A basic guide to raising dairy goats.
Goats are sometimes called "the poor man's cow" for good reason. For homesteaders who want to raise their own dairy products, a goat can be a more manageable and practical choice than a cow.
The initial cost of a goat or even several goats is much lower than a cow. Feed and equipment costs are also more affordable. Something the size of a cow can be intimidating for the first-time livestock owner, but a typical goat is more like a large friendly dog.
In her book A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Goatkeeping, Billie Luisi eloquently describes why goats fit so well into the homesteading life and philosophy. "The dairy goat should be both the mascot and figurehead for the soft or appropriate-technology lifestyle. She has always been the protein resource of cultures living on marginal land and of lower-class rural populations in times of depression, war or other periods of transition and unrest ... Goat technology is smallscale technology."
So a goat makes sense ... but is it the right choice for you? To find out, let's answer some of the most common questions prospective goat owners ask.
How much milk does a goat give?
An average goat produces 1,500 pounds (750 quarts) of milk a year. Naturally, this figure varies widely depending on the animal, but this means a gallon of milk a day from a pair of average goats. That's more than enough for most families. Even a marginal dairy cow produces several gallons of milk a day, and the surplus is often fed to the pigs or given away. Goats are often the better choice for the properly managed homestead.
Keep in mind that goats typically milk for only 10 months a year and are "dried off" for two months of rest before kidding (giving birth) again. Milk production tends to rise quickly after kidding before tapering downward. With just one or two goats, you won't have a consistent, year-round milk supply.
What does goat milk taste like? Is it richer than cow milk?
Goat milk tastes almost like raw cow milk. In most cases, few people can tell the difference. Goat milk is whiter, however.
In composition, there is very little difference between the two. Some people think goat milk tastes richer, but that's because they're used to drinking "standardized" cow milk from the store. Standardized milk generally contains three percent butterfat, and today two percent, and even one percent milk is popular. Most cows, notably Jerseys, have far higher butterfat averages, which makes the milk taste richer.
Goats vary by breed too, with Nubians generally producing the highest butterfat and Saanens usually producing the lowest ... quite akin to the Jerseys and Holsteins of the cow world.
However, many other factors influence butterfat content, including the stage of lactation and the feed.
How much does it cost to keep a goat?
This will vary from year to year and place to place, depending on feed prices and, of course, on what you feed. A general estimate for feed costs would be $125 to $250 a year. Goats will need anywhere from a half-ton to two tons of hay a year, depending on the kind, quality, waste, and on what browse is available.
A goat also needs a pound of grain a day. A mixture of corn and oats is a common ration, although barley, wheat bran, sorghum and other grains are also used. The choice depends largely on what is grown or available in your area, and the cost. A doe (female goat) will need an extra pound of grain for every two quarts of milk she produces.
These rough figures along with local feed prices will determine your annual feed costs.
Bedding and health care costs will also vary. Some people spend a great deal on these, while others spend little or nothing.
Other costs to consider are one-time investments, such as housing, fencing, feed and water containers, hay storage, and milking equipment. Here again, you can spend a lot of money, or you can make do with facilities and equipment already on hand or available at little cost.
There is one other cost consideration. Unless a neighbor provides free buck service, there will be breeding fees, or you'll have the expense of buying and caring for your own herd sire.
I don't have a lot of room. Can I still keep a few goats?
These animals are ideal for the small homestead. Goats require from 12 to 20 square feet per animal for housing (less in warm climates where they spend more time outdoors) and a modest outdoor exercise pen. Housing should be dry and draft-free, but it doesn't have to be heated.
Do goats make good pets?
They certainly do. They are extremely intelligent and very friendly and personable. The occasional mean goat was either mistreated, or simply wasn't handled enough.
However, goats are livestock, not dogs. They shouldn't be chained up or allowed to run loose. They can and will eat rose bushes, fruit trees and pine trees and will make nuisances of themselves if allowed. To the person who asks, "How can I keep my goats from jumping on the car?" the answer is, "Don't park your car in the goat pen."
What about health problems?
Goats tend to be extremely hardy and have few problems when properly cared for. They are liable to have some internal parasites (and probably couldn't live without some of them), but a veterinarian can help you develop a deworming program.
Mastitis (udder inflammation) is fairly common, but that falls under the category of milking management. In general, unless you plan to raise a large number of goats or have a commercial operation, you'll probably rely on the vet rather than trying to become a goat health specialist.
What about chores?
Goats have to be fed and watered every day. If they're in milk, you'll have to milk them every 12 hours -- but that doesn't mean on the minute, and it can be at 7 and 7 or noon and midnight. There will be pens to clean and fresh bedding to spread.
Goats need to have their hooves checked and trimmed occasionally, depending on a number of factors. Hooves of goats confined to bedded pens will grow faster than those of goats scampering around on rocks. Once a month is a typical average.
I've heard goat meat is quite tasty. Is that true?
