How to Raise and Keep Goats

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Left: Simple halter for leading a goat. Right: Collar and light chain to tether goat in open field.
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Left: Grain feeder with closing top to prevent continuous feeding. Make cover steep enough so goat can't jump up and stand on it.Right: A mineral feeder open for continuous access. Roof prevents goat from climbing into feeder.
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The assorted parts of a milch goat are good to know if you want to know how to raise goats.
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Apart from milking, you can use a platform and stanchion to help you with dehorning and hoof trimming.
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Trimming a goat's rear hooves in this position should result in minimal injury.

At last! For the first time since the HAVE-MORE Plan was published way back in the 1940’s, a fellow named Richard W. Langer has come up with a 365-page book that really introduces a beginner to small-scale farming. Wanna raise your own fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables, grain, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese, and honeybees? GROW IT! tells you how to get started, we like it, and here’s another chapter from the book.  

God gives the milk but not the pail. -OLD ENGLISH PROVERB

Milk and cheese are staples in our diet, and the apprentice farmer’s first thoughts on dairy matters are apt to be of a cow. But while there’s nothing wrong with having a cow on your spread, sometimes she’s more trouble than she’s worth.

A cow will produce twenty quarts of milk or so a day, which is a lot for one family to consume, yet not enough to make a real business proposition out of daily milk sales. In a communal situation, of course, consumption would be no problem. But milking might. A cow will adjust to being milked twice a day at just about any hour as long as the schedule is regular; however, milk production is best if she deals consistently with the same person. Unless you have a real bovine buff in your midst, this might present a problem in labor allocation.

It may well be simpler to build up your flock of hens to the point where you can swap eggs for milk on a regular basis with a neighboring dairy farmer. Still, by the time you’ve been in the country a year or so, you may want a milk-and-cheese source right on your property . . . maybe meat and leather too. Well then, a goat is your answer.

There are many advantages to goats, not the least of which is that goat’s milk, sweet and tasty, is more readily digestible than cow’s milk and hence more nourishing. You are what you digest, not what you eat. Also, goats don’t get tuberculosis; you don’t have to worry about pasteurization, which not only takes time and equipment, but, as with any other food-heating process, can cause vitamin loss as well.

Goats are basically good-natured (remember, however, that the word “capricious” comes from the Latin caprus, meaning “goat”). They are easy to care for, clean, and excellent fertilizer producers. Goat manure ranks far above cow manure for nitrogen content and is surpassed in this important fertilizer component only by rabbit and chicken manure, placing it high on the list of desirable droppings. So why not a goat or two?

Breeds of Goat

Goats, by their nature, will fare well in any part of the United States. This goes for any of the different breeds, and so selection is made on the basis of other factors. One fairly important for the apprentice farmer is the preferences of other goat raisers in the area, if there are any. If people in your vicinity are raising Alpines, don’t raise Nubians. Not that the other goat breeders would refuse to help you, but they are a bit clannish. Besides, you’re better off getting your goats from someone you can talk to later about any problems you have. A good goat’s a good goat, and a bad one’s a “bad ‘un”, no matter what her breed.

Whichever breed you do settle on, stay with it. Don’t try raising two or three different kinds at once. Familiarity breeds knowledge, and as a beginner you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

In goat trader’s lingo, a “pure breed” is just what its name implies: both parents are known and of the same registered breed. A “grade”, on the other hand, has a registered purebred sire, with the other parent of unknown or mixed pedigree. The latter is cheaper, of course, and will serve your milk pail and cheese hoop quite adequately. On the other hand, if you plan to stay on the farm you might consider buying purebred registered goats and breeding your own herd. Part of the joy of country living is helping to bring out the best in Mother Nature.

Nubians. These Roman-nosed beauties are of English-African-Oriental descent. They have a short, sleek coat ranging through a broad variety of colors and color combinations. Their ears are long and drooping.

Saanens. Among the most prolific producers of milk, the white/cream-colored Saanens originated in the Swiss valley of the same name. They are large, relatively short-legged, straight or concave-faced, with small, erect ears. Some purebred Saanen does have produced over five thousand pounds of milk a year.

Toggenburgs. These are the most popular goats today … at least to judge by nose count. They fit the common image of a goat: brown, with lighter markings down the face, and inside the legs joining a light-colored underbelly. They have erect ears, a gently concave face, and an extended tail. Native to the Toggenburg Valley of Switzerland, they were the first goats imported to the United States in quantity, which accounts for their numerical strength.

FrenchAlpines. Color varies from pure white to spattered black. The body configuration is similar to that of the Toggenburg and the Saanen, although the eyes are more prominent.

