should be fed 3-4 times per day, starting with 3-4 ounces, and gradually increasing to 8 oz. 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.
Grain should be introduced gradually, as kids can get sick if you overdo it.
Milking must be done at least once a day, preferably twice a day. You will need a milk stand. It’s best to milk outside, under a roof, in the summer time, or year round in warm climates.
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.
While there are some super-producers that will far exceed this, you can expect an average of 3.5 cups per day from a Nubian, (somewhat more for Swiss breeds like Alpines, Saanens etc.), and 1.5 cups per day from a Nigerian Dwarf. Now, this is average for a 300 day lactation (milking twice a day). Of course they will give more than that at their peak. An average Nubian will give somewhat over ½ gallon at peak, and the Nigerian about a quart.
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! Of course you won’t get as much milk, but it’s much simpler (and perhaps cheaper) than finding someone that can milk every day for you.
DEALING WITH BUCKS
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/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 goats like to destroy their pens! Mostly at certain times of the year, they will imagine that the fence is another buck and will engage in a major battle with it. This is mostly a problem in an area close to their house. They don’t generally attack fence posts out in their pasture, but occasionally they do. To surmount this problem, fence posts, at least near their house, have to be set in concrete. Fencing should be made our of stock panels.
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, are Banana peels, 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 you 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, Lemon grass, Ginger, Alternantheras
Palatable tree species, including shrubs, and bamboo, that are fed to or browsed by animals are called
Some “weeds” are of higher forage quality and higher browse preference than many of the plants that we try to plant: for instance Richardia scabra (Mexican clover) and Sida rhombifolia (arrowleafsida or teaweed). The crude protein in these plants can be upward of 28% and the tender ends have extremely high digestibility.
Alfalfa alfalfa pellets contain 17-18.9% protein, 1.5% calcium and 0.22% phosphorus.
Bahia grass 6-10% CP Most grasses have a 1-1 cal-phos ratio
Bolivian sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) 20% CP 4% crude fat 4-1 Cal-phos ratio 16% ash
Bamboo 18-19% CP 1.4 crude Pat 7-1 Cal-phos ratio
Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa)- 15% CP 7.4% Crude fat 1-1 Cal-Phos ratio
Caesar weed (Urena lobata) 25% DM 15% CP 2% crude fat 6% ash
Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) 14-26% CP 3.3 Crude lipid
Arrowleaf Sida (Sida rhombifolia) probably similar to the related Caesarweed.
Mexican Clover (Richardia scabra) Found to be almost as rich as clover (15-27% crude protein)
Grapevines 30% DM 16% CP 14-1 Cal-phos 8.7% ash
Loquat trees analysis n/a Fodder trees average 15-29% CP.
Sumac 14% CP
Mulberry Crude protein content in leaves varies from 15%-28% depending on the variety, age ofthe
leaves and growing conditions. ln general, CP values can be considered similar to most legume forages.
Fiber is low in mulberry leaves compared to other foliages. A striking feature of mulberry leaves is the
mineral content, with ash values up to 25%. Typical calcium contents are around 1.8-2.4% and
phosphorus 0.14-0.24%. Mulberry was used to replace grain-based concentrates in lactating cows with excellent results. Yields did not significantly decrease when 75% of the concentrate was replaced with mulberry.
Mimosa 21% CP
Fallen tree leaves 5-7% CP
Oak leaves, mature 18% CP
Guava 36% DM 10% CP
Banana leaves 15% DM 10-17% CP
Alternanthera (analysis for related plant) 11% CP
Mexican petunias-Ruellia (analysis for related plant- Trichanthera gigantea)
Contains high concentrations of water-soluble carbohydrates and starch. 12-22% CP. Contains
comparatively high ash and calcium concentrations at 16-20% and 2.4-3.8% of DM, respectively. The
high ash and Ca concentrations may be related to the presence of cystoliths, small mineral concretions
on the leaves and stems.
Cogon grass — usually under 7% CP
Sunn Hemp 30% CP
Goats can actually do some landscape maintenance work. For instance, goats can keep a fence line that gets taken over with wild grape-vines. The fence line can be landscaped with plants/trees that aren’t their favorites. The goats will be tethered to to fence when you want it trimmed They will eat the vines etc., but not the landscaping!
Plants goats generally avoid: