Thoughts on Goats

As a stay-at-home mom without a secular job I’m always trying to find ways to contribute to the household that will enrich instead of burden our existence as a family.  My DH has often hinted that he would someday like to get a dog.  With a four year old and a 21 month old in the house the last thing I need is a dependent, attention driven creature that does nothing but eat, poop, pee and bark.  I’ve never been one to enjoy having an animal in the house anyway, save a fish in an aquarium.

The other day DH and I were in the yard looking at how uneven and how lacking in real grass the lawn really was.  My pile of mulch that was kindly deposited in the back yard by the tree trimming guys last year has been overwhelmed around the perimeter by thistle weeds.  Prickly, disgusting thistle, ugh.  Then my sweet DH says to me, “A goat would probably eat all these things.  There’s plenty all over the yard for it to eat.  If you take care of it you can get one.”  Uh, what!?! I’ve often thought about having a few goats or sheep to fertilize and clean up the yard and provide milk. I never, ever, ever thought he would suggest it.

I know, he said one, but you can’t have a flock animal all alone.  They don’t do well.  So, I started doing some research. Lots of research.  I didn’t want to say, ‘OK, lets go get a goat,’ without knowing how to care for all their needs and if I was capable of doing so. Every once and a while he would ask what I was reading and I think he realized that his comment from the other day struck a chord.

I learned that goats can’t be left by themselves; they need a companion.  They don’t like getting wet or eating off the ground.  They don’t even like sleeping directly on the ground (who knew!).  They require clean water and refuse to drink soiled water (unlike a dog).  They like to play and can be social with humans, but don’t require their constant attention with expressions of affection.  Not to say they’ll completely ignore you.  If a kid has been handled frequently by human hands, they will be more likely to respond to you and seek out your company.  In the winter they need an allotment of hay to eat and grain only as a treat (it’ll make them fat otherwise).  The goats need room to run and toys with which to play.  Not like squeeky toys and catnip, but old tires, doghouses, large cable spools, rocks or stumps to jump on so they can play “king of the mountain”.

The possibilities are endless. And so are the problems.  Goats breed like rabbits since the does come into estres often through the year and can get pregnant as early as 2 months of age if not properly separated from the bucklings.  To prevent problems with goring or injury of the goats themselves it is recommended that they be disbudded – have their horns removed at a young age.  This should be done within the first few weeks of life to minimize pain and recovery time.  Goats are more prone to parasitic infection than sheep so they need to be dewormed at least twice if not four times a year.  To maintain their health they need to be vaccinated from tetanus, coccidia, and overeating disease.  They need to have their hooves trimmed at least every 4 to 6 weeks.

Goats eating habits have been notoriously overexagerated according to the articles I read.  Though they will eat almost continuously as long as there is browse available they don’t eat everything.  They test everything in their path sometimes biting or ripping, but once they discover it is not edible they leave it be. Unfortunately this is not the case with plant life.  They can and will eat all in their path – grass, weeds, flowers, bushes, bark, branches and leaves.  The problem here is that most landscaping plants are toxic to the goat.  So to keep your goat healthy and your landscaping in tact you’ll have to prepare a fenced enclosure that has all they need.

Their indoor enclosure needs to be kept dry and clean to keep the goats happy and healthy. The suggestion I found for space requirements in the spleeping area was 5 sq. feet per goat.  This was for the Boer goat and other standard varieties, for the miniatures it would be less though overcrowding is definitely not recommended.  Most of the goat enclosures I saw online were merely 3-sided lean-tos that provided shade from the sun and protection from the rain.  Living in NW Ohio this would be OK in the summer and fall months, but in the winter something more enclosed is necessary.  We actually have an outbuilding that has become a home for “my” outdoor tools and gardening paraphenalia.  There is an area with a little door that used to lead to a little hot room/greenhouse type “thing” that I destroyed last year since it was falling apart (and my husband hated it).  I thought this 80 sq. foot area in between the main entrance, the overhead door and the front wall would be a perfect stall area for a couple goats.

