11 Reasons to Raise Goats on Your Small Farm
Updated: Mar 21, 2020
Bottom Line Up Front: Goats add value to small farms with their low entry costs, smaller space requirements, quick gestation periods, versatile uses, ease of maintenance, and increasing consumer demand.
Starting a small farm is challenging and rewarding. Maybe you have a plan in place on what you want on your small farm, but if you are looking for ideas on what to start with - or if you're looking for ideas on adding new operations to an existing farm - I'd love to give you some suggestions. When considering what to raise on a farm, my number one recommendation is goats!
Goats!? you think. All the stereotypical thoughts may be running through your mind right now. I heard they get out of their pens all the time. They're stinky. They eat everything in sight. What on earth would I do with a goat??
Stereotypes are rarely based in truth. Goats are versatile animals that will add value to your farm relatively quickly compared to other livestock. I want you to know the reasons I think they're a great operation to start your farm around (or add to what you're doing) and why those stereotypes don't hold water.
1. Goats are inexpensive. If my grandfather was still alive he would say paying $150 for a goat is insanity (he sold goats for $50 tops). But when compared to the price of cattle - at least several hundred dollars and up above $1000 depending on breed and size - goats are a lot cheaper. Think of them as entry level livestock.
2. Return on investment. You may disagree with my first point and say that sheep are cheaper. That's true, but the long term value is arguably better with goats. With meat goats and sheep, I may pay $50 more per head of goat than I would sheep, but I will get about the same amount more goat when I sell their offspring.
3. Rapid herd growth. Goat herds tend to multiply quickly. The gestation period of goats is fast compared to cattle with goats being 150 days, or about 5 months, and cattle being 283 days, or over 9 months. Likewise, goats normally birth multiples. So a herd of 10 goats could become 20-30 goats in less than half a year.
4. Quick sales. An extension of the previous point, in the same way your herd can grow quickly, you will have a product to sell before you know it. Let's say that same herd of 10 breeding does are all bred at about the same time. Five months later you have maybe 15 kids (could be more with mature does usually birthing multiples). Then you take them to market anywhere from three to six months of age. Within a year you will have bred and sold 15 goats.
5. Market Demand. Believe it or not, there is a growing demand for goat meat in the United States. Be it due to various ethnic groups that prefer goat meat or younger generations willing to try different proteins, goat meat is as popular as it has ever been in the States. As a result, we import over half of the goat meat consumed America, mostly from our friends in Australia and New Zealand. So today prices on meat goats are high. In my neck of the woods if you can time the market correctly you can get up to $3 per pound (based on spring 2019 prices) live weight for good quality 50-60 pound kids. Go back to my earlier example about sales. 15 goat kids at 50 pounds each could fetch $2,250 at market. Imagine if you could scale up your goat production operations. It would be wise to take advantage of the demand driving this current market.
...we import over half of the goat meat consumed America...
6. Versatility. You have several options for what you want your goat herd to do. We raise meat goats, but dairy goats are popular with goat milk and cheese markets growing each year. Goat fiber is a potential market as well with the Angora breed used to produce mohair. If you're willing to go enterprising beyond the borders of your own farm, there are companies using goats to clear land of unwanted vegetation thus providing a clean alternative to herbicides or mechanical removal.
7. Pasture Renovators. I highly recommend multiple species of livestock on any farm. One reason is different species normally will consume different plants. As I suggested in my previous point, goats can be used for clearing land of unwanted vegetation. If you're just starting a farm on land that has been abused or neglected, chances are there is a wide variety of less than desirable grasses and woody plants. While I can't guarantee goats will eat all the species of plants you want to get under control, chances are they will consume some things that other animals have no interest in. It's worth noting sheep can provide this service as well, although to a lesser degree.
8. Goats don't need a lot of space. Up front I need to say that any formula you see for goats per acre - a "stocking rate" - should be ignored. I've seen people say you can have anywhere from 2-10 goats per acre, which is a wide range, but there are so many variables to consider that it's impossible to give a standard answer. With that said, since they are smaller livestock they simply do not require as much space as larger animals. If you have 5 acres to work with, goats would be a great animal to have on your place. I'll write more about appropriate stocking rates later, but in general start small and observe your land. If there are signs of overgrazing, you would need to consider reducing your herd size.
9. Goat infrastructure can be used for nearly any other livestock. If you start with goats and build proper infrastructure, namely good fences, you would have to do very little modification, if any, once you add other species of livestock. The old saying goes if the fence can hold in water, it can hold in goats. I'll add that if a fence can hold in goats, it can hold in cattle, sheep, pigs, llamas, bison, ostriches... you get the idea.
10. Easy to care for. If you spend time with your goats - and will absolutely want to because they are hilarious delights to be around - they will become used to you. As a result of that familiarity they will be pretty easy to handle and give medicine to if need be. Unless a goat is fully mature, you likely can pick one up and put it in the back of your vehicle for quick trip to the vet.
11. They're a ton of fun. Okay, this reason won't make you any money, but it's worth noting that goats are endlessly entertaining. They have unique personalities and almost seem to know that they are funny. Relaxing to be around, too. There are days I will go and just stand in the middle of our herd while they graze and browse, watching them work between needles on a blackbrush thistle with pinpoint precision to get all the tasty leaves the limb has to offer. It, as my daughter likes to say, is oddly satisfying.
I think these are great reasons to start your farm with goats, or to add them to what you're already doing. And to be clear, there are challenges with raising goats that must be considered. I will write about those soon, but for now I hope this list gives you some food for thought when it comes to raising your own goats. Leave your questions or comments below.