Goat meat (it's called chevon, or cabrito) is very much like lamb, and can be used with any lamb recipes. Most people find it delicious, which is fortunate, because since a doe will have to kid to produce milk, and you can expect half the kids to be bucks (males), the use of the meat is an important consideration even in a backyard dairy.
Speaking of bucks, will I need one?
No, especially if you're a small goatkeeper. It doesn't make economic sense. Once you learn something about goat genetics, it may not make genetic sense, either, because you'll probably want to use several different bucks for breeding. There are usually excellent animals available for stud service at reasonable fees.
Artificial insemination (AI) is also an option.
What other expenses I can expect?
There isn't a great deal after the initial cost of the animal, housing, feeding, bedding and a modest amount for health care. Some people put off buying a hoof-trimming tool and use a sharp pocket knife to do the job. Caution is advised if you decide to take that route. Some types of rose bush pruning shears can also be used.
Some new goatowners will use any pail they have on hand and defer the purchase of an expensive stainless steel pail with cover until they are certain that the goats are going to stay. Avoid plastic, if possible. But more than a few goats are milked into everyday kettles or bowls from the kitchen.
One important item is the milk strainer. The practice of straining milk through cloth or layers of cheesecloth can't be recommended, but disposable milk filters are inexpensive, and a metal strainer is worth the small investment too.
Just about any clean, watertight container will do when watering your goats. Most hay and grain mangers are homemade from used lumber and available materials.
Cheesemaking requires some additional items, but it's possible to make your own cheese press. If your budget is larger and you want to take a more deluxe approach, there's store-bought cheesemaking equipment, a disbudding iron, a tattooing set ... and maybe even a trailer to haul your goats to shows!
Whether your budget is spartan or princely, goats can fit quite well into any home dairy.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Definitely! The decision to buy a goat should not be made hastily or impulsively. A goat will try your patience and consume much of your time and some money. It will return both the principle and a fine rate of interest if you manage and care for it properly.
There is much to know. Even the most experienced and wisest goat owners are still learning all the time.
Despite that, you don't have to be an expert before obtaining a goat. In fact, there's no real way to get knowledge and experience without raising them yourself. But you do owe it to yourself and your animals to become as well-informed as possible before plunging in.
Buying a goat
Buying a diary goat to meet your needs and expectations may not be easy. You can't just pick a goat off the shelf, and if you want a healthy and productive animal, you can't use the pet-shop-puppy approach of taking the one with the happiest tail. One of the first things you'll want to decide is which breed to get.
There are six common breeds of dairy goats in the U.S. Each has its fans, and most people have a preference for one or another.
The Nubian is the most popular and is distinguished by its long, drooping ears and Roman nose. While Nubians may not produce as much milk on average as other breeds, they are known for high butterfat content.
Since they originated in Africa, Nubians thrive in warm weather, but they can handle just about any climate. Nubian coloration ranges from white, browns and reds to black. Combinations of these colors also occur, but there are no set patterns.
Saanens (pronounced sah-nens) are all white with standing ears and "dished" faces that are just the opposite of the Nubian's Roman nose. On average (remember that "averages" can vary widely), Saanens produce the most milk. The breed is heavily represented among the ranks of record producers.
Saanens originated in Switzerland and are very Swiss in character: a no-nonsense, all-business milk producer.
Toggenburgs are another Swiss breed. Distinguished by their brown coloring, white faces and rump markings, "Toggs" have long been a popular breed in the U.S. Poet Carl Sandburg maintained a herd of Toggenburgs.
Alpines used to be divided into French and Swiss, but the Swiss variety is now called Oberhasli. Alpines have erect ears and widely varying color patterns ranging from white to black. Animals with several shades are common. The Cou Blanc has a white neck and shoulders with silvergray shading glossy black hindquarters, with grey or black markings on the head.
La Manchas often attract attention because of their unusual ears. Fairgoers and others seeing a La Mancha for the first time often ask "Why did you cut off their ears?" or, if they know something about animals, it's, "Oh, their ears froze off!"
The truth is, that's the way they're born. But as La Mancha breeders say, you don't milk the ears ... and as a breed, these are excellent dairy animals.
While most goats are tattooed on the ears, La Manchas have their IDs on their tail webs.
These are the major breeds of dairy goats, but there are others. The African Pygmy (or Pygmy) and Nigerian Dwarf are more commonly kept as pets than for milk production, although even some of these miniatures can produce a quart of milk a day. The original Kinder was a cross between a Pygmy buck and a Nubian doe. These compact goats are larger than the Pygmies and Dwarves, but not as big as the standard breeds. They also give more milk than the smallest goats.
There are still others, such as silky-haired Angoras and the Tennessee Fainting or Wooden Leg goat, and recently the Boer. But these are raised for fiber or meat, and are seldom considered for milk production.
Which breed is best? That's a question without an answer. Every breed has its supporters, and you'll just have to choose for yourself. In addition, at least so far as milk production is concerned, there can be wider differences within breeds than between breeds.
However, there's a good chance that you won't have to decide right away. Most homesteaders start out with goats of mixed ancestry, simply because there are so many of them.
