Four Important Tips for Caring for Goats: A Short Primer

A glance at the calendar recently (and a timely Facebook memory) reminded me we’ve been keeping goats for six years as of this writing (5/2021)! That time has flown, and even with all the trouble and expense of having them, our farm and lives would be less without them. Not empty, just less 🙂

In this article I’m going to share the posts I put on Instagram and Facebook recently, in hopes that some of this information can help new or prospective goat keepers. I’m not a vet, so can’t give you all the tips for serious health issues with your animals, but I can share some things we’ve learned that has helped us care for ours, and allowed us to maintain a very healthy herd.

I’ll start this with a reality new goat keepers might overlook when they’re watching an adorable baby goat bounce about: Goats are a TON of work. I can’t put this lightly. Goats are often thought of as tough, self-sufficient animals, who you can drop in a field, and they’ll do all your mowing and brush-trimming. Nay. Domestic goats need good and consistent attention and maintenance, not just on themselves, but in their environs. These are animals that rely on their human guardians to provide adequate and safe… everything.

Goats are also expensive to manage, when you consider their care, feeding/watering, containment, shelter, transport, and overall maintenance. If you go cheap on your goats, it will show in the condition and health of your herd. Yes, “herd”.

Tip One: Plan on More than One Goat

Plan on having more than one goat. They are herd animals, so need other goats for companionship. The saying is, “An only goat is a lonely goat“, so if you’re planning on only one, please consider two or more instead, as they like to make decisions together and keep each other company when you’re not around. Happy goats are generally healthier, too.

Speaking of happy, it seems goats are most happy when they’re being a nuisance. They really love escaping and destroying prized property, eating plantings, trees, scrubs, vegetable and flower gardens. They will break into your areas where you try to safely stow food and grains, and they will breach any place you really want them to stay out of. They rub up on fences, vehicles, and pretty much anything you don’t really want them to. They jump of anything they can, and will poop in buckets you just refilled with fresh water, and they will pee in the very place you just raked out, and yes, they will pee on hay you just put out for them. Got something in your hand? They’ll harass you incessantly until they find out what it is, and if it’s edible for them. Need to work on something with tools, screws and wood? They’ll be right by your side, knocking everything over, spilling things and getting right in the way, walking on anything you need to get the job done. They literally have no concept of time, other than to disrupt yours, making tasks take longer than they ever should. They’re naturally curious and mischievous.

And we love them all the same. And I digress.

Tip Two: Watering is Crucial

 

Goats require plenty of fresh water-always. Goats drink between two and three gallons of water a day. This is especially true when it’s extra hot like it is in Texas right now. Even though urinary calculi in wethered (neutered males) and intact male goats can often be attributed to poor feeding, lack of fresh water leading up to this condition can contribute too, because they’re not able metabolize their food adequately.

Fresh water can be put in buckets and troughs, and during the hot summer months, it’s best to place those vessels in a shady area, so the water can stay relatively cool. During winter months, if you live in an area where freezing temperatures are common, you might need to get a de-icer for your water-holders and break any ice so they can get a drink.

Tip Three: Good Hoof Care

Because your goats are domestic, they rely on you for their care, which includes regular pedicures. If you have rocks

and granite on your property, consider yourself lucky! In the wild, they’ll seek those same things and other objects to naturally keep their hooves in good condition, but on our farm, we rely on hubby. @stephenbliley is awesome at keeping our herd’s hooves looking good and feeling grippy, so the goaties can jump and play with abandon.

When cleaning and trimming their hooves, you’re going for a certain look. Their pads should be visible when you check their feet, with the nail growth trimmed back, so it’s not folding over the pad. It might take a few days (multiple appointments) to get some goat’s hooves back in shape, so be patient and plan on a way to keep them happy while you do this work. We get each goat in the milk-stand and indulge them with some snacks, and that helps us maintain safer control over the process, as well as reduces the chances they’ll wriggle away before we’re finished!

