Over the past few years, owning goats has become more popular. Who hasn’t seen the adorable videos on the internet of baby goats (see below)? For many, the trend of raising goats started with keeping chickens. Backyard chickens helped us rediscover the joys of animal husbandry and homegrown food. Moreover, people want self-sufficiency and they also want to know that their food has been produced responsibly, without a long list of suspicious ingredients.
Whether you want to branch out from chickens or want to become more self-sufficient, goats are the way to go. They provide all of the benefits of meat and dairy cattle, but at a much lower cost and in much smaller spaces. Is raising goats for you?
What Raising Goats Requires…
- Check regulations in your area. Some cities and homeowner’s associations prohibit livestock because of pest, disease, or noise concerns. If there are no prohibitions on raising goats, then you’ll just need a little bit of fenced-in land. Use either a 6-foot high cattle grid or electric fence so that your goats can’