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Should You Raise Goats?


Photo © Flickr user Jennifer Schwalm, used under a CCC license

You might not be sure if raising goats is right for you. Maybe you're a homesteader thinking of expanding because keeping chickens has gone well, or perhaps you're thinking of starting a farm business that specializes in cabrito, or goat meat, goat milk or goat cheese.

Here are some questions to contemplate as you consider whether to get some goats for your small farm.

Do You Like Goats?

Seems almost silly to ask this, but it's really the first thing you should be sure of before you proceed further. Do you enjoy being around goats? Do they make you smile with their antics? Do you like to drink goat milk, eat goat meat, or make goat cheese? What will you do with the abundance of goat milk if you're just getting a couple of goats for your homestead? Will you feed the surplus to your animals or will it go to waste?

Do You Have the Time?

Always a good question to ask yourself when adding any new farm animal species. Mastering the care of a new kind of animal takes extra effort and energy, plus you're adding sheer number of bodies of animals that you are caring for.

Do You Have the Space?

Goats require roughly 10 to 15 square feet indoors if you have a few acres of woods and pasture to fence off for them as pasture. If not, If not, you'll need about 20 square feet per goat for sleeping space and 30 square feet for exercise (ideally, this would be outdoors). Plus you will need a 4 by 5 foot kidding pen for each adult doe you plan to breed at one time.

Do You Have the Fencing?

Goats need a really strong, goatproof fence. You will want woven wire or high-tensile wire fencing for an outer perimeter, with poly tape or wire, electric netting or high-tensile wire for temporary paddocks within the perimeter.

Goat fencing must be meticulously maintained. Gates must be goatproof and high quality. Goats are notorious for escaping through seemingly minor fence weaknesses. So, not only do you have to put up good, strong fencing to start with, you need to commit to maintaining that fencing.

Do You Want Milk or Meat?

Goats are prolific milk producers, generating 90 quarts per month for each doe. That's a lot of milk: so much that with just a few does, you'll have more than enough milk for your family and your farm animals. Do you want to make cheese with the rest of the milk?

Or, are you considering goats as a meat animal, an alternative to cattle or sheep? Goat meat is in high demand. But to raise goats for meat, you'll have somewhat different considerations than if you are raising them as part of a dairy operation. And while it is tempting to raise them for both milk and meat, you will find it easier to begin if you choose one main focus for your efforts, at least for the first few years.

Do You Have Suitable Pasture?

Goats are browsers, much more so than cattle, which prefer grass. Browsers eat shrubs and young trees, primarily. So if you have brushy, young woods that you want to clear, goats are a natural choice. If you already have prime grass pasture, cattle may be a better fit for your resources.

Does It Fit With Your Farming Goals?

Whenever you are adding something new to your farm, make sure that it grows organically out of your small farm business plan or the goals you have set for your farm or homestead.

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