A guest post from our workcamper, Jo!
If you are interested in goats the first question you need to ask yourself is what do you want to do with them? There are bulky breeds that are often used for meat, boer goats being a primary example. There are dairy breeds like nubian or nigerian dwarfs and there are goats that are used for fiber production. Nigerian dwarf goats and pygmies are smaller in size. Any of these can also be pets of course, depending on your personal taste. The best thing to do is visit some farmers in your area. This will allow you to interact with different breeds and see how their lodging and pastures are arranged. It will also give you a chance to get to know some experienced goat people. Having a mentor can be very helpful in the beginning.
I would recommend writing down some questions for the breeder prior to your visit. What are they being fed and how much are they getting? Where is the feed purchased? What shots or medications do they receive? Is there a local vet who is experienced with goats? A breeder who cares about their goats will be happy to answer your questions. I would be very wary of someone who tries to rush you through the process.
Once you have chosen a breed, it is time to move on to how many and what sex of goats you prefer. It is important to understand that you must have a minimum of two goats. They are herd animals and will be unhappy alone. An unhappy goat will be more difficult to manage as they can be escape artists. In regard to the sex of the animals, most folks don’t keep bucks unless they plan to breed their does because they can be a bit rowdy and rather smelly in season. However, I was just reading a post from an owner who has six bucks and no does. She loves their antics. You could also choose does or wethers (neutered males). Wethers are my personal favorite for pets. They are calm, friendly and you don’t have to worry about them going into heat. Does can go into heat as early as four months although they shouldn’t be bred until they are at least a year old. So if you choose a female and unaltered male you may require segregated housing.
Speaking of housing, that is the next major consideration. Firstly, its important to check your zoning laws. Goats are excluded from many areas since they are considered livestock animals. Secondly, you will need an area for your goats to roam. This doesnt have to be huge and will vary slightly depending on the size and number of goats you choose. They all require an open area that allows them to forage, protection from the elements, dry hay and fresh, clean water.
Goats dont graze like cattle. They like to forage instead. We have planted blackberries just outside the fence line for ours. This allows them to nibble without killing the plant. It is also necessary to assess your property as there are a number of plants that are poisonous for goats: azalea, rhododendron, and any fruit with pits such as cherries, plums, etc. If you provide plenty of hay at all times they don’t absolutely require things to nibble on, but they will be a lot happier if they do. Additionally you need a good solid fence that keeps the goats in and predators out.
In regard to shelter, generally a covered, three sided shelter will do. If you are in a very cold area, of course, they need additional protection from the elements and deep bedding just like other livestock. Shelters can be all kinds of things from storage buildings to houses built from pallets. Pinterest is great for shelter ideas.
Goats require free choice hay in a feeder (if its on the ground they eat their own poop, not good), fresh clean water and minerals all the time. You can supplement with grain for milking or pregnant does but otherwise that isn’t necessary. Great treats are carrots, greens, bananas and the occasional animal cracker.
That covers the basic needs. However goats are curious, mischievous animals. They love to climb and explore. You can use pallets, wooden spools or old childrens playsets to make a playground without spending a fortune. Again pinterest is a great resource for ideas.
Goats are great animals but they do require a commitment. Its hard to find a goat sitter when you go on vacation. Additionally, if you want them to stay healthy their housing and water / feeder must be kept clean. This can be quite a task. Goats poop a lot. You will have great compost.
The most important thing, really, is to start with healthy goats and a local breeder who can mentor and guide you as you learn about these wonderful animals.