What to Do with All Those Buckling Goats!
What are goats good for? Try clearing brush, pack goats, or pulling carts.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
by Laura Kelly
Those new buckling goats are fun until you’re overrun with babies. What are goats good for? We have answers.
Dairy goats — what’s not to love? Fresh milk and cheese, soap, meat, fertilizer for your garden, and of course my personal favorite … those sweet, bouncy baby goats! Goat milk is so popular that it’s estimated that there are more than 60% more dairy goat herds in the United States now than there were 10 years ago, and it is also estimated that 65% more people worldwide drink goat milk instead of cow milk.
Just like other mammals though, in order to have goat milk, you must have goat kids. So, what are goats good for and what do you do with all of those kids when they are ready to leave the farm?
In a perfect world, there would be more doelings born than buckling goats so that there would be a never-ending supply of future milkers. If you ask most goat farmers, however, that is rarely the case. You might think that it’s simple: girls for milk and boys for breeding, but not every buckling is going to be cut out to be a future herd sire. So, what now? What options do you have for dairy wethers? There are a lot of possibilities!
Have you heard the one about goats eating everything from tires to tin cans? While that’s not entirely the truth, they are fantastic at clearing weeds and brush. Goats are browsers rather than grazers like cattle and sheep, so they nibble on hardwoods, thorny plants like roses and berries, and will even eat the bark off of trees. Depending on your area this could be a very lucrative side business for your extra wethers, and many people have had success renting out their herds to neighbors. There are plenty of toxic plants out there though, so make sure that you do a walk-through before you send your four-legged tractors out to work.
Dairy goats tend to be athletic and sturdy, and are often favorites among hikers and campers who use them to carry their gear.
Alpines, Toggenburgs, Oberhasli, Saanen, LaMancha, and their crosses are all long-legged and well-suited for various terrains. Goats are popular as pack animals for several reasons: they don’t require as much water as a horse or other larger animal, they can carry up to 25% of their body weight, and they can travel up to around 12 miles per day. Also, as herd animals they are more inclined to stay with the group instead of wandering off, which makes keeping track of everyone easier. Even dairy does can be brought on hikes, and while they can’t carry as much weight in their packs, it might be nice to have a fresh supply of milk on the trail!
Para 4 – Obstacle/Agility Courses
At 4-H shows all over the country, there is a new event for children to showcase their goat’s natural athleticism and grace. Just like the courses that are set up for dogs, cats, and even pigs, goats and their handlers are judged on their speed, accuracy, and handling abilities as the goats navigate cones, balance beams, and hoops (among other things) in front of a crowd. These skills come naturally of course, as any goat farmer can attest to. Here in New England, goats can often be found walking along the narrow stone walls that crisscross the fields, standing on top of round bales, or literally bouncing off the walls of the barn.
Goats are naturally athletic, and if you’ve ever been on the other end of a lead rope you probably have some idea of how strong they are. Goats can be trained to harness that strength and energy by pulling a wagon or a cart. This can be a great addition to a parade, a fun farm attraction, or as an extra set of hands (hooves) on the farm when things need to be hauled from one place to another. The rule of thumb is that they can pull one and a half times their body weight, and that includes the wagon/trailer and any other harnesses or gear. If you’re interested in teaching your goat how to pull a cart, be sure to look up how to safely train them, as well as what modifications might be needed to your equipment to fit your goat properly.
Goat farmers aren’t the only ones who recognize how soothing it can be when we’re in the zone with our four-legged farm companions. Just like therapy dogs, goats can be trained to go into hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and similar environments to offer comfort to those who need it. They can even be found at special yoga studios!
Research has shown that interacting with therapy animals can increase the feel-good hormones oxytocin and dopamine and can reduce the pesky stress hormone cortisol. Disbudded or polled wethers are perfect for this job because they tend to be calmer and safer for interacting with the general public, and they don’t go into rut so you won’t be scaring anyone off with a buck and his special “cologne.”
It’s extremely important not to confuse therapy animals with service animals. Therapy animals are not registered and not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service animals are trained to do specific tasks for their handler, are legally allowed to accompany their handler to most public places, and are protected by federal law.
Believe it or not, there is another contender for center stage on your dinner table. Goat meat is considered to be one of the fastest growing segments in American livestock production, and in 2013 there were an estimated three million meat goats compared to the 89 million beef cattle in the same year. Heritage food groups are working to bring goat meat into mainstream diets by emphasizing sustainability and affordability, which may open doors for farmers to sell to restaurants and even direct to the consumer.
Hides can be sold as a secondary product to craftsmen as goat skin leather is a popular material for work gloves and shoes.
So, each kidding season as we celebrate the births of doelings and keeper buckling goats, remember that there are so many options available for wethers, too. Some of these ideas may make great secondary enterprises for your farm, and some of them may spark a new business venture into meat goat farming. Not every buckling goat is cut out to be a herd stud, but every wether can have a future. From yoga to hiking to agility competitions to your dinner table, the possibilities are endless.
Laura Kelly is a mother of four, a military spouse, and a local food fanatic. She lives on a small farmstead in Connecticut with her family, her goats, dogs, chickens, ducks, and geese. She is active in her local community as part of the farmer’s market team and the town’s historic district. Together with her husband, she runs the website www.kellyfarmcrafts.com where they showcase their handmade crafts, homegrown meat and produce, and historic homesteading skills.
Originally published in the July/August 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.