Adding Goats to the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Shelby Devore and Farmenence
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If you farm and have livestock, then you probably think that goats can’t be that much different from say, chickens, sheep or cows.  You may be in for a surprise.  Goats can be fun livestock to keep, but they can also be a headache if you aren’t prepared.  If you don’t have livestock and you’re thinking about starting with goats, then you certainly want to do your homework first before you get goats. 

I don’t want to scare you away from getting goats, but I don’t want you to go into goat farming blindfolded, either.  Ever heard the phrase ‘better safe than sorry’?  That definitely applies when it comes to raising goats.  If you’re well-prepared then goat farming can be quite fun.  So let’s talk about what you need to know before you get started with goats.

Goats will climb (everything)

I’m sure you’ve seen mountain goats teetering on tiny ledges on the side of cliffs.  Mountain goats are not-so-distant relatives of domestic goats.  Domestic goats love to climb and will climb anything that they physically can.  They will stand up on your fence to look over the other side, so make sure that your fence is prepared to handle that.  They can climb up fence supports and corner braces, so it’s best to have those on the outside of the fence. 

Goats will also try to climb sheds.  Some producers don’t want them on the sheds and make their sheds goat proof.  Some producers make the sheds climbable so that the goats have a safe place to climb (other than their fence).  I’ve also seen producers make jungle gyms or small tree houses for their goats.  If you let your goats loose, be prepared for them to climb on cars.  They will try, they will get on them and more than likely, they will scratch the paint.

Goats explore everything with their mouth

Goats have a split upper lip that they use to explore the world around them.  That’s where the saying ‘goats will eat everything’ comes from.  They won’t actually eat everything, but they will explore everything with their mouths.  From your shirt buttons, fingers, buckets and even gate latches, it’s all game to go in their mouths, at least for a moment.

This can pose problems as goats can injure themselves or get themselves into trouble.  If you are considering goats, make sure that their pastures are cleaned up and free of rusty metal or sharp objects.  You don’t want them checking things out and cutting their mouths open.

Remember when I said they will explore gate latches?  Gate latches that are easily opened can accidentally be opened by a goat exploring a latch in their mouth.  If they accidentally open a latch and escape, they’ll remember how to do it in the future.  It’s a good idea to have gate latches on the outside of the gate, out of the reach of exploring mouths.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

Make sure that fences are goat proof.  Goats are escape artists and constantly search for ways to get out, especially if all of their needs aren’t met inside of their fence.  Check your fences daily and repair any fencing that needs it promptly.  You don’t want to be trying to round up a herd of goats that has escaped once they are loose. 

Goat fencing needs to be four feet tall, five feet for larger and more energetic breeds.  You can purchase goat fencing and use that to fence your pastures.  If you have an existing fence that you want to goat proof, add a wire or two of electrical wire fencing to the inside of the existing fence to deter them.

Goat diets are different than other livestock

Many people tend to think that goats can be raised on pasture, like horses or cows.  That’s not true.  Goats aren’t grazers like cattle or horses and cannot survive on fresh grass alone.  Think of their nutritional needs more like deer.  They are browsers (like deer) and require more than just grass.  Goats that are kept on pasture will need 2-4 lbs of hay per day to meet their needs.

Goats naturally will choose to consume woodier plants rather than grass.  This means if you have wooded areas that aren’t suitable for other livestock, you can put goats on it.  They’ll clean the wooded areas up for you and meet their nutritional needs at the same time.  Just make sure that they always have plenty to eat.

Goats offer many ways of productivity

There are numerous things that you can do with goats.  Most livestock species are limited to their uses, but not goats.  They can be very profitable as meat animals.  Goat meat demands currently aren’t met in the U.S. each year and goat meat has to be imported, so it brings far more per pound than beef cattle. 

If you don’t want to raise meat goats, there are many breeds of dairy goats as well.  Goat milk is easier to digest and can be safely consumed by babies and people that are lactose intolerant.  Not to mention all of the things you can do with goat milk, like making soaps, lotions and cheese.  Goats don’t produce as much milk as a cow, so you won’t be overwhelmed with too much milk.

Goats can also be used to clear brush commercially.  Goats are often used in the western U.S. to clear brush as a wildfire prevention.  They will quickly clean up wooded or overgrown areas.  They fertilize at the same time, which is beneficial to the soil. Many land owners prefer the look that goats leave behind over conventional clearing with heavy equipment.

Goats can be both rewarding and profitable, if you do your homework ahead of time. My beginner’s guide to getting goats is available on my site, Farminence.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of Shelby’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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