There are far more unregistered goats in the U.S. than registered ones. Without papers and other records, you can't tell what you're getting. Some unregistered goats are purebreds. The owners just didn't bother keeping up with the paperwork.
However, the vast majority are mixed breeds. The owners just wanted a few animals for milk or as pets, or they didn't know or care about registration.
Some of these mixed breeds are excellent milkers. If you just want a decent dairy animal, one of these goats could be right for you.
At the same time, a pedigree is no guarantee of productivity. Many purebred, registered goats are poor milkers, especially if they are bred for show qualities rather than dairy use. While goats are supposedly judged on their dairy characteristics, not only does it not always work out that way, but many registered goats are never shown and wouldn't win if they were.
So the only proof of a milking goat's worth is how much milk she puts in the pail. If you're a novice, this means you'll need to learn something about what a good goat should look like. Plan on attending a few goat shows and visiting some goat farms as part of the education process.
You'll want to buy your first goat from someone you trust who has a reputation for honesty. Tell them what you want and let them help guide you through the purchase.
There might be some good goats at a run-down place where the goats have the run of the littered yard as they eat weeds. There might be, but you'd have to be a sharp and experienced goat judge to know for sure.
How much more pleasant it is to visit a neat, well-kept place where the goats are well cared for, and the owner is friendly and helpful. It's not always easy for a beginner to know if a seemingly knowledgeable person is a real expert (and some people "know" things that aren't true!), but you can spot signs of good care and pride of ownership.
What can you expect to pay for a goat?
There is no goat "industry" in America with daily commodity prices as are there are for cattle, hogs and sheep. Goat owners range from the casual keeper to the serious breeder, so prices could be anywhere from a few dollars to thousands.
Naturally, registered purebreds cost more. Some people who raise goats strictly for milk and not for show deal exclusively with registered animals because the kids are worth more, and that helps pay the feed bill. If you plan to follow that system, they're worth more to you, too.
When there are papers on a goat, you're not buying blind. There is an established history that should tell you something about the potential of the animal and its offspring.
To determine a fair price, you could start with the estimates of your annual costs. If you think it will cost $125 to feed a goat for a year, that would be a reasonable sum for a year-old doeling just coming into milk. The breeder who raised it has that much money in it, plus time and other considerations.
A far higher price might be justified if the goat is an exceptional milker or a show champion. Her offspring will also fetch a good price.
As for "bargain" goats, a low price is never a good deal if the animal turns out to be worthless.
Even after examining and pondering all the considerations, there is still an element of risk. So shop around, buy your goat -- and start learning.
This also applies to buying young kids. Buying a kid anytime after it no longer needs its mother's colostrum (first milk) which contains antibodies necessary for good health makes sense on several counts.
The goat grows up with you, so there's no adjustment period. You get to know that goat very well. You'll learn about housing, feeding and other management factors as the goat grows up.
Depending on the season and other market factors, a young goat is worth $1 a pound or more just for meat. That's a reasonable starting point, with pedigree and other factors to be considered.
There are lots of cheap goats out there. Some of them are substantially underpriced because their owners don't know what they have. Congratulations if you find a true bargain, but don't count on it.
Don't be afraid to pay a fair price. A good goat is a valuable animal. As in most aspects of life, you generally get what you pay for.
Housing and equipment
Most goats are kept in loose housing. They are not chained like dogs, nor left to roam in fields like sheep or kept in stanchions like cows. They have the freedom to move about in their shelter and in a small outdoor exercise yard.
Goat housing need not be elaborate, but it should be well ventilated and draft-free. Don't close a goat barn tight with the mistaken notion that they'll stay warmer in cold weather. The moisture buildup will be far worse for them than the cold.
If the goats have access to a reasonably sized outdoor pen, an area with 20 square feet per animal is suitable as a shelter. The indoor shelter can be smaller in warm climates where goats spend more time outdoors.
You don't need a barn to raise goats. A basic 8 x 10-foot structure will house four does. Be sure to allow for kids and future expansion of the herd. You'll also need some space for hay and grain storage, equipment, and a place to milk.
Goat buildings can be anything from old chicken coops to old garages or structures designed and built especially for the goats.
Don't bother with a fancy or high-priced floor. Most experienced goat raisers prefer earthen floors, since they are warmer and drier than concrete and won't rot like a wood floor.
Don't make the common mistake cited in the book Raising Goats the Modern Way. Many first-time goat owners "especially those who haven't had much experience with livestock, are prone to bring home an animal and then decide where and how they're going to keep it. This is definitely starting off on the wrong foot."
One pen is suitable if you have three or fewer goats. There is always a "boss" goat, which means an occasional fight (one reason most goatherders don't allow horns on their goats). Once the pecking order has been established, fights should be rare.
When designing your goat housing, allow for an area that can be blocked off as a kidding pen. This will allow does to give birth without being pestered by other goats.
Speaking of kids, if you intend to keep them separated from the milking does, you'll need a kid pen, preferably some distance away from the does.
