Raising Goats for Fun and Profit
Learn about owning these independent and affectionate creatures from someone who’s been there.
A young goat in a pasture.
Raising goats can be fun, rewarding and frustrating – all at the same time. My first goat, Zygota, was a hellion. Milking was a battle where she performed a flamenco dance, often stomping her foot (triumphantly, it seemed) in the milk pail. If she was bothered by something, such as seeing a chicken or a cat, she would use her teeth to throw her feed bucket across the milking parlor. If I was late for milking, she would “self-suck.” Weaning involved constant screaming. To top it off, she went under, over and through fences.
Not all goats are like Zygota. If they were, no one would raise them. Zygota’s daughter, for example, was a saintly creature – docile, obedient and an excellent mother. But here’s a hot tip: If you’re about to buy an adult goat, you’re more likely to get a hellion than a dream goat. Goat owners rarely sell their great animals; the difficult goats are sent to market.
Getting your goat
At livestock auctions, you might be buying health problems, even if the animals were healthy when they went to market. Goats can suffer from “shipping fever” triggered by the stress of shipping and confinement, and they may have contracted diseases. If you buy a goat from a farm, you can avoid some of these problems.
It’s best to buy goats from an environment similar to yours. This will make the transition easier (e.g., less of a shock than going from a flock of 200 to a flock of two, or vice versa). For example, a friend of mine once bought a Saanen, a docile, pure-white breed. He couldn’t understand why the mild-mannered goat became increasingly agitated, recoiling at his touch and jumping when flies landed on her. The former owner came over and was shocked to see the goat outside. It turns out the goat had been kept in a barn all her life and was now sunburnt. She was kept inside for a week, then introduced gradually to sunlight.
If you want to raise a goat organically, try to find one that has been raised using natural health care. A goat that has been given commercial dewormers and antibiotics regularly will be less likely to thrive in an organic setting.
Ideally, buy two or more goats from the same farm so they are familiar with one aspect of their new setting. It’s critical to have a companion for your goat, such as another goat or a sheep. That said, my terrible goat flirted shamelessly with my ram until she conceived (but didn’t carry to term) a “shoat” or “geep.” After that, she took every opportunity to beat up ewes. Lesson learned: ensure the companion animal can’t mate with your goat.
If you want a dairy goat, consider whether you’re looking for quality or quantity of milk. For a high volume, consider Saanens. These calm white goats are the Holsteins of the goat world, each day producing a gallon of milk that is relatively low in milk protein. If your main objective is to make cheese, the Nubian is your goat of choice. These floppy-eared high-strung goats produce up to 3 quarts of rich milk per day. Alpines and LaManchas both produce fairly rich milk, Toggenburgs produce thinner milk, and Nigerian Pygmy goats produce small quantities of creamy milk.
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