Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Boys are together, all ages, all sizes and all breeds and loving it.
Here are a few tips for you when you are planning to buy a goat for your farm or homestead.
Do your research before you bring any kind of animal to your home, farm or homestead. Bringing an animal home gives you a 24/7 responsibility for the care of the animal to ensure it is healthy, safe and fed. Goats are not an exception. They do not fend for themselves, they do not eat out of tin cans and they find trouble wherever they go. If you like to go on extended vacations, if you like to have a social life beyond your homestead with non-homesteaders, if you are not in a financial situation where you can provide the basics, it may be better to wait until you are certain you want to stay home, or have knowledgeable help to “homestead-sit” for you, and that you have the finances.
And be honest with yourself. Since we have brought goats home, my husband and I have not been on an extended vacation together. The longest we have been away together has been five days this year and we do so only when we have experienced help on the farm that can cover for us.
Why do I want to buy a goat?
Do you want to buy a goat as a companion animal? Do you want to buy a dairy goat for milk, butter and cheese? Do you want to buy a goat for meat? Do you want a goat for fiber? To show or just as a pet? A combo? Each of these will send you on a very different path to goat ownership, price range and involves a different commitment on your part.
We knew we wanted dairy goats because we wanted our own dairy products free from antibiotics and growth hormones and certainly not from goats/cows raised in a confined industrial facility. For information on meat goats visit Tennessee Meat Goats; for lots of information on dairy goats and showing goats contact the American Dairy Goat Association or your local state goat associations.
Which breed of goat do I buy?
There is no easy answer. There are seven main dairy goat breeds: Nubian, Saanen, Alpine, Toggenburg, LaMancha, Oberhasli, and of course Nigerians Dwarf Goats. Another breed to research is Kinder Goats who are rapidly becoming very popular. Each of these goat breeds has their own unique personality; there are differences in milk volume and milk fat; some can cope better with heat, others better with cold temperatures. Some, like the Toggenburgs are smaller, Nubians and Saanens are larger. Nigerians are much smaller, but also give less milk. We started out with Nubians, due to their cuteness factor and endless combination of color, and later added Saanens to the mix for their fabulous milk production.
Two Saanen Kids
Do I buy a purebred or grade goat?
Do you want to buy a purebred goat, or will a grade (mixed breed) goat be fine? All of them can be registered with the American Dairy Goat Association, so the ability to register is not a factor. Purebred goats often fetch a higher resale price, but grade goats often have the health and vigor of a mixed breed and can give just as much or even more milk than a purebred goat.
Line breeding is quite popular in purebred goats to repeat and enhance positive traits in a line of goats, but that can also have the opposite effect of enhancing detrimental traits. Shows have classes for purebred goats and also grades, so desire to show is not a factor. This is just a matter of personal preference. We have both and love them all.
What age of Goat to buy?
The answer depends on the experience you have. I would never advise a beginning goat farmer to buy a young kid that still needs to be bottle fed. There are so many pitfalls with bottle raising a baby, no matter how cute, and the heartache from failing is just too great, trust me, we know. An older doe in milk is just fine, even with a kid at her side, if she is raising the kid. A seven or eight year old healthy doe, who may not be at her peak anymore, but who knows the drill of milking, raising a baby and has seen it all, will not give you trouble on the milk stand, you can trim her feet and she will help you learn about goats with a willing attitude and forgiveness for mistakes. But of course, you cannot only buy one goat, so …
Can I just buy one goat?
That depends. If the goat would be alone, absolutely not. Goats are very social animals and to have just one goat would make it miserable. Goats can be wonderful companion animals for horses or dogs, but the best situation would be for your new goat to have a buddy. Either a doe with her kid would work, or two goats of the same sex, so they can live with each other. Many farms will give you a discount if you buy more than one goat from the same place.
Should I buy a buck or a doe or both?
If you are starting out, buy a goat (or two) in milk, and especially if they are not too far into the lactation, and so you can wait to add a buck to your herd. Bucks should have separate pens for various reasons. That being said, many people want to start out with a small starter herd, maybe a buck and two does not related to the buck, and that’s perfectly alright, especially if you have the set-up.
Be aware that buck smell will make the milk taste like buck smell. We know. You should also select a buck with a calm temperament and best yet, see and handle the sire if the farmer allows. An aggressive buck will bring all kinds of problems, not the least of them the possibility of injury to yourself.
Two sisters hanging together.
Do the goats need to be free of CAE, CL or Johnne’s?
I’m throwing out some acronyms here. Let me start from the end of the sentence. The last one, Johnne’s disease is a wasting disease, and you will have thrown your money out the window. It is not very common in goats though and if you don’t buy from an auction, but from a reputable farm, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.
The middle one, CL (Caseous Lymphitis), is a nasty one which is also contagious to humans (it is zoonotic). The goats develop an abscess in lymph node areas and the contents of the abscess are the contagion. We don’t have CL on the farm, but I would not buy a goat from a farm that has CL on the premises. You can’t get rid of it (or it's very difficult) once it is on your place. There is a vaccine now available, but it’s not worth the risk for me.
Now for CAE, which is Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis. CAE manifests itself as rheumatoid arthritis in goats. Yes, ask for CAE free goats and ask that the goats be tested (you should pay for the test) for CAE and that you be given the test results. But be aware that the test is no guarantee that you won’t end up with a CAE positive goat (which is not, and I repeat not, the end of the world). The test method is antiquated and only shows that a certain antibody is there. The test is not reliable for more than 30 days, is not reliable on goats under a year, shows false positives if within 30 days of vaccinations or other medications, before or after birthing, during periods of stress, etc. Our herd is CAE free (now) and we are keeping it that way because we have a closed herd (we don’t bring in outside goats and we don’t take our goats off the farm), so we don’t test our herd on a regular basis (between lab and blood fee $30 per goat), but we do test if requested.
Buy the best you can buy!
This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune to buy a show goat if you only want a family milker, but don’t jump onto bargains either unless you are buying from a source you know or that has been recommended, because the goat or goats you buy will be the foundation or a genetic addition to your herd for generations to come. You don’t want to introduce a genetic inferior goat with little milk or bad conformation to pass to their offspring.
Auctions are very rarely a good place to buy a dairy goat, dairy goats ending up there are usually culls from a herd and it is very hard to find a goat health or farm health history. We never send one of our kids to auction. We sell our doelings at weaning for around $350 (registerable with transfer papers), and our bucklings we sell for between $75 and $150 because we usually have our herd sire and a replacement buck already in place. Those bucklings which we don’t sell, end up in “freezer camp” for meat for our own consumption. If we can find a good home for them, and know they will be taken care off, we have even given them away with the buyer of a doeling. We are not the only ones who are doing this, and it never hurts to ask.
Buy from a reputable farm!
As I mentioned before, staying away from auctions, especially for dairy goats, is a good practice and nothing can beat word of mouth or recommendations from other goat owners. If you are not familiar with the farm, make an appointment to visit the farm and the goats. If you like what you see, and you feel comfortable with the farmer/producer, there is no reason why you shouldn’t buy a goat from the farm. When someone buys a goat from us, our help/expertise/assistance always comes with it for the life of the goat.
And now for two final tips for a successful goat purchase:
If you make an appointment, show up and be on time. The farmer is taking time out of their farm schedule to be with you.
Bring enough money for a deposit. If you are looking at a goat and fall in love with it, you want to make sure it will be there for you!
As always with love from Serenity Goats and if you have questions, don't hesitate to contact me via facebook "SerenityGoats." Julia
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