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10 Considerations Before Raising Goats

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

(Or, 10 reasons TO NOT GET GOATS)


Bottom Line Up Front: Goats are rewarding to raise, but like any livestock species, they have their own unique challenges to consider before you decide to raise them. Space, fencing, herd health, predator control, and availability of local resources are among the factors you should think about before diving in.

Is the G.O.A.T. acronym still at thing? For what it's worth, goats are the greatest if you ask us. We're partial to them and feel they are an ideal compliment or centerpiece operation to any small farm or homestead. Read my article here about why you should consider adding them to your farm.

Fun, but unruly. Get used to faces like this with goats.

As great as they are, goats, like other livestock species, present unique challenges that you must consider and plan for before you decide to run out and buy a small herd. Here are some of the challenges with raising goats I believe you should mull over before making your decision.


1. Goats need space.

Well, an appropriate amount of space. Goats are great in that their small size means they don't need many acres to roam like cattle do. Due to the cost of land and dwindling opportunities to rent property for agricultural uses, most folks getting into farming and ranching today are limited to a few acres. With limited space, raising smaller animals like goats make a lot of sense. That said, from a production standpoint they're not backyard pets either.


If you overstock - that is, you have too many goats for the space available - you will run into a host of problems such as illness and lack of food resources.


Solution: Goats do best when they have the ability to roam and browse a variety of forages. There is no accurate rule of thumb for how many goats you can have per acre of land; it depends on many variables like available forage, breed of goat, climate, and so on. So consider your available space and your goals for goat production. Talk with local producers to get an idea from them if you have enough room. And keep a careful eye on your pastures. Take action when they show signs of overgrazing.

If you overstock - that is, you have too many goats for the space available - you will run into a host of problems such as illness and lack of food resources.

2. Goats are not solo acts.

Goats are herd animals and are very social. A goat that finds itself alone is a goat that will tell you all about it night and day. You can expect a solo goat to bleat non-stop, calling out for its herd. Any herd. And for the goats with the talk-is-cheap personalities, you can expect them to take action and look for any chance to escape so they can search for companions.


Solution: Easy, get more than one. The more the better, but keep in mind point #1 above. Don't overextend your available space. Also, goats can be comfortable associating with other species, so if you have a few sheep, a goat, depending on its personality, may fit right in with the resident mutton.


3. Goats like to escape.

Yes, it's well-known that goats have the propensity for playing the part of the prison escapee, much to chagrin of many goat owners. But there's a reason for that, and if you are willing to manage your herd properly, you won't experience the frustration of rounding up goats that are on the run.


Solution: The secret is to not give them a reason to escape. If their needs are met - they're part of a herd (#2 above), they have access food resources, and available shelter - then they won't have much of an urge to roam. In any case, it's wise to hedge your bets by ensuring you have a good fence for keeping them contained. Oh, what a coincidence... look at the next consideration below.


4. Good fencing is a mandatory requirement.

Good fencing keeps our big guy and the rest of the herd contained and safe.

When I was young it seemed like it was a weekly tradition to have to round up all the goats that had gotten out of their pasture and were happily munching on my mom's garden flowers or resting on the roof of our car. The fence was too much trouble to repair, so we sold off the goats. Years later when my dad suggested putting goats back onto the property, I agreed and said I would build a new fence. He scoffed at me and said the current fence would be fine. I reminded him the ancient fence didn't keep the goats in 25 years earlier, and it likely didn't get better with time.


The catch is that good fencing for goats can be pricey. To install a new fence, you can expect to pay around $1.70 - $2.00 per foot of fence line based on today's prices. Maybe more depending on where you live.


Solution: Look at good fencing as a long term investment that not only keeps your animals contained but also keeps them safe. A proper fence for goats will not have openings that they get their heads stuck in and will also help to deter predators.


I can't stress enough, with goats you must not cut corners on your fencing. Do not sacrifice quality in order to save a few dollars. And you can bet you will be tempted because proper fencing is not cheap. Resist the temptation, and ensure you get the right fencing and install it well. Fencing is normally the biggest expense most goat owners will incur, but do it properly and you won't have to deal with it again for many years.


5. Shelter is Needed.

Depending on where you live and what your landscape is like, you might be able to get away with keeping your goats on pasture and in the elements. But the vast majority of us are not in such a position. Without shelter and shade, goats will not perform as well as possible. Constant exposure to the elements will lead to unnecessary illness, and in turn you can expect mortality rates will rise in your herd.


Solution: Goats are easily satisfied with the most Spartan of accommodations. Goat shelters can be basically anything with a roof and a wall to block winter winds. Go to Pinterest and you'll find countless examples of shelters for goats from the upscale barns to the re-purposed pallets and abandoned plastic dog houses. Whatever you do, just make sure you have plenty of room in the shelter(s) for your herd.


Our first goat shelter, a simple lean-to. We soon added walls and an extension.
Anyone who has raised goats for any length of time will tell you herd health is a major factor - often the most important factor - in the management decisions they make for their herds.

6. Goat Health.

I believe this is the area where goat owners have the most trouble, especially new owners. I know it was for us. Goats can be prone to wide range of illnesses. Likewise, and perhaps most importantly, they are very susceptible to a variety of parasites, especially the barber pole worm. If you're not familiar with the barber pole worm, formally known as Haemonchus contortus, you will get to know it soon enough.


