Getting your goat
When deciding to purchase a goat, you want to make sure you have the goat that suits your needs. First you must determine which breed suits your needs best, then you will go about locating that breed.
Choosing a Breed:
There are two main types of goats: Meat Goat and Dairy Goats. Meats goats tend to be stockier fast growing goats that put all their energy into growing muscle fast. Dairy goats are slimmer and run leaner than meat goats. They also tend to grow a bit slower. The are leaner because all of their energy goes to milk production when they are in lactation rather than going to build muscle.
Where to Buy a Goat
When looking to purchase a goat, you a couple options. For many people craigslist seems to be the easiest option. Finding a goat on craigslist is as simple as visiting the Farm/Garden section for your local craigslist and doing a search for the breed you want or just goats in general.
Another option is goat breed associations. Breed associations like NDGA (Nigerian Dairy Goat Association), MDGA ( Miniature Dairy Goat Association) and AGS (American Goat Society) All have breeder listings. These are a good source of breeders especially if you want to find reputable breeders that are knowledgeable about the breeds they raise and sell. That’s not to say that every single breeder is reputable but it’s the best place to find them other than word of mouth.
Pasture: Goats will be happy on most any pasture. A mixed pasture of orchard grass would be best. they also love to browse and they will take down saplings and tall weeds, if they like the taste of them or have acquired one from watching their mom’s when they were kids. I don’t have space for a real goat pasture. My yard is setup with many shurbs and trees around the perimeter with some mixed grass clover in the center. Given a choice goats will always choose browsing over grazing but if kept in a pasture where they is no browse, they will generally graze like sheep and get most of their nutrition this way.
There are about a million different ways to feed a goat. Ask any owner/breeder and they will have their own recipe and justifications to how to feed. I think the most important thing to consider when feeding goats is that they are ruminants and ruminants get all their energy from fibrous plant material. Therefore 90 to 99% of a goats diet should be some kind of plants, whether it’s fresh browse, grass or hay. This is what they require, anything else should be considered a supplement. Now they do sell goat food in the store, there are many brands(goat chow, purina show goat, texturized goat feed. purina noble goat) you may get at a mill,
Hay: In most areas of the country, you will have to feed hay even if you do have pasture. Hay makes up most of my goats’ diet since as I mentioned above I don’t have pasture for them to fill up on. Goats will eat most kinds of hay and you may have to try a few mixes to see what your goats enjoy most with the least amount of waste. My goats will generally eat anything that is dry but still green. This can be from first cutting on. I usually by hay that is an orchardgrass mix and this works for my goats. I have recently tried a timothy/orchardgrass mix and this also seems to go over well with them. You could also feed some an alfalfa mixes but in my opinion this is best fed when does are no pregnant because it is so rich in nutrients, it make cause the kids to grow to fast inside the doe.
Grain: When it comes to grain I feed a mix of noble goat pellets, whole oats, black oil sunflower seeds, and either crushed alfalfa cubes or alfalfa pellets during after the kids have arrived until breeding. I feed my goats a 1/4 cup of this grain mix, twice a day. I could probably go without it, or at least the 2nd feeding but I treat it more as a treat and feeding the goats at a certain time a day allows me to move them around easier. Like back to the pen if they are out and about or inside their shelter for the nightly lockdown.
Salt/Minerals: Like most ruminants goats require minerals. Same thing with this, people have their own methods and best practices. I just feed a loose livestock mineral. I used to use a mineral specific to goats but that changed when I got sheep. Goat feed and mineral contains excess copper which goats need but which is also toxic to sheep. So I now use a different method to give my goats copper which is explained below. Some people also use salt blocks as their mineral supplement. I tried this once. The block was never used, it got dirty and peed on no matter where I put it. i also tried free choice loose miner, the same thing happened. Now I just mix the mineral directly into their feed when I make it up. This assures that they are actually ingesting the mineral. It’s hard to tell that they are if it is given free choice in block or loose form.