Whatever the breed, a goat will have its basic good points and flaws. If you buy locally, try to get one that’s between two and four months old, freshly weaned. Inspect the animal before purchasing, checking that the goat has a straight back line. A back humped between the fore and hind legs is known as a roach back, one with a depression as sway back. Avoid both. The rump should be long and not slanted down toward the tail too steeply. The chest should be wide and the heart girth, the circumference around the front ribs, should be large. Basically, you want a goat that is rugged looking, with straight legs, standing squarely on its hoofs. Avoid goats with horns and you’ll avoid a lot of hazardous ramming around the barnyard. If possible, have a look at several different goats so you can get a natural feel for a good, round, symmetrical udder (although rarely are both halves exactly alike) with well-located teats pointed slightly forward. 

I’d rather drive two hundred miles to look over and pick up my goat than have it shipped. But if you have to order by mail, ask the breeder for bank references and the names of previous buyers. Insist on a written contract and a veterinarian’s certificate stating the animal is free from disease and parasites.

Once you’ve located a reliable breeder-ferret him out through the Dairy Goat Journal or your area farm paper if local advice doesn’t unearth one–you might as well follow his recommendations in purchasing stock. But remember, a breeder rarely sells his best stock. He’s spent years building up a breeding herd and isn’t about to skim off the cream of his labors for you. This doesn’t mean he’s going to sell you second-rate stock either, of course. Just don’t be disappointed if your doe’s milk-production record is not quite up to that of her mother. And a goat giving four quarts a day for a professional might produce only two quarts for the amateur … but you don’t stay an amateur forever. Another consideration is that goats get terribly homesick and will often produce less their first year in new quarters, particularly if alone. Keeping two goats, if you can, lessens the problem greatly.

Housing for Goats

Keeping goats is one of the simplest livestock operations. The basic need is for a dry, well-ventilated but draft-free shelter that is easy to keep clean. You can remodel a garage or outbuilding for your goat stable, or you can construct one from scratch. The space requirement for stanchioned goats is about three by five feet per animal plus two feet for a feed alley (that’s for you to walk along while tending the animals). If the goats are to be housed in a barn without stanchions, as is recommended, plan on ten to twelve square feet per head.

For cleanliness, a gently sloped concrete floor with good drainage must be provided. In severely cold climates a raised wooden platform, one which can be moved for cleaning, should cover part of the cement so the goats will have a warm spot to sleep. Even the thickest bedding might not insulate the cold concrete enough in really wintry weather, and besides, the thicker the bedding, the more difficult the cleaning.

If possible, the goat barn should be located near a source of water pressure sufficient for it to be hosed down once a day. But be sure to let it dry thoroughly after hosing before you allow the goats back in. The barn should also be disinfected occasionally with a good scrubbing, using ammonia or pine tar and water. Nicotine sulphate is highly poisonous, to man as well as to insects and bacteria, and is not recommended as a disinfectant, nor is creosote spray, which is also readily absorbed by the milk.

Painting the inside of the barn as well as the outside is a good measure for disease prevention and highly recommended. Avoid lead-based paints, since goats may nibble on flaking surfaces and die from lead poisoning. Old-fashioned whitewash, homemade without DDT, is still best.

Whitewash Mix:

1 oz. casein glue
10 oz. hydrated lime

Make a separate, smooth paste of each, using water. Stir them together with enough water to make a slurry. Mix well. Add:

1 teaspoon salt

Thin with more water. The final wash should be thin enough so that when brushed onto a newspaper you can still read the small type. Use two coats or more.

Ventilation is essential in a goat barn, as in all other livestock housing. One of the big variables here is ceiling height. As one moves from the southern United States to the North, ceiling height should decrease proportionately in order to keep in the heat, and hence total floor space might have to be increased. Plan on having one hundred cubic feet of air space per goat and at least one square foot of openable window for each two hundred and fifty cubic feet of barn space. Even more window space is better, since sunlight is a natural disinfectant. However, if you’re located where the winters tend to be severe, make certain the extra windows can be covered by a double pane or shutter in the wintertime so the inside temperature can be regulated to around 55°F. Too cold, and the goats will concentrate on keeping warm instead of making milk. Don’t make the opposite mistake of trying to keep the indoors temperature in the pleasant 70s; the goats, overprotected, will chill when they go outside.

Year round, all windows left open should be screened to minimize flies. The barn doors, including the one you use, should be solid, not screened. If you use a screen door, the flies will hang around just waiting for you to open it, and they’ll beat you inside every time.

In the summertime the barn is an important source of shade. Goats are not bothered by heat as long as they can avoid too much direct, prolonged sunlight, a matter about which they know best, and are assured an ample supply of clean, fresh drinking water.

Feeding and Watering Equipment

The goat, as opposed to, say, a chicken or a horse, is a wasteful feeder. Food spilled on the floor will not be eaten. Therefore, well-designed mangers and grain feeders are important to an economical goat operation.

Water can be provided in a bucket or trough, anchored so the goats will not knock it over. The disadvantage of this form of watering is that goats are quite fussy as to what they will drink. And drink they must, in quantity, to produce milk. Even so, they won’t touch contaminated water.