What makes parasites such a major issue for goats is the resistance to deworming medication (most commonly just called "wormers") in many parasites that affect goats. There are several reasons for this, but it is largely due to poor management of goat herds through overuse of dewormers for many years. This resulted in parasites becoming resistant to these dewormers making them difficult to manage and in some cases decimating entire herds.


Anyone who has raised goats for any length of time will tell you herd health is a major factor - often the most important factor - in the management decisions they make for their herds.


Solution: Getting into details about goat health necessitates a separate article of its own, but it all comes down to your goals and ability to manage your animals. Ideally you manage your goats in such a way to minimize their exposure to health risks, especially parasites. Keep them in dry environments to the maximum extent. Remember they prefer to browse, so if able let them have access to plants where they get eat from the top, then down. Move them to fresh pasture when possible.


Goats like to browse. They best avoid parasites when eating above the ground where most parasites lie in wait for a host.

Also, find at least one veterinarian in your area who is familiar with goats. Talk to him or her about their suggestions for managing goat health at your location. Have on hand suggested medications and dewormers, and make sure you know how to apply them. Your veterinarian can teach you, and if you check with local agricultural extension offices, you may be able to find nearby goat workshops where you can get hands-on practice.


7. Predators Are a Concern.

Perhaps the second-biggest concern of goat producers is keeping their animals safe from predators. Losses of goats due to predation is truly discouraging, but the reality is there are likely many animals in your area that want to make your baby goats their next meal. Where I live the threats are largely coyotes and bobcats. And we can't forget unruly dogs; they may be man's best friend, but a stray dog with a bad attitude can wreak havoc on your goats if it get access to them.


Solution: I mention above that a good fence helps deter predators, but it won't keep everything out. Coyotes have the ability to dig under or clamber over a fence. Bobcats can slink through nearly anything. So your best options for keeping goats safe is to employ guardian animals. Livestock guardian dogs, such as the Great Pyrenees breed, are a popular option. We use donkeys with great success having never lost a goat to predators despite heavy coyote populations all around us. Some people even use llamas as guardian animals since they are protective and aggressive to outsiders - including humans! Each have their advantages and disadvantages for you to research and consider.


You have to go through our guard donkey to get to the little fella

Another option is to pen your animals up at night. Most predator attacks will happen between dusk and dawn, so if you don't want to use guardian animals but still keep your goat herd safe from predators, then you should plan to put them into a sturdy enclosed pen or barn each evening.


8. Milking.

In my experience, most folks interested in raising goats want those of the dairy varieties so as to enjoy goat milk, goat cheese, candles, and the like. To my wife's disappointment we raise only meat goats. She is persistent in stating her desire for a dairy goat, and my resistance has been due to the workload required to keep a dairy goat in milk production. At a minimum, you need to milk a goat once a day, and I believe most dairy goat producers will tell you it really should bet twice a day. You miss a day and your four-legged milk machine is shut down until her next birth. For us it is a time and logistics challenge we cannot currently overcome, although I think the day will come in the near future where we give it a try.


Solution: Make sure you have your schedule set up so that you can milk your goat as necessary. You probably want some backup assistance you can count on to do the milking should you be out of town. I'm interested to hear from any dairy goat folks out there what their tips are.

And don't be afraid to adjust your goals... Explore all the options before you jump in.

9. Local Market for Goats.

There are a lot of reasons to have goats. As we just discussed lots of people want goats for the milk. Others want them for all natural brush control on their property, and some just enjoy them as glorified pets. But if your desire to raise them is for production purposes where you sell offspring, then you need to make sure there's a market before you get started.


There is a large demand for goats in my part of the world - Texas raises the most goats in the U.S. Some places do not have much demand at all, at least not for meat goats. In a case like that you really need to consider whether you want to go through the trouble and expense to bring goats onto your farm only to find out no one wants to buy what you produce.


Solution: Research the market in your area. Call around to local livestock auctions to see if they deal with goats. Contact your local agricultural extension office to get their input as they should have access to market data in your area. Peruse Craigslist to see if there are regular listings for goats there.


And don't be afraid to adjust your goals. Perhaps there's not a market for meat goats, but you learn there is a market for goat milk. Explore all the options before you jump in.


10. Local Support and Resources.

This ties in with #9 above. I met a couple at a local goat workshop who live in North Dakota. They have goats of their own, so they attended the workshop while in the area to get some training. In our conversation I learned they were the only goat producers in their county, and they had to be smart on goat health issues because none of the local veterinarians were experienced in caring for goats. It was necessary for them to attend workshops far away because there are not similar resources available where they live.


That was something we never had to think about since there are so many folks raising goats all around us, and the veterinarians all seem to have goats of their own. What is the scene like in your area, and are there experts or experienced producers nearby who you can turn to for assistance and advice?


Solution: I believe you lump this in with your market research I advise in item #9. Talk with local extension offices to find out if there are nearby resources. Find out if the local farm supply stores carry feed and products for raising goats. And most importantly, talk with local veterinarians to find out if they can provide services to your herd.


Conclusion

Do you still want to raise goats?? I hope so! I think they are as versatile and productive of any livestock species we raise in America. There is a growing demand for goats and goat milk, and if you're willing to plan for all the considerations discussed here then you will be starting off on the right foot.


Do you raise goats already? Then share in the comments any other considerations you would recommend. If you are think about getting your first goats and have questions, ask below or send me an email. Thanks for reading!

Challenges to Consider Before Getting Goats

The Maverick Acres Blog: Tips and Strategies for Success on Small Farms and Homesteads.

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