Goats are easy to care for whether you are keeping them as pets or raising them for milk and/or meat. They are fairly thrifty livestock to keep, and their needs are small. Even so, it helps to know exactly what’s needed and to have your goat keeping facilities all set up before you acquire any goats. In this article, we share sound advice on choosing the right goats and taking good care of them. Read on to learn more on how to care for a goat.
What You'll Learn Today
- Things You Need To Know Before Getting Goats
- How To Choose The Right Goats
- Get Your Property Goat-Ready
- 1. Your goats will need shelter
- 2. Goats are escape artists
- 3. Fences must keep predators out
- 4. Work with your vet to formulate a good goat feeding plan
- 5. Stock up on feed
- 6. Be careful not to overfeed
- 7. Choose the right mineral supplement
- 8. Have feed and water equipment in place
- 9. Assemble a first aid kit
- 10. Manage pests and parasites
- 11. Cover valuable plants
- 12. Remove poisonous plants
- 13. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of illness in goats
- 14. Build a relationship with your vet
- 15. Be ready for your vet’s visit
- 16. Regularly trim their hooves
- 17. Don’t overdo it
Things You Need To Know Before Getting Goats
How To Choose The Right Goats
When shopping for goats, let the buyer beware. You need to know how to judge a goat’s health and fitness, and you need to know the right questions to ask to be sure of getting healthy animals that will serve the purpose you have in mind and will not cost you a fortune in vet bills.
Here are nine smart questions you should ask the seller:
- Have these goats been tested for Caprine arthritis encephalitis virus (CAEV)? (Examine test results.)
- Have these goats been tested for Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL)? (Examine test results.)
- Have any goats in this herd died from an undiagnosed illness? (Ask for description and consult with your vet.)
- Have these goats experienced any health problems? (Ask for description and consult with your vet.)
- Are these goats fully vaccinated? (Inspect the vaccination records.)
- Is there a history of miscarriage in this herd? (Avoid this!)
- Are these goats registered? (Inspect the registration documents.)
- Have young goats been disbudded? (Hornless goats are easier to handle.)
- Have these goats been dam-raised or bottle-fed? (Bottle fed goats are typically gentler and easier to handle.)
If you are buying meat goats, ask about the typical market weight of the goats from the herd in question. If you are buying milk goats, find out how much milk a typical doe from this herd usually produces. Here is a helpful article on when you can start milking your goat.
Get Your Property Goat-Ready
As you prepare your property for your new charges, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to keep your goats healthy, safe and contained. Follow these 17 smart tips:
1. Your goats will need shelter
If you are just keeping pets, a sturdy, small shed or even a big dog house can provide good shelter from the rain, wind, snow and heat.
If you are keeping goats for milking (and producing goat cheese), you’ll want to have a barn with a sheltered area for your milking stand.
Goats kept for meat production should have ample sheltered space for kidding (giving birth) and to allow ample space for mothers and babies to shelter comfortably.
2. Goats are escape artists
A good goat fence should be a minimum of five feet high and should be made of solid, strong welded wire (like cattle panels). Gates should close securely with no space between the support posts and the gates. The goal is to avoid having goats slip through, climb over or get their heads stuck in big openings.
3. Fences must keep predators out
In addition to keeping goats in, your fencing needs to be tall enough and strong enough to keep dogs, wolves and coyotes out. Other predators that might bother your goats include bears, raccoons and birds of prey.
If you have bears, raccoons and/or owls in your area, keep your goats in a sturdy, secure barn at night. The cover of trees may prevent birds of prey from seeing your baby goats as they soar high in the sky looking for prey during the day.
4. Work with your vet to formulate a good goat feeding plan
A good goat pasture should consist of some grass and some “browse”. This is the term for woody plants that provide roughage for the goat’s cud. Because goats are ruminants (like sheep, cattle and deer) they consume very coarse roughage like stems and small branches quickly, on the run.
Later, when they are in a safe, quiet setting, they regurgitate this coarse material and chew it again to get all the nourishment out of it. For this reason, a goat needs some very coarse roughage in its pasture, but the pasture should not consist entirely of this because this sort of material is very low in nourishment.
Adding coarse grain and an appropriate mineral supplement to your goats’ diet will help ensure they are getting the right nutrition. Work closely with your vet to formulate just the right feeding plan.
5. Stock up on feed
Your goats will need plenty of clean hay, fresh grain and a mineral supplement. If you can find a local hay supplier, you’ll save money over most feed store prices. A good, local, mixed grass hay is better for goats than a highly fertilized, mono-crop hay.
When you purchase feed and mineral supplements at your local feed store, be sure to read the labels carefully and purchase products that are intended for the type of goats you have. Formulation also varies according to the age of the goats.
6. Be careful not to overfeed
Goats are typically easy keepers, but you must choose the right type of feed for the type and age of goat you have. If you are raising goats for milk production, you’ll need to feed more supplements.
If you are raising goats for meat production (here’s an explanation of differences between lamb vs goat meat), more protein is needed. In any case, obesity is to be avoided. Read product labels carefully and consult with your vet to be sure of feeding the right amount of the right feed and hay.
7. Choose the right mineral supplement
Be sure to get a supplement formulated specifically for goats. Generally speaking, you’ll need a white salt block and a mineral salt block. Goats also need to have plenty of selenium all year round.
When pasture is especially lush, you may need to provide more magnesium to help guard against a condition known as Grass Tetany or Grass Staggers. This condition is more common in cattle and sheep, but may also affect goats. This resource PDF from Kansas State University explains the condition.
