Getting goats? 5 things you need to consider FIRST
Many beginning homesteads have considered getting goats, often as the next step after successfully keeping chickens. There is definitely a divide in opinions on goats, some consider them a nuisance while others love having them on the farm. Although they can get a bad rep sometimes, goats can be a great addition to your homestead by producing things for your family. And they are so darn cute as kids, it can be hard to resist bringing one home.
So, should you get a goat for your homestead or not? Here are 5 important things to consider before bringing home your first kid, along with some lessons I have learned from having goats on my family’s farm.
1. Why do you want a goat? What will it give back to the farm?
When trying to run a successful homestead, or hobby farm, it is important for every animal on the farm to serve a purpose. Now that doesn’t mean they have to provide food for you, but do they earn their keep?
Shortly after my family moved to the county, we bought my dad two goats to keep our horse company. Now, our goats did not achieve their goal at the time. It turned out my horse did not like the goats and would run them off, but once we got a quieter mare, she and the goats became friends. Besides being a companion, our angora goat gets sheered twice a year and we can make things with her soft wool.
Other uses a goat could have for your family could be providing milk, meat, or for clearing land. No matter your reason for wanting goats, it is important to consider if they add value to your farm.
2. Do you have the correct space for them? Free-ranged or fenced?
One reason people are often drawn to the idea of goats is because they take up less space than other livestock such as cows. Even though they take up less area, you are going to want to consider what kind of space you have available for them.
There are two main ways to go about keeping goats, in well secured pen or free-ranged.
When we first got our two goats we put them in a pen, because honestly we thought that was the only option. Since we only had two goats we made the pen rather small and moved it around as they ate down the grass and brush. However, a year after our male goat died we started letting our other goat out loose more. Now, and for the past 4 years, we have a completely free-range goat. We bring her in at night if it is really cold but leave her out the rest of the time. It is very stress free for us and her. If we want her to come in we just get a pan of sweet horse feed, sake it and she comes running.
She never strays very far from the horses, except in the summer months when she ventures up to my mother’s flowers, which causes a commotion. My advice… if you love your flower beds DONT GET GOATS. They can detect a new flower pot a mile away and will find it before you find them! Although I do not have many flower beds to keep the goat out of I do have a vegetable garden. Instead of penning in the goat we fence in the garden, to protect it from the deer and the goat. Apart from the odd flower incident my experience with free-range goats has been great. Here are a few tips for you if you are considering free-ranging your goats:
1. Having other livestock is helpful, since the goat will like to hang out with the other animals.
2. Keep a collar on them if your goat doesn’t like being touched, like ours. That way it is a lot easier to get a hold of them for vet and shearing visits.
3. Have food they like on hand so you can entice them into the barn if need be.
4. Keep any feed or hay you don’t want the goat into in a secured area or room. We keep ours in the barn with the door shut.
5. Have shelter available for your goat to get out of the elements. We have a run in for our horses that Clementine, our goat, usually spends the nights in, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate just something for them to get under.
3. Are you willing and able to put in the time and money?
Caring for goats really isn’t that hard, but like all farm animals, they do require time and effort. If you do not have enough land for your goats to forage from you will need to feed them in the morning and evening. If you are not used to being home for barn chores twice a day, the schedule takes some adjusting to, but this lifestyle is what so many of us love. It is important to consider if you want to commit to doing daily chores and limit your ability to leave your homestead, before bringing home any goats.
Apart from daily care, goats also require hoof trimmings, de-worming, vet visits and potentially sheering and horn trimming.
- We trim our goat’s hooves a few times a year. For us this is a two-person job, one person to hold the goat still while she nibbles at some feed and the other to trim her hooves. If you have a milking stand you can use this instead and do the job yourself. We use sharp garden pruning shears to trim her hooves, however you can buy proper hoof trimmers that are similar to pruning shears.
- We get our vet to come every spring to check on all the animals and give them their yearly shots. Our goat gets one needle which is for preventing internal and external pests. We get this needle so that she doesn’t get fleas or any other pests. As well, in June we get de-wormer from the vet to give our goat.
- Since Clementine is an angora goat she has wool that needs sheared twice a year. We get her sheared in the early fall and again in the late spring. When we first got her we trimmed her wool ourselves, which didn’t go very well. Since we didn’t want to cut her skin, we left some wool on her and she looked straggly. Now we take her to our shearer, who has all the equipment and can clean her up in just a few minutes. I recommend checking to see if there is a shearer in your area prior to purchasing a woolly goat.
- If your goat has horns, there is the chance that they may need trimmed.I didn’t know that this was ever a concern until our goat shearer told us that if we did not trim her horns they could start hurting her, as they were growing back towards her head. Although this is not a common concern for goat owners, it is important to consider as you may need to do this if you buy a horned goat.
4. What breed of goat should you buy?
The breed of goat you decide to get will depend on why you want a goat. If you are looking for a family milking goat you may be considering a Nubian, Alpine, or Nigerian Dwarf. If you want wool you may be looking at getting an angora goat, like we have. Or if you are looking for a companion animal then you can likely get whatever breed is available to you, as long as it is friendly.
We got our angora doe and alpine buck from a local man who does farm animal kids’ parties. We wanted companion goats therefore we were not picky on the bread, we just chose goats that were healthy and for sale in our area. If you are trying to decide what breed of goats to buy, I recommend checking out the book Backyard Homestead Farm Animals edition. This book has a lot of information on different goat breeds and is a great resource for those interested in starting out with homestead animals. I bought the book last year and have really learned a lot from it.
5. Where to buy your goats?
When you’re in the market for goats it is important to think about where to buy them. Some places to look for goats to buy are:
- Local farm exhibitions
- Posters at your farm supply store.
- Livestock sale days at your local farm store. Our farming co-op has a day where people can bring their small livestock like goats and chickens and sell them on location.
- Contact your local 4-H club to see if they know of any local goat breeders to recommend.
- Online buy and sell sites like Kijiji or Craig’s list.
- Regardless of your options for buying goats, it is important to be smart with your purchase.
If you have the chance to visit the farm the goat is from take it, seeing the living conditions of the goat and the health of the other animals can be very informative. You want to make sure the goat you buy is from a farm where the animals are well cared for and healthy. You don’t want to end up bringing home a sick animal or one that you were not wanting in the first place.
Make sure to get as much information from the owner about the goat as possible, such as its breed, age, health history, milking records, and kidding history. It is great if you are able to buy a goat from someone who you know or came recommend to you. We bought our goats from a man who we have known for many years, so we knew that his animals are healthy and well cared for.
There are many things to consider before adding any animals to your homestead, thinking about these 5 questions will help you make a more informed decision before you bring home your first kid. Goats can be fun and productive to have on the farm but take some time to make the decision that is right for you. I hope that these tips will help you with your experience of adding goats to your homestead. If you have any tips for starting out with goats, be sure to leave a comment and share it with us.
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Hey, I’m Maggie. I hope you will join me and my family in getting back to the land. Here you will learn about making things yourself, cooking homegrown food, and beginning a homesteading journey.