A Guide to Raising Goats

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 Farris talks about raising and breeding goats in your own homestead.
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Bunnie, our Alpine doe, with my husband. Note the angle of the ears of the Alpine breed.
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Lady Susan, our registered Nubian, in the foreground with Heidi behind. The goats are tethered to posts set far enough apart to prevent them tangling together.
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Cross-breed twins with the drooping ears of the Nubian and white legs and face stripes of the Toggenburgs.
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Heidi, one of our Nubian grade doelings, staked out in the midst of her favorite browse: Wild privet.
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Our first Alpine kid with our four-year-old son, Henry.
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Here I am, milking Lady Susan. Notice the apparatus securing her leg. The milking stand makes this chore more comfortable.

When we started our homestead we planned to raise as much
of our own food as possible . . . but we intended
to begin with chickens and vegetables. Our schemes were
turned upside down, however, by a visit in July to a goat
dairy.

We had gone “just to look around” because we did
want–eventually–to produce our own dairy
products. While at the dairy, though, we were surprised to
learn that kids are usually available only from February to
July . . . so, naturally, we bought the only kid still for
sale and drove home with her in the back seat of the car. This was our first step in learning about raising goats.

We didn’t even have a place to house the little 3-month old
Alpine grade doeling and for several weeks “Bunnie” shared
quarters with our pump. We bought a dog collar and used a
length of clothesline to tether her in the backyard, near
the pumphouse. Meanwhile, we erected framing for our 12 foot  by 21 foot all-purpose barn and dried-in the first 3 foot square
kid stall. Then Bunnie moved in while we completed the 9 foot by
12 foot goat section, the 12 foot by 12 foot hen house and the feed room
area of the barn.

During construction, we used a metal drum for dry feed
storage. Now we keep feed in a freezer cabinet which we
obtained free-for-the-hauling from a local appliance
dealer.

Finding that first goat is sometimes a problem. A friend of
a friend directed us to ours and the local grapevine is
often the best source of information. Some states publish a
Market Bulletin–available at no charge–that
lists goats for sale. County agents can also help would-be
buyers who are interested in raising goats.

Choice of a breed is entirely an individual decision. The
uniformly-white Saanen is reputed to produce the most milk
and the milk of Nubians has the highest butterfat content.
Nubians may be any color but always have long drooping ears
and a Roman nose. Toggenburgs, always some shade of brown
with a white stripe down each side of the face, are popular
in some areas and Alpines (which may be any color or
combination) are gaining favor among breeders.

Our first goat was an Alpine, mainly because she was
available. We’ve now switched to Nubians because a Nubian
buck is handy in our area and because we like the
appearance of this breed. Since a buck must be quartered
separately and fed year-round we’ve found it impractical in
the past to keep our own. We’ve now decided to give it a
try, however, and we’re raising our own purebred buck.

Our first doe was a grade (not necessarily purebred)
Alpine. gave a gallon of milk daily after freshening and
tapered to a pint a day at the end of lactation. The
registered Nubian we now milk is in her first lactation
and–after eight months–consistently gives a
quart and a half of milk daily. We expect her production to
double or triple within the next three years.

The grade Alpine was purchased in 1961 for $6.00. This
spring (1970) we bought two grade Nubian doelings for
$12.50 apiece and a registered Nubian, ready to freshen,
for $75.00. The grades were named Lassie and Heidi and the
registered (as Marlu Laura’s Susie) doeling–because
of her temperament–is called Lady Susan.

By the way, one doe can be kept alone but goats are
sociable animals and prefer company.

Our acre is bounded on two sides by brush-lined drainage
ditches. We first drove sturdy stakes into the ground at
30-foot intervals and tethered Bunnie with a 15-foot chain
attached to a dog collar. Later, we purchased a mule hawser
for a tether. We’ve learned, when staking out two does, to
separate them enough so they can’t get their chains tangled
together.

We tether our goats outside for grazing every day except
during very cold or rainy weather when they could get
pneumonia if not sheltered.

Our goats have all preferred leafy browse to grass. They’ll
eat briars, small brush and leaves from the low-hanging
branches of trees. One of their favorite browsing spots is
a patch of wild privet. They also eat pea or bean vines
that are not withered, cornstalks, young wheat and clover
and tomato plants (including the tomatoes). Alfalfa makes
good goat pasture and hay but it doesn’t grow in our area.

Do not plan to feed goats on kitchen scraps. They’ll eat
very little of such offerings. It’s also wise to keep the
animals away from ornamental plantings. We have pine and
magnolia trees that are well-bushed due to impromptu pruning
and our goats have nearly killed a pear and an apricot
tree!

A well-fed animal will instinctively avoid any plant which
is injurious to its health. Apparently our goats are
well-fed: We have azaleas, (azaleas are poisonous to goats)
and ours have never bothered these flowers.

Other plants that may poison a goat are rhododendron,
chokecherry, death camas, Dutchman’s breeches, jimson weed,
loco-weed, milk-weed, polk root, water hemlock, cocklebur in
the sprouting stage and wild cherry or peach which is
wilted or frosted.

Goats are also susceptible to lead poisoning
and–since they’ll chew on wood–it’s best to use
non-toxic paint, whitewash or no paint at all on barns. Our
barn is unpainted cypress.

We have a 40 foot by 60 foot exercise yard made of 5 foot high woven
wire fencing. Goats will crawl under or through strand wire
or board-enclosures. If one persists in jumping a fence,
the cure is a Y shaped piece of wood wired to her collar so
the leg of the Y hits her in the chest when she rears to
jump.

A doe must be bred yearly if you want milk. The breeding
season extends from October to February, with a doe coming
in heat about every three weeks. Gestation is five months
and the first kid may be a singlet. After that, twins are
most common, triplets not uncommon and quads or quints are
born occasionally.