For this reason I prefer a running water system wherever possible. An old sink, or a specially constructed raised trough with a bottom drain and a lead-off pipe, can be used where the water supply permits continuous filling. It doesn’t have to be a great rush of fresh water every minute; a steady trickle, pulling contamination down the drain, will keep your goats happy. If your water source is very cold, you’ll have to build a holding tank inside the barn to let it warm up before it reaches the trough.

To go with the water you will want a salt lick. It coaxes the goats to drink more, at the same time supplying a necessary part of their diet.

Toys are essential in bringing up goats. A milking doe should not be allowed to jump about too much, since the energy so expended will cut into milk production. However, dry and growing stock need plenty of exercise. If your barnyard isn’t naturally rocky, make some mountains … a sturdy crate or two, of different sizes, for them to jump on, an exercise ramp and–don’t laugh–a seesaw. Bucks like to play with an empty barrel or a swinging tire.

The primary objective of having a dairy goat is, of course, milk. The equipment needed here can range from basic to fancy, but in all cases will include a screened-off room or separate milk house–a separate house is preferable–to aid in keeping out flies. (If you get the idea that flies are one of your biggest dairy problems, particularly in the summertime, you’re right. Keep them under control with a clean barn, and remember to always close the door behind you.) In your milking shed you’ll need a milk pail, a strainer, storage containers (bottles and milk cans), and cooling facilities, either electric or ice buckets. In small bottles to insure quick cooling, fresh milk for family consumption can be placed directly in the refrigerator next to the cooling unit. In any case, it must be cooled to 45°F as quickly as possible. Milk held at room temperature will deteriorate rapidly. One last item: A milking stand is helpful mostly to you, since it raises the udder to a level where you can milk comfortably while sitting on a stool. Any low platform for the goat to stand on will suffice, but it should have a stanchion at one end to keep the goat steady and in place.

Feeding Practices

For the novice farmer in particular, the best nutritional results are probably produced by using a balanced commercial goat feed, carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions. If you want to blend your own mix, ask your county agent for advice. He’ll be listed in the phone book under “County Extension Service”. Should you happen to be in an area relatively devoid of goat farms, he might say he’s not familiar enough with the animal to help you. Don’t let that be a deterrent. Goats will do well on the same mix he recommends for milch cows.


40 lbs. ground corn
35 lbs. ground oats
10 lbs. linseed oil meal
12 lbs. wheat bran
1 1/2 tbs. salt
1 1/2 tbs. trace minerals (prepackaged)

Goats are as choosy in their feeding habits as in their drinking. Not only do they not eat tin cans, they don’t even like food that has been nosed over in their feeding troughs all day. Less food, more often, is the standard rule-of-thumb. A minimum of two feedings ten hours apart is recommended; three evenly spaced feedings of less quantity are even better. A lactating goat, eating all the grass and hay she wants, will have a well-balanced diet with the addition of a total of four to eight pounds of grain a day. Here are some general guidelines to goat feeding:

1. Always feed your herd normal rations before sending them out to pasture. This is particularly important in spring when they are switching over to fresh greens. Allowing them to fill up on all those green goodies after the long wintering can cause severe bloating.

2. It is usually economically handy to switch from mix to mix depending on the season, but don’t do it overnight. Change the diet gradually over the period of a week.

3. Consider grain an addition to the normal feed ration, not its main component. A goat’s stomach is designed to handle bulk from grazing, so good-quality, well-cured alfalfa, clover, or soybean hay should be the basic staple of the animal’s diet.

4. If hay is scarce and you must increase grain feeding, make sure the mix has a generous helping of wheat bran or dried vegetable pulp to add bulk. If her diet isn’t bulky enough, your goat will have digestive problems, and in turn less milk to give. Lack of appetite and lighter-than-usual, crumbly manure are the first indications of insufficient bulk in the feed.

5. Whenever possible, let the goats graze naturally in the pasture. The animal prefers a legume pasture to a grassy one, however. Prepare for this by sowing alfalfa, clover, and the like. Also, goats are browsers; that is, they prefer eating somewhere between the ground level of cattle and the treetop level of giraffes. There should be plenty of bushes and shrubs in their pasture. Some people try to take advantage of the browsing pattern by pasturing goats on wild, uncultivated land that is to be cleared, so they will eat it clean; this practice will not provide the goats with an adequate diet, however, unless well supplemented.

6. Milking does must, as all other livestock, have continuous access to salt. Provide a salt or mineral lick. It is particularly important that the salt for freshened does be iodized to prevent goiters in the young kids.

7. Calcium and phosphorus are essential to the feed mix. These are best supplied in a block, or from a mineral feeder.

8. Keep feed clean at all times. This includes keeping other stock, such as chickens and even cats and dogs, out of the hay.

9. Remember there are three types of feeding: the grain mix, which is a supplement to balance the diet and not to be overused, manger feeding of hay, and fresh forage. The last two should constitute the largest part of your goat’s diet.