If your building is going to have aisles or gates, keep barn cleaning in mind. Allow enough room to maneuver a wheelbarrow without skinning your knuckles.
On gates, pay special attention to latches. Goats are extremely clever at opening latches!
If you put a gate in an indoor pen, be sure it opens out into the aisle. Otherwise, the gate won't open when bedding builds up inside the pen.
The main requirement for the outside yard is good fencing. This is not the place to skimp or cut corners. There's an old saying that a good goat fence not only has to be horse-high and bullproof, but also watertight!
Some goats are excellent jumpers. They like to stand on things and will frequently be seen with their front feet on your woven wire fence, causing it to sag until, usually sooner than later, they can walk right over it. They will also rub against the fence posts, wire or boards to get the same result. Kids will squeak through an opening you were confident was mouseproof.
For all of these reasons and more, not many goat owners fence in acres of pasture. It's just too expensive.
Forget about those white board fences found on Kentucky horse farms. Goats will go right through them. Woven wire is the most common fencing material, but it does have some shortcomings in addition to the standing-sagging sequence. Wherever it's not tight on the ground, kids will crawl under it. Horned goats will become trapped when they stick their heads through the mesh.
Goats can be trained to live with electric fencing -- but they have to be taught. Even then, they often find ways to circumvent it. Electric fencing may not be desirable where there are children, who will certainly be attracted to the goats.
One of the best goat fences consists of four-foot-high woven wire or field fencing, with a smooth, electrified wire running inside and at the top. The electric wire keeps the goats from standing and leaning on or jumping over the woven wire, and the woven wire reinforces the electric strand.
It might not pay to electrify a small yard. Even fairly expensive welded rod stock panels might be cheaper, and they do provide excellent and maintenance-free fencing for goats.
The goat yard need not be large. It doesn't have to have grass, and it definitely shouldn't have any trees that you don't want destroyed.
On the other hand, it should be sunny (with the goats using the inside pen for shade) and well-drained and dry. The ideal goat yard has the topsoil removed and replaced with sand. That's isn't necessary, but at least make certain the yard is not in a low spot that will remain soggy.
Mangers can be quite simple. They are designed to keep hay clean and prevent as much waste as possible. With these two purposes in mind, you'll want to consider building keyhole mangers.
Although grain must be rationed, goats should have good hay available at all times. But if you simply put the hay in a trough, the goats will pull much of it out and scatter it on the floor, where they'll trample it and refuse to eat it. What they'll probably do is think of the hay feeder as a nice place to lie.
That's why the keyhole manger is a good choice. It consists of a hole nine inches in diameter, centered about 44 inches from the floor. The goat has to step on a cleat to put her head through the hole and down the four-inch neck space.
Then even with a simple trough on the other side, she can't pull hay out, and she can't get into or defecate in the manger. The manger can also be used for feeding grain, and it eliminates fighting between does.
If you have a speedy eater who finishes her grain and moves on to another station to butt goats that are still eating, you can construct a system that keeps all does in their keyholes until you release them. You can keep the does in with individual hooks on each keyhole, or with a bar that will open and close several hooks at once.
These hay-saving and sanitary mangers won't work very well (if at all) with horned goats.
A water container should be placed in a corner, preferably off the ground to avoid contamination from droppings. Heavy black rubber buckets sold in livestock supply and rural hardware stores are a good choice. Frozen water can easily be knocked out of a non-corroding, virtually unbreakable rubber bucket.
Storage of hay and bedding will depend on your circumstances. Some people grow their own and need enough space for a year's supply, while others purchase smaller quantities from farmers or local feed dealers, perhaps weekly or monthly. In any case, keep these materials where they'll be safe from the weather and the goats, but where they'll be convenient to handle for both unloading and use.
Grain should be kept in goat-proof and rodent-proof containers. Metal garbage cans are satisfactory.
Running water in the barn is handy, but not an absolute necessity for the small herd. However, you don't want to haul water over long distances, even for a single doe.
Electricity is an important priority for lights for early and late milkings in the winter, 3 A.M. kiddings and for the electric disbudding iron and clippers you'll want someday.
Finally, do as much as you can to make your goat complex neat and attractive. Be sure to use unleaded paint to avoid poisoning animals.
Concocting a ration for a dairy goat is somewhat different from whipping up something for a cat, dog or human. Like cows, goats are ruminants. They have four "stomachs" and feed only on plant matter which consists largely of cellulose and other carbohydrates, and water. Goats rely on vast numbers of tiny animals in their digestive tracts to break down the cellulose.
When herbaceous food enters the rumen and reticulum, the resident protozoans and bacteria break it down into other forms the goat can use to sustain life, grow bone, muscle and hair and produce milk. In essence, you're feeding the microbes, and the microbes feed the goat.
This means the goat can make use of, and actually needs, large quantities of roughage, such as hay. A good milk producer also needs the capacity to handle that hay.
