Why Do You Want a Goat?
This is the first question to ask yourself before getting a goat. That seems simple enough, but because there are so many goat breeds designed to produce different products and have certain traits, knowing what you want will save you time. There are many, many breeds that offer milk, meat, fiber and/or companionship. This list (sidebar at XX) shows the most common ones.
Do You Want a Male or Female Goat?
This is the second question you need to answer. Do you want to bring home a buck, doe or whether (neutered male)? Bucks are un-neutered male goats. Generally speaking, your first goat should NOT be a buck. Their sole purpose is to breed. They can seem cute and sweet when a kid (young goat), but as bucks gets older and enter “rut” (ready to breed) they will produce a foul odor from urinating on their face and front legs. Bucks can become aggressive and dangerous, especially if their horns are still intact.
This is not to say that bucks do not have a place on farm; they are integral to growing a herd. Also, if you get a buck you may want to add a neutered male or another buck (to avoid inbreeding) for company, since they need to be kept separate from the females (for obvious reasons). Bucks tend to have short life spans (eight to ten years), most likely due to the stress of breeding.
A wether is a neutered male and a good choice for pets, meat and fiber. They tend to be a little more social than female goats, don’t have the buck’s foul odor, and do not become aggressive. They tend to live for 11 to 16 years.
A doe is a female goat. Does tend to be less social then wethers, however they are still great for milk production and/or companionship. The average life span for a doe is between 11 and 12 years, however they can live longer depending on the age they are retired from producing kids (baby goats).
How to Choose a Healthy Goat
Now that you know what kind of goat you want and what gender, you can turn your attention to find healthy goats. When choosing a healthy goat, look for a shiny coat, lively manner, clear eyes, no limping when walking, no sores or infected areas, not too fat or thin, firm pelleted manure (no signs of diarrhea on the coat), and a well-shaped utter and teats (if it’s a doe).
Remember you can and should ask questions, such as
- What diseases have been in the herd
- What are the worming and vaccination guidelines
- What criteria was used for selection and culling
Before introducing any new goat(s) to your farm, it’s wise to inventory what diseases are already present in your current herd as well as know the health history/issues of the herd your goat came from. Also, it is a good idea to quarantine the new goats from the rest of your goat herd to monitor for signs of ailments.
If you don’t already have a goat shelter, the highest, driest part of your property is the best place to locate one. Its main purpose is protection from the elements. A three-sided shelter will suffice, if the opening is away from prevailing winds. The roof should be sloped to repel rain. Gutters and downspouts are needed to direct water away from the shelter and surrounding area.
If you‘re putting goats in your barn, make sure it is well ventilated yet draft free, especially if you plan on breeding goats and kidding (birthing). If you are housing dairy goats, stanchions or stall boxes with built-in feeders can make milking them easier. Also consider creating separate areas for pregnant does, sick goats, etc.
A minimum of ten to 15 square feet per animal in your shelter is a good rule of thumb to prevent overcrowding. You don’t want overcrowded goats taking their frustrations out on each other or the structure itself.
Fencing goats to keep them on your property can be a real challenge. Jim Gerrish, a grazing lands consultant, wisely said, “If your fence can hold water, it will hold goats. And, “If 95 percent of your goats are in your pastures 95 percent of the time… you’re doing a good job”. This pretty much sums up some experiences people have with keeping goats.
Typically, you want a fence to keep goats in and predators out. You have a lot different options to choose from, including modifying your existing fence (depending on what you have) or installing a new one.
Whatever you decide, 48 inches is generally the minimum height for a goat fence. Fencing for bucks needs to be closer to six feet high. All goats are agile and will test the limits of your fence, and sometimes your patience. They will lean on, push against, and even stand on fencing — especially if you, another animal or a tasty tree or shrub is on the other side of that fence.
Some common fencing types are livestock panels, woven wire and electric fences, which are divided into physical barriers and psychological barriers. Physical fencing can be costly up front, but requires less maintenance over time. Psychological fencing (electric) fencing can be inexpensive, but you have to make sure the fence lines are always clear (weed whack or spray) so they remain “hot”.
Physical barriers are typically installed along the perimeter of your property. Woven wire fencing (two-inch by six-inch stays or spacing between vertical wires) is recommended for goats and sheep, as it is hard for them to get through. Six-inch by 12-inch stays allow animals to insert their head through the fence without getting stuck there.
It’s also smart to put an electric wire along the middle and top of the fence to discourage climbing or leaning on it. Six-inch by six-inch stay fences are not recommended, because goats can get easily caught and gravely injure themselves, becoming an easy target for predators. Multiple strands of barbed wire can be used instead, but DO NOT ELECTRIFY it!
Goats tend to respect psychological barriers such as electric fencing. The trick is to make sure they respect the fence before you let them out into a pasture for the first time. You will most likely need four to five strands of electric wire at the nine inch, 17 to 18 inch, 25 to 27 inch, 36 inch and 48 inch mark from the ground. Contact a fence supplier for more details on electric, battery and solar powered options, including the grounders.
There is a Finnish saying, “If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.” However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Whether you’re bringing home your first goats or increasing your herd, if you follow these guidelines, you can enjoy the company of goats and limit how many times you hear, “Honey, the goats are out”.