Breeding Goats

It takes two to get milk. Even the best-bred doe will not produce unless she is mated and has kids. You may choose to buy a doe that is already freshened; that is, she has given birth and is lactating. Or you may want to start with a young doe and raise her to the milking stage. A young doe can be bred to freshen at fifteen months. The best breeding period is fall through early winter.

Starting with a young doe is recommended for the beginner. The initial lack of milk will be more than compensated for by the opportunity the young doe provides for the new farmer to gradually learn about goats and how they grow. Besides, the farm will boast at least one new goat–and usually two or three–once the young doe is bred. On the negative side of the ledger, it means stepping right into five months of prenatal care, delivery, and a month of aftercare rather early in your dairy career. But there’s an amazing pleasure and excitement to be found in watching the kid grow day by day, And you’ll have to learn about kidsitting sooner or later anyway. Even a once–freshened doe won’t give milk indefinitely, so you’ll want more than one, and you might as well have the joy of raising your own.

Whichever way you choose to start your goat herd, you’re going to need the stud services of a buck eventually. At first glance, a buck of your own would seem the most direct approach to the problem. But think twice about the idea. It is really not economical for a small-scale operation. As opposed to a doe, a buck is smelly even in the best of conditions. Hence he must be kept separate from your does to avoid odor contamination of the milk. His services are needed only once a year per doe, but he eats all year round. And he’s a lot more temperamental and active than a doe.

A better alternative is to hire a buck from a nearby farm as a stud (another good reason for raising the same breed your neighbors do). Stud service can also be handled by mail, the animals being shipped back and forth by express. A third alternative is to form a cooperative association of new goat raisers, sharing the costs and responsibilities of keeping the buck.

Birthing Kid Goats

Keep a record of when your doe was bred. The gestation period for goats is 145 to 155 days, or roughly five months. About the 140th day, your doe will begin to become restless. She’ll seem nervous and a little irritable. She will probably paw her bedding and bleat quietly and often. Have a draft-free, heavily bedded private stall ready for the kidding. As the actual birth draws nearer, she will lie down and get up repeatedly. At last she’ll stay down and begin labor.

For the first time, have someone familiar with the process around. You’d probably have no trouble on your own … after all, goats were giving birth long before man domesticated them and your doe’s instincts will carry her through. But if you’ve never been around kidding before, you probably wouldn’t instinctively recognize the signs of any complication or how to respond. And the object of the game is to raise a kid or two successfully and to learn in the process.

Kids and Weaning

The usual practice in kidding is to take the kid from the doe as soon as the proud dam has cleaned it off. Be sure not to let the kid nurse or you may have great difficulty coaxing it to pan-feed later. Wipe the kid dry with clean cloths and place it in a well-bedded box, preferably in a sunny spot in the barn. The sun will help dry and warm the kid and act as a mild natural disinfectant. Sunshine is just plain healthy.

A newborn kid is sensitive to abrupt temperature changes. Since kids in nature are born outdoors, their resistance to cold is greater than you would expect, and kidding can be done outdoors, but if the newborn kid is then taken into the barn, it must be allowed to adjust gradually to the temperature change. The same holds true when taking the kid from the barn outdoors.

Some breeders prefer to let the kid nurse from the dam, or mother doe, the first couple of times. Don’t do it. Milk the dam and then feed the colostrum-rich first milk to the kid. The colostrum, thick and yellow, is full of vitamins needed by the new kid.

A new kid will want to be fed soon, usually within the first six hours. You’ll know when from the look on his face and the way he moves. At such time, milk the dam. The kid may be either pan-fed or bottle-fed. Bottle-feeding requires a little bit more work; particularly, more things to sterilize. On the other hand, it ensures that the kid will not drink too fast and is a lot more fun. Don’t let the milk cool down before feeding. Should there be a delay, you will have to reheat it to about 105° F, or slightly above body temperature. Feeding cold milk produces scours, or acute diarrhea.

New born kids should be fed about one-third of a pint five times daily the first two days, a half a pint four times daily, the next twelve days. Feed more if the kid is constantly hungry, less if diarrhea develops. Vary the amount fed rather than the number of feedings. At the end of the two-week period, feeding can be reduced to three times daily, while at the same time the quantity is increased. Remember, however, overfeeding is more harmful than underfeeding. Also, to ensure good growth and to flush out the kid’s system, let it drink as much warm water as it wants five minutes after each feeding. The addition of half a teaspoon of cod liver oil a day to the diet will help the kid along.

You probably won’t want to use all of the dam’s milk to feed the kid or kids. Either powdered skim milk or Dairyaid (a specially prepared formula) is a perfectly acceptable substitute after the first week. Mix according to directions and ease the kids onto their new diet slowly. Second-week, feeding should be one-quarter skim milk, three-quarters dam’s; third week, half skim, half dam’s, and so on. However, be sure the initial feedings use only the milk the dam gives, since the colostrum of the first milk is essential to the kid’s well-being.