Alfalfa is usually the type of hay mentioned in connection with goat feeding, since it's widely available and high in protein and calcium. However, it's not available everywhere, and other types of hay are also used with success. But carbonaceous hays such as timothy and brome need to be supplemented with protein and calcium from legumes.
(Alfalfa contains about 13 percent protein, while timothy and brome are closer to five percent.)
Whatever kind of hay you provide, it should be fine-stemmed, green and leafy. Avoid hay that isn't cut at the proper stage of growth or hasn't been properly cured. Don't feed moldy hay. The better the hay, the better the nutrition.
Goats can be fed fresh-cut alfalfa, clover, comfrey and other roughage during the growing season. However, any dietary change must be made gradually to avoid upsetting those rumen bacteria. For example, don't pick the last of your sweet corn and cut the stalks to give to the goats all at once. A little at a time, with whatever roughage they're used to, will be all right, though.
The easiest and possibly the best way to feed grain to goats is with a ration specifically designed for them. These bagged feeds typically contain a mixture of grains, supplements and molasses with the consistency of Cracker Jacks.
Sometimes, ready-made goat feeds aren't available. If that happens to you, certain horse feeds can be an adequate substitute. Grain rations for cows are too finely ground and dusty for goats.
Many goat owners want to mix their own rations to save money, to provide an organic diet, or because they have homegrown grain on hand. You can mix your own grain concentrate ration, but it probably won't be any cheaper, and it will certainly be more work.
The grains should be coarsely ground or cracked. You'll need small but essential amounts of minerals and protein supplements mixed in the proper proportions. When you price the ingredients and determine the amount of time and equipment it will take to prepare them, you'll probably prefer to buy a commercial feed mix.
Here's a sample ration (in pounds):
Corn 31 Oats 25 Wheat bran 11 Linseed oil meal 22 Cane molasses 10 Salt 1
This ration will provide about 12 1/2 percent protein, so it could be used by a milking doe who gets good alfalfa hay.
As with most recipes, there are numerous variations. Protein levels can be adjusted up or down because of the quality of hay available, or because dry does require less protein. (Any excess is just wasted, and expensive.) You could be using soybean oil meal instead of linseed oil meal, but soybean oil meal has more protein than linseed ... and the amount varies with the type. Some people don't have corn available, or barley or wheat is cheaper.
If you don't use a commercial ration, select a formula from a goat book that will meet your needs.
And then, don't upset the balance of a carefully formulated ration by feeding "treats," at least not in significant amounts. The occasional apple or carrot won't do any harm, but too many departures from a normal diet are like the child who fills up on candy before dinner.
You have more control over your goat's nutrition than you do over its genetic makeup, and a poor feeding program can negate even the best genetics. Naturally it affects health.
If you're just starting out, you might be overwhelmed by all of this. Don't be. You have just learned enough of the basics so that, with common sense, you can do a good job of feeding your goats.
You'll learn more as you go along.
Breeding and kidding
In order to produce kids and milk, your doe will have to be bred. Getting the doe bred -- and, 155 days (more-or-less) later, waiting for the kids to appear -- are especially anxious periods for most new goat raisers.
It all starts with the doe's estrous cycle, or heat period.
Unlike many other mammals such as humans or cows, goats have a distinctive and limited breeding season. Ordinarily, a doe will breed only between September and January, with some leeway due to climatic and other factors. As a result, most kids are born in the spring.
In addition, the estrous cycle lasts only for short periods within the breeding season. Ordinarily a doe will be in "standing heat" -- meaning she'll willingly accept a buck -- for only a day or two of what is normally a 21-day cycle.
This can be make it tough on the new goat owner who doesn't have a buck.
Late August is the time to start paying special attention for signs of heat. Sometimes it's very easy to tell when a doe is ready to be bred; sometimes it's very difficult.
Some signs to look for are increased tail wagging, nervous bleating, a slightly swollen vulva (sometimes accompanied by a discharge) and riding other goats or being ridden by them. A lack of appetite or a drop in milk production can be other indicators.
Seldom are all these signs evident. In fact, many times none of them are very obvious to any but the experienced observer.
One neat trick to confirm your suspicions is to rub down a buck with a rag to impregnate it with his scent. Keep it in a tightly sealed canning jar. If you suspect your doe is ready to breed, give her a whiff of the cloth, and you'll find out if you're right or not.
Note those first heat periods on a calendar. If they appear 21 days apart, you can do some planning.
If you have your own buck, of course, you can breed at your convenience. If the neighbor down the road has the right buck, it shouldn't be much of a problem. But if you have to put the doe in the car and drive 100 miles, it's nice to have some idea of when you might be going.
If the doe is in standing heat, the buck will mount her, she probably won't resist ... and you have a pregnant doe.
All of this assumes that you've given a fair amount of study and thought to the choice of a buck. If you know a lot about goats and know that your goat has weak pasterns (ankles), you'll want to use a buck that is strong in that area. Maybe you want a buck whose daughters have shown exceptional udder attachment or some other quality that you're trying to improve in your doe's offspring. You certainly wouldn't want to breed a cow-hocked doe to a buck with the same weakness, regardless of the milk production of his daughters. Any weakness shared by dam and sire is likely to be magnified in the offspring, which means they won't produce or hold up as well as their parents.