A doe must be dry for two months–during which time
she is fed well-before kidding. Although modern dairymen
use the pressure method of drying off, we prefer the
tapering-off procedure. For the first approach; leave the
doe unmilked for a week, then milk her out and do not milk
again. With the second plan, we cut from two to one milking
per day, then one every other day, once a week, etc.

Though a doe seldom needs help at kidding, the keeper
should be nearby. The first three days milk–the
colostrum–should be fed to the kids; it’s not good
for human consumption.

Most breeders recommend taking the kids from the doe
immediately after birth. This is done to protect the doe”s
udder and extend her productive milk years. We go against
this thinking and leave the kids with their mother for
about a week. After this, they’re shut in a kid stall at
night and the doe is milked, but not stripped, in the
morning. The kids are left with the mother during the day.
She is stripped out at night and the kids given kid ration
and hay.

After six weeks the kids are let in with the mother for
only an hour after the morning milking. They’re weaned
completely when about ten weeks old.

Unless you have registered stock, buck kids are of little
value except as meat animals. As such, they may be sold or
raised for butchering. At 4 to 5 months, a buck will
provide 35 to 45 pounds of dressed meat called chevon. The
flavor is similar to lamb.

We found that milking our first doe was uncomfortable and
difficult until we built a milking stand 16 inches by 42 inches and 20 inches high in the corner of the barn. The stand has a feed box at
one end and a ramp at the other. The milker sits on the
stand, right shoulder against the doe’s right shoulder.

We secure the doe with a chain hooked to her collar and
fastened to a spike in the corner, above her head. The book
says you can keep a doe from kicking by pressure of your
left wrist against her right hind leg . . . but we never
developed this ability. We fasten her leg with a wrapped
wire attached to a spike underneath the end of the stand.
If the doe is especially uncooperative the device can be
used to hold her slightly off-balance so she cannot move
either hind leg.

During each milking we feed about 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of 20%
dairy ration. Goats will not eat finely ground feed and
tire of the same food so we vary coarse-ground with
pelleted. In winter we add a little corn or hen scratch.
Too much corn can cause scours but a little in cold weather
gives extra fat to help a doe maintain body heat. Goats
will not drink stale or dirty water and a doe needs fresh
drinking water at all times, especially in hot weather.

To milk a goat, grasp the teats firmly and squeeze from the
top down. Use both hands from the start, no matter how
clumsy you may be. Practice will improve your technique.
Frequently pause to massage the udder: This will keep the
milk flowing.

Strip the udder by running the thumb and fingers from the
top to the bottom several times until every drop of milk is
out. Failure to do this may cut production gradually
throughout the lactation and can invite udder trouble.

Off-flavored milk is usually due to improper sanitation or
careless handling that allows bacteria to get into the
milk. When our barn needs cleaning; when wet weather causes
soggy odors beneath the bedding; or when a doe has eaten
wild onions, we are alerted to the trouble by the flavor of
the milk.

Sometimes a deposit builds up on the rim of the tea
strainer that we line with flannel and use for straining
milk. This can also taint milk so we’ve learned to never
reuse a filter and we replace the strainer as necessary.

Since odor near a doe can be absorbed and transmitted to
her milk, the buck must be housed separately. Poor health
can be another cause of off-flavor milk. Occasionally, an
individual doe gives bad milk and must be sold (this
happens with cows too!) or her milk may be strong because
of something in the feed. We’ve found that our Nubian gives
strongly-flavored milk if her feed has a high molasses
content.

Do not let this discussion of flavored milk alarm you.
Dairymen have much the same trouble with cows and it’s
actually not really a serious problem with either animal.
You will find–if the question ever arises–that,
almost invariably, an unpleasant flavor is the fault of the
keeper and not the doe. A little investigation and care
should eliminate the trouble.

It should be remembered, however, that goat milk does taste
different than store milk . . . but, if you’re like us,
you’ll soon grow accustomed to that difference. When we dry
off our doe, we have to mix goat milk half-and-half with
the boughten variety to get used to the latter.

Very possibly the reason goats have a bad reputation is
that they are often owned by homesteaders who tend to be
careless . . . perhaps we might say lazy! Cow milk can be
bad-flavored but dairymen are forced to eradicate the
cause. They can’t afford to be careless. Neither can we!

We follow standard dairy procedure and milk twice a day, at
not less than 10–nor more than 14–hour
intervals. Before milking, we wash the udder with warm
water to which is added a drop or two of chlorine bleach.
We then dry the udder, and our hands, before milking.

Strain the milk immediately and chill. All utensils should
be sterilized after use. Occasional clipping of the udder
reduces the chance of hair falling into the milk and a
hooded pail helps keep milk clean. You can also use a
cooking pot (not aluminum) for a milk pail. We use a
stainless steel mixing bowl.

If this sounds like rigid procedure, remember that dairymen
are forced by law to take all due precaution against
bacteria.

If the keeper will do his part, dairy goats are an amusing
and profitable addition to the homestead. Children usually
love the fluffy kids better than any other pet and it’s
been said that “kids” and kids seem to belong together.
Goat kids are very playful and will appreciate a few old
tires or a box to climb on. Take care to have no sharp
objects on which they can injure themselves.

Young kids and cleaning the barn occasionally require a bit
more time but we generally spend about 30-45 minutes per
day caring for two goats. In return, the goats provide
nutritious and inexpensive dairy products (we recycle much
extra garden produce through them to cut feed costs) and
high-quality manure for the compost heap.

I know of no reason why you can’t raise a goat or two on
your homestead for the same return. You’ll even find, if
you breed your does to a quality buck, that the sale of
kids can provide a little bonus income.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368