A kid is usually weaned by the time it is six weeks old. Lead up to this starting the fifteenth day by adding a couple of tablespoons of finely ground cooked oatmeal with a pinch of salt to each feeding, (By this stage of course, you will have to enlarge the hole in the nipple for the oatmeal if you’re bottle-feeding.) Increase the oatmeal each day until by the fifth week you are feeding half gruel and half milk.

Sometime in the second week the kid will probably start nibbling at a little choice hay. Start supplementing its diet then with some kid-starting ration. Leave a small quantity around at all times. Commercial kid rations, the result of professional testing, are highly recommended for the apprentice farmer. You’ll have so much to learn and get a feel for with your first kids that you might as well take advantage of this “instant farmhand.” Follow the instructions and you’ll end up with a healthier goat than Mother Nature’s sometimes erratic rations in the wild could produce.

Remember, cleanliness is always important, but when it comes to young farm animals, cleanliness is imperative. A kid’s accommodations must be kept always dry, sheltered from drafts, yet well ventilated.

Exercise and sunshine are essential. Let the kid out to play when he’s frisky.

The Dam

For a few days after kidding the fresh doe should be fed lightly. Too much food will raise her milk output too rapidly and may cause mastitis or other udder troubles that could permanently impair her milk production. Check to see that the udder does not become overfilled and hot. If it does, milk the doe three or four times a day, or as often as needed to relieve this condition. Within three or four days the first rush of milk should slow down and the signs of colostrum should have vanished. Even so, the doe will not reach peak production for about a month.

Milking Goats

You can lead a goat to the pail, but she isn’t going to milk herself. Nor are you by merely pulling the teats randomly. Milking isn’t all that difficult, and once you’ve gotten the technique down pat, it will be automatic. The best way to learn is to watch a local farmer. If for some reason there’s no one around to teach you, a good way to practice before tackling the goat herself is with the Richard W. Langer non-patented artificial udder. Take two long balloons. Pinprick holes in their tips. Attach each one to a bottle half-filled with water. Tape the bottles together, invert, and go at it. It’s not the real thing, but if you can milk balloons well, you’ll upset the goat less when it’s her turn.

The goat should be led up onto a milking platform with a stanchion. Milk readily absorbs odors, so pick a milking spot well removed from all possible sources of olfactory contamination. The stall, or preferably a separate shed, should be whitewashed, screened against flies, and free from dampness; in general, it should approach the sanitary conditions of a hospital.

Once the goat has mounted the stand, something she will do happily with a full udder once she’s used to being milked there, place her head in the stanchion.

Cleanliness is paramount. The doe’s hindquarters and udder should be kept trimmed (more on that later) to avoid hair contamination of milk. Before milking, sponge down the udder with a clean cloth and warm water, then dry.

Place a stainless steel bucket, pre-sterilized with boiling water, beneath the udder and take a seat at the goat’s side … it doesn’t matter which, but always use the same side. Goats like the comfort of consistency. For the same reason, it’s best that the same person always do the milking. (Although in some areas goats are milked from the rear, this is a practice to be avoided, since it causes sanitation problems and has no real advantages.)

You’re ready to go. Take the furthest teat in the V of your thumb and forefinger, near the udder. Close the two fingers in a scissorlike motion to prevent the milk from being forced upwards. With a slight downward pull but a firm grasp, squeeze in the second, third, and little finger in sequence. Release. Now the other teat with the other band. Release and start again. You’ll have to develop a touch for it, because all anyone else can tell you is just not to squeeze too hard, yet not too gently either. The single most important factor is to make your motions smooth.

Milk both teats, alternating each stroke, until they are empty. The udder should always be completely drained. When the milk ceases to flow, give the udder a light massage by the teats and “strip” the udder by passing the hand down each teat as before, but without releasing any of the fingers, thus draining the last drop.

Milk Processing

Anything to do with milk processing must be absolutely clean. All utensils must be sterilized … with live steam where possible, boiling water where not. You can get a small steam generator, which is really nothing more than an oversized tea-kettle, quite inexpensively.

Use seamless stainless steel containers wherever possible for the actual milk processing. Glass bottles are ideal for storage. Rinse them well, follow with a soap-and-warm-water wash and yet another hot-water rinse, then scald with live steam if possible. Boiling water is a barely acceptable substitute. Do not wipe dry, Allow to air dry before using.

The milk should be strained as soon as you’ve finished milking. Disposable sterile cloth strainers are very good for this, cutting down the amount of cleaning necessary. Don’t expose the milk to direct sunlight for a prolonged period, since this may cause excessive oxidation and bad flavor.

Rapid cooling of the milk is essential. After straining, bring its temperature down to 45°F., or slightly less, by placing the containers in buckets of iced water if you haven’t invested in an electric milk cooler. Use a thermometer to make sure the desired temperature is reached and held for thirty minutes. Small batches such as you would get from one or two does can be placed directly into the refrigerator. However, if you do this, make sure you place the milk in pre-chilled bottles no larger than quart size as close to the freezer unit as possible to insure rapid cooling.