The "normal" gestation period is 155 days, although this can vary. The doe will require special care during this time.
If she's milking, plan to dry her off two months before she kids. Usually, all this takes is to stop milking her, but it's hard to dry off some top-notch milkers. Reducing or eliminating the grain ration will help. In most cases, being pregnant will cause the doe's milk production to decline to the point where it's not worth the effort to milk her.
A fibrous diet, somewhat low-protein, is ideal for the first three months of pregnancy when the kids are growing slowly.
Two-thirds of the kids' growth takes places in the last eight weeks of gestation. During this period the doe's ration should gradually be changed to ensure that she has enough nutrition for both her and her kids and to build up body reserves. Protein requirements are still low -- around 12 percent -- but the doe needs plenty of vitamins and minerals, especially iodine, calcium and vitamins A and D.
Beet pulp and wheat bran are good feeds at this time. Molasses will provide some iron as well as the sugar that will help prevent ketosis. It also has a desirable slight laxative effect.
It's a good idea to plan to be with the doe when she kids -- but what first-time goatkeeper would even think of staying away!
Start checking the doe with extra care about 140 days after breeding. There are several signs to watch for.
Kids can be felt on the right side of the doe. If you do this twice a day, you'll notice when you can no longer feel them. The doe will then kid within 12 hours.
As the first kid is prepared for delivery, the mother's rump will be forced into a more horizontal position. As the time nears, the doe will act more nervous and become hollow in the flank. There may be an opaque yellow discharge.
By this time the doe should be in her private, well-cleaned and freshly bedded pen. She may paw at the bedding, lie down, stand up again, and bleat nervously.
In the vast majority of cases, the kids will be born; the mother will clean them; and all you'll have to do will be to clean up the afterbirth and check to see if the newcomers are bucks or does as you disinfect their navels with iodine.
In a normal birth, the front feet and nose appear first. This presents a rather cone-shaped object that distends the vagina.
In other cases, the kid may be born with one foreleg bent back, hooking it inside the womb, or even backwards. The kids and umbilical cords can get tangled up in the womb, which can definitely cause problems.
Normal labor can last four hours or more, but if you determine that an abnormal delivery is probable, you'll want to insert your hand and arm, disinfected with a germicidal soap and lubricated with mineral oil or K-Y, into the birth canal to help.
Fortunately, it's extremely unlikely that anything like this will occur on your first kidding experience, but if it does, feel around carefully. "Look" for entanglements. Try to find the front feet and head. In most cases, you can "lead" the kid out the next time the doe strains. Pull very gently and work with the doe to avoid hemorrhaging.
A pessary available from your vet should be inserted into the vagina afterwards to minimize the chances of infection.
In most case, the umbilical cord breaks by itself. If it doesn't, tie it off with a soft cord two to three inches from the kid's body and snip it off on the doe's side of the knot with a sharp scissors.
Disinfecting the navel is extremely important, and it's usually your only midwifery chore. Use a spray, or better, pour some iodine in a small container, press it to the kid's belly with the cord inside, and briefly tip the kid over to coat the navel with iodine.
If there are more kids -- two is the usual number, three aren't uncommon, and four isn't unheard of -- they will usually come quickly after the first has cleared the way.
Then watch for the afterbirth. Not only is this a sign that kidding has been completed, but a retained afterbirth calls for a vet.
If the afterbirth is hanging out of the doe, don't pull it, as this can cause serious damage. Let it release naturally.
You can help the doe clean the kids. She will instinctively lick the mucus that covers them, but when the first one is born she may be preoccupied with the second. By the time the next one comes, she may be exhausted. Wipe the mucus from the mouth and body, and dry off the newborn with a soft towel.
When it's over and the doe is resting, offer her a bucket of hot water. If you ever reward your doe with treats, this is the time for a handful of raisins or oatmeal.
What do you do with the kids?
Some people with lots of goat experience "put them to sleep" immediately with a handy bucket of water. Most beginners would never consider this. (But note that in the harsh world of reality, or where survival is at stake, newborn kids can be dressed out like rabbits.)
You can leave the kids with their dam or take them away. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision depends on what you plan to do with the kids.
Nursing kids can damage showtype udders; you can't be sure they're getting enough milk; you don't get any milk; and it's likely the kids will grow up to be wild and wary.
Bottle or pan feeding takes a lot of time, as it means milking the doe and feeding the kids and washing milking equipment and pans. It also requires separate facilities.
You'll probably try both systems and variations on them before you become an advocate of one or the other, but most people start with bottle feeding.
Whatever the feeding method, it's essential that kids receive colostrum within a half hour of birth. Colostrum is the thick, yellowish "first milk" a mammal produces after freshening. It contains antibodies that are necessary for the newborn's protection.
