Get Your Goat

GRIT helps you choose the right breed.

| November/December 2008

Goats are the Swiss Army knife of livestock. They can play many roles on a farm. For example, goats can be raised for milk, meat or mohair. They can be raised as pets or pack animals, and they can clear brush better than a Bush Hog.

As with all types of livestock, it’s important to consider your needs when selecting a breed – think about, for example, whether you want to raise goats to make cheese or sausage. With goats, you also might want to reflect on your own character and farm situation. For example, if you have Nubians, non-farming neighbors might complain during weaning and breeding season. (I’ve heard of a rural SPCA officer who was called more than once about people “torturing goats” only to find Nubians in heat.) They are beautiful animals that produce rich milk, but they are also very vocal.

On the other hand, if you have low or even moderately high fences, Alpines might not be the breed for you. Their ability to jump may exceed your patience. That said, many wonderful breeds of goats are available and, within each breed, the productivity, appearance and character of individuals vary considerably.

Another consideration is the availability of breeding stock. If you want to keep only a couple of dairy goats, you probably don’t want a buck as well. Not only do you risk unplanned pregnancy by having a male around (imagine kidding in January and you’ll see the downside of this), but bucks are smelly and prone to behaving badly. If you raise dairy goats, their milk will be flavorfully, pungently tainted if there is a buck in the barn with them. You will need to build separate, very secure, living quarters for the buck and raise a companion animal with him. For small operations, you might be better off borrowing or leasing males as needed.

Goats are incredibly versatile livestock. A Saanen can supply the dairy needs of a family, a couple of Angora goats can keep handspinners busy year-round and a herd of Kikos can be raised on the range like pint-sized beef cattle. With goats, you can have it all – milk, meat, fleece and lots of character.

Flair for fiber

Two of the softest natural fibers available are produced by goats – mohair and cashmere. Mohair is from Angora goats – not to be confused with the Angora fiber, which comes from Angora rabbits. Angora goats are covered with long, lustrous ringlets of mohair. Bucks have the coarsest fleece, but wethers (castrated males) produce fine fleece year after year. Kid mohair is particularly soft.

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