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How to Raise Goats

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Goats can be a great animal to add to your farm. They're easy to handle and produce lots of delicious and healthful milk as well as low-fat meat. Plus, goat manure makes great fertilizer.

Should You Raise Goats?

Goats.
Photo © Flickr user Daniel Flathagen

One doe will produce 90 quarts of fresh milk every month for 10 months of the year. That said, you can't keep just one doe - you'll need to keep two goats, a doe and a wether, or two does, at a minimum, so they don't get lonely.

Each castrated male goat, or meat wether, will produce 25 to 40 pounds of meat. And each bred doe will give birth to, at minimum, one kid annually.

Goats don't need fussy housing, but they do require some serious fencing to keep them where they belong. They will graze pasture but are great browsers, who will eat bushes and other brush. Dairy goats will require some hay and commercial goat feed, though, too, so you'll need to be prepared to feed them. Meat goats do well on just hay and browse, unless they're nursing or growing kids.

Raising Goats for Milk or Meat

As mentioned above, goats are prolific milk producers. Each doe will give roughly 90 quarts of milk per month, with two months off right before she gives birth.

Goat meat is very popular in most of the world, and although it isn't commonplace in the United States, many people here do eat it. There is such a demand that goat meat must be imported into the US every year. It's fairly easy to keep dairy goats and raise the bucks for meat, since you have to breed your does to keep them in milk and roughly half of all kids are male. However, the Boer is the main meat breed in the US, primarily raised for meat not milk. Another option is to breed your milking goats to Boers or another meat breed to produce crossbred kids for meat, while still keeping does for milk.

Housing and Fencing Goats

Goat housing is simple: just keep them dry and draft-free and they are happy. A three-sided structure is enough for mild climates. It’s helpful to have a small stall for isolating a sick or injured goat or for a pregnant goat to give birth. Packed dirt will suffice for a floor in the goat house, but it should be covered with a thick layer of bedding: wood shavings (not cedar), straw, or waste hay. Since hay is goats’ primary food and they tend to waste up to one-third of it, you can pitch the waste hay into the bedding area each day, saving money. Keep bedding clean and dry, spreading a new layers on top and removing and replacing all of it as needed.

Fencing is a little more complex. Goats need a very strong fence that they can’t climb over, knock down or otherwise escape from. If there is so much as a tiny hole, they will find a way to get out. They use their lips to explore their world, so if a gate latch is loose, they can wiggle it open with their lips and escape. They also chew almost everything - rope, electrical wiring, and so on, are all fair game. And goats can jump and climb. Your goat house should have a climbing-proof roof.

High-tensile, smooth electrified wire is ideal if you want to take an existing fence and make it goat-proof. You can use a nonelectric fence at least four feet high, five feet for active breeds like Nubians. Brace corners and gates on the outside so the goats can’t climb up the braces. You can use wooden fencing, stock panels, or chain-link fence, or you can combine a wooden rail fence with woven wire.

Feeding Goats

Goats can be pastured on grass or browse in the woods, eating shrubs and young trees. It's important to rotate goats to new pasture so that they graze it evenly and don't foul it up, which can lead to a buildup of parasites.

Goats require additional hay even when they have pasture, as they can't eat all fresh grass. You can feed hay free choice - give them as much as they desire. Young goats and pregnant or milk-producing does require some goat "concentrate," or goat chow.

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