New Goat Owners
Owning goats is a fun and exciting way to venture into homesteading, 4H for your children or just having a fun pet to have at home!
What do goats need?
Goats need: 24/7 access to water and quality hay, high quality loose minerals, grain (depending on weight, breed, health status), a draft free shelter during the winter with dry bedding (straw, pine shavings or even waste hay), a secure turnout area and parasite management.
Hay, Water, Minerals, Grain:
Hay: Second cutting hay is best for goats. We use a combination of alfalfa hay and grass hay. Second cutting is less "stemmy" and therefore less wasteful. Hay can be placed in a typical mobile hay feeder or a hay rack that mounts to a wall of your shelter. We have purchased horse racks, but if you have chickens you need to be very cautious as your hens may use that as a nesting area and get stuck by their wings as the hay gets low. We've actually found our best hay feeder was made from a slatted headboard that was left here! Hay MUST be kept dry. Moldy hay can cause sickness in goats, so always check the hay before feeding it. Dry hay storage is a must as well- We are lucky enough to have a hay loft here but other options are sheds, mobile tents where the hay sits on pallets, empty trailers.
Water: Fresh water daily is a must with goats. When you have does in milk or pregnant does, their water consumption is higher. We have a trough set up under the overhang of our barn that has an automatic float valve which keeps the water level perfect for the goats. You may also choose to put cement blocks on either side of the trough so your chickens may drink from the trough as well.
This is very important! Goat kids can fall in troughs/buckets and get stuck then drown. If you use troughs you need to place concrete blocks in the trough so a kid who falls in can get out!
Minerals: We use a variety of minerals. SweetLix Meat Maker and ZinPro40 keeps everyone's coats looking good. We've found that Purina goat minerals are "ok" in a pinch but I generally order SweetLix and ZinPro for the best results.
Grain: There are varying opinions on grain, however we feed a custom mix to our goats. I mix by hand about 1000lbs of grain every 3-4 months and we find that this has been optimal for their growth. If you purchase a goat from us, we will give you the formulation as well as a starter bag to go home. Other options are: Blue Seal Dairy and Kalmbach Dairy feeds. Sweet feed is considered a "trash food" for goats and will cause them to gain weight but may be nutritionally lacking depending on your individual goals.
Winter Draft Free Shelter:
Goats do not need more than a run in shed during the warm months, they do not like to be out in the rain and you need to have an area to keep your hay dry. During the winter months, goats grow very thick hair. Never blanket a goat if the goat is healthy. Older goats that have trouble keeping their body heat may be ok to blanket if the weather is extremely cold. Blankets are never an appropriate option for healthy adult goats. A shelter (barn, shed) should provide ventilation at the roof so the area does not get damp from respiration, but also have no open drafts where the wind can chill goats. During the day, most goats will forage outside but at night they like to hunker down together. We've found that shavings are very absorbent but can be cost prohibitive depending on your access to "free" shavings vs TSC bagged shavings. In the winter, we place a layer of stall refresher from TSC down to absorb urine smells (or barn lime), a layer of pine shavings and a thick layer of straw on top. We deep litter during the winter, meaning I clean the barn to the floor once a month and add a layer of fresh straw weekly.
Summer Shelter and Fly Control
During the summer months, I find our goats sleep outside under the overhang by the barn. No one sleeps in the back field at night. We do keep a barn fan on inside their main sleeping area and the goats will often go inside during the midday sun to cool down.
Flies can be an issue for goat owners during the summer months. We purchase "Organic Cowboy" biological fly control which actually uses parasitic insects that kill fly larvae before they become flies. I sprinkle this in the areas the goats spend most of their time (sleeping areas and near their hay feeders). We do not generally have flies at all as a result!
Goats require very good, gap free fencing. We use 2"x4" welded wire no climb horse fencing attached to posts, however there are other options. Your fence must be secure at the base, as goats will maneuver under fences with little hesitation. You may choose to add a "hot" wire for cattle/horses around the top and middle to deter any potential fence jumpers. Gates need to have welded wire bases with small gaps, as goats can sneak through the standard horse/cow tube gates. Fences should be checked monthly at least for predators attempting to dig under as well as goats trying to dig out.
Access to Forage
Goats are not naturally grass eaters like cows, sheep and horses. They are browsers and will enjoy your bushes, pine trees, tree leaves and poison ivy. Contrary to popular belief, goats cannot eat just eat anything. Please research poisonous plants in your area and make sure your pasture or fence line does not have any. A common poisonous plant in Pennsylvania is Rhododendron.
Worms go with the territory of any animal that may eat off the ground. Keeping a quality hay feeder that wastes less and discourages eating off the ground is the first defense. You may contact your veterinarian to do quarterly fecal checks on a sampling of your herd, or you can purchase a microscope, McMaster slides, a fecal float solution and a veterinary parasite book and perform your own. The total cost for the scope, solution, etc was around $150-$200. I chose to learn because after running fecals on 10 goats with the vet one time, the scope paid for itself. We use a variety of methods of parasite control. I reserve chemical dewormers for my last resort, however I have found herbal dewormers to be very effective. I use my own recipe but it is very similar to Land of Havilah's pre-bagged version.
Goat veterinarians are very hard to find. We utilize a large animal farm vet who does farm calls whenever needed. Having a good relationship with a vet is important (as is a good goat mentor). When you're thinking about purchasing a goat, contact several veterinarians. Find out what their day time farm call costs, an emergency visit as well as their typical views on goats (do they service goats?). Shop around. While I do agree you get what you pay for when it comes to service, typically your smaller independent farm vet charges $50 for a farm call and the corporate owned conglomerate typically charges $150 for a farm call. We have found our satisfaction and care standards higher with our small family owned farm vet.
**I am going to keep adding to this as I have time. There are many pieces of goat ownership that are more in depth and I encourage people who have purchased goats from us to reach out with any questions they may have**