I am sure that you are very excited to start your journey with your new goats. I encourage you to read and research as much as possible about goats and goat husbandry. I, myself, am still learning! I gather my information from my own experiences, experiences of others, and research. Make sure to do your own research and reach out to others any time you have questions or concerns. When possible, I’ll do what I can to help you. When I don’t have the answer, I’ll do my best to find an answer for you.
This article is just to get you thinking. It is NOT all-inclusive - just tidbits as there's tons more to know!!! Also, I am NOT a pro. I am just like you - I love my goats and I want the best for them. There's always learning to do!!
Keep in mind that goats are curious creatures. Make sure to walk through their pasture on a periodic basis to ensure that there is no debris that they can get hurt on or swallow. Monitor the area, especially after storms or strong winds to ensure that their area remains free of trash, limbs, and other objects.
FENCING / GATES Goats can be great escape artists. If they find a way out, they often use it. As such, make sure that your enclosure is at least 4 ft. tall to deter jumpers from leaping over it. It should be sturdy and without gaps to prevent them from squeezing through openings or getting their head stuck.
Gates should open inwards so goats cannot push it open as you try to enter. It is easiest to use wire filed gates. However, if your gates are utility gates, cover the gate openings with goat fence to ensure your goats can't escape through the openings.
Shelters should be as tall as fencing or far enough from fencing that it is not used as a launching pad over the fence. Limit the potential for drafts, yet allow for enough ventilation to help keep bedding dry.
Face the opening away from the typical direction of winds. This is known as "prevailing" winds. For example, in North Carolina, winds are primarily out of the southwest during the summer and from the northwest during the winter. You can find this information for your area at https://www.weatherstem.com/.
Remember this – a goat’s rumen can be very sensitive. Unlike what is depicted in cartoons, goats do NOT eat anything and everything! They are actually very selective eaters. They use their prehensile mouth (lips and tongue) to choose the tastiest plants. Other things to keep in mind include the following:
First and foremost, fresh water is a must. It is especially important for goats so they can break down and digest the hay and brose they consume. Note that chronic dehydration can be fatal.
The average goat requires 2 to 4% of their body weight in feed every day, with more being required during the winter months.
A goat’s main nutrition will come from good quality hay and / or browse. Goats do best by eating forbs (weeds) and browse (leaves of trees, shrubs, and vines that have woody stems) rather than eating grasses. In addition, I prefer to feed my goats alfalfa or an orchard / alfalfa mix. The better the quality of hay you provide, the less supplemental feed they will need. Ensure that the hay you provide to your goats was both baled and stored dry. Wet or even damp hay will mold and can be fatal.
A goat’s diet must be balanced with a calcium to phosphorus (C:P) ratio of 2:1-4 to prevent urinary calculi.
A balanced goat-specific grain can be given to help balance the diet as long as it is considered in the C:P ratio.
There are many supplemental types of feed you can add to improve a goat’s condition like grain, BOSS, kelp, oats, beet pulp, etc. Just always remember to recalculate their feed to weight percentage and the C:P ratio, including loose minerals, with each change and introduce gradually. This will ensure the rumen stays happy and balanced and feed costs don’t get out of control.
Treats are the way to a goat’s heart. Give a handful once or twice a day of animal crackers, raisins or yogurt, etc. This will associate you to food and teach the goat to trust you. Yummy things appear when you are near!
Knowing your goat’s anatomy will help you help them. In addition, placing your eyes and hands on your goat’s body everyday will condition you to what is normal so that when they seem ‘off’ you will spot it right away and treat accordingly.
There are five checkpoints to keep in mind:
Regardless if you have a dairy goat or a meet goat, parts of the goat of similar, if not completely alike.
Body Temperature: A normal range temperature for a goat is 101°-103°.
Body Condition Score (BCS): Learn how to perform a BCS. Note that Langston University (Goat Research) has written a very good article titled Body Condition Scores in Goats that provides a wealth of information on this topic. I suggest that you take a look at it as it offers way more information than I could possibly ever provide (see Helpful Links section).
Goat Poop: A goat’s poop can tell you a lot about how they are feeling and what they are eating. Goat berries should be round, dark brown, individual pellets. If it suddenly changes color, clumps up, or becomes runny, something has changed. This could be as simple as too much fresh pasture or grain, or as complicated as dehydration, parasites, mineral deficiency, etc.
Copper Deficiency: Copper deficiency can cause a myriad of health issues. The first outward sign may be the goat’s coat, which may appear dry, dull, rough, wiry, brittle, and / or discolored. The goat’s tail may also have the appearance of a ‘fish tail’.
To guard against copper deficiency, a loose mineral designed for goats should contain about 2000 ppm of copper sulfate and about 10% of salt should be offered free choice. If your goat does become deficient in copper, a copper bolus may be required.
Hoof Care: Goat hooves should be trimmed often to maintain healthy posture of the pasterns. Long, broken toes and folded over walls causes stress on leg tendons, muscles and ultimately the spine. It’s akin to wearing high heels for too long. Dirt, feces and debris packed into the hoof can cause what is known as hoof rot.
The goal is to trim the hoof wall and sole level with growth rings on the outside of the hoof. Trim little by little until a pale pink anywhere in the sole is visible. Have blood stop powder on hand.