Copper: When it comes to goats, the most important mineral supplement is copper. I’ll b honest, I have no idea why they need it but I know that they will die without it and be generally unhealthy if they are deficient. Feed specific to goats does have additional copper in it. I am told this is not enough to meet their requirement for copper though. I have no idea whether this is true or not because many people will tell you this then turn around and tell you that if a sheep ate a cup of goat food they would die from copper toxicity. I can tell you from experience the latter is not true, it would take a long time to build up for sheep to build u pa toxicity, however I still don’t know if grain provides enough copper for goats. So we must supplement another. if you are not housing and feeding goats together, you can go with a mineral specific to goats. If you are feeding them together the other option is bolusing and this may actually be the best option. Bolusing is when you get something called copper rods and feed them directly to your goats as a bolus. If done properly, the rods will park themselves in the the rumen of the goat, providing a continuous supplement of copper. This treatment generally lasts around 3 months. The length of time depends on the size of the goat. These rods can be purchased online at any livestock supply website. The brand I buy is called Copasure 12.5. It’s intended for cows and the rods come in large brown capsules. The capsules each contain about 12.5 grams of copper rods. The dose for a goat is about 2.5g per 50lbs of goat. The first time I adminstered this to my goats. I took one capsule and visually divided the contents into 4 equal piles then I took a bit from one pile and added it to another pile. The biggest pile was for my buck and the smallest for my smallest doe. So in this case, each goat got about 3.12 grams of copper. They had no ill effects from this and don’t seem to be displaying any deficiency. So despite their increases in size, I may keep it at this dose. Better to dose a little less than too much because once it’s in there, it’s in there for a while and too much will make your goat sick or possibly kill them.
Now when you get these capsules and separate out the rods, you need to find a way to administer them. This is very simple. You can get a full size marshmallow or a small slice of white bread with crust removed. Place the rods in the center of the bread or marshmallow, role it up and pinch the sides so none of the rods fall out then slip it in your goats mouth. The goat will do the rest. Marshmallows may be better for this since they sort of dissolve and you want the goat to chew as little as possible so that the rods stay whole. But I typically leave that up to the goat, better not to force it.
In order to milk a goat, the goat has to first be bred and kid with baby goats. About a month before the doe kids, her udder will begin to grow larger, what many goat caretakers call ‘bagging up” A good portion of what’s in the udder at this point, is colostrum. A goat kid needs this colostrum to help get it off to a good start. Colostrum is a very important part of building a kid’s initial immunity. Because of this, a goat should never be milked before she kids and generally the earliest one should begin milking their goats is a week after they kid. Colostrum is only present for the first few days but it doesn’t hurt to wait a few days longer.
When it comes to milking it is advisable to only milk the doe once a day until the kids are weaned. This will allow the kids to get all the nutrition they need before they begin eating hay and grain. Most people, myself included, will lock the kid away from their mother at night, milk the doe first thing in the morning then allow the kid to nurse from the doe during the day. This allows the udder to fill up over night without the kid nursing from it. Once the kid is weaned, you can begin milking twice a day. Milking twice a day is generally a preference and not a requirement. The doe will only produce as much milk as you need. So if you have a busier scheduler or just don’t feel like milking twice a day, then milking once a day works just fine.
If you decide to milk, you’re definitely going to need some equipment. As with most things you can go as cheap or as expensive as you like. The most expensive option would be to buy a milking machine. A few of the online goat suppliers sell these. There are some with cow udder attachments that can be converted to use with goats. These can be used on mini or regular sized goats, however, unless you have a a larger number of goats to milk and you’d like to save some time or perhaps save your hands if you have arthritis. It’s usually difficult to justify the cost if you are only milking 2 or 3 goats. You must also consider that all parts of the machine that the milk touches, must be cleaned thoroughly after each use. So consider that in your time-saving calculations. I have no direct experience with milking machines so that’s about all I can tell you about them.
The other alternative to milking is doing it all by hand. Which still requires some equipment. Most people that milk goats will buy the big stainless steel buckets and the the stainless steel funnels and the milk filters. You may also need these things especially if you are starting out with full-sized goats. Since I only have Nigerian Dwarfs to milk, I do things on a much smaller scale and with cheaper milking equipment. It is possible that in the near future I will need to upgrade but for now here is what works for me.
