If you’re considering adding goats to your family’s farm then this post is for you!
One of the most common questions I get asked is “What do I need to know as a new goat owner?”
It has been 3 years since we got our first goats and I’ve had to do a ton of learning in the process, like what to feed them, what kind of shelter they need, when to deworm and how to care for them in our cold Canadian winters! Goats can make wonderful fun additions to your farm or homestead but they’re far from easy keepers! Here is a little run down on some of the main things I have learned while owning my Nigerian Dwarfs
Goats need a good 3 sided shelter, one that provides adequate wind block but enough ventilation so they don’t get strong ammonia build up which can irritate their lungs. I always keep a door open on their shelters and in the winter I use freezer strips along the doorways to help keep the cold air out and the warm air from their body heat inside the shelter. I find the freezer strips work amazing and it gives them nice ventilation while helping to keep the cold air off them. I recommend cleaning their shelter every couple weeks and adding lots of good fresh straw bedding during the winter months.
Goats need access to a good mineral supplement. Mineral makes up for what is missing in your soil, feed and water. We use a couple different minerals and have found great results with them. A mineral should always be tailored to the animals needs based on your location and what your feeding. For an every day all around good loose mineral I recommend Cargill Right Now Onyx. My does always have beautiful soft shiny winter coats when they are on this mineral. We also use a 2:1 calcium phosphorus loose mineral when the does are strictly on forage, this helps keep that ratio in balance. We offer kelp while the does are being bred and throughout their pregnancies, kelp is full of vitamins and minerals that keep the does healthy while growing babies through the colder months. I also love the Zinc and Copper powdered minerals from Mad Barn. We put these minerals out free choice in smaller amounts about once a week. I have found that I only really need to do a copper bolus once a year while following this mineral regime.
Goats drink a ton of water! They always need access to clean fresh water. During our cold Canadian winters it’s especially important that goats get some fresh WARM water. The warm water helps to keep their internal furnace stoked up and encourages them to stay hydrated when the temperature drops. Good hydration is especially important for wethers and bucks due to their risk for urinary calculi.
Goats are susceptible to all kinds of parasites especially stomach worms and coccidia. Dewormers can vary by location and I always recommend doing a fecal exam before treating for worms. Running a fecal will allow you to determine what kind of parasites you’re dealing with and if your goat actually even needs dewormer. Overusing dewormers can cause resistance so it’s always important to know what you’re dealing with first. I generally like to deworm my does just after kidding- over the summer when worms are most active in the soil.
Goats need their hooves trimmed every couple months to keep them healthy and prevent hoof rot and overgrowth that can affect how they stand and walk. We use a regular pair of clippers along with a Hoof Boss tool that works amazing to grind down their hooves and the tough hard skin on the pad of their foot. The hoof boss is a bit of an investment tool, but if you have more then 5-6 goats it’s soo worth it!
You can’t just have 1:
Goats are a herd animal! They need a couple companions to spend their days with. If you are looking at getting goats for the first time I always make sure they have a buddy waiting at their new home or we generally sell our wethers or kids in pairs if they are going to a new farm without other goats, plus having a couple goats is double the entertainment and fun!
I always recommend as a new goat owner you pick up a thermometer, taking a goat’s temperature is the first thing you should always do when you suspect something is off. A normal goat temperature is 103 F. I also recommend you have some probiotic paste as well as some vitamin b and electrolytes on hand. If a goat is under the weather or gets an upset tummy it’s important they have those 3 things. Goats are ruminants that rely on live bacteria in the stomach to digest their food. If the bacteria is disrupted and needs to be replenished then you would be safe to give your goats some probiotic paste to help balance the bacteria and a vitamin b paste to help with their appetite. Electrolytes are important if your goat ever gets scours, giving electrolytes will prevent dehydration. Baking Soda is also a handy old school bloat prevention trick. Baking Soda can be put out free choice like minerals, I have found my goats have a good instinct for knowing what their body needs and I have safely put out baking soda and minerals free choice.
One of the most important parts of goat care is their feed! Making sure your goats have a balanced diet and optimal rumen health is so crucial to a healthy happy goat! Over the summer and into the fall/winter season our goats are on a grass-timothy hay as well as their lush green grassy pasture. As winter and colder weather arrives we start adding in some higher protein alfalfa bales and once the does start kidding they are fed a diet high in alfalfa and grains. Remember to add grain into their diet gradually so their rumen has a chance to get used to the change in their diet. The does and their kids will remain on alfalfa until the summer months when they are done lactating. We usually do not feed our bucks or wethers much grain or alfalfa due to the risk they carry for Urinary Calculi. Wethers especially, do not have high physical needs and really do not need the extra grain and protein. I will feed my bucks some higher protein alfalfa when the temps dip low and they need the higher protein feed to keep warm. I have our hay tested every year to find out what the protein levels are and also to check for TDN and to see if the calcium and phosphorus levels are balanced at a 2:1 ratio.
I really hope some of this information has been helpful to new and current goat owners. There’s always sooo much to talk about when it comes to goats and I know I’m really just scratching the surface on these topics.