I got a goat today. I’ve always wanted goats, but never had a place to keep them.
My manager at work was thinking of getting rid of his buck, so I said I’d be willing to take him. We worked out a deal and he came to stay with us today. He’s part Nigerian Pygmy, part Nubian and very sweet. We’ve named him Lwcas, with the true Welsh spelling. In Welsh, Lwcas means “lucky.” We hope he is lucky to be living with us.
Basics of keeping goats
At the bare minimum, goats need shelter. They can become very sick if left out in the rain. Shelter can be as simple as a few pallets bound together with a tarp draped over and around them, or as complicated as an entire barn. I built an enclosure a few weeks ago in part of my barn for my chickens and he seems fine sharing it. Just be sure to have a good latch on the door as they can be sneaky!
Fencing is best for keeping goats on your land. Use a welded wire fence such as cattle panels. You can tether them, but keep an eye on them. Goats should never be left on tethers unattended. They have no natural defenses against predators. I plan to have Lwcas out with me when I’m gardening, using a wire cable meant for dogs. This has been used successfully in the past – they just need to be watched constantly. Don’t use rope, as they can chew right through it. Chain is also not a good idea as they can be hurt by the links.
Water is essential to all living things, goats included. Make sure they have plenty of fresh, cool water at all times. Add some raw apple cider vinegar to it for a few reasons. It contains potassium and other nutrients. It can help to control parasites and helps to reduce algae in stock tanks.
Be sure to also provide water in the winter. It’s a myth that animals can get the water they need from snow. It takes a large amount of body heat to convert snow to usable liquid, and most animals need that energy to keep warm in the winter.
Contrary to popular belief, goats do not eat everything in site. They are, in fact, pick eaters. Their diet should consist mainly of hay. The stomach of the goat is not designed to handle large amounts of grain and too much can cause health problems. A small cup full morning and evening with plenty of fresh dry hay will suffice. Hay dried in the sun with no rain is best. If there is rain, it may be wet inside and can mold. And be sure that the hay is kept in a manger. Most goats will not eat food fallen on the ground.
Alfalfa, red clover and timothy hays are good choices. Some sources say that white clover should not be used and some say it’s fine. There’s no real consensus there.
Straw is the shaft left from harvesting grain such as wheat or oats. There is little to no nutritional value in straw and it should only be used for bedding.
Grain mixes, often labeled as “sweet feed” are available at many feed stores. They also come in organic varieties, containing no artificial ingredients. They are whole or cracked grains mixed with molasses for sweetness. Molasses also provides necessary minerals such as iron. Feed sweet feeds in very limited amounts. You can make your own with rolled oats, barley, buckwheat, soybeans and cracked corn mixed with a bit of molasses.
More to ponder
Goats need more minerals than iron. To provide them easily, there are trace mineral supplements available, or provide them with a salt lick. Be sure to get the one with minerals, often brown in color. They are very cost effective, often no more that $6.00 for a 50 pound block. Kelp can also be fed to give them some minerals.
When feeding during breeding season, you’ll want to stay away from soy, red clover and kudzu. All are good for feed, but can have estrogenic effects which could cause complications with breeding. Skip these for a few weeks, then continue feeding as you normally would.
Goats need deworming just like horses, cows, dogs and cats. There are more organic options than you’d ever think. Add a bit of food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) to their feed, and most internal parasites will be eliminated. DE is made from tiny sea creatures called diatoms. These are dried, crushed, and used for a number of things.
Be sure to get only food grade DE. The DE made for swimming pools or as insect repellent often has chemicals added to it. DE is so tiny that it won’t harm you or the goat, unless you get it in the eyes, so please, avoid that! It can be ingested or used externally for lice or other crawling bugs. It works great for ants in the paddock area.
Another great aid in deworming is pumpkin seeds. Yes, those tasty green or white seeds that come from the pumpkin. Grind them up and give your goat about a tablespoon once a week for three weeks. This will ensure that you catch anything that may be hatching later.
Goats will also need their hooves trimmed about once every 2-3 months. Not doing so can lead to crippled animals. A fun easy way to keep hooves trimmed is to provide your goats with a few cement blocks stacked to form a platform. They’ll have a ball playing on it and keep their hooves filed too!
Do you have goats, or considering it? Those with experience should share their natural goat care tips.