As soon as you step outside the farmhouse, you can hear the happy little cries of a newborn goat in the north pen. With just a shake of the grain bucket, a herd of goats will come running over to inspect whatever treat you might have for them this time.
Goats are popular animals to have on any homestead thanks to their more compact size and the diversity they offer among the breeds. You can raise goats for meat, milk, fiber, show animals, pack use, transportation and so on.
There are so many different uses for goats that it’s helpful to take a little time and plan out exactly what purpose you’d like to raise them for. There are several questions you should think about when you first decide to pursue getting goats.
- Are you wanting to raise your own goats for meat to put in the freezer? Or would you prefer fresh milk every day?
- How much time do you have to commit to your herd?
- What is your budget for not only the initial purchase of the goat(s) but also the upkeep and vet bills that will likely come later?
- Are you looking for a pet for your kids or a 4-H show animal?
Once you know what the main priorities are for your goats, you can begin the exciting task of researching different breeds to see which one suits you and your family best. Keep in mind, as you look that for an easier experience with your first few meat goats, it might be helpful to stick to a breed that is common or well-known around your area.
There may be a reason why people mainly keep one or two specific breeds. And if you’re going to breed meat goats later, this could make it easier to find a buck to rent.
Do your research, and ask plenty of questions before you jump in. Sometimes, it’s helpful to go spend some time around someone else’s herd and just get a feel for how the goats act and how comfortable you are with them.
When you’ve decided what breed you want to get, it’s time to get your facilities set up and buy your first goat! While you don’t need anything state-of-the-art, it’s helpful if you have a tall (and sturdy) enough fence that they can’t jump out at the drop of a hat. You also need a shelter for them to go inside during bad weather and a few other basic things such as medicine syringes, feed buckets and feed, and water troughs.
If your meat goats are out on pasture most of the time, a simple shelter such as a three-sided shed will be perfectly fine for them to get out of nasty weather or rain. The size of the shelter will be somewhat determined on how many goats you have and how much time they must spend inside of it. If they live out on pasture and just step inside to get out of occasional bad weather, they should be fine to crowd together for a bit.
If it’s going to be more of a daily occurrence, they’ll need to have access to plenty of room. Too much crowding can induce stress and, in some cases, even sickness.
Be mindful of what materials you use to build your shelter with or those that are in an existing building. Try to build with solid wood and/or metal such as tin. Avoid pressed wood such as plywood and particle board as goats can get a sudden appetite for even these strange snacks.
Fences can be constructed from a variety of materials, including hog and cattle panels, combination panels or even an electric fence. The main problem with cattle panels is that, if you have a breed with horns (and many of them do), they tend to reach their head through to the other side and get stuck.
While this can commonly be rectified by just pushing them back through the panel, sometimes the other goats can get aggressive with the one that is stuck and cause damage to their backside. While not known to happen very often, it’s an unpleasant possibility.
If a hot wire is used, it’s a good idea to run enough strands that it can reach tall enough that the goats won’t be tempted to jump over it. Typically, at least a 4-foot fence is suggested.
When it comes to picking your breed of meat goat, there are many different options. Here are just a few:
Originally from South Africa, Boer goats are one of the most popular breeds of meat goat. Both bucks and does tend to be large-framed animals with a laid-back disposition. It’s not uncommon for a doe to give birth to not only twins but sometimes even triplets.
Kiko goats are known to have massive horns set atop muscular bodies. They came from New Zealand and are considered a “teachable” breed with a calm, although fearless, disposition.
Known for the common trait that causes them to “faint,” Myotonic goats or Tennessee fainting goats are also good meat goats. They are great mothers and typically will have twins or triplets.
Other Purchase Considerations
As you move forward, keep in mind that goats are herd animals, and it’s best to not get just one when raising your own for meat. Once you’ve figured out what your purpose is for them, start out with at least two, maybe even three depending on your family’s needs.
It’s usually best not to buy your meat goats from a sale barn, as you won’t know any of the history of the animal (unless it’s called out at the time of sale); what animals they’ve encountered during sale day; or if they’re sick, pregnant, etc.
Sale barns can be a dumping place for sick, injured or otherwise undesirable animals that people just want to be rid of. While this isn’t always the case, someone just starting out should ask around and find a reputable breeder.
There are several ways to find local breeders.
- Check out the community bulletin boards for any advertised goats for sale.
- Ask your local vet.
- Go into a local coop or feed-supply store and ask around
- Put up “in search of” flyers.
Look for a seller with a good reputation in the local goat community. When you finally meet them, observe how they answer your questions. Are they forthcoming with information and tell you about both the good and bad of whatever animals you’re looking to buy?
Notice if you’re only shown the select animals you’re considering purchasing or if they’ll let you observe the entire herd. Just like when buying cattle, seeing the herd as a whole will help give you an indication of problems you could possibly run into in the future.
Do any of the animals look sick or suffering from a disease? Are they scrawny or malnourished? Do they look bloated and tight like they might have a bad case of worms? Do you notice any limping due to possible foot rot?
