The phone rang at 10:00pm.
“You still want that goat?” the voice said.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, wondering why the person had called me so late. “I’m really not interested in buying the kid.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll trade you the nanny for some chickens.”
And that’s how I found my third goat, Annie, while looking in the barter section of craigslist. The teenager who owned her wanted to trade Annie for some chickens, but two days before, she wanted to sell me Annie’s baby along with the trade. I wasn’t interested in buying the baby goat, so I thought that was the end of it. The owner called me back that night angry at Annie because the little goat had escaped once again and had eaten her garden. I traded four chickens for her. A great deal: Annie was still in milk.
Annie is my first "mutt" goat. She is part pygmy and part who-knows-what. No one wanted her because the owner added the words "escape artist" to the advertisement. Anyone who owns goats knows that goats are escape artists. Unless you have good fencing, you're likely to be finding your goats in your garden or worse yet, your neighbor's garden. With a good fence, Annie is not a problem. Furthermore, Annie is an awesome milker and raised three babies this year.
Another freebie from craigslist is a little goat that we ended up naming Delilah. Delilah is a cute little Alpine who didn't get a lot of food at the beginning of her life and thus stunted her growth. Instead of being full Alpine size, she's about the size of Annie, but gives great tasting milk. She’s proven to be a real asset to my herd.
Annie and Delilah are two good examples of how you can score decent, free goats. About now, you'll see free goats in ads, especially if you live in a rural area. Most people are looking to unload livestock that they don’t want to keep before winter sets in. It’s a matter of economics: extra livestock costs money. You won't find any show winners in these free goats, and you do have to be cautious, but you can find some decent animals like Annie or Delilah if you look carefully.
Many free goats aren't worth keeping, unless you're looking for brush goats or critters to put in the freezer. (Goat is good meat and is worth eating.) I've gotten more than seven meat goats in this fashion. One warning though, if you do decide to put goats in the freezer, be aware that any goat older than two years should be processed as ground meat. Any buck, that is, an unneutered male, will need to be neutered first and have time to process the testosterone out of the animal. Most folks I know find buck goat meat to be inedible. Wether, that is a neutered male goat, is perfectly fine for eating.
If you're looking for free goats on craigslist or in the paper, you're likely to find older goats, problem goats, or goats that people just don't want. These goats are often not vaccinated, nor are they tested for diseases such as CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis) and CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis.) Both of these diseases can kill goats and there is no cure. Most goat owners who offer free goats don't know about these diseases, nor are they interested in caring beyond the basic feeding and milking. Free goats don’t necessarily have these diseases, but you should know the risk when getting them. If this is the first time you’re getting a goat, be sure that you get more than one. Goats are herd animals and do not do well alone. The minimum number of goats you should have is two.
Things I usually ask when I call someone who has a free goat include:
Note that I don’t even bother asking about CAE or CL. If the goat is free, it’s unlikely she’s has been tested. I don’t bother with goats much older than five years old. Goats generally live between seven and 12 years of age, although some have lived as long as 20 years. Goats older than five are unlikely to conceive unless they have done so in the past, and their meat is pretty tough, even for hamburger.
This week I saw an ad for free goats. The goats I'll be checking out are Cashmere goats. The woman called them "Himalayan goats," a name I had not heard of before. Cashmere goats can produce nice fiber or “wool.” I'll be checking them out this weekend, and let you know how it went.