How to Raise Goats as Part of a Self Sufficient Lifestyle

By on April 13, 2013

If you are transitioning to be more self sustaining, then goats should definitely be part of your small homestead.  So let’s look at how to raise goats as part of a self sufficient lifestyle.

Why Should You Choose Goats?

Goats are ideal because they can provide you with a variety of products in relatively little space.  Dairy goats can give you as much as two gallons of milk a day depending on the breed.  You can make all kinds of things out of this milk—cream, butter, ice cream, and soap.  Extra goats can always be processed for meat.  Many breeders prefer to have a breed dedicated to milk and one dedicated to meat in their herds because meat breeds yield much more meat per a pound of live-weight compared to dairy breeds.

If you are short on space there is no reason to exclude a small herd of dairy and meat goats.  Today breeders are creating miniature versions of many of the much beloved breeds of goat by crossing them with smaller breeds like the Nigerian Dwarf.  Miniature Nubian goats are becoming more popular among those who want milk, but do not have the space.  Alpine goats are called by many a dual purpose animal and they would be ideal to mix with Nigerian Dwarf to get a smaller version that would serve the purpose of both meat and milk for a small farm.

Don’t Make These Mistakes When Choosing Your Goat

A reputable breeder can be hard to find, especially in the dairy breeds.  The goat has to be bred in order to produce milk, so there are many backyard breeders who breed for this purpose with no thought of whether or not the resulting kids will have good genetics.  When you buy registered stock you can know that the goat will meet breed standards.  This is no guarantee that your goat will be perfect, but you won’t have to worry about having to milk your meat goat everyday.

Another thing that you should be asking your potential breeder is for recent health screenings.  Good herd managers will test their goats for CAE and Johnes Disease on a regular basis.  If their herd test positive for either of these diseases, a responsible breeder will stop breeding the stock that tested positive or at least not sell any resulting kids.  Do not take someone’s word for their herd health results; ask for the test results.  Many backyard breeders will tell you that their goats are disease free without ever testing them; many of them aren’t even aware of what CAE or Johnes Disease is.

Another good indicator of a backyard breeder is if they try to tell you how much the kids’ mother milks daily in gallons.  Ask for the average in pounds, which is what the American Dairy Goat Association requires reporting to be in.  There reasoning is simple; during certain times of the year the milk may take up more space in the bottle, but the weight of the milk remains the same.  Recording milking values in weight is much more accurate than recording them in volume.

How to Look After Your Goat

When looking at how to raise goats as part of a self sufficient lifestyle, it is important to remember that goats do require more care than people expect.  Their hooves need to be trimmed at least every six weeks, but by doing it monthly it can save a lot of time and energy.  Milking does do need to be milked twice a day at regular intervals, unless you want your milk production to drop off you should never skip a milking.

During kidding season does who are close to birthing should be checked every few hours.  Goats kid quickly and if they haven’t had the kid after fifteen to twenty minutes you may have to help them by reaching in and changing the position of the kid.  If you’re not comfortable doing this then you need to have a veterinarian on call and call immediately if the birth is progressing slowly.

Many goat kids are pulled off their mothers and sold as bottle babies.  Some breeders do this in an effort to prevent CAE, while others just don’t want to absorb the cost of a nursing kid.  If you buy a bottle baby you need to be prepared for their care.  They will need to be fed by bottle every four hours for the first few weeks with reductions in the number of feedings leading up to a weaning at eight weeks of age.  Many goat owners swear by feeding their bottle babies red cap cows milk; if you talk to a veterinarian they will tell you that it is not good for goat kids.  The protein complexes in cow’s milk and goat’s milk are different and can cause your bottle baby not to thrive.  Although it’s pricey, most veterinarians will recommend that you use a milk replacer that is made for goats.

