When you’re looking to enlarge your homestead and increase your self sufficiency, goats are a great way to go. Their care requirements are much simpler than other large livestock, and they will reward you with some delicious milk that can be made into popular cheeses.
It’s not hard to add goats to the farm as long as you take a few basics into account. Compared to adding a cow or a draft horse, goats are easy keepers. They do need more attention than “gateway” animals like chickens, though.
Like any livestock animal, goats should have a secure area that they can stay in at night or seek refuge from bad weather. If predators are at all a problem in your area, your goats need a nightly shelter that can be locked up so they are safe from potential attacks.
This room or stall should be left open during the days so they can use it to get out of the elements, or an alternative shelter should be set up in their field. For indoor shelter, goats require a minimum of 10 square feet per goat.
Goats also need outside space to range and play, and that area needs a good fence to keep them from escaping. To keep goats from trying to escape, make sure their pasture has plenty of entertainment for them. Goats are playful animals and the more distractions they have, the less they will think about adventures.
For fencing, 4-foot no-climb fencing works for many types of goats. Use fencing with small squares, such as 4-inch by 4-inch, so that your goats can’t get their heads stuck in the openings.
In theory, you can keep up to 10 goats on an acre, but the number of goats varies greatly depending on how much vegetation is available for them to graze. Goats are prized because they are foragers and often will eat underbrush and weeds that other livestock won’t touch. There are plants that are poisonous to goats, however, and you should be careful to research what might be toxic in your field.
Like any animal, goats need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. Many goats that are on pasture in the summer need only minimal grain. If you are raising your goats for meat, you may be feeding them more heavily, while some pastured goats don’t receive any additional feed when plenty of vegetation is available.
When considering how much to feed, it’s important to look at what proteins and nutrients your goats are getting from their pasture. Dairy goats are fed supplemental feed when milking, but goats should never get more than 50% of their daily feed from grain.
In addition to grain, you should offer your goats free choice access to good-quality hay. Goats will forage between their pasture and the hay stand, and in winter they will fill the majority of their diet with hay. Legume hays are best for goats, such as alfalfa and clover. Goats do not like grass hays and these hays provide much less in the way of protein. Especially during winter, when your goat may be eating hay as their main food source, providing high-quality, legume hay is important.
Goats also need certain minerals that cannot always be found in their foraged food or grain. Baking soda should be offered free choice to goats, as it keeps the acid in their rumen healthy and their digestion functioning properly. A tray of baking soda in the goat’s stall should provide them with plenty of the white powder, and they will simply sample from it when they feel the need.
There are many mineral supplements you can offer goats to make sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need. There are large mineral blocks that you can leave for them in their stall to use when they need, or you can provide a tray of particular minerals or include them in their grain. Copper is especially important for goats to have, but there are plenty of minerals that are important to goat’s diets just like they are to humans.
Goats are hardy animals but they don’t like extreme cold or heat. In winter, make sure their shelter is buttoned up from outside wind gusts and provide deep bedding for them to snuggle in. During the summer, it’s important to provide them with shady areas to rest and plenty of fresh, cool water.
The most common bedding for goats is either straw or wood shavings. Wood shavings are often easiest to clean, and it is important to keep your goat’s pen cleaned with fresh bedding. If you have dairy goats, it is crucial to have a dedicated area for milking that is sterile and clean.
With access to hay and pasture and a nice, cozy stall or shelter to relax in, your new herd should settle right in. Adding goats to the farm is a great way to provide for yourself or possibly bring a small profit to your homestead from their meat or cheese. And the companionship and entertainment of a herd of goats can’t be underestimated!
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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