A Bad Start Raising Goats

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PHOTO: JOANN SALMONOWICZ
The author made a lot of mistakes in his first two years raising goats. 

My plan for raising goats got off to a bad start, and I
have no one to blame but myself. I should have waited to
buy my first doe from a reputable milk-goat breeder. After
all, I had read over and over again that it’s better to
spend $100 on a purebred or registered goat than to pay
anything for a worthless cull (who’ll cost a bundle in feed
and care and yield nothing in return). But, I had goats on
the brain, saw an ad in the local classifieds, and let my
natural impatience get the best of me.

Besides that, her owner made the doe sound wonderful. She
was recently bred, I was told, and would grow into a
full-sized milker–a Toggenburg, no less! It took me
five long months to realize that she wasn’t going to have
any kids and that as likely as not she’d never even
been bred. It also became increasingly obvious as time went
on that Nanny–as I named her–was stunted, and that her
claim to Toggenburg ancestry was very loosely based (maybe
her mother had once been frightened by one). Worst of all,
despite months of patient cajoling, Nanny remained so
flighty that I could barely approach her. The term
“domestic animal” fit neither her temperament nor her
purpose.

But, since I’m not a person who gives up easily, I decided
to look for a buck to service the doe. All of my reference
volumes noted that it’s foolish for a farmer without a
large herd to purchase a buck, so I combed the area for a
Toggenburg goat at stud. I couldn’t find one anywhere, but I did
locate a buck of that breed for sale. Chalk up mistake
number two … I brought the handsome golden-maned lover
home. As the months went by, though, it began to seem that
Billy’s rut odor was just so much B.O. to my Nanny. She
spurned his advances time and time again.

So, I called the
vet and was told that my prudish doe was sexually
underdeveloped, but that there was an injection that might
bring her into heat. Nanny apparently didn’t like the idea,
because she escaped on the way to the clinic and I never
saw her again.
I confess that–though she’d cost me a good bit of money by
that time–I was more relieved than sad to see her go.

Billy, on the other hand, turned out to be a marvelous
goat. We cavorted together for hours at a time, like a couple of kids. Unfortunately, the buck wasn’t able to give
milk to pay for his keep, and so–with what was by now a
grim determination–I set out to find a real Toggenburg doe.
Finally, after I’d driven most every back road in
Mississippi, I located one of the lovely ladies … and was
told that she’d been bred the previous month. By that time
I didn’t even care that Billy’s services wouldn’t be needed
right away. I bought New Nanny and just figured that my
buck would get his chance after the kids were born. I
suppose I should have noticed that there weren’t many
Toggenburgs around my area, but I didn’t. So much for
mistake number three.

Eight weeks after I brought the new doe home, I walked out
one day to find that Billy had clambered into the narrow
milking stanchion and strangled himself in his efforts
to get back out. As I removed the buck’s already stiffened
body from the structure, I began to wonder if I was really
cut out to raise goats.

But, I still had New Nanny, who was large, big-boned, and
had a well-formed bag and teats–a real milker! She was
also, however, half dead from intestinal parasites and
improper feed. I wormed her, stopped milking her two months
prior to when she was due to kid, fed her copious amounts
of grain, and let her browse in a large patch of
honeysuckle and briars. With all of this care she was soon
as healthy a goat as you’ll ever see. Her due date,
however, came and went with no sign that she was ready to
bear kids. I waited and watched for two more months, in the
hope that she had mated with my deceased Billy. Finally, I
had to accept the fact that her bulge was nothing more than
the result of too much feed.

It’s been two years now since I bought my first goat. I
recently mated New Nanny to a high-class registered Nubian
buck, but it’s too soon to know whether she’ll finally
have kids and a new milk supply. What I do know, however,
is that I’ve–so far–parted with over $250 for goats, feed,
etc., and gained a grand total of five gallons of milk in
return. That, for the mathematically minded among you, works
out to about $12.50 a quart!

About the only way I can get any use out of my
goat-mistakes is to turn them into principles that might
help other folks to do better than I did. These rules are:
[1] Buy only from a conscientious breeder of milk goats (by
the time you can tell whom to trust, you’ll know enough so
that they couldn’t rip you off anyway), [2] purchase a
breed that’s common in your area, and [3] buy only a doe
with young kids. It’s the one way to be sure of what
you’re gettin’.

As I attempt to boil my experiences down to the point where
they might be of help to someone else, however, I get the
urge simply to say, “Don’t buy goats at all!” This may
sound like an extreme statement, but it’s at least as much
the result of serious consideration as it is a product of
frustration.

Think of the simplicity, for instance, that you can find in
an animal-less homestead. Without beasts there’s little
need for outbuildings, for pasture, or–if nearby neighbors
don’t have problem critters–for fences (after all, these
enclosures exist primarily to keep animals in or out).
Perhaps even Helen and Scott Nearing considered these
factors when they decided to follow a “no animals” policy
on their homestead.

And, at the risk of sounding corny, doesn’t the “back to
the land” movement follow a somewhat spiritual path? Isn’t
there “spirituality” in the choice of simplicity over
complexity, and in the struggle to do more with less? Do
livestock really contribute to the achievement of these
goals?

I think that the time is just about here when I for one will
feed all of the food that I grow to humans rather than to
animals. Goats, I admit, make fine pets, but we
Americans have far too many pets already. It may be that a
person is “starting wrong with goats” when he or she starts
with goats in the first place.