What to feed your goats can also be controversial.  Commercial feeds tend to have chemical additives and antibiotics.  This has led many goat owners and milk buyers to want animals raised strictly on grass.  While this practice may be healthier if the goat owner has the acreage for grazing, for some it’s just not an option.  Most local co-ops offer goat feeds that are produced locally and without chemicals.  These feeds are a good option for goats who do not have enough space to live solely off grass and for all goats during the cold winter months when grass is not available.  Some herd owners like to supplement their goats with chemically treated feeds at certain times of the year.  For instance, during kidding season when the milking does are dry, it may be wise to supplement their diet with a feed with medicine for coccidia in it.  Coccidia is a known killer of goat kids.  If they can be treated for the disease through their mothers milk it may reduce the herd’s kid mortality rate.  With this said, there are just as many herd owners that keep all chemically treated feeds out of their goats’ diets.

There are a number of common ailments in goats that need to be watched for.  If your herd is living in a pasture that stays soggy then hoof rot may be a concern even if you have kept their hooves well trimmed.  The local farm store carries an antibiotic and antifungal medication for hoof rot; it is a good idea to apply it to all of the hooves of your animals when they’re trimmed as a preventative.  If you get a case of hoof rot then you need to separate the animal with symptoms; make sure their hooves are well trimmed and treat with the medication daily until their hooves are cleared up.  Diarrhea is another common problem in goats, especially young kids; this condition is deadly and the ailing animal needs to be quarantined and treated with electrolytes immediately.  If your goat has diarrhea for more than a few hours, it would be wise to call a veterinarian for further treatment.

As with many ruminants, bloat is a serious concern with goats.  Goats can get bloat by getting into the feed barrel or by over indulging on newly greened grass.  You have to pay attention to each of your goats.  A large stomach is a good thing for a goat because it indicates a healthy rumin, but if it is suddenly significantly larger than normal you need to get a veterinarian right away.  If caught early enough bloat can be treated by a tube being put into the animal’s stomach to relieve gas pressure, but in an emergency case where the animal is laying down and won’t get up the veterinarian may have to make a surgical incision directly into their stomach to relieve gas pressure.  Bloat is generally a rare condition that is easily prevented by storing feed in a place that the goats can’t get to.

How Your Goats Can Look After You!

All goat meat is praised for its taste.  It’s flavor is almost venison like.  Goat meat is also a very lean meat compared with beef.  For the small homesteader it’s ideal because goats don’t require a lot of room and can easily be transported to a local custom processor.  There are many small farms that make a lot of money selling goat meat.

Goats milk isn’t only a fantastic and health drink, with many people who can’t drink cows milk turning to goats milk, but goats milk can be used in a variety of ways.  The cream can be separated for use in baking.  Goats milk cheese can be made easily in any home kitchen.  Butter can be made the old fashioned way by hand or there are counter-top machines that will make it for you.

Many small herd keepers will stop here and it is perfectly acceptable.  A small percentage of herd owners will insist on using all parts of the animal.  Goat eyes can be eaten, but if that churns your stomach, then they make great catfish bait.  Internal organs not set aside for eating can be put through a meat grinder.  Chickens and turkeys love these ground up extra pieces.  There are some local artisans that will love to pay you for a tanned goat’s hide.  The bones of a processed goat can also be sold as dog bones as long as they aren’t cooked (remember cooked bones will splinter and can be dangerous from your dog).

So when thinking about how to raise goats as part of a self sufficient lifestyle, just remember:

  • Goat are smaller than cows and require less space.
  • Goat meat is more lean and therefore potentially better for you
  • Goats’ milk tastes great and you can make a lot from it including cheese, butter and cream

While goats are a lot of work, their social personalities make it fun.  Many goats exhibit behaviors very similar to pet dogs; goats can be trained to do things in exchange for goat treats.  The only problem with goats is that you can never have just one!

For more information on how to raise goats as part of a self sufficient lifestyle, check out these websites

About Jessica E. Clymer

One Comment

  1. Pingback: How to Make Soap from Goats' MilkSelf Sufficiently

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.