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So you think you want goats for your homestead huh? I’m sure you’ve heard all the horror stories and all the advice on why you wouldn’t want goats. Things like, they eat EVERYTHING, they are hard to handle, high maintenance, and that there is no fence that will contain them. I was in that same thought pattern with the idea came up. I didn’t want them, they’re too much to handle from what I had heard. Then we met a local friend who just had fresh kids born and invited us over to see them and we chatted with them a while. Well, that was the end of that because 2 weeks later we came home with a 1-year doe in milk and a 2-week old doeling. One year later we now have 5 goats and about to go pick up another this week that will be a breeding buck as we plan to breed and improve our herd of Mini-Nubians.
In our experience, we have learned there is a lot of misinformation about goats out there, and a lot of it has to do with mismanagement. Goats aren’t always right in every situation and in that case, then it’s perfectly fine to not desire to have them. For our homestead personally, we don’t find all forms of livestock right for us. It all depends on your needs and what you are looking to get out of your animals. So let’s take a look at goats and some of the reservations people have about them.
Are goats high maintenance
This list goes on as far as what we’ve heard goats need. They need Fort Knox fencing, a constant source of hay and grain, multiple different supplements, wormers, and that they die easily. We have found that to be the opposite. Easy? No. But they certainly don’t feel like a burden with a list of needs a mile long. A typical heard needs:
- Food in the source of Hay and Pasture. Grain is only needed for milking does.
- Clean water
- Shelter and an adequate pen/pasture
- Occasional hoof trimming
Goats don’t really need grain. They can survive on hay and pasture if you have sufficient good browse for them to eat. If you don’t, you can supplement with a small amount of grain per goat. During milking times, you may watch your does condition and if it goes down, you should supplement with grain. Their bodies take a toll making milk constantly and need the extra nutrition. Much like a human mother who breastfeeds. We hand-mix a specific ration of barley, oats, black oil sunflower seed, alfalfa, and beet pulp for our goats. They get about 1/2 – 1 cup per goat each day and have 24/7 hay available as well as occasional pasture. Soon they will be on pasture all the time so we may re-evaluate their needs.
Contrary to the stories you hear, they don’t eat everything. Ours sure don’t, they can be some pretty picky goats. However, they may try to nibble stuff here and there to taste it. We have one that likes to nibble my shirt when we’re in the pen. Most of the time if you find them trying to eat any and everything, they are not getting their needs met in the way of enough food/hay or minerals. They have a deficiency and are trying to get what they need however they can, or they are bored and need brush to forage on or something to keep them busy.
You don’t have to have a huge barn for goats, it’s nice, but not necessary. Goats like to roam and nibble browse here and there, so they don’t spend a lot of time in the shelter. Even overnight they get up and wander around a while. All they really need is a south facing 3 sided shelter that protects them from the elements. Goats hate rain, so they need a dry spot during storms. We made ours out of pallets and it has a door that we can lock them up if we felt the need to. Super simple and almost free!
We also put in a couple pallets in which we screwed 4 short legs on that served as beds of a sort. They like to get up off the ground to lay a lot so this gave them a clean space to sleep.
Unfortunately, our lands are sometimes lacking heavy minerals. Therefore we need to supplement with minerals a bit to help offset any issues. Goats need their minerals just like us, they are the key to goat health. Should there be an imbalance, you open up the door for your animals to get parasites and sicknesses much more easily. Humans have lost the instinct to eat the minerals that we need most, but goats, they haven’t. We leave a balanced mineral out 24/7 and our goats will eat them as needed. Sometimes they last a few days, other times it’s gone in a couple days, but they know when they are lacking and can partake at their choosing. You want to get a good loose mineral that is high in copper (keep away from sheep if you have them) and selenium. Block minerals are very hard on the goats as they can’t get a good amount off of them. We’ve been through a few different minerals and have found Purina Wind, Rain, Storm cattle minerals has great amounts and our goats have done wonderfully on them. They are a little pricier than others, but in my opinion, they are worth it. With 5 goats here, they last us anywhere on average about 3 months, making it $10 a month. You just put it out free choice and the goats eat what they need. When you see the dish empty, add more.
We also keep Icelandic Kelp out for our goats as well as it provides iodine and selenium for them and they love it. The other thing we leave out is baking soda, it helps with their digestive system if they eat too much grain or eat something that doesn’t agree. They will eat the baking soda to soothe themselves. If you find that they are showing signs of copper deficiency, you may need to copper bolus. We have done this but since starting them on the minerals above, we haven’t had to bolus them again.
Does it mean they won’t get parasites or get sick if you have them on minerals constantly? No. But it will keep the majority of the issues away. You will have less of a chance of dealing with a sick goat.