Even if you don’t notice it yourself, ask the seller about these things. Don’t be rude, but kindly ask about the health of the herd and if any have been infected. After all, you’re looking at purchasing some goats from this herd. You’re entitled to know the health history of them.
If you’ve never worked with the seller before and aren’t sure how honestly they’ll answer you, take along a knowledgeable friend that can help you accurately see any flaws in the animals. Don’t forget to ask the reason that they’re selling. Note the following:
- Is this how they make a living?
- Are they just downsizing the herd?
- Have these goats been pulled from the herd for a particular reason?
Try to avoid kicking off your goat-owning experience with a project goat or one that isn’t particularly healthy.
A healthy goat should be alert with bright eyes. It should move around easily without appearance of joint or leg problems and urinate clear urine. A healthy appetite should be present, and it should chew cud after eating. If buying a doe, even though it’s not specifically a dairy goat, you should check its udder for anything out of the ordinary. The udder should be soft with no hard lumps and normal teats.
Home, Sweet Home
Once you’ve made your purchase, it’s time to get them home and settled into their new space. It’s best to have everything ready before you bring them home so it can be an easier transition for your goats and you.
Depending on if you’re keeping them in a dry lot or out on pasture, the pen and fences should be set up and the shelter cleaned out and ready to use. Water troughs can be disinfected and filled, and a feeding regimen will need to be figured out. Goats should have access to good prairie hay or brome that’s not moldy or musty, and then be supplemented with high-protein pellets and eventually grain, depending on what your plan is for fattening and butchering.
Goats tend to love good weeds. When given the option of quality grass or weeds, they’ll often choose the weeds. This is one reason some ranchers put out cattle and goats in the same pasture. While the cattle will graze on the good grass, the goats will act as though they’re on clean-up duty and eat the brush and weeds.
When it comes to the health of your goats, one of the most common issues people run into are goats getting infected with worms. Goats are very susceptible to worms and will get them by ingesting the larvae that the worms have laid on the lower leaves of a plant. The closer to the ground the goats graze the plants, the closer they get to eventually eating the worm larvae.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to employ rotational grazing and move your goats from pasture to pasture over a period of time so they don’t graze the grass (and weeds) down too far.
If goats are kept in a dry lot, worms don’t present as much of a risk. Goats with worms can certainly be treated, but it’s best to lean heavier on the side of prevention than it is to wait until the goats show symptoms.
Treatment can range from natural supplements to a pour-on drench that goes over the backs of the animals. Talk to your local vet to see what the best timeline is for treating your goats for worms. Some people do it just once a year. Others might wait until they notice an issue, although this isn’t recommended.
If you’re turning the goats out to a pasture, walk through it beforehand and look for anything that could potentially be hazardous or deadly to your goats. Some plants can be poisonous to goats (such as hemlock). Old or damaged structures could possibly injure a goat if it were to get stuck in something and stranded.
A stranded goat is very vulnerable to wild dogs or coyotes.
While a freezer full of fresh meat is certainly rewarding, harvesting your goats is a difficult task to do on a homestead. From the day you bring the animal onto your place to the day it leaves, you’ve done your best to give it a good life and raise it well. That’s what makes this such a bittersweet job.
Be thankful for the home-raised meat that will feed your family and look forward to next year, when you’ll get to start all over again.
Goats are generally cool-season breeders, although Boer goats can be bred all year long. The gestation period for a goat is around 5 months and some goats can even have up to three kiddings in a year. This can be rather extreme for the does, so some ranchers prefer to let their herds kid just once each spring.
A doe’s cycle lasts 18 to 21 days. When the time comes that your meat goats are ready to be bred, a buck can be turned in with the does for an allotted amount of time. For some, this would be two months, so that he would be present over two to three cycles and given plenty of opportunity to service all the does.
The number of does that one buck can service depends on his age. A mature buck (2 years and older) can service around 25 does.
When five months have passed and it’s time to give birth, a doe will typically become restless and alternate between standing up and laying down. She’ll be slower moving than the rest of the herd and eventually wander away in search of a quiet spot.
Ligaments around the tail head will begin to loosen and her udder will grow extremely full (if it hadn’t already in the previous weeks and days leading up to the birth). Eventually, the ligaments will be so soft or loose in her spine that before she gives birth you will be able to wrap your hand around the end of the spine or tail bone and almost touch your fingers together.
When the time comes to push, the first of two sacs will make an appearance. The second sac will contain the baby. In a normal delivery, the kid will come out with its face tucked between the two front hooves. A breech delivery is when the baby is born backwards.
Once the kid is on the ground, keep an eye on mama (especially if she is a first-time mom) to make sure that she gets it cleaned off in time. Once clean, it will need to get up and nurse to get that first dose of colostrum into its system.
When a goat is about 8 to 12 months old and has reached its target market weight, the time will come to butcher. No matter what the breed, a goat should have a good amount of muscle and be well filled-out before it’s butchered. Some people like to castrate the bucks while they’re still young, others find that it’s not an issue so long as they’re butchered before they reach full maturity.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.