Tip Four:  Quality Feed and Forage Options


This point is a often heated topic on goat discussion groups, probably because there is such a variance among the way people keep and tend their herds. Availability of certain food sources, finances, and actual land resources can all be a deciding factor on how people feed their goats. There are also people that don’t keep their goats outside in a barnyard, like we do, but instead have them as house pets. I can’t even.
 
Instead of me saying there is an absolute “best way” to feed your herd, I will share how we feed our own, and let you decide if that’s works for you, too.
 
Before I jump into our feeding routine, I need to share the no-no’s of goat-feeding. It’s important to really take a close look at your own property, before you get goats, so you know what potential food hazards exists. For example, delphinium is a beautiful plant featured in many-a-garden, but it’s deadly to goats! Even some types of crape myrtle and oak trees are not supposed to be consumed by goats. Just this week, I learned that Japanese Yews (and probably most yews, while we’re on the subject) are instantly fatal to goats. A goat keeper in the mid-west whose landscaper tossed over some yew trimmings to her goats – who eagerly ate-quickly succumbed to those very cuttings. She came back home to find better than 25 goats had perished because of this, with many others teetering on the edge. For several days, the cause was unknown, until toxicology and postmortem analysis showed poisoning from those yew branches. Just heartbreaking!

Knowing that there are dangerous plants, it’s good to read up and be aware. This is a good source for learning about toxic plants goats shouldn’t eat, and this source will allow a search, so you can find out if what you have is a threat.

Other no-no’s include corn, fruits with pits/seeds (like apples, cherries, peaches, apricots), as there is potential for fermentation in the rumen. Human and junk-food have no place in your goat’s diet, even though I often read threads about people feeding animal crackers to goats. This really isn’t advisable, as they don’t need anything in that cracker – flour, sugar, etc., is just not a good thing to give your goat. In addition, excess goat food/chow and grains can really do a number on your goat(s), and don’t even get me started on chicken feed! Even though they find these things delicious, they also don’t know when to stop, and it can lead to some serious issues, including scours, bloat, and even rumen disorders. An FYI on rumen: you know it’s working right when your goats are just hanging out chewing cud. 🙂

As for feeding, we give our herd free choice coastal or orchard grass, plus alfalfa for the does (females). In addition, we mix a sweet feed blend with oats and BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and give scant amounts to the wethers (about a 1-4 to 1/2 cup each daily) and does (females) get a cup twice daily along with their alfalfa ration, because they are intact, nursing babies and providing milk to us every other day. The remainder of their daily intake is field greens, weeds, brush, and branches that they browse on their own; this is their natural diet. Very occasionally we’ll give the boys some alfalfa before shutdown as a treat, but too much of a good thing can lead to urinary calculi in wethers, and alfalfa is very calcium-rich food.

Quality food and control over their feeding results in conditions you can actually see: their coats are shiny, horns and bodies are sturdy, and their overall healthiness is obvious, plus they’re alert and active, and don’t forget SASSY the entire day. 🙂

Our goats are important to us, so we really don’t skimp on their care or nourishment. They’re family. 💕🐐 Alfalfa cubes are another special snack, and I really prefer the smaller mini-cubes over the horse-size cubes. Goatie mouths are a bit smaller, do there’s less waste. 😁
 

Go Beyond the Basics

These are just a few tips, and this was really off the heels of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week. I hope these tips  have helped you if you’re new to goats, or just wanting to learn more about them. If you are considering getting goats, or are still kind of new to them, my suggested reading includes Pat Coleby’s book Natural Goat Care, and Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, both are great resources and are our go-to’s when we encounter an issue that’s new to us or we’re second-guessing a decision.

There’s a lot more to having goats than what I’ve outlined here, and while they’re wonderful animals, they do require good care, solid fencing, adequate shelter from the elements, and respectful treatment; they’re sensitive and have feelings, even when they’re being stubborn. Hit me up with questions! I love talking goats! 🐐

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