For the homesteader and small-scale farmer, goats are a near essential. Even on an urban lot of 1 acre or less, keeping goats is a viable prospect due to their compact size and (usually) congenial personalities. There are a few steps you need to take before you even consider keeping a goat, whether your setting is urban or rural.
While not all urban areas have codes against keeping livestock, it’s a good policy to check first. It also doesn’t hurt to ask around and make sure your neighbors are aware of your plans. You may not need their permission, but stating your intentions up front may avert problems down the road. If you live in an urban area or a rural area adjoining a city, call or pay a visit to city hall to determine what is and isn’t allowed and if there is a size and weight limit for the animals you keep. If you find out that it is illegal for you to keep goats, gather some friends and start up an activist group to get the laws changed. People have done this with success in many cities, small and large.
Prepare Fencing And Shelter
Good planning and prudent herd management are your keys to success. Be sure you have a well-thought out plan for taking care of goats and that your pen and shelter are fully built before even considering picking up your first goats. Plan for at least 200 to 400 square feet of roaming space per animal for small breeds and twice that for larger breeds. Goats are social animals. They will love to be part of your family, but a single goat will be lonely and may have health problems due to stress, so plan on a space for at least two.
The amount of fencing you will need will depend on the size of your lot and the size of goat you are permitted to have. No matter the size, be sure you have prepared a very secure pen, as goats of any size love to climb and are talented escape artists. Think big—dinosaur big. If you fence so a T-Rex can’t get in, then you should be set for keeping your goats from getting out and predators from getting in.
Purchase quality, secure fencing. Don’t skimp. You can save money elsewhere. The smaller the holes the better. Shoot for 4-by-4 inches or smaller. If a goat can get its head through the hole, it will likely get stuck, particularly if it has its horns. Use sunken wooden posts, wood framing and a strand of hot electric-fencing wire along the bottom to cover all of your bases. Goats will be hard on your fencing, particularly when shedding their coat in the winter, so make sure it’s not flimsy and check for gaps or loose areas regularly.
For shelter, you don’t need a full-sized barn, but be sure it’s big enough for the number of goats you plan on having to move around in comfortably. Its roofing should be water-tight, its walls secure, and minimal cold air should get in during the winter months.
Choose A Breed
Your city’s ordinances may play a part in which breed you choose. Pick a smaller breed if you have a size limit to stick to. Otherwise, your choice will depend on a variety of factors.
First, think of the main reason you want a goat. Line up in order of preference, whether you’re mostly interested in milk, meat, fiber or companionship. Keep in mind that goats are bred for a specific purpose. Some may serve more than one function, but don’t expect to get all of your needs met with one breed. Meat goats, such as Boer, will keep your freezer stocked but don’t expect them to provide milk or be good companions. A dairy breed such as Nubian or Saanen, will provide you with plenty of tasty milk and not a bad amount of flavorful meat. If you’re primarily interested in fiber, look for a goat bred specifically for that purpose, such as Angora. Develop relationships with “goat people” online and ask to visit farms where you are considering purchasing goats to get a feel for how you would get along with that goat breed and to quiz the farmer. Don’t forget to respect their privacy and busy schedules.
Whether you’re an urban or rural farmer, it’s always best to start with two does. Bucks can be noisy and smelly and present problems during rutting if they need to be kept from the does. Leave the buck on the farm and contract out buck services if you decide you want to breed. If you’re raising goats for milk, breeding is essential, as does need to have babies to produce milk. Be sure you have a plan for housing and getting rid of babies, as goats rarely have just one.
Unless you’re planning on going into the business of breeding and selling goats, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on a documented purebred. There is varied opinion among goat farmers as to whether cross breeds or purebreds are hardier. If you want a purebred without the hefty price, look for a farm that has goats from a pure line but that aren’t certified.
Care And Feeding
Goats will take up a good chunk of your time, particularly if you’re going to milk them, so don’t kid yourself. Be fully prepared to take the time to ensure they are properly fed and cared for. As ruminants, goats are browsers. In a mid-sized space, they will stay well-fed and keep unwanted foliage in check, preferring brush and weeds to grass. They may clean you out fairly quickly though and will only eat what they can reach comfortably. If you want them for brush control, you’ll need to cut back any foliage they have eaten through so that they can reach more leafy matter. While you can substitute with grain and hay, goats need a regular supply of greens. If you need to, go wild foraging and bring back some greens as snacks. Never place their food directly on the ground, as they can pick up parasites easily.
When building a shelter, be sure to provide an elevated trough for grain and a hay-feeder that has openings small enough to keep them from pulling hay and greens onto the ground. Clean water is essential. Be sure they always have access to it, and refill water containers with any amount of dirt or feces immediately. Keep plenty of minerals on hand. Avoid salt blocks, as goats prefer loose minerals. Greens can cause bloating, so provide your does with baking soda to alleviate this. Use sparingly with bucks, or not at all, as it can potentially cause urinary track blockage. Opinion varies on this one, so ask around or check with your vet.
Parasites And Other Health Issues
Goats aren’t native to North America. Most breeds come originally from arid, mountainous climates. If this doesn’t sound like your climate, your goats will be prone to disease, particularly parasites. As long as your goats are provided ample browsing room, they’ll naturally seek out plants that are more nutritious and flavorful to them; however, groundcover plants are much more likely to hold parasites, which seek out moist, warm areas.
If you think you may have a parasite problem, check fecal matter to identify the type of parasite you’re dealing with. There are many dewormers on the market, meaning you can easily spend a fortune in your attempts to be proactive. Talk to experienced goat farmers for advice on what works best, but avoid “just in case” products. Many farmers overdo worming in their attempts to cover all the bases. If you haven’t noticed a particular parasite being problematic with your herd, don’t fret and save your money. There are many herbal remedies on the market, but you can save money by making your own if you do your research.
The Culinary Delights Of A Goat
Most people who are interested in raising goats have a goal of providing their family with healthy, natural, locally sourced food. A couple of goats will keep your family well-fed.
Their milk can be made with ease into cheese, yogurt and kefir (a highly nutritious fermented dairy beverage). Goat’s milk has lower fat content than cow’s milk, with Nubian having the highest. Goat milk also digests differently, so people with lactose intolerance can often drink it without a problem.
Also, their meat, if prepared properly, is one of the tastiest meats out there and is a leaner alternative to sheep. The key with goat meat is to cook it with lots of spices, herbs and olive oil (or baste it in wine, beer or mead) and to cook it slow. Meatier cuts, such as loin and shoulder, can be seasoned and placed in a slow cooker (or in the oven on low heat) six to eight hours before dinner. By the time you’re ready to eat, the meat will be falling off the bone.