Milk Problems

If you’ve spent all your life drinking milk out of paper cartons you may be surprised to learn that a lot of things can spoil milk between the udder and the cup. Some things even before it leaves the udder. A goat can be thought of as a natural milk machine. As such, the end product is no better than the raw materials used, that is to say, the food eaten.

Food flavorings–good and bad, from clover to onions–that affect milk are usually caused by volatile plant oils just as are many more familiar food flavorings … from vanilla to cloves. These oils are absorbed into the bloodstream and, because the vital udder draws heavily on the circulating blood supply, their flavors are easily absorbed by the milk. So unless you really like onion-flavored milk, don’t let your does graze in pastures overgrown with wild onions. Turnips, cabbage, and potato greens can also impart a bad taste to milk. Garlic is absolutely fatal to the flavor. Grains, on the other hand, tend to sweeten the milk, and thus are desirable as feed from this as well as from a nutritional standpoint.

There are other plants you should keep from your goats. Not because they will directly produce off-flavored milk, but because they may make her ill, or even cause death. The best way to learn what dangerous plants might affect your livestock in any particular region is to talk with the locals. As a start, goats should not be allowed to graze on azaleas, laurel, milkweed and wild cherry.

Your doe’s health will also affect the quality and flavor of her milk. A goat that isn’t feeling up to par will still produce milk–after all, if nature had not so prepared it, a wild goat herd might have become extinct after a severe epidemic of winter colds–but that doesn’t mean milk from sick goats is desirable. A herd or a single goat should always be kept in the best physical shape possible.

Blood in the milk might not give it a bad flavor; nevertheless it’s an obvious sign of trouble. It indicates possible injury to the udder, such as bruising, an imbalanced diet, or mastitis. Although you will be able to handle these problems by yourself once you know how to diagnose them, it is best to get either your veterinarian or a local dairyman (milch cow men tend to scorn goat-keepers, so get an acquaintanceship going before trouble arrives) to diagnose the problem for you and discuss the solution.

You may be talking to the veterinarian more than you expected to the first year, but information like this really can be transmitted only in the old oral-visual tradition. When contacting a veterinarian, make sure that he specializes in farm animals, and is not a suburbanite poodle-and-pussy doctor. The pet vet will probably be just as competent, but your bills in all likelihood will be three times as large. In contrast, I know of one local farm veterinarian who takes care of a goat herd in exchange for a wheel of cheese now and then.

If you learn to recognize symptoms of a goat’s lack of the best health, you’re already doing well. The rest will come with time, and talk, and just watching.

After fresh milk has stood a few hours, you may notice a redness to it that you didn’t observe while milking. Chances are it’s a bacterial by-product rather than blood. Poor sterilization is the usual cause, although sometimes failure to cool the milk rapidly enough will also induce the same undesirable tinge. The remedy is greater cleanliness.

Any utensils that have come in contact with infected milk must be extra carefully washed and sterilized. It’s also a good idea to wash the doe’s udder thoroughly.

Ropy milk, or “long milk” as it’s called in Sweden, is an ancient favorite of some north European farmers. However, even there its popularity is fading rapidly, and in the United States it has never been appreciated at all. Politely speaking, the milk becomes slimy and stringy, although where I grew up we called it snotty. This change in its physical characteristics is also caused by bacteria, harmless enough ones, either in the udder or after milking. Here again, the problem usually can be solved by increased sanitation.

The Dry Doe

A young doe may be freshened for the first time at about fifteen months if she has been well raised and is in good health. However, she’s not going to produce milk for the rest of her life from one freshening. Trying to stretch out her milk-productive period too long without freshening again will impair her health and generally cause nothing but trouble. A goat should be freshened once a year. So to ensure a steady supply of milk it’s advisable to have two goats and freshen them alternately.

Before freshening a doe that has been giving milk, she must be “dried off.” The method used by most dairymen today is the pressure system, which is simple enough. You stop milking her. At the same time, restrict her water supply, feed her dry hay and no grain at all. Pressure builds up in the udder and she will be quite uncomfortable, bleating and making a general nuisance of herself. Be kind and affectionate, but don’t give in and milk her. Milk secretion will cease and reabsorption begin. If her discomfort seems excessive, check with your vet. She may have to be partially milked out. In any case, at the end of a week she should be partially milked out to check the udder for signs of mastitis.

The reabsorption cycle is very important, for during the lactation period the doe has been losing more calcium and other minerals through her milk than she has been taking in. During her dry period the doe absorbs enough minerals to ensure her health and that of her kids, and the quality of yet another year’s milk supply. She should have a rich diet supplement of minerals. A balanced mix for this purpose is available through your feed dealer.

