The Basics of Caring for Goats
These Tips Will Help You Succeed at Goat Farming
By Suzy Minck, Texas – Despite the fact that there are many different breeds of goats today, the basics of caring for goats is pretty much the same. There isn’t a big difference between raising a dairy goat or a meat goat. The two main meat breeds are the Boer, which can grow to more than 300 pounds, and the lighter side is the Pygmy goat, a very small meat goat. Boers can be harder to handle because of their size, while the Pygmy are really ideal for a small amount of land and make great pets. I’ve owned both of these goat breeds in the past.
Then there are the many dairy goat breeds, which I love, and each has their own qualities. Any breeder will tell you why their breed is the best, and I’m no exception. I can go on and on about my miniature Alpine goats, but the point here is caring for goats. Goats only need food and shelter, the rest is maintenance.
All breeds do better when wormed, have their shots, and have hooves trimmed in a timely fashion. You can ask five goat breeders how they do it and all five will tell you a different way. It’s really what works for you.
When caring for goats, proper housing is a must. No fancy barn is needed. My goats have a 12 x 12, three-sided barn with six Port-A-Huts in other pens for shelter when needed. Each pen and the barnyard has automatic floats for water so in the summer the water is cool for them. Some of the miniature goats such as a Nigerian Dwarf goat, Mini-Alpines, and others, can have dog houses, and they also love standing on top of them. It’s a goat’s love to climb things.
Grain differs also. If I’m not milking for the house they get a 12 percent sweet feed and pasture, no hay needed. If you will be milking for your family they need at least a 16 percent grain ration. I live by a cow dairy and the owner lets me buy cottonseed from him to add to my grain. It’s amazing what it does for milk production. Alfalfa is a must for the producing dairy doe. They can give milk on pasture alone but the taste of the milk goes by what they eat. I love a good burger cooked over mesquite, but not in my milk. Winter and late summer are different. The amount fed needs to increase as the grass depletes and the doe is hopefully pregnant with little bundles of bouncing joy. Good grain, alfalfa, and good grass hay for roughage will keep them in great shape to make it through the winter months. Their weight will help you decide how much to give them. Goats should not get any hay or grain that is musty or moldy. They are not cows, and even though they have to chew their cud, which means they have a rumen, they need “horse quality” hay. The last thing you need is a vet bill with the end result being a dead doe or buck. I keep a 50-pound block of iodized salt with minerals in it at all times in each pen.
Kids will need a medicated feed when they are weaned, and it’s up to each person as to when weaning should happen. Since I do not show, my does nurse their kids. I only milk one or two now, so most of the time they will nurse for three or four months if the doe is holding her weight. But if mom is losing weight and the kids are good size, then the kids go in the weaning pen and get the medicated kid grower and alfalfa hay. The medication is Decoquinate (C&D), which helps to prevent coccidiosis in kids. This is when they overeat and get scours. A kid can be fine one day and dead in hours if they scour (get “the runs”). The C&D shot takes care of that also, but to have the prevention in the feed is a good goat care practice. If you are going to be milking a doe for house milk, make sure she does not eat this kind of feed, as the milk will not be fit for human use.
Bucks are a different issue. Keep them away from corn as they can get urinary tract infections or blockages — not fun for them or you. A buck has one job only — to make more of his kind. They are not pets and must have manners. Mine — all 10 of them — are halter broke so I can hand breed if I want to. This means when I see a doe in her cycle, all I have to do is get the halter and call by name which buck I want to use for breeding. Believe me, they learn very quickly what a halter means. Then in with the doe we go, with me on the other end of the lead rope. Within five minutes said buck is back in the buck pen. I record the breeding date and the wait is on. In five months those bundles of joy are ready to come out and see what the world has to offer them. This usually means they think you belong to them, and they have the right to do to you whatever they see fit. You are something to climb on. So be ready when you sit down, to be their mountain.
Vaccination-wise they really don’t need much. When the kids reach weaning age, eight to 12 weeks old, they get 2cc’s of C&D with Tetanus. This can be bought at any feed and grain store along with needles and syringes. In two weeks they get the same amount and then they are good for a year. On August 1st every year, the does that are going to be bred for the next year’s kids get 2cc’s to get ready for the breeding season. This is just a booster. Every buck gets it also; the same amount.
Worming them is different every year. In a year that has more rain, they get wormed more often. This depends on the condition they are in. Is the coat dull or brittle, are they thin and not gaining weight considering the amount of feed they are eating? Then worming is needed. I rotate what I use, but I like Ivermectin Plus Injectable the best. I do not inject this but others do, and that’s fine. I give it orally. They get 1/2 cc per 50 pounds of body weight. For standard sized goats, this would be 1 cc per 100 pounds of weight. This is given again in two weeks to break the egg cycle. Another wormer I use is Safeguard for does that are being milked for home use. Remember there is a three day “down time” that the milk or meat cannot be used for human use when worming, so give the milk to the dog for those three days; he’ll be elated. I also use Zimectrin which is a paste-like Safeguard, but you can’t milk for the house when using it.
Hoof trimmings are done according to each goat. One buck needs it every month while others only three times a year. If you have rocks (and believe me, they’ll be climbing on them) be happy, this will help keep hooves trimmed back for you.
To learn about goats I suggest for the newcomer to join one of the many goat groups that Yahoo offers for free. You can ask any question and will have many replies. No question is stupid unless it’s not asked. You’ll never know the answer to it.
You can visit Suzy by going to www.MilkMaidRanch.com.
What tips would you add to this guide for the basics of caring for goats?
Published in Countryside & Small Stock Journal November/December 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.