At first I thought it would be nice to have goats for milk and meat and I searched for the best type to fit those requirements.  The type I found at first was the Boer goat.  A double muscled South African breed that is prized for it’s large size and hardiness in all types of environments.  One article said that while a Nubian (dairy goat) would be wilting in the shade on a hot day the Boer would be happily browsing in the field in full sun.  Then I found out that the bucks get to 200 lbs. and the does to 150 lbs.  That was the end of that.  With two small children that would want to help care for the animals, something that was heavier and obviously stronger than me would not be a good idea to have roaming around my yard.  Goats are independent and unpredictable at times so I figured the smaller the better.

So my next search led me to miniature goats.  The breeds I found were the Nigerian Dwarf and the Pygmy.  The Nigerian Dwarf is more slender and prized mainly for it’s milk production, possibly up to 3 quarts a day.  The Pygmy are similar in stature to the Nigerian Dwarf, but more stout and can be used for milk or meat.  Now my interest was really piqued.  I had found the breed I would prefer to have.  Now the problem was figuring out what would be the best way to get what I wanted from these animals while providing them the proper care and allowing my children to enjoy them as well.

If I want milk I’ll have to have a doe.  But if I don’t know what to do if I also want meat.  If I get a wether (the goat equivalent of a steer) to raise for meat the doe would be left alone through the winter which would be very lonely for her.  If I got only wether’s to raise for meat then I’d not have the benefit of having daily goat milk.  so I started thinking of another way to provide companionship for the dairy goat yet still be able to have one raised for meat.  Out of curiosity I started searching for miniature sheep.  I wasn’t terribly interested in lamb for meat or sheep’s milk, but sheeps habit of grazing was attractive to me.  Sheep would be more likely to act as a “living lawnmower” than a goat since they eat grass more readily whereas goats prefer to “weed” the yard. Oh, and goats don’t have top front teeth (weird, huh).  But I digress. . . I found the Olde English Southdown Babydoll Sheep.  OMG, talk about cute, fuzzy and teddy bear like when they are in full wool.

My thought was this – I could have a Pygmy doe to breed and milk, a Pygmy wethered buckling (at first) for meat, and a Babydoll sheep as a companion to graze and for wool.  The kids born could be sold as pets or breeding stock or raised for meat in subsequent years.  I’d have to find a local sire service to breed my doe since I would not want to have an aggressive and stinky ram on my small property.  If I had a large farm I’d be happy to have a herd sire and a flock of goats roaming “the hills”.

Since I am not looking to show my animals a registered doe or wether would not be necessary and may actually be an extra expense.  The Babydoll sheep are ultra expensive and bred mainly for pets though they do have nice wool that could be sold.  Ive not been able to find any babydoll sheep that are not registered.  I would kind of like to have a doe rather than a wether just to have the possibility of breeding her open in the future.  The Babydoll breed is in “recovery” which means at one time it was almost extinct.  How sad that would have been.  I would love to be able to contribute in some way to the breeds recovery.

The tasks I have at hand before I can embark on acquiring any animals:

– Set up a proper stall in my outbuilding
– Set up an outdoor fenced enclosure tall enough to prevent the goats from jumping out (6 ft tall, 10 x 10 enclosure like a dog kennel should work)
– Set up goat toys – tires, stumps, rocks, doghouse, etc.
– Set up a hay feeder that hangs on the wall that is wide enough to get the hay out but not so wide the goats get their heads stuck
– Set up benches or sleeping shelves in the stall for the goats
– Get an automatic waterer that is heated (for the winter) and attach it to the wall somehow so it doesn’t get knocked over
– Find a source for a mineral/salt block and if I get a sheep make sure it is formulated without copper
– Find a copper supplement to feed to the goats
– Find a source for straw for bedding
– Find a source for goat/sheep feed (make sure no copper if have a sheep)
– Hoof trimming shears and files
– Get a milking/shearing/trimming stand, buckets
– Get harnesses and leads for walking
– Get a movable enclosure (goat tractor) to move around the yard so they can graze and browse without worrying about being poisoned, attacked, or run over

Am I forgetting anything?

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