New Goat Owner? Learn from our experiences
Although we spent a lot of time doing research before we added goats to our family farm, the minute we lifted the duo of Weller and Dr. Phil out of the truck and put them in their temporary stall in the barn, we knew we were unprepared. It took multiple trips to our local farm store and visits with the vet before we felt like we were properly set up. Two weeks later we had introduced our first doe to our herd, and the process was much easier because we had all of the right equipment on hand. Fast forward a few years later and we have 18 registered myotonic "fainting" goats. We are members of the Myotonic Goat Registry®, a Kentucky Proud farm®, and an Appalachian Proud® farm.
Here are the nine things I suggest having before bringing home goats:
1. Strong Fencing
We built a fence to keep our chickens from wandering away, and we believed the 4-by-4 posts, top rail and woven wire were enough to keep the goats contained, too. Within hours, they started pushing their bodies against the wire, bending it until it snapped free in a corner, giving them an escape route to the pasture and pond. Reinforcing the fence with an additional board (at the height where the animals pushed their bulk against it) gave them a place to scratch without breaking out.
Heed the warnings about the need for a strong fence: Look for gaps—goats can push through the smallest spaces—and reinforce areas that might not hold up under insistent pushing. Strong fences are essential for safe goats. Electric wire keeps predators out and prevents goats from testing the fences.
Fast forward six months later and we found our favorite fence, Premier One's solar electric goat fence. While it is more expensive than your rolled fencing you can buy at your local farm supply store, we loved the fact that this fence can be moved as needed. It's great for alternating pasture so that the goats have fresh grass to eat. It's also great against any predator, like coyotes. If you have a dog and an underground electric fence, use the same training for your goats. Introduce them to it, stay close by until you know they "respect" the fence. All of my goats stay at least a foot or two away now and I have no issues with goats escaping.
Goats need protection from the elements. A basic shelter such as a three-sided shed or pole barn large enough to get them out of the rain and wind will do. Multiple goats can share one stall—pregnant or lactating does and their kids will need their own space. Our bucks are always separated from our does until it is breeding time, and even then, we keep them in a separate stall in our barn so we limit the chance of one escaping for an "accidental" breeding.
Straw or wood shavings provide a comfortable spot to curl up for the night (and also help soak up urine). In cold climates, bedding also provides warmth. Remember that bedding needs to be removed and replaced so the barn/shelter doesn’t start to smell and attract flies. We love stall refresher underneath our wood shavings. It helps cut down on the urine smell. We just started using "Fly Predators" as well. Two months in this year and we have less flies than we've had in previous years.
4. Feed and Hay
Even goats that have access to lush pasture and a lot of brush will probably need supplemental feed, especially during the winter. You should make good quality hay available all the time. A hay feeder is essential. We tried five-gallon buckets, an oversized plastic storage tub and a laundry basket before building our own “real” hay feeder, which has stood up to goats standing on it—and sometimes in it.
Animals that receive small amounts of grain or treats will need a separate feeder. Do not rely solely on grain as the diet for your goat. We only give our goats up to 1 cup of grain per day. Work with your local farm supply store or feed store to find the best feed for your goats' needs. We work with our local "mill" and use their house brand that is made with local ingredients. Make sure the grain has all of the nutrients your goats need. Most importantly, for your bucks, bucklings and wethers, too much grain can cause a life threatening condition called urinary calculi. We make sure our goats receive ammonium chloride either in their grain or we mix it in with their water each day.
5. Water Buckets
Access to fresh, clean water is essential. Get a dedicated bucket—or several for multiple animals—and keep it filled. Mount the bucket higher than the tallest goat’s backside so the goats cannot poop in it.
Loose minerals, offered free choice, are also essential for good health. Choose a goat formula (loose minerals for sheep don’t contain enough copper). Goats don’t have rough tongues like cattle do, which might make it hard to get minerals from a block; loose minerals might be a better choice. Look for minerals with salt (or supplement with a salt block). Baking soda should also be offered free choice; it helps goats maintain good digestive health, protects against bloat and helps with acid upset.
7. Grooming Supplies
Overgrown hooves can make it painful for goats to walk. This can also cause foot and leg problems such as tendinitis and arthritis. Having hoof trimmers on hand is important. Farm stores stock specialized hoof trimmers, but a pair of straight-edged garden pruners works, too. Use a curry comb or bristle brush for grooming. We trim our goats hooves every 4-8 weeks. Our favorite trimmers are Premier One's ARS 140DXR hoof trimmers. Watch a few Youtube videos on how to trim hooves.
8. A Mini Medicine Cabinet
Stocking common medications and supplies means goats can be treated for minor illnesses at home without an unexpected trip to the farm store. Stock a mini medicine cabinet with a thermometer; blood stop powder (to deal with nicked hooves during trimming); antifungal treatments for ringworm and minor wounds; dewormer; electrolytes for dehydration; Nutri-Drench to provide vitamin and minerals to goats recovering from illness; and oral and injectable syringes in multiple sizes. Some hobby farmers also stock antibiotics, but resistance is a huge issue so we leave these kinds of medications to our vet to prescribe. We always keep Safeguard on hand and treat them for worms every month. CD/T vaccine is a must to keep on hand. We give all of our kids CD/T at 4 and 6 weeks, then at 6 months, then once a year from then on.
9. Play Structures
Goats love to climb. Providing play structures lets them exercise these natural instincts. We set out a couple of sturdy platforms and turned the big trunk of a fallen tree into a series of platforms for them to climb, rest and play on. Wooden spools are one of our goats favorite toys. We built ramps and a play structure for them to explore and have fun.
Taking the time to prepare before bringing goats home can help the new additions settle in and ease the transition from an empty pasture to a happy herd.