If you bottle feed, know that colostrum scorches easily. Milk should be fed at close to body temperature, which is 103 [degrees] F for goats. It's easier to avoid overheating by using a double boiler, or by heating a small container of colostrum inside a container of water.
A newborn kid won't take more than an ounce or two, but their appetites increase quickly. Don't overfeed them. Four to eight ounces a day is plenty at first. Frequent small feedings are better than a few large feedings, especially at first.
There are numerous theories on feeding kids, but here's a good one to start with:
Feed colostrum three times a day for the first four days. Then until they're eight weeks old, feed eight to 10 ounces of warm milk three or four times a day (about a quart a day), and an equal amount of warm water afterwards.
Then offer them hay and a specially formulated grain ration such as a lamb creep feed. Reduce the amount of milk offered as they learn to eat solid foods. By reducing milk gradually, they can be weaned at eight weeks.
A goat must be milked on a regular schedule, usually every 12 hours. It can be 7 A.M. and 7 P.M. or 12 noon and midnight, but the schedule must be maintained on a consistent, daily basis.
Most goat people consider a hooded stainless steel pail to be a necessity for milking. They aren't cheap, but since milking is a twice-a-day task, even a $40 pail will cost only pennies a day the first year, and these pails last for decades.
You'll probably learn the milking process from the seller of your first goat or an experienced friend or neighbor, but here are the basics:
The goat should be brushed and her udder washed to prepare for milking. This is usually done when she's being fed her grain. Dry the udder, using a separate disposable towel for each animal. Then trap the milk in the teat by closing it off at the top with your thumb and forefinger. Gently but firmly force the milk out the teat orifice and into the pail. It takes some practice, but you'll learn quickly.
Even after you gain skill in milking, it's easy to overlook the care of that milk. Nothing is more important to the home dairy than proper milk handling.
Milk must be drawn quickly into an absolutely sanitary container; it must be strained through a fine-mesh, milk straining pad; and it must be cooled promptly and stored in hygienic containers.
When the goat is milked out, pour the milk through a milk strainer with a disposable filter into a scrupulously clean container such as the two- and four-quart aluminum buckets designed for home dairies. A grade A stainless steel strainer can cost around $40, but a small tin multi-purpose kitchen strainer such as the "Busy Liz" will serve the one-goat family for around $7. The disposable filters -- which are essential for clean milk -- can cost from $7 per 100 to $7 for 300, depending on size.
There is a great deal of controversy over the need, or benefits, of pasteurizing goat milk. In a survey conducted by Countryside Publications in 1981, the vast majority of goat owners were against it, while some health authorities felt it was a necessity. It's possible that today, many more goat owners are pasteurizing their milk, for various reasons. In fact, many even pasteurize the milk fed to kids in order to help control CAE, or caprine arthritis encephalitis. Some of the arguments surrounding all of this become very heated, and emotional.
Never add fresh, warm milk to chilled milk. Cold milk should never be left standing outside the refrigerator.
Goat milk is a delicate product -- even more so than some fine wines. It needs to be handled with the same care, intelligence and respect.
A well-cared-for goat is at least as healthy and probably hardier than a healthy dog or human. Despite that, goats do get sick.
The average goat breeder has no desire and no need to become an expert in veterinary practices. If an animal is lethargic, dull-eyed, refuses to eat or just acts "different," it needs to be watched to determine if expert medical assistance is called for.
There are, however, several things the goat owner should know about health care.
Mastiffs is probably the most common ailment. It is an inflammation of the mammary gland and usually shows up first as a hardening of the mammary gland (although hard udders are common just after kidding) or abnormal milk.
There are three types of mastitis, and most goats probably harbor a mild form of it at one time or another. On the other hand, it's possible to lose a goat's production altogether with more acute forms.
Mastitis is generally caused by faulty milking procedure. "Curing" it, as with most health problems, may simply attack other symptoms, not the cause. You'll need a vet to help determine the type, the cause and the cure.
Lymphadentitis, or abscesses, are another common problem. This lump or boil usually appears around the shoulder, although it can occur anywhere.
Most goats get them sooner or later, and some herds seem to have lumps constantly. Some people don't pay any attention to them.
Animals with abscesses should be isolated. Some authorities insist that milk from these animals should be pasteurized. And if the abscess is on the udder, discard the milk altogether.
The abscess won't bother the goat, with the extremely rare exception of a lump forming in the throat that can block the windpipe and kill the animal.
Bloat is caused by excessive accumulation of gas in the rumen and reticulum. This often happens when goats are turned out to lush pasture or consume large amounts of succulents.
As usual, prevention is the best course. Feed dry hay before letting animals graze on spring clover. Don't treat your goats to pounds of fresh green stuff if they're not used to it.
Bloat is caused by gas trapped in numerous tiny bubbles that make it impossible to belch. A cup of corn, peanut or mineral oil will usually relieve the condition. In serious cases, it might be necessary to relieve the gas by making an incision at the peak of the distended flank, midway between the last rib and the point of the hip, and holding the wound open with a tube or straw.
