Goats seem like simple creatures: They eat, sleep and sometimes get into trouble. Goats can be incredibly sweet and impossibly insolent, and at times they can act cocky and tough. But no matter how independent and hardy they appear, goats need care and attention.
Food for Goats
For most goat raisers, green forage and quality hay form the foundation of their goats’ diet, along with varying amounts of a concentrated grain ration, either commercial or custom-mixed, to balance out nutrients.
What and how much to feed your goats depends on many factors: Available feed resources; the goat’s age, sex and status (pregnant doe or breeding buck); time of year and climate; and breed and use (dairy, meat, fiber or miniature).
When feeding your goats, avoid sudden diet changes and don’t dump their hay on the ground. Ground feeding promotes parasite problems, and goats despise dirty hay. Goat manger designs vary. Whatever you buy or build should be easy to clean, goat-safe, and constructed to prevent your goat herd from pulling out and trampling hay.
Whatever you choose to feed your goats, make sure you give them the most critical nutrient: clean water.
A Goat Home
Goats are flexible in their lodging needs. Goats mainly care about one thing: Where am I going to go when it rains?
Goats are vulnerable to cold, wet weather because they have less fat and thinner hair than other livestock, explains Susan Schoenian, a sheep and goat specialist at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Keedysville, Md. As long as goat housing offers ventilated, draft-free shelter, goats can make do with simple housing like three-sided shelters and port-a-huts.
Keeping your goats’ housing clean will cut down on flies, parasites, disease and odors. Depending on what housing goat raisers choose, remove manure removal daily or adopt a deep litter system, regularly layering fresh bedding and then mucking it once or twice a year. Like housing, you’ll find a variety of fencing options available for goat pens. Schoenian stresses that a good fence is essential for containing goats and offers the best protection against predators, although few fences are 100 percent predator-proof.
Traditionally, two fencing types have been recommended for goats: multi-strand, high-tensile electric fence and woven or net wire fencing. Check your city ordinance for fencing requirements or regulations. Domesticated goats love to climb. If your backyard lacks natural climbing features such as big stumps, rocks or logs, you can make your goats housing complete — and more fun — by installing safe climbing toys.
Handle Goats With Care
Goats are exceedingly strong for their size and often defend themselves vigorously when confronted with an enemy — or a farmer trying to catch them when they don’t feel like being caught! A good-sized butting goat, with or without horns, can do some serious damage, and even a small goat can smash a kneecap with the right move.
Children are especially vulnerable around goats, so always supervise their interactions. But do not fear your goats. Handled with care, respect and common sense, goats can be managed with little trouble. You’ll find catching and handling your goats easier with daily treats and friendly scratches. You can also use collars on your goat (use breakaway types if you leave them on) and clip it to a fence for hoof trimming.
To catch untamed or capture-wary goats, herd them into a small, goat-safe area where you can grab them quickly. An essential piece of handling equipment for any goat keeper is a stand or stanchion to help restrict your headstrong goat’s movement for routine hands-on care.
Knowing your goats’ personalities and moods and staying alert when you’re around them will help you to know when to expect trouble.
To Your Goat’s Health
Goats are naturally hardy animals, but some preventive measures will help your goats remain healthy for years to come.
Ask a local veterinarian about recommended goat vaccinations. You can also help keep contagious diseases at bay by promptly isolating and treating sick goats, as well as by quarantining newly acquired goats.
It’s normal for goats to carry a certain number of nasty, blood-sucking internal parasites, notes Schoenian. “The challenge is to keep the parasites from making the animal sick or from affecting its performance.”
Internal parasite control in small ruminants is complicated, Schoenian adds. The proliferation of drug-resistant parasites has worried experts recommending an individualistic approach based on the severity of infestation, the time of year and the climate.
Goat owners can monitor parasitism with a fecal egg count test. Farmers also use the FAMACHA system. With this technique, goat raisers compare each goat’s eye membrane color to a chart to determine which animals require deworming. Pale mucous membranes, for instance, indicate anemia caused by the parasite.
In this age of resistant organisms, the following non-drug methods used to reduce parasite loads make more sense than ever: Provide a nutritious diet, feed in mangers, and keep your goats’ quarters clean.
Another important health maintenance chore is hoof trimming. Goat hooves grow constantly and need periodic “pedicures” to avoid unsightly overgrowth that can lead to lameness. How often you need to trim will vary with your backyard’s terrain, the climate and the individual goat.
Prevent accidental goat injuries by regularly checking enclosures, shelters, fences and feeders for objects like nails or wire and faulty construction that could entangle, cut or strangle your goat. Install goat-proof latches on gates and doors so your goat can’t escape. Never tether a goat when you’re not around to supervise. Not only would it be unable to escape a predator, it could strangle itself.
Give your goats a daily head-to-tail inspection and take time to observe their behavior. Stay alert for symptoms like diarrhea, lethargy, eye or nasal discharge, labored breathing or changes in eating and drinking habits. Don’t hesitate to call the veterinarian if your goat seems sick or injured.
About the Author: Cherie Langlois is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Urban Farm magazine. She raises goats in Graham, Wash.