Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Click here to read "Goat Farming, Part 1: Selecting a Goat Breed and Preparing for Arrival."
In mid-May of 2012, I got the call that my five little doelings were weaned and would be ready for pickup in a week. I was eager to bring them home immediately, but the breeder was adamant about getting them off to a good start and letting them wean naturally, which takes 3 to 4 months. Goat kids nurse exclusively as first, but soon they’re following mom around nibbling on whatever she nibbles on, gradually learning to browse exclusively. By the time a kid is weaned, it can be so big that it has to kneel to get its heads underneath mom to nurse - quite a comical site. She will more and more often begin to step away from these attempts, encouraging junior to go fix his own meal!
I spent the last week finalizing preparations: I ran a single-stranded hot-wire about dog-nose high around the OUTSIDE perimeter of the 3-acre pasture. Because I didn’t plan to start out with a guardian animal, this was a defense against coyotes or marauding dogs.
Preparing a Truck to Transport Goats
I also needed to get my truck ready to bring the little herd home. I’d learned that goats can become sick after the stress of being transported, and I wanted to make the 90-minute trip as easy on them as I could. Goats are content only in a herd, so you need to start with a minimum of two. Having herd members with them during transport makes the trip less stressful as well. My kids each would be about the size of medium-size dog when I brought them home. A couple of large dog crates would have worked well if I’d had them. I didn’t, so I built a wood-framed wire cage to fit in the back of my truck. I used old door hinges to join the sides and top so that it would come apart and lay flat in the barn between uses. Installed in the pickup bed, I covered it with a tarp, and filled it with straw bedding.
The day finally came to bring them home. The breeder had penned them up the night before. I helped her hold them while she tattooed their ears. Then one by one, she put them in her goat stand and showed me how to trim their hooves. My fainting goats would need less hoof care than many other breeds required, but it would still be important to keep them trimmed 3 or 4 times a year.
She gave me a 1/2 bag of goat food. Although I planned to pasture feed them, she encouraged me to use a handful of sweet feed to get the goats to come to me when I needed or wanted to handle them. She also urged me to buy either a mineral block or loose minerals made especially for goats (not for "sheep and goats", just goats), as goats often need extra copper in their diets. I started out with loose minerals but the dang chickens ate it almost as fast as I could put it out, so I switched to a block and that has worked well. The goats nibble on it when they feel the need.
Finally we loaded them in the pickup. They stood in the straw in the back of the truck crying for their mommas as I drove away. I could see them in the rear-view mirror and marveled at their “sea legs.” I’d been afraid they’d be jostled about, but they balanced just fine. The tarp protected them from the wind, and soon they were all quietly settled down together in the straw for the drive.
At home, they were unsure of me and their new surroundings and were reluctant to leave the truck. I lifted them out, one by one, and placed them near the goat shed and the water trough. I sat in a lawn chair nearby to watch what I’ve come to call “Goat TV.” Within an hour, they were browsing on the weedy pasture, frolicking together, playing King on the Mountain on an old overturned trough, curiously checking out their surroundings and me - and just being kids!
Stay tuned for Part III: Tragedy and a Hard Lesson Learned in Goat Farming