Raising Goats on a Backyard Farm

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“Get Your Goat” is a complete handbook for keeping all breeds of goats in your backyard, whether you’re in a rural, urban, or suburban setting. The author’s invaluable experience keeping goats in a unique setting is at the heart of this incredibly useful, practical guide.
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Happy goat farms make for happy goats.

Is a backyard goat farm right for you? You do not need to live on huge acreage, but you do need time, passion and a sense of humor to make your backyard farm a paradise for raising goats. Brent Zimmerman’s Get Your Goat (Quarry Books, 2012) answers all your questions about keeping goats for milk, meat, fiber or companionship. The following excerpt is from Chapter 4, “Goat Needs.” 

Evaluating Your Space

Do you have the space to keep goats? To raise happy, healthy goats, you will need room in your backyard for a goat pen and a goat house, as well as storage space for the goats’ food and other goat-related supplies such as straw. And you must know what to do with all that soiled goat bedding that you will clean out at least two or three times a year.

Planning Your Backyard Farm

How much room you need will depend on how many goats you will house. Each goat should have ample floor space for sleeping, generous space at the feeding trough, and access to an outdoor enclosure. If you are breeding your goats, keep in mind that your herd could double or triple each spring. (For more details, see “Backyard Goat Housing” further along in this article.)

  • The placement of the goat enclosure within your backyard is also an important decision. In a farm setting, the placement of the enclosure is determined more by convenience than science; it may be simply a fenced pasture attached to the barn. In a smaller setting, you’ll have to think more carefully about where you are going to set up your goat area, giving consideration to your goats, your neighbors, and of course, yourself.
  • A goat’s pen should have areas of both sun and shade, which can be provided by an overhang attached to their housing or a large tree.
  • It should have protection from strong winds. The goats’ pen should be attached to the goats’ house, where they will also seek shelter from the elements.
  • The goats’ pen should be free of ornamental plantings and exotic grasses. Other plants such as ferns, rhododendrons, azaleas, and mountain laurel are poisonous to goats. If there are young trees in the enclosure, they should be well protected (that is, fenced); otherwise, the goats will make a quick meal out of them.

Plants may be poisonous or cause negative effects for several reasons, and the level of toxicity depends on several factors, including the stage of growth of the plant, which part of the plant the animal consumed, how much was ingested, and for some plants, at what stage of decay the plant was eaten.

The Danger of Toxic Plants

Cyanogenic plants such as milkweed, mountain laurel, pit stone fruits, and leaves interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Death is usually very rapid. Photodynamic poisoning is usually more of a concern for animals with areas of unpigmented skin. Rape and St. John’s wort are photodynamic plants. When they are eaten in large amounts, sores develop on the skin when exposed to sunlight. Other plants, such as ferns, if consumed in large amounts may cause internal hemorrhaging.

Contact your local health department or agricultural extension agency for a list of poisonous plants in your area.

Backyard Goat Housing

Goats are not too particular about their housing. Plenty of happy goats live in what could, at best, be described as rudimentary housing, and plenty of happy goats live in dairy barns that could be described as luxurious. As long as they are safe and have adequate room and protection from the elements, your goats will adapt well to any housing you can supply. Remember, just because it might work for your goats, you should ask, is it workable for you? In addition to the goats’ safety and comfort, you will want to construct housing that makes it easy for you to do your daily chores, with high ceilings and wide doors or aisleways.

Two’s company. The first thing to consider when constructing housing is the maximum number of goats you will have at one time. All the goats need enough space to lounge about without being trampled on. They need individual space at the hay feeders to ensure they get their share and access to clean water at all times.

  • A 4-foot by 9-foot (1.2 by 2.7 m) stall is ample space for a goat and her kids, providing they have access to a yard. Two does need about 70 square feet (6.5 sq m) of housing space.
  • Your goats’ housing should be connected to securely fenced outdoor space as large or small as you can accommodate.
  • Use common sense when deciding your goats’ spacing needs. If their housing is open and airy and connected to a big yard, you can get by with a smaller footprint in their housing. If the outdoor area is very limited, you may need to give them more space indoors, as that is where they will be spending the majority of their time.

Raising Goats Safely and Securely

If predators of any kind are a threat, you need a way to close your goats safely inside their housing when you are not around to supervise. If you are considering windows in their housing, make sure they are above the head of the tallest goat when she is standing on two feet and leaning against the wall (about 5 1/2 feet [1.7 m]) or covered with bars or tight screens so she can’t accidentally poke her head through, break the glass, and cause injury.

Visiting Hours

You will be going to the goat barn a minimum of twice a day. The easier you can make it on yourself and the more comfortable it is to work, the more enjoyable your goat experiences will be. You will need to clean out your goat barn several times a year at least. Having enough headroom to stand up straight will make this job much more tolerable and less backbreaking. Wide doors or double doors to get your small garden tractor or wheelbarrow through are always a luxury come cleaning time.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Get Your Goat, published by Quarry Books, 2012. 

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