An Introduction to Raising Goats

If you're considering buying a goat for fiber or milk production, be sure you understand the care, feeding, and upkeep involved in raising goats.

| June/July 1992

A Wall Street Journal staffer once came up with the ultimate economic indicator—the goat index. When times get tough, people buy goats. And with good reason: Goats offer an inexpensive source of milk, meat, fiber, and (not least of all) companionship. They require neither fancy food nor elaborate housing.

Getting Started with Raising Goats

Once you decide what kind of goats you want to raise (see Goats for Milk, Meat and More), try to find a local seller. The goats will already be acclimated to your area and will take to the move more easily than goats trucked in from a distance. Avoid sale barns, since you never know what diseases might lurk there. If you plan to keep your goats in close quarters, another thing to avoid is horns. Goats on open range need horns for protection. but a goat in confinement can easily injure another goat, or you, by playfully turning its head at the wrong moment. Some goats are polled (born without horns). The rest should have their horn buds cauterized as soon as the buds start to show (usually by two weeks of age).

Goats are social creatures and enjoy companionship, so plan to start out with at least two. Goats can be, and often are, raised in a manageable herd of about six. Those six may be all does (females) which you'll need if you want milk, kids, or both. Does also produce the softest fiber. If you wish to raise goats for meat, transport, or as pets, wethers (castrated males) make a good choice. A wether is as muscular as a buck (male) but as gentle as a doe (for seasonal breeding, rather than housing and feeding an intact buck year around. many goat owners find it cheaper and less hassle to use artificial insemination or a stud service).

Milk production requires annual kidding, so if you opt for dairy goats, prepare to deal with a burgeoning population. Goat kids are so cute and cuddly, it's tempting to keep them all. But if you do, your facilities will soon be stretched to the limit and you—and your goats—will be unhappy. Kids or surplus adults may be sold to help pay for the herd's upkeep. Prices vary from under $100 for a scrub goat, to several hundred for a registered purebred, to several thousand for a top breeder. The highest price ever paid for a goat was $80,000 for an Angora buck. May you be so lucky as to have such a goat born in your herd.

Goat Shelter

Goats need nothing more than a simple shelter to protect them from rain, wind, and sun. A building that is well-ventilated but draft-free serves these purposes and also retains animal-generated body heat in cold weather. Each goat needs at least 15 square feet of living space (miniature breeds need 10 square feet). When goats must reach through head holes to get feed and water outside their stall, they waste less hay, so allow one head hole for every five goats for water and for a salt and soda feeder (more on that later), and one hole per animal for hay.

Provide a manger to keep hay off the ground, where it would get trampled and fouled. A floor of packed earth is easy to clean and allows urine to drain away. Bedding gives the animals something dry to lie on. Goats inevitably waste lots of hay, and wasted hay makes economical bedding. For Angora goats, however, a floor covering of wood slats is preferable, since bits of bedding would otherwise stick in their hair.

Dawn Mitchell_1
7/9/2008 9:59:16 PM

I have been a great admirer of Mother Earth News email version for some time, and for (appropriately) Mothers Day this year, my husband and children bought me a subscription - which has doubled my pleasure. Thank you for all you do. We have kept horses for several years now, and finally moved to 9 acres of our own at New Year. Since then we have invested in chickens, a pig (for the table) and dairy goats, and have put in an organic garden. Needless to say, EVERY issue has so much excellent information, all of which seems relevant, that it gets read from cover-to-cover several times! Since we are originally (14 yrs ago) from England, it always makes me feel good when I see references (like in your recent article on goats) about the origins of animals. We are going back to Buff Orpington chickens, and currently keep one Nubian (origins: Great Britain) and 3 La Mancha goats, and produce wonderful milk, cheese and soap from them. We have recently been contacted by several people with Celiac and Crohns diseases, and have now switched ALL our animals over to a grain-free diet to produce gluten-free products. It has been a great success. I now know a 2 yr old who has been 'surviving' on Almond milk and calcium supplemnts, having NEVER been able to drink milk before, and now has raw, fresh, gluten-free milk every day, and is thriving on it. What a blessing to be able to help others in such a way. Thank you so much for all the invaluable information you provide - and the support for environmentally aware, organic producers like us.

1/1/2008 8:54:42 PM

Well managed goat rearing is an interesting and fruitful business.

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