Caring for Goats: 15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Goats
If you're considering adding goats to your family's farm - read this first! A list of everything I wish I knew before we got goats, a basic guide for just starting out!
Please note that I am not a veterinarian, and my opinions come from personal experience. Please research diligently before making and major decisions for your goats! Always speak with a trusted vet when possible. Remember, there is a lot of information on the internet, and a lot of it is misleading.
I get countless emails asking me about goat care. One of the most common questions is: what should I know as a beginner goat owner? When we first got Elderberry and Buckwheat, I had NO idea what I was doing: their sister, Rosemary, died from Coccidia, I had never heard the term "disbudding", and hoof care, vaccinations, and feed were a mystery to me. I simply wanted to get some goats because I thought they were cute!
Since then, I have learned so much about caring for goats: like what to feed, when to de-worm, and how to care for them during the different seasons. Goats are absolutely wonderful pets, and can add so much to your family's farm, but it is a common misconception that goats are easy keepers - in fact, they are our most high maintenance animals. They require a close eye and lots of attention, so I thought it would be convenient to compile a list of things I wish I knew before we got goats - if you're considering getting goats, please, learn from my mistakes!
15 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE GETTING GOATS
No. 1: Coccidia
The goat version of Parvo. I had no idea what coccidia was, and my first goat Rosemary died because of it.
Coccidia is a parasite found in all goats. I don't believe that it is true that goats only die from this due to bad conditions. Since coccidia is in all goats, the levels are generally manageable for the animals; however, when goats become stressed, or the weather starts to change, Coccidia levels can rise to dangerous levels and kill the goat.
Similar to the standard vaccination for parvo, some people opt to treat all of their newborn goat kids for Coccidiosis at exactly 21 days old, and again 21 days later, due to the 21 day cycle of the parasite. You can find more information here, here, and here. Personally, I don't think this pre-treatment is necessary, but it's important to keep a close eye on this!
No. 2: Baking Soda
I have posted videos on social media of the goats enjoying baking soda, and every time I do, I get loads of questions about it! How much is too much? Do you give it to them every day? Can all breeds of goats have baking soda? Etc...
From what I have researched, all goats can enjoy baking soda, and similar to minerals, goats will eat baking soda free-choice, consuming as much, or as little, as they need. Baking soda helps keep the rumen's pH in balance and aids in digestion. If one of your goats is experiencing bloat, try to get a bit of baking soda in them, you will immediately hear the rumen begin to work.
My goats have a little area in their house where I keep baking soda 24/7. Some days they eat more, and some days they eat less, but it's there for them if they need it nonetheless.
No. 3: Vitamin D Milk
update spring 2018
This is my opinion after doing my own research and consulting with veterinarians, not breeders. Ultimately, you must do your own research and make the best decision for your farm.
I have read many articles stating how horrible milk replacement formulas are for bottle fed kids. Many formulas seem to add soy protein to aid in protein levels; however, baby goats do not tolerate soy protein. I read how horrible goat replacement formula is, and how it is almost certain to kill your baby goat. With all of that said, I do not believe this is true for formulas that are not specifically made for goats.
While I have been told by many many breeders that vitamin D cow's milk is the best replacement milk for bottle fed babies, I don't necessarily believe that to be true. Whole, raw, cow's milk straight from a cow is your best bet (aside from raw goat's milk from a goat)! However, that isn't feasible for most people raising bottle babies.
I am a part of a facebook group dedicated to goat health where veterinarians are the only people allowed to give advice. I trust this group, and every single vet there agrees that vitamin D cow's milk is not actually the best milk replacement for bottle fed babies. This is interesting to me because it contradicts what I've been told. Still, I do believe it to be true.
Your best bet is to get raw goat's milk from a goat, your next best is to purchase goat's milk from the grocery store or use a milk replacer formulated specifically for goat kids. I have chosen to use goat's milk from the grocery store, but this is quite expensive. A more cost effective option is to use formula.