First thing you must consider is that Nigerian Dwarfs are obviously shorter than full-sized breeds so you will never get a big steel bucket under them and still have room to milk. What I use is old (but very clean) ~32oz apple sauce jars. Sizes may vary for these but glass is best and a wider opening is best as well to allow you to get your hand somewhat in there to clean, although of course a bottle brush will do a fine job of that. I then put a funnel over top of the jar and put a coffee filter inside the funnel. This works well for me, although at times I have used a larger jar to transfer the milk into, in the middle of milking if my milking jar gets too full. So there can be two parts to this setup, your milking jar and your much larger collection jar/ container. This will be a requirement if you plan on milking a few Nigerians, especially if they are 2nd fresheners and up because they will produce more milk than first fresheners.
Milking technique is different for different goats. The biggest difference would be from full-size to mini goats. I only have experience with Nigerians so I will explain how to milk those but the technique is generally the same. To milk a goat, what you are trying to do is use pressure to force the milk to come out of the orifice in the teat. You do this by using you thumb and forefinger to grasp the base of the teat where it meets the udder. Closing your thumb and forefinger, you trap the milk in the teat, you then force it out by successively closing each of your fingers around the teat until the milk comes out. Once the teat is empty you relax the grip from your thumb and forefinger to allow the teat to fill up, then repeat the entire process again. When milking a Nigerian, you generally run out of teat before you run out of fingers. Full sized goats usually require your whole hand though. The first goats I milked were the 2 I milked last year and I learned to milk them just by reading about technique online so it’s simple enough that you really don’t need anyone to show you how in person but it might help. It’s important to remember that there is no pulling. You don’t milk a goat like a tv show cow. Your arms and hands shouldn’t move up and down very much, the fingers do all the work.
Handling the Milk
Once you have the milk, it needs to either be pasteurized or chilled. Now since part of my reasoning for having goats, is for the raw milk, I do not pasteurize. There are many ways of doing it at different temperatures to save the flavor but in my opinion it’s a waste of time and energy. Raw milk, when properly handled and stored, is a much better for you health-wise. This is my opinion, so please do some research in raw milk before you draw you’re own conclusions. If you plan on drinking your milk raw, it will need to be chilled. The faster the better. Now I’ll tell you how I chill milk and the recommended way. Here’s how I chill milk, I get the already filtered jar of milk directly from the goat, cap it and stick it in the fridge. That’s it. This has worked well for me because they are small amounts of milk that cool down very quickly. Most people recommend putting your container of milk in an ice bath and stirring occasionally to allow all the milk to come in contact with the much cooler sides of the container. I would only do this if I had larger amounts of milk to chill, like a gallon or more at a time. Chilling raw milk as quickly as possible, keeps bacteria from growing in it as compared to if it were allowed to stay in a warm place or just not chilled fast enough. The steps you take to chill your raw milk are up to you. One needs to be very careful when handling raw milk. If while milking, your goat perhaps sticks their foot in your milking jar or filter, throw that milk it out. If you think maybe the jars/containers weren’t as clean as they should have been throw the milk out or pasteurize it. Better safe than sorry in those cases. While drinking mishandled milk won’t kill you, it will make you and your stomach very unhappy for a few days. Whereas good, fresh, clean raw milk will do the opposite so don’t let the idea of what may go wrong deter you. Just make sure all your equipment is clean.
Now you wonder how to clean that equipment. It’s very simple, I wash with a dish sponge and hot soapy water then I have a spray bottle filled with a dilute solution of bleach and plain water. You should wash and spray any equipment that the milk comes into contact with, then allow that equipment to air-dry. Once it’s dry it’s ready to reuse. It’s good to have double the equipment especially if you are milking twice a day. So you will always have a set ready to go.
As I’ve already mentioned, if you want goat kids or milk, you’re gonna have to become familiar with breeding goats at some point. This is can be as simple as putting a mature male and female goat together but there are a few details to be aware of.
First you have to determine when you want these kids or this milk to arrive. Depending on where you live, you probably don’t want them showing up in the dead of winter unless you have a heated shelter for them or just somewhere so the kids don’t freeze. Nigerian Dwarfs can breed year round so it is important to keep bucks and does separate unless you plan on breeding them.