Other minerals may be necessary due to soil conditions in your area. Consult with your county extension agent and/or your veterinarian to choose wisely.
8. Have feed and water equipment in place
Always feed hay in a manger, up off the ground. You can purchase a metal manger ready-made or build one using welded wire. The welded wire prevents having the goat pull all the hay out onto the ground at once. The wire will slow the goats down and makes feeding more interesting for them.
Get a long feeding trough for multiple goats or individual rubber or metal feed dishes if you’ll just have one or two. Likewise, you’ll need a watering trough for multiple goats or individual buckets for just a few. You’ll want to change out the water every day, so don’t get a trough that’s too big for you to handle.
If you are keeping kids with adult goats, you may wish to get a creep feeder, which is designed to allow little ones access to feed while keeping adults out.
This can ensure that youngsters are getting enough feed. It also provides a way to give babies (including those who may be orphaned) special formulations of feed.
9. Assemble a first aid kit
A first aid kit for goats should contain scissors, thermometer, several clean cotton towels, a roll of paper towels, a bottle of clean water (if you don’t have running water in the goat pen), a bottle of Vetericyn , gauze pads and vet wrap.
Minor cuts and scrapes can usually be dealt with by washing thoroughly, daily with running water and liberal application of Vetericyn. More serious cuts may need to be washed, sprayed with Vetericyn, covered with gauze and wrapped in the short term.
Follow up this first aid with a call to your vet for proper, professional care of serious injuries.
10. Manage pests and parasites
Goat drench and goat fly spray are also good additions to your first aid kit. Having ample amounts of these products on hand makes it easy to keep flies and other irritating, disease-carrying pests and parasites away.
11. Cover valuable plants
If you are keeping goats in your yard, be sure to protect anything you don’t want eaten. Goats will eat your rosebushes and other valuable landscaping plants right down to the ground. They will also gnaw the bark off tree trunks. Be sure to set up protective fences or cages to keep valuable plants and trees safe.
12. Remove poisonous plants
Some native plants are poisonous to goats , and some poisonous plants (e.g. poison oak and poison ivy) are perfectly good goat food. Identify all of the plants in your intended goat keeping area before you bring your goats home. Remove any that may be toxic to goats.
There are lots of different types of plants that may be poisonous to goats. Some of the worst offenders are:
- Laurel of all sorts
- Wild cherry
Remember that tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants are members of the hemlock family.
Talk with your county agricultural extension agent to find out if there are specific plants native or naturalized to your area that may be poisonous to goats.
13. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of illness in goats
Goats are generally friendly, cheerful and curious, so if your goat seems listless, suspect illness. Also look for these common signs and symptoms of illness. A goat who is ill may:
- Press its head against a solid object, such as a fence, wall or tree trunk.
- Remain separate from the rest of the herd.
- Have grayish or pale gums and/or eyelids.
- Have watery eyes and/or a runny nose.
- Strain to urinate or not urinate at all.
- Bleat strangely and/or incessantly.
- Hold its ears at odd angles.
- Have loose, soft droppings.
- Cough and/or sneeze.
- Stop chewing its cud.
- Have a hot udder.
- Refuse to get up.
- Stagger or limp.
- Refuse to drink.
- Grind its teeth.
- Refuse to eat.
If your goat exhibits one or a combination of these symptoms for longer than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian. If you see any of these signs and symptoms in goats you are considering purchasing, consult your vet and/or look elsewhere.
14. Build a relationship with your vet
Even when you take great care choosing healthy goats and do everything you can to keep them healthy, illness and injury can befall them.
That’s why it is wise to choose your veterinarian before you get your goats and make an effort to build a good relationship with him or her. When your vet is familiar with you and your animals, he or she will be better able to meet your veterinary needs.
15. Be ready for your vet’s visit
Be sure to have your goats examined and vaccinated annually. If/when one does fall ill or become injured, take a few moments to take note of its symptoms.
Be ready to tell your vet how long the animal has been ill or injured (this should never be longer than 24 hours). Let the vet know what you have done to deal with the problem.
It helps if you can do a cursory examination before contacting the vet. This involves taking the animal’s temperature; checking its gums and eyelids for color; listening to its heart and taking its heart rate.
You should also check to see if the goat has diarrhea, crusty eyes, coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing or any of the other symptoms listed above.
Check to see if the goat is suffering from dehydration by taking a pinch of skin between your thumb and forefinger. The best place to do this is just in front of the goat’s shoulder where the skin is usually a little loose.
If the pinch stays tented, it means the goat is dehydrated. If it snaps back into place quickly, dehydration is not a problem.
Make a note of all of your observations of the animal’s signs and symptoms so that you can describe the situation to the vet clearly when you have him or her on the phone.
Ask if there is anything you need to do (e.g. sequestering the goat, moving it to a well-lit area, gathering a fecal or urine sample) while you are waiting for the vet.
16. Regularly trim their hooves
Similarly to horses, sheep or donkeys, you will need to take a proper care of your goats’ hooves. Create a regular schedule, and make sure you have all the necessary tools ready.
17. Don’t overdo it
The final tip is just common sense, but it is one that many people do not follow. Don’t get too many goats for your yard or pasture. Having ample space for your goats to play and graze and loaf is one of the main qualities necessary to keeping healthy, happy goats.
When goats are overcrowded, they are far more prone to disease and parasites. They are far more likely to fight (head butting is typical) and compete for resources, so they are far more likely to get injured.
Talk with your vet and/or your county extension agent to determine the right number of goats for the property you have. Practice good pasture management, and keep your facility clean to keep your goats healthy and happy.