Goat pox involves pimples that turn to watery blisters, then to sticky and encrusted scabs on the udder or other hairless parts of the body.
Pox can be controlled with proper management. Time and good care are the best cures. Milk infected animals last to avoid spreading the disease.
Ketosis is a disease that occurs in the last month of pregnancy. It usually strikes overweight animals or underfed ones in poor condition, but it can also be brought on by extreme exercise, such as being chased by dogs.
The doe with ketosis is listless, dull and goes off feed. She may become paralyzed and abort. Even with treatments such as giving the animal a cup of molasses twice a day or six ounces of glycerin or propylene glycol daily, such a doe has only a 50/50 chance for recovery.
Parasites such as worms and lice will require your attention.
All goats have worms, but the good goatherder will keep them under control. Since there are different types of worms and no wormer (vermifuge) will work on all of them, it's important to work with a competent and interested veterinarian to determine which worms you should be concerned about, what treatment to use, and how often.
Most breeders worm twice a year in the spring and fall. Worming frequently and indiscriminately is just as bad as not worming at all.
"Home cures" such as feeding the goat tobacco have not been proven effective.
Lice and the tiny mites that cause mange are external parasites. They can torment and debilitate goats. If your animals are skinny, scruffy and act uncomfortable, external parasites are the likely cause. Again, this brief overview isn't intended to be a primer on goat health. Call your vet.
New goat owners are often concerned about poisoning, but it's not a common problem. Most goats have their food brought to them by their owners. For the others, the typical goat habit of taking a bite here and a nibble there usually prevents them from ingesting substantial amounts of any toxic plant ... or leaded paint or old car or tractor batteries ... to cause serious problems.
While poisonous plants are rare in terms of percentage of available forage, even common plants can be toxic under certain circumstances. If you suspect problems in this area, get advice from your local county agent.
There are, of course, many other diseases and health problems that are covered in various books that deal with goat raising in a more comprehensive manner than this beginner's guide is able to.
Dairy goats have a reputation as hardy, healthy animals -- and they deserve it!
We often receive requests for "goat milk recipes." True, there are recipes for "goat milk fudge," but in reality, goat milk can be used in any recipe calling for milk. Of course, goat milk enthusiasts think anything made with goat milk is better than if cow milk is used.
Many people have been introduced to goats because of a child who couldn't tolerate cow milk. Some allergic reactions to cow milk can be avoided with goat milk.
In general, however, there is very little difference between cow milk and goat milk, in terms of healthfulness, taste and use.
One of the most noticeable of those little differences is that the cream in goat milk doesn't rise nearly as rapidly as the cream in cow milk. This can be great for table milk: it's like having it naturally homogenized. But it makes it harder to make butter from goat milk. Either the milk has to be allowed to stand in shallow pans and the cream skimmed off, or it has to be run through a cream separator.
On the other hand, goat cheese is quite easy to make. It requires few utensils or ingredients that aren't already found in the average home.
You'll need a large kettle, spoons, a long-bladed knife, cheesecloth, a cheese thermometer (or any that will tell you when the milk is 86 [degrees] and 100 [degrees] F) and some rennet. Rennet, which comes comes in tablet or liquid form, makes the curds form, and includes basic cheesemaking instructions.
Goat milk can easily be made into yogurt. A number of yogurt makers are on the market, since even people without dairy animals make their own with purchased milk.
Goat meat is a byproduct of the home dairy. Very young animals are sometimes cut up like rabbits. Milkfed kids are a delicacy whether roasted on a spit or cooked in other ways. Lamb recipes can be used with goat. Those recipes will also work for older goats.
And when a goat's milk-producing life is done, it can provide sausage, or human sustenance in other forms that deal with the tougher meat from a mature animal.
Goat hides can be made into fine leather, while the pelts of younger animals can be used as fur.
From beginning to end, a goat is one of the most practical and productive animals we have. No wonder so many people are coming to recognize its great value.
As with any other specialized area, the goat world has its own terminology and key words. Here's an overview of some important definitions.
Doe: A female goat. Goat aficionados refrain from using the terms "nanny" and "billy."
Buck: A male goat.
Kid: A young goat.
Doeling, buckling: Terms that are sometimes applied to goats that are not fully mature, but are older than kids.
Yearling: A one-year-old goat.
Polled: A naturally hornless goat.
Wattle: An appendage of skin, with no purpose, which hangs down on some goats, frequently on the neck, but potentially anywhere.
Udder: The mammary gland.
Teat: The nipples of the udder.
Purebred: A goat whose ancestors are all of the same breed, and are all purebreds themselves.
Pedigree: A document showing a goat's ancestry.
Registered: A purebred goat registered with one of the goat registry associations.
Grade: A goat of unknown ancestry, usually not purebred.
Freshen: Giving birth and coming into milk.
Disbud: To burn out the horns of very young goats (three to 10 days old) with a disbudding iron or caustic chemical.