Goats can be a great addition to a homestead but just like every animal on the homestead there are several considerations before you just run out and buy a few. You need to consider how you will feed them, how you will keep them in (because trust me, they are escape artists), if and how you will milk them, the equipment you will need, and the list goes on. Now, I am no expert (but I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once) on goats, but since we started our little herd back in early February we have learned a lot of things about keeping our goats. Hopefully I can share a few things with you that will help you be better prepared in the event you decide to add goats to your homestead.
The first thing that you need to consider is what you plan to do with your goats in order to help you get the “right type” of goat for you. If you plan to use your goats as a meat source then you can focus on breeds that are known more for their meat such as the Kiko goat from New Zealand, the Spanish goat, or arguably the most popular meat goat breed, the Boer goat. As I mentioned, we only recently started raising goats so I am only personally familiar with Boer and pygmy goats. Boer goats can get quite large, they are said to have excellent tasting meat, and in general they have pretty even keel dispositions. If you are looking for milk goats, some of the more popular breeds are the Sannen, Nubian, and LaMancha breeds. There are a few other breeds and your local 4H or high school ag program can probably help provide you with more information on those.
Once you have decided what use your goats will serve you will need to decide how to house them. As I mentioned goats are excellent escape artists. They are natural climbers and balance well on their hind legs when trying to reach food. They LOVE to rub their sides against a fence to scratch and to remove winter hair, which will eventually cause the fence to bulge and lift up along the bottom. I have been forced to repair the bottom of our fence line more than once. I even have a friend who has raised goats for many years that has seen his goats roll under the fence. When considering fencing, consider either no-climb fencing or 2” x 4” wire horse fencing. It will cost more, but it will be worth it in time saved not rounding up goats from your neighbor’s property. I would also recommend t-post every 6’-8’ rather than 10’-12’ as this will help some with the fencing pushing out at the bottom. As a repair method for fencing that has lifted, I have used U-shaped rebar hammered in to the ground to anchor it. Provide them with a small lean-to or a repurposed shed to get out of the weather but just know that if it is short enough, they will end up standing on top of it.
Now that you have them fenced in, what will you be feeding them? It is a common misconception that goats make great lawnmowers. In fact, I have seen many people trying to get rid of goats after buying them to keep their lawns down and discovering that they ate everything but the grass. Goats are browsers much like deer so they prefer tree leaves, bushes, weeds, and even bark. They will eat some grass but consider it the equivalent of feeding your kids brussel sprouts. If they are hungry enough they might pick at it, but don’t expect it to become a favorite. If you have a heavily overgrown pasture then you won’t need to supplement them much with feed, but if you do not, then you will need to decide on a feed. What you supplement their diet with will depend on whether you are ok with commercial feeds or if you want to make your own. We use a commercial feed so I don’t have any handy MYO recipes at this time.
The equipment that you will NEED will vary greatly from what you may want. Basic equipment needs should include:
• A milking stand (even if you aren’t milking they are very handy for hoof care, giving shots if needed, treating wounds, etc). You can see how I built mine and I included links to some measured drawings as well if you need them.
• Hoof trimmers and a file. There are plenty of great 4H videos on youTube that will walk you through basic hoof trimming. It may seem daunting at first but it’s actually quite easy and you will get the hang of it quickly.
• Basic animal first aid equipment. I built a small veterinary cabinet to help hold and organize all of my first aid items.
If you will be milking you will need to add a few additional items:
• Stool for milking.
• Udder balm
• A bucket for clean water to wipe the udder before milking and a clean rag.
• A stainless steel pan or bucket for collecting milk. I use a small stainless steel dog bowl that I bought for $2.99 at the feed store and I milk some into it then dump it into a large stainless steel pot to prevent total loss of all the milk should one of the goats kick or step in the pan.
• A funnel and strainer cloth to strain out the “floaties”.
• Glass jars to store the milk in. I don’t recommend plastic at all as it can hold odors, collect bacteria, and stain over time. Glass makes a much better storage alternative; just don’t take it to the barn with you. Cleaning up broken glass in the hay and dirt is no fun.
This list is by no means comprehensive but it should be a good start to getting what you need for basic care of your new additions.
There are so many more things I would love to share with you guys but I think we have a good start here. Having goats can be a lot of fun, some work, and a big pay off if they fit your homestead needs. The nice thing about goats is that they eat far less and take up less space than a cow so raising enough goats to provide your family with milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, cream, soap, and more is perfect for small homesteads with minimal acreage. We currently raise all 7 of our goats on approximately 1 acre of our total property. With a little ingenuity for the milk stand and some small purchases for basic equipment you will be set to be the goat farmer your family never knew they wanted or needed. Have a great day and God bless!
About The Author:
Brandon Sutter is the author of the blog LoneStar Farmstead and a contributing blogger to the Homestead Bloggers Network. He and his wife Christina, along with their two children, live on their 7 acre farmstead where they homeschool, raise goats, chickens, horses, and are striving to live a more self-sustainable lifestyle.