Dehorning and Maintenance

Dehorning. Many goats are born hornless. Those that are not should be dehorned to prevent injury to the goat firmer and to other goats. Horns serve no purpose for the domestic goat, and their early removal is little more than the equivalent of cutting your nails, except that normally it has to be done only once.

The earlier you dehorn the better. To the young, dehorning is no more painful than a slight scratch or burn (depending on the method) would be to you. The same cannot be said for dehorning a mature goat.

Usually you can tell almost at birth if a kid will develop horns. The hair will twist and tuft at either side of the head where the horns will develop. If the hair lies perfectly smooth, the kid will be hornless.

Should there be telltale curls on your kid, wait three or four days, then carefully clip the curls and surrounding areas with blunt-tipped scissors till you have an inch of bare circle. The next day feel the spots where impending horns are suspected. If the skin is loose, it was a false alarm; the goat will be hornless, with at most perhaps a couple of small harmless bumps for ersatz horns. If, on the other hand, the skin is taut and a hard spot about a quarter of an inch or so in diameter appears where the incipient horn will emerge, prepare to act at once.

Dehorning can be accomplished by three means: chemically, through cautery, or surgically. For the beginner, the chemical means is recommended. The traditional method is to stanchion the goat and apply caustic soda, available commercially in a dehorning pencil. First clip the surrounding area closely with scissors and then clippers; grease all the skin approaching the horn bud well to prevent the caustic from burning the skin. Then paint the horn buds carefully with the caustic stick. Always use extreme caution when handling caustic. Keep the kid stanchioned for an hour. Before releasing, bandage the head with two oversized Band-Aids, and keep it bandaged for a day to prevent the kid from rubbing the caustic onto other parts of the skin. Don’t let the kid out in the rain the first week; water will make the caustic run. That’s it, you’ve dehorned your first goat.

If the horn itself has broken through the skin, surgical removal is advisable. However, neither cauterization nor surgery is a do-it-yourself proposition unless you have helped someone else with it several times first. Get someone with more experience to teach you.

Clipping. Keeping your goat’s hair trimmed is an essential part of her maintenance, both for general cleanliness and to discourage lice, ticks, and other parasites. Clipped goats are more comfortable in the summertime too, and a happy goat gives better milk.

The best time to give your goats an all-over haircut is when spring is far enough along so you’re pretty sure there won’t be any leftover winter nights that might foster colds. But throughout the year, once a month the udder and tail areas should be clipped. This prevents milk contamination and reduces lice, which often initiate their attack by the tail. If you have a severe louse problem, while you’re at it rub a little louse powder up and down the spine. However, by brushing the goat’s coat carefully two or three times a week you should be able to keep lice infestation down to a minimum, and your goat will love you for it.

Clipping itself is simple enough. The operation and tool involved are similar to those found in the old-fashioned barbershop. (if you have more than two goats, you’ll probably find yourself wanting an electric clipper.)

1. Stanchion the goat on a milking stand but not in the milking shed. Outside where the light is good is best.

2. Pet the goat with your free hand. Comforting her with a few kind words certainly doesn’t hurt. Start clipping gently with the clippers. The ones specifically designed for animals will leave just the right amount of stubble.

3. Always clip against the lay of the hair.

4. Make certain to stretch the skin tight when you trim around the udder. Holding your shoulder against the doe will steady her and prevent accidents.

Hoof Trimming. When living in the wild, goats trim their hoofs naturally by wearing them down on hard ground and rocky cliffs. Frolicking in a nice pasture and barn living, on the other hand, don’t give them enough wear. So you’ll have to do some paring.

Pick a day when the weather is damp, and you’ll find the hoofs will be more pliable. Should the hoofs be particularly brittle, apply hoof oil two days before trimming. Your tools are a sharp pruning knife and a medium-grain file.

Stand beside the goat, facing her rear. As with clipping, a steady conversational patter and an occasional petting are good. You’re in the country now and no one’s going to look at you strangely if you talk to an animal . . . farmers know.

Pick up a leg and anchor it between your knees. The center of the cloven hoof has a soft hump, known as the frog. This should not need trimming under most circumstances. If it is overgrown, be extra careful in tackling this area, since it will be very painful to the animal (and probably yourself) if you cut too deeply. Always trim a very thin slice at a time. You can always cut more off . . . but you can’t glue it back on.

The horny edges, or hoof, if the foot should be trimmed so that they are even with the frog. This is why if you trim the hoof regularly you won’t have to worry about the frog. It is softer and will wear itself down to the proper level. Check carefully when you’re through trimming to see that the foot sits squarely on the ground. If it is uneven, making contact only on the right or left, permanent leg injury may result.

Udder Problems

The health and well-being of the goat’s udder is, of course paramount in dairy production. Problems do arise occasionally: but most of them are dealt with by simple prevention.