Depending on how you choose to raise your goats, there are a lot of wormer options. When using chemical wormers, you have to switch off what you are using as they can develop a resistance. However, we use herbal wormers and have found them to be sufficient. They don’t develop resistance to the herbs and we find we have to worm much less frequently. Our favorite places to order herbal wormers are Fir Meadows (plenty of other herbal concoctions for the health of your goats) and Molly’s Herbals.
A lot of people worm them weekly with these, which we used to do, but found that we don’t have to do it as often. Now we do it monthly unless we feel they are showing signs of needing it more often. You can just sprinkle on top of their food (feed separately to ensure each goat gets the right amount) or make dosage balls like I do sometimes. Just mix the amount of wormer needed with a bit of honey, molasses, or peanut butter, then roll into balls and roll in slippery elm powder. Then all you have to do is just feed them to each goat. They usually love it and think they are getting a treat!
Because goats aren’t climbing the sides of rocky mountain terrain anymore, they need some help with keeping their hooves trimmed. It isn’t hard at all to do and it only needs to be done monthly to every other month. We find ours needs theirs done monthly. When we move them to their new pasture, we will build them some “play areas” that have some cement pavers to help keep the hooves worn down in between trimmings. We usually time their trimmings with their wormer time so it all gets done at one time. We just put them on our stanchion with some grain and the wormer mixed in. While they are happily eating, we trim each hoof. We have trimmers like these and they are super easy to use.
We always heard that you can’t keep the goats in the fences, well, that isn’t true for us either. Ours have never tried to escape (other than trying to get out of the gate when you go in) and have been content in their space. We have a pen that is about 40ft x 40ft where the 3 does stay, and a bit smaller for our buck and weather. In the near future they’ll be going out on a couple acre pasture, but for now, they do just fine.
Typically, if they aren’t getting their needs met, they’ll try to escape to get what they are searching for. If you have a buck and there are does in heat around, then you may possibly have a problem with escaping bucks. We have plain welded wire fencing up, which we won’t use again, but it’s contained them just fine with the exception of it bowing where they rub on it. If they have things to do, brush to eat (we bring brush to our goats sometimes), are well fed and have clean water and minerals, they typically are content with where they are. If they are escaping, consider first if they are frightened, stressed, hungry, or bored and correct the issue. You could possibly just have a very strong-willed goat and may consider finding a new home if it becomes too much of a problem.
The one downside with goats is that you’ll most likely have to brush up on vet care. There are a few rare vets out there that know a good deal about goats, but they are few and far between. Surround yourself with a good community of those that know goats and you should be ok. There are plenty of places on the internet as well that can help out. We own 2 books that we love the focus on holistic care of livestock. The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal and The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. They have been great additions to our livestock care collection. The Accessible Pet is a super thick book full of all kinds of situations you may encounter and how to care for them holistically. Well worth the money spent. However, with good management skills, you shouldn’t encounter too many issues that you can’t deal with on your own.
Caring for kidsYou may hear that in order for you to have friendly goats, they must be bottle raised. We had 2 bottle raised babies that we bought at 2 weeks old. We fed them bottles 3 times a day until they were about 2 months in which they dropped to two bottles a day until 3 months when they were weaned. I will tell you, the first couple weeks were fun and cute, but after that, it turned into a chore. Your life revolved around these 3 feedings a day. Those 2 girls are definitely friendly, in a no boundaries kind of way. They see us as their mother and they climb on us, get all in our space when we are working in the pen, and basically want all your attention all the time.
We also have 2 goats; a doe and a weather, that were dam raised. They too are very friendly, but they are not overly in your face all the time friendly. The doe is my herd queen and she will come to me to be petted and loved on, but she also goes about her own thing. The same with the weather, he doesn’t need 24/7 attention. We personally leave our babies on the mother until 3 months which is weaning time, as we feel it’s best for baby and less work for us. We are in the pens messing with the goats daily, so they are always friendly and love attention. So you don’t have to sign your life away to feeding bottle babies for 3 months to get friendly goats!
Overall, goats aren’t so bad if you are committed to making sure their needs are met and you give them good quality care. All animals will have their pros and cons. Chickens can destroy your garden, cows need space and are much bigger to deal with, heck, our own children can be just as problematic, haha. So look at your needs and what you are wanting and see which animal will fit better. If you have a small amount of land such as an acre and want fresh milk, a couple of goats would be perfect. You’ll get milk, cheese, soap, manure, entertainment, and they’ll also help you keep the brush under control as a bonus!
So try them out if you want, if it doesn’t work out, you aren’t a failure, they just aren’t the right livestock for your land.I think everyone should raise goats, but I’m biased, I love them and they’re my favorite livestock! I know they aren’t for everyone! We hope you will add more benefits and myth-busters about goats in the comments!