Goat Care and Upkeep

Getting goats sure sounded like a daunting thing when I started reading up on it on the "recommended websites". I mean, one "highly respected" source lists a goat pharmacy that has got to involve many hundreds of dollars of investment, and all kinds of supplements, shots and medications that I'd not know how to use if I did have it on hand. I remember raising goats as a child, and I remember my mom doing some of the routine care, and I just didn't remember it being that complicated.

It really ISN'T as complicated as they make it sound. Yes, goats are prone to certain health issues, and if you have them long enough, you will eventually experience birthing problems. But if you pay attention to some of the stuff online, you'll never get goats because it makes it sound like they are walking time bombs.

Consider, Goats are the traditional meat and milk animal in most of the undeveloped world. Why? Because they are generally easy to care for. Now, the goat breeds available in developed nations are often more domesticated, and therefore a little more fragile, but not by a huge degree. And our philosophy is that we want to encourage traits of hardiness, so we're not going to breed goats that take a lot of human intervention to keep the line going. The goats you choose will determine to a large extent, just how much trouble you'll have with them over health issues.

I've learned that it doesn't even need to be as complicated as my mother made it - she did a lot of things that were standard practice then (and still are in some circles), but which just aren't necessary.

So what DO you really need?

1. Hoof trimmers. You've got to have these, because goats do require that you trim their hooves, unless they are running on rocky surfaces and you are not milking them. If you are milking them, you'll need to regularly trim their hooves. A pair of clippers (available at any rancher supply store), and a rasp planer (about $5 at the hardware store) will be sufficient to get the job done. Hooves should be trimmed every 6-8 weeks.

2. Disbudding Iron. This is optional actually. If you intend to use one though, you'd better have it on hand before the kids are born. Because they typically grow horns very fast. Having goats with horns is not the wild danger that many people think it is - again, African tribes do not have disbudding irons as a rule. But horns can be a risk, and if they grow, you'll have to deal with that risk.

3. Castration tools. If you intend to castrate the males, you'll need equipment for this. I'm not going to get into the ethical issues of this or that method - in our opinion, all are equally painful or painless, none hurt for any length of time, and we use an elastrator mostly because it is inexpensive and cost effective, and can be used with any of our farm animals.

4. A 5 gallon bucket for water, a bowl for feed, and something to put the hay in.

5. There is a lot of other optional equipment and supplies you can assemble. But you can usually do so piece by piece. Everything else that those big long lists include is stuff that you may need, someday, if something goes wrong. It usually doesn't. So assemble it as you are able.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around there from the 50s and 60s. Back in the day when the industry of agriculture had developed the philosophy that whatever nature could do, man could do better. So there are those that tell you that you MUST bottle feed the babies if you want the mama to milk well, that the babies will damage the mama's udder, that the mama is more likely to get mastitis from nursing babies, that bottle fed babies are friendlier, that it is less expensive to bottle feed, and a bunch of other myths. That is all they are. Myths. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Babies are very good at getting the milk supply up, and milking alongside nursing babies gets it up even further. Goat udders were designed for little butting goat heads even though it looks terribly painful - it won't hurt the udder unless the goat is genetically prone to having a weak udder. And a baby that is nursing regularly is unbeatable for preventing mastitis - goats that are solely hand milked have higher incidents, not lower incidents of mastitis. Nursing babies that are handled regularly are just as friendly and easy to train as bottle fed babies. The feed for the mama is not any more costly than the supplement for the babies, and if your goats are on pasture, the cost to feed the babies is FAR less when they are nursed on the mama.

The real benefit though, is that the babies are healthier in addition to healthier mamas. Babies that stay on the mama are simply less prone to disease. The nice side effect is that it is simply easier - the mama takes care of her babies, and she is far more expert at doing that than we are - she, and the babies, are much happier, they don't spend the first week of life bawling for each other, and you have animals that are more content.

If you stop assuming that you have to do everything for the animals, and just let them do what they do best, the whole process of raising goats is much simpler.

There is a source online that has goat birthing information on it. They recommend "assisting" in every birth, and recommend that you pull when the goat pushes, as soon as you can grasp the feet. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS! This INJURES the goats! It can cause vaginal tears, needless pain, and even a prolapsed uterus. When you do that, you are forcing the birth before the goat's body is ready for it, and you may permanently compromise the animal's ability to give birth without help. Birth is a natural process, and all but weak or badly bred animals will be able to give birth without help (some breeds are more prone to problems than others). In rare instances, assistance is needed, but only when something has gone wrong. We won't keep a goat in our breeding pool that has difficult deliveries, because this is a trait that is not desirable to perpetuate - something that many breeders do not seem to fully understand, they seem to be more interested in selling the kids than in cleaning up the line.

Some breeds, Lamanchas for one, are very prone to birthing problems. You should still only assist as necessary, not as a matter of routine, and NEVER rush the birth.

This same source that recommends pulling the kids also recommends shaving the udder and tail area prior to birth. If you feel this makes things easier, by all means do so, but we never do. It is just one more thing that really isn't necessary, and with a larger herd, the work load is already fairly high.

We typically leave our kids on the mama, and start milking the doe morning and night, within 12 hours of when she gives birth. We feed them well so they can meet that demand. We milk only until the udder goes soft during the first two weeks (we freeze the colostrum). After that, we milk her dry one time, we do not strip her out - we do that morning and night. A doe can nurse two kids, and produce an additional quart or two a day of milk, if she is fed very well - we grain them morning and night when they are milked (amount varies by need, and by breed), and give them an additional oats plus some alfalfa cubes and fresh greens in the middle of the day (they do not need the middle of the day feeding if they are on good pasture). Her ability to keep up with this load is directly tied to the quality and quantity of feed though, so being stingy with feed won't help at all.

We give our kidding does a dose of enzyme mixture plus molasses immediately following birth. We give them the same mixture every evening prior to birth, for a week or two, if they appear to be flagging. Typically about 2 cups of warm water, with a half teaspoon of enzyme mix, and about 2 tablespoons of molasses - we increase the molasses to 3 tablespoons immediately after birth. We may also give them this mixture for a few nights after they give birth if they appear to need it. Generally, if they do need it, they'll slurp it right down - if they don't, they won't be interested in it. I don't know that this is really necessary either - I mean, if I had some good fresh herbs, I'd prefer to give them that. But in the middle of the winter in Wyoming, this is what we could do that worked, so we did.

We were also told we would need to worm them frequently. We gave them a dose of aloe and calendula when we first got them. We have periodically given them another dose of calendula, which seems to control any parasite problems. The nice thing there is that you can still use the milk while giving them calendula. We give them about a tablespoon a day of dried herb in their feed, every day for about five days, a few times a year.

Parasites are more of a problem in certain climates - warm humid ones are worst. They are also more of a problem at certain times of year - and fall can be bad in some areas.

We found that animals fed a more natural diet have far less parasite problems also. This was true of all of our animals, not just our goats.

Keep it simple, and don't obsess about all the things that could go wrong. Usually they don't. Goats are pretty hardy animals, and if you buy self-sufficient stock, you can expect to mostly just oversee them as they take care of their own needs.


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