Goat gestation is approximately 5 months (145-155 days). So in northern climates best practice is to breed in Fall (October to December) for Spring Kids (March to June)
When it is time to breed, I just put the buck in with the does then let nature take its course. I can’t write a whole lot about heat detection because I am not 100% clear on when my does are in heat. But basically does go into heat once a month if your buck is in with your doe around that time, you can be pretty sure she is bred unless either the buck or doe is sterile. For young does and bucks that are breeding for the first time, it may take a month or two from when you put them together, to get things figured out so you should account for that. It is also important that the doe is a good size to be bred. Many people breed their does around 7 to 9 months of age. This works in most cases but there are times when you may have a goat that grows and develops slower than others. Sometimes, especially with Nigerian Dwarfs you may have to wait until a doe is 1.5 to 2 years in age to breed. One of my does is very small and grew very slowly. I did not breed her until she was about 13 months old, she will kid at around 18 months of age. Breeding too early can cause them to have difficulty when kidding. The baby may be too large and will need the kid will need to be removed by c-section which can either be very expensive or impossible depending on the type of vets where you live and if they are willing to do such a procedure on a goat. So it’s best avoided.
Okay, you’re goats were bred, 5 months have gone by now it’s time for them to kid. There are some pretty clear signs that doe is about to kid. A few weeks before kidding, she’ll become much more affectionate towards her owner. This depends on the goat but even the one wild doe I had, calmed down a lot right before she kidded and has been calmer ever since. This is a good time to earn trust from the doe if you didn’t really have it before. She will also do what they call ‘stargazing’ which is just basically staring up into the sky, kind of like they are thinking, maybe they’re thinking about kidding? Hours before kidding becomes a doe maybe paw at the ground or begin to get up and lay down over and over, perhaps finding a good position to kid in.
Other signs that the doe is near kidding is the tail ligament test. If you put your thumb and forefinger around the base of a non-pregnant does tail, you will feel 2 tight ligaments. Some people say they feel like a pencil on each side. If you do this same thing about a week before kidding, you won’t feel anything. Those ligaments have been relaxed by all the hormones in the doe’s body preparing her for kidding.
My experience with weaning has been very simple. A goat should not be weaned from it’s mom until it is at least 8 weeks old some people go up to 12 weeks old but I find that to be unnecessary and I honestly don’t like sharing milk with the kid that long. Bucks should be weaned from their moms at 8 weeks as their can breed their moms and sisters or any other does by that age. Soon after the kid is born, it will begin nibbling on whatever it sees it’s mom eat. Hay, grass, grain, whatever. Essentially the mom will show it how to eat all that hay and grass but you have to show it how to eat grain, or really you have to give it access to the grain.
If you have goats, you know that feeding time can be hectic. A little kid will never be able to push it’s way into a group of adult goats eating grain, so that it can also grab a bite. So for kids you can either have a creep feeder, which is a feeder that is fenced off with an opening big enough for only tiny kids to get in and get access too food. Most people do this with lambs or meat goats. Any animals that you want to grow really fast so they have food all day.
I use a different method. I keep the kids in a small dog crate overnight to separate them from their mom so that I can milk them in the morning. Every night I give them a tiny bit of grain and also some hay and some water in their crate. A kid goat will only nibble grain at first, they usually don’t figure out how magical it is until about 3 or 4 months old. So they need time away from the adults to eat it or the adults will just take it from them. In the mornings when I go to milk the does, I feed the kids grain again, since like I said, it take a while for them to eat.
After a while, the get the hang of eating all that solid food. So at 8 weeks they can be separate from their moms. It’s is a good idea to give baby goats a Probios supplement a few times during weaning. This helps get their rumen in shape for solids. Sometimes I find that kids switching from all milk to solid food with get runny stools, as long as this is not caused by disease, a bit of Probios will fix this right up.
If you plan on keeping the goat that you are weaning, it is best to keep them separated from their mom for a few months, especially if the mom is still in milk because the kid will remember and continue to nurse from their mom and the mom usually lets them. I’ve had a kids up to 5 months of age that still try to go back to mom. Some kids will even go after other does in milk.
When you actually separate the doe and kid, they will usually cry to each other. This will happen even if they can see each other and are just a fence a part. This usually lasts about a week. Then the mom and kid go about their own daily business.