As I mentioned before, do your research! Not only can you find helpful facts on the Internet, but the following books are full of valuable information.
Raising Goats For Dummies (Cheryl K. Smith)
Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, 5th Edition: Breed Selection, Feeding, Fencing, Health Care, Dairying, Marketing (Jerry Belanger)
Here are some links that may come in handy.
Briar Creek Farm: This is us!! Here at Briar Creek Farm, we raise Nubian, Nigerian Dwarf and Myotonic (Fainting) goats. These animals are hand-raised members of our family. Our farm is also home to several chickens. In addition, our 52 1/2 acre farm is the perfect habitat for animals in the wild. This includes deer, fox, coyotes, raccoons, opossum, and much more.
American Dairy Goat Association: The American Dairy Goat Association was organized in 1904 to collect, record and preserve the pedigrees of dairy goats and to provide genetic, management and related services to dairy goat breeders.
EasyKeeper Herd Manager: I have been asked over and over what we use at Briar Creek Farm to manage our goat herd. The answer is simple! We use EasyKeeper Herd Manager. Why? It's simple.... EasyKeeper Herd Manager is easy to use. It's intuitive. It's secure! Note: Use the following special invitation code to start your FREE trial: 7f7hv9!
Langston University Goat Research – Article: Body Condition Scores in Goats:
Livestock Conservancy: Since its inception in 1977, The Livestock Conservancy has been a ‘central hub’ for anything having to do with rare breed conservation in the United States.
Myotonic Goat Registry: The Myotonic Goat Registry serves breeders as an ‘open’ registry for all goats of the traditional Myotonic breed.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office: The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has offices in all 100 counties and with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Local extension agents are available to provide education and assistance.
Bloat: An excessive accumulation of gas in the rumen and reticulum, resulting in distension of the abdomen.
Body Condition Score (BCS): BCS is the best simple indicator of available fat reserves which can be used by the animal in periods of high energy demand, stress, or suboptimal nutrition.
Browse / Browser: Goats are browsers. This means that they prefer to eat with their heads up, eating twigs and leaves of trees and shrubs.
Coccidiosis: A disease that is commonly exhibited in younger animals caused by a protozoa parasite infection. It is characterized by diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, lack of thriftiness, and weakness.
Colostrum: The first milk the doe or ewe produces after given birth to their offspring. The milk is thick and golden yellow in color and contains rich antibodies. If the newborn does not consume the milk within the first 24 hours of life, there is very little chance the animal will survive.
Conformation: The combination of structural correctness and muscling of the animal including the frame and shape of the animal.
Fish Tail: A sign that a goat is deficient in copper. It gives the tail the look of a fish tail when the tip of the tail splits.
Free Choice: Allowing access, at will, 24 hours a day.
Hermaphrodite: A sterile animal with reproductive organs of both sexes.
Hypothermia: When body temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and body functions. Inability to keep warm often caused by cold or wet weather.
John’s Disease (Mycobacterium paratuberculosis): A bacterial disease causing severe weight loss and some diarrhea. This disease is not currently curable.
Kid: A goat that is less than one year old.
Open: A female goat that is not pregnant.
Quarantine: To keep a goat away from the rest of the herd to prevent the spread of disease.
Registered: A goat whose birth and ancestry has been recorded by a registry association.
Reticulum: The second compartment of the ruminant’s stomach. The reticulum has a honey-combed appearance and is the receptacle for metal foreign objects that is swallowed.
Rumen: The first stomach of a ruminant, which receives food or cud from the esophagus.
Ruminant: A goat is considered a ruminant, which is an even-toed ungulate mammal that chews the cud regurgitated from its rumen.
Rumination: The process of regurgitating food to be re-chewed.
Scours: Diarrhea in a goat.
Soremouth: A highly contagious, (also to humans), viral infection that causes scabs around the mouth, nostrils, and eyes and may affect the udders of lactating does. (Additional Information: Days of Our Chicken Pox)
Subcutaneous (SQ) Injection: Insertion of the needle just under the skin and not into the muscle. SQ injectables are designed for a slower rate of absorption.
Supplement: Feed designed to provide nutrients deficient in the animal’s main diet.
Tapeworms: Long, ribbon-like segmented flatworms that can inhabit the gastrointestinal tract of animals.
Tetanus (a/k/a Lock Jaw): A condition caused by poisons produced by Clostridium tetani which is a bacterium found in the soil. Symptoms usually appear within 7 to 14 days of exposure and include stiffness and soreness that progresses through the body until the whole body is paralyzed within 48 hrs of first appearance.
Urinary Calculi: A urinary-tract blockage in goats. Urinary calculi prevents both urination and breeding in males. Female goats can but seldom do contract Urinary calculi because of the straightness and shortness of their urethra. The twists and turns of the longer male urethra make passing solid particles difficult at best and impossible at worst. Urinary calculi can and too often does kill goats quickly and painfully.
Vaccine: A biological product that is injected into an animal to stimulate an immunity to a particular disease.
Yearling: A male or female goat that is between 1 and 2 years of age.
Zoonosis or Zoonotic: Any animal disease that can be spread to humans.