Dehorning keeps goats from injuring each other. Roomy stables prevent teats from being trampled. Briars should not be permitted to grow in pasturage, since they easily cut the udder, sometimes with ensuing infection. And, as opposed to bees and chickens, bees and goats are not a good combination. The bees seem to prefer stinging the goats on the exposed udder over all other places, so have your hives at the opposite end of the yard with their entrances facing away from the goat pasture.

Mastitis. The worst udder problem is mastitis. Actually, mastitis is a general term for any inflammation of the udder, and not any specific disease. The reason a multitude of sins fall under the same heading is that they all manifest themselves in a similar manner . . . flaky or clotted milk and a progressively swollen and sensitive udder.

Needless to say, mastitis caused by mechanical injury is not infectious. Bacterially-caused mastitis, usually produced by a Streptococcus, is. Avoid giving milk from a doe suffering from mastitis to a kid. This is important to remember, for udder infections tend to be more frequent during kidding.

Mastitis is a problem for your veterinarian to handle, but its early diagnosis is up to you. For this purpose use a strip cup. This is a small container covered with an exceedingly fine mesh. Draw a few drops of milk onto it with each morning’s milking. Small flakes or lumps in the milk that become visible on the screen should lead you to suspect trouble. Mastitis causes actual physical changes in the udder and thus can permanently dry up the milk supply. The earlier the treatment–usually antibiotics–the better.

Chapped Udders. Chapped udders, particularly at the teats, are caused by the same irritations that cause chapped hands. Cleanliness and dry milking, that is, not milking with wet hands, should prevent the problem. However, if it does arise, rub glycerin onto the affected areas twice a day and particularly after milking. Dr. Naylor’s Udder Balm-worth keeping around just for its folksy nineteenth-century tin box–is even better.

No Milk. If a doe fails to give milk after freshening and the udder swells properly, indicating an ample supply, the diagnosis will probably be an obstruction in the teat–this may also be the cause of “hard”, or difficult, milking in later stages of production–or atresia, a blind teat which has no perforation at all. The obstruction can usually be cleared without much trouble. Opening a teat manifesting atresia is also no major operation. But both should be done by your veterinarian. On the other hand, when the veterinarian comes, never let him go at it alone. Always watch. The more you observe, the more you learn.

Leaking Teats. If you see your doe’s teats leaking when she comes into the barn to be milked, milk her more often. Not only do leaking teats waste milk, they draw flies and in general decrease the sanitary conditions of your operation. The kind of milking problem that leads to leakage can also lead to self-sucking. The pressure of the milk becomes painful, and the doe nurses herself to relieve it. This can become a hard-to-break habit that severely curtails your milk supply. Again, the best cure is an ounce of prevention. Milk on a three-times-a-day schedule rather than two if necessary.

Other Problems

Goat Pox. You’ve heard of smallpox and chicken pox. Well, if you’re going to keep goats, look out for goat pox. Not a serious disease, it manifests itself in the same body eruptions as the other poxes. But do not use milk from goats with the pox, which lasts around three weeks, because it’s highly infectious. Better yet, have your goats vaccinated.

Parasites. Parasites, external and internal, seem to have a special affinity for goats. Here, as always, prevention is the key word in care.

Many goat parasites make their home in the intestinal tract; they or their eggs are expelled in the manure and transmitted from goat to goat. A clean barn and rotating pasturage minimize the spread of these parasites.

The presence of internal parasites should be suspected when either a goat’s stools are looser than usual or constipation sets in and cannot be remedied by the addition of more bulk to the feed. The animal becomes listless and loses weight, all without any accompanying fever. A microscopic examination of sample droppings by your veterinarian or state Agricultural Extension Service should ascertain if stomach or tapeworm parasite infection is the cause. Remember, goats allowed to roam on a large, clean pasture are less likely to pick up parasites than a crowded herd.

Head grubs and follicle mites are two external parasites that afflict goats occasionally. Be on the lookout for unusual skin lesions, scabs, or ruptures, particularly around the eyes, nostrils, and other mucous membrane areas. Your veterinarian should be able to specify their cause and remedy. Once you’ve observed and treated the different varieties, you’ll be able to handle the problem yourself,

All this may make it seem as if you’d better have a direct wire to the vet. Not so. You might well go without seeing him for a year or two. It’s just that by being aware of potential problems and taking the simple precautions needed to ward them off, you’re bound to have healthier goats. And you’ll probably be surprised to find that a goat on the farm is really no more complicated to care for than a dog in the city . . . except that you’ll be milking it two or three times a day instead of walking it.  

SPECIAL NOTE: GROW IT! is a big book and even if a chunk this size were to be run in issue after issue after issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, it would take over two years to put the complete volume in your hands. If you haven’t got two years to play around with, we recommend that you buy your very own copy. Richard Langer will be happy, Saturday Review Press will be happy …and we’re betting that you’ll be happy too. It’s a darn good book.

EXTRA SPECIAL NOTE: All material here reprinted from GROW IT!
Copyright © 1972 by Richard W. Langer.