Preventative Care/First Aid:
All goats should be vaccinated with CD/T. This is available online but it’s much easier to pick at up at your local TSC. Some other feed stores may also carry it. It’s incredibly cheap.
Goats an also be vaccinated against Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL). The vaccines made for this are also available online but they are only intended for sheep. Use in goats is experimental. I’ve used it on my goats without any ill effects. Vaccinating against CL isn’t really necessary unless you plan on showing your goat or taking your goats off your property a lot, or bringing new goats or sheep in. Both sheep and goats can contract CL. There is no cure once it’s been contracted, so I vaccinate to be on the safe side.
It is recommended that all goats be disbudded. This makes it easier for owners to work with their goats without injury and keeps the goats from injuring each other.
Disbudding is best done when goats are about a week old. In the case of bucklings, it can been done after a few days as their horns will grow faster. I have disbudded bucks at 2 weeks of age and I feel this was too late because they had to be disbudded again a few weeks after that and have developed large scurs. So with bucklings, that extra week of horn development, really makes a big difference.
I hope to post pictures here when I disbud my spring kids but I will describe the process anyway. For disbudding you’ll need
A disbudding iron, I use a Rhinehart X30 with calf tip
Heavy gloves, to keep from burning yourself
Plug the disbudding iron and let it get nice and hot. This takes about 10 minutes and the tip of the iron will be glowing red. While you’re waiting for this to happen you can administer the Tetanus Antitoxin, this will prevent the kid from contracting Tetanus from any open wound the disbudding might create. This will protect the kid for about 7 days but this is not a vaccine. The kid should also be vaccinated at around 1 month of age, if the mother was vaccinated 1 month before kidding.
It is also recommended that you shave the hair from the horn bud before disbudding, this just makes things easier to see and makes for a cleaner job.
Once the iron is hot, put your gloves on and restrain teh kid. Some people use a box, called a disbudding box, specifically made for this. I don’t have one so I use a different method, you may want one if you are disbudding a lot of kids but this is up to you. The method I use to retrain the kid is I basically sit on them. Other people who use this method, also use a towel. You can drape a towel over the kid from the neck down. Then, with the kid facing away from you, you pin down both sides of the towel with one of your knees, so each leg is on either side of the goat and you are basically sitting on the goat with the tension of the stretched towel acting as a restrainer holding the gently pinning the kid to the ground. Like I said, I basically do the same thing without the towel, the towel just got in the way.
Now that the kid is restrained and all the prep work has been done, you can begin burning the horn buds. Take the iron and place it over one of the buds, hold for about 3 seconds gently rolling the tip around the horn bud as if you were rolling a stamp on a stamp band to make sure you covered it completely with it. You want to roll the tip around the horn bud to make sure the tips makes contact all the way around the bid, since the goat’s head is round so just pressing the tip into the, will leave some spots unburned. After about 3 seconds, remove the iron, set it aside, pick up your pliers and grasp the burnt horn pulled, then pull it off by twisted your wrist away from the head. It should come right off, now grab your iron again and re-burn the area, especially the center so you may want to use the side of the iron tip to make contact with the center of the horn bud. Some people try to draw an X in the center. This assures that the horn bud has been killed so ideally there will no regrowth of the horn.
Repeat this procedure on the other horn bud. You can give the kid about 5 or 10 minutes to relax and let the iron heat up again if you want to. This depends on the kid. Some get very stressed, some don’t mind as much. I find they get more stressed about the restraining then they are about the actually burning. After this is all done, spray them the horn buds with blu-kote to protect them from infection. Really they should be cauterized and so there should be no chance of infection but this is just a precaution. The horn buds should not be bleeding or have any fluids coming out if this was done correctly. If they do, it’s possibly to gently cauterize the spot where blood is coming out but be aware that you don’t want to overuse that hot iron on the kid’s head. There is only a bit of skull between the kids head and brain and you can damage the brain with too much heat. Never hold the iron on for more than 3 to 5. If I feel that I haven’t done a good job disbudding and I know that right away, I will usually wait a few weeks to do anything, to give the kid time to heal from the trauma and really see if the buds will grow back. It’s best not to overdo it because you can’t undo the damage that might cause.