I know many will disagree with me stating that cow's milk is the best replacement. This is true if the cow's milk is raw. The cow's milk purchased at the grocery store is actually different in fat and protein content than goat's milk naturally is. Goat's need about 4.5% fat, and "whole" cow's milk contains about 3.25% (sourcing from veterinary group).
Keep in mind you must use a goat specific formula, and it must be mixed correctly. Bottle feeding a baby goat is a huge time commitment. You are acting as the mom, trying to emulate nature. Feedings should be small, often, and warmed (over a stove, never microwave). If you aren't up to the stress of bottle feeding, purchasing a dam raised goat kid is always an option, plus that goat will probably have a better immune system!
If you would like information about a feeding schedule, click here.
You may find this scholarly article to be interesting if you are researching this subject.
If you are switching from goat's milk to formula, do not transition with an electrolyte mixer. This information is given on goat-link, and I disagree with that method.
No. 4: Shelter
By now, you have probably realized, goats are a little more delicate than you first thought. This is true for their housing preferences too. Goats prefer a three sided shelter rather than an enclosed structure because they need quite a bit of ventilation to keep their lungs happy. Goat's go to the bathroom A LOT, and they go right where they sleep. Unlike horses, pigs, and alpacas, goats don't select a single spot as their bathroom, they just go, and go, and go creating toxic levels of ammonia. Since goat's lungs are very sensitive, the ammonia along with dust particles, will irritate them, it is best to have a covered, yet open area for them to find shelter.
Note: if an enclosed area is your only option, just clean more often, and add a bit of stall freshner to the floor.
I purposefully had my goat's house built with a large door that we keep open as much as possible for this reason. I clean their house weekly, although sometimes I go a bit longer. Many goat keepers clean their goat's pen daily - I have found that mine are okay to go a week or two; however, I sweep and "pick-up" every other day. The most important thing is that their bedding is dry! When the bedding looks wet and dirty, I know it's time to clean! Goats DO NOT do well in dirty conditions, they will get sick very easily!
No. 5: Fresh Water
My friend Lylah from The Simple Farm has told me her secret to healthy happy goats is fresh water. Lots of fresh water. Remember when I said that goats go to the bathroom a lot?? They drink enough to make up for it! It is so important for goats to have a steady, clean water supply! You might be lucky enough to have a creek in your goat's pen, but if not, you'll find yourself refreshing and cleaning their water supply daily.
In the winter, it is important for goats to have access to warm water. On the coldest days, I bring out buckets of warm water for my boys to enjoy. This is especially important for wethers, due to their risk for urinary calculi. Goats tend to drink less water in the winter, and by providing warm water, it will help them stay hydrated during the cold months.
No. 6: De-Worming
Goats are susceptible to parasites of all kinds, especially stomach worms, which cause anemia and death. Just like any other animal, it is important to get on a good de-worming schedule. We de-worm in the spring and in the fall. However, it will depend upon where you live - this article is very helpful for determination! Ivomec Plus or Ivermectin injectable (from the vet) is the best form of de-wormer for our goats, click here to see why. However wormers vary by location, my advice is to call your vet or speak with someone in your area with goats to find out which wormer they have found works best for them.
No. 7: Hoof Trimming
Goat's hooves must be trimmed every few months to keep them healthy. This is my least favorite chore - because it is a bit scary to do simply because the clippers are so sharp, and goats don't generally tend to get excited about the task. This is a great article on how to trim your goat's hooves.
No. 8: Herd Animals
Goats are herd animals and depend upon each other for safety. In addition, they are actually quite unhappy when by themselves. Unless you spend countless hours with them daily, they will be lonely by themselves. When purchasing a goat, it is important to select two or more.
No. 9: Wethers & Their Issues
Goats are susceptible to urinary calculi (kidney stones), especially wethers and bucks. When wethers are castrated, their urinary tract stops forming, and creates this high risk! Prevention is the best form of treatment: lots of fresh water, and good quality hay. It is important to only feed male goats grass hay, roughage, minerals, and necessary supplements. Grain may also be useful, but only as needed, for example: kidding mothers, recovering animals, etc... Wethers do not need typically alfalfa or grain.
I encourage you to read this if you have wethers, it could save you a lot of trouble!
No. 10: Grain & Alfalfa
This is so important, and many people do not know this: wethers do not tolerate alfalfa or high levels of grain well (as I mentioned above). If you are raising a show goat, meat goat, or doe - you will need to develop a specific feeding regimen that will probably include rations of alfalfa and grain; however, it is my personal opinion that wethers should not be fed alfalfa or grain due to their risk of kidney stones and because they have little physical needs. (Although mineral supplements are necessary.)
However, does do not carry this risk and can enjoy alfalfa and grain. Alfalfa and grain can be useful for pregnant or nursing does.
No. 11: Free Range Abuse
Goats don't have a brain trigger that tells them when they've eaten too much. Since goats can so easily bloat, it's important to monitor how much 'free range' time your goats are getting. Goats are like deer rather than cattle, and will find the juiciest, yummiest brush to eat first. As you can imagine, an entire afternoon eating yummy greenery will result in a stomach ache, bloat, and possibly overeating disease.
No. 12: Pro-Biotics
Goats are ruminants that rely on live bacteria in the stomach to digest their food. Sometimes this bacteria is disrupted and needs to be replenished: weather changes, antibiotics, stress... Anytime your goat experiences something out of the norm, it's probably a safe bet to give them some pro-biotics. You can purchase a syringe of it, and give orally as needed.
No. 13: Cashmere & Winter Weather
In the winter, goats grow their own cashmere undercoats to keep them warm. This, in addition to lots of grass hay, is generally enough to keep goats warm through the coldest temperatures, provided that they have proper shelter. Goats will require a safe place from wind, rain, and snow with lots of dry straw. Their three sided shelter may need a bit more structure during these months to protect them from the elements. Ventilation is good, but drafts are bad because goats are very susceptible to pneumonia.
In extreme situations you may find man-made coats necessary. Personally, only one of my goats needs additional care. Elderberry grows a very strong winter coat; however, Buckwheat does not grow as thick of a coat, and I often find him shivering when Elderberry is completely fine. Many people will tell you not to use a man-made coat because it will hinder the goat's natural cashmere undercoat, but you will have to figure out what works best for your animals. For me, a coat is necessary at nighttime for Buckwheat when the weather is below 5 degrees.
For more information, read this.
No. 14: Disbudding & dehorning
Disbudding and dehorning of your goat is your own personal choice. Many find it cruel to do and advocate against it (against disbudding: here | for disbudding: here). However, I opted to have my goats disbudded. Disbudding happens when the goat is about a week old, a vet uses a hot iron to burn the base of the horn to prevent it from ever growing. It isn't always successful, and 'scurs' may grow as the goat gets older.
Dehorning happens when the goat is older - as they do for cattle, the horn is cut at the base. Generally there is quite a bit of bleeding and it is very painful. There is also a cream option for use, however the cream is very dangerous and has the potential to blind the goat.
If you prefer your goats to not have horns, try purchasing a naturally polled animal, as Elderberry is. If you aren't able, then disbudding is the next best option, although it is still painful for the animal and not always 100% successful.
No. 15: Antibiotics to Keep on Hand
A goat's normal temperature is 103 degrees F. If you suspect that your goat is sick, the very first thing you should do is take its temperature. To diagnose illness, click here. In general, I like to keep these medications on hand for quick treatment - it always seems that our goats get sick, at night, on a holiday, or on a Sunday!
Albon (Sulfadimethoxazine) • C&D Anti Toxin • CD/T Vaccine • De-Wormer • Corrid Powder • Vitamin B and C • Electrolytes • LA200
I hope you have found this information useful! This is a basic list of general information that I think every new goat owner will appreciate having on hand. Goats are absolutely wonderful pets, in fact, they are my favorite pet! I consider my time with them therapeutic, and I think you will love adding them to your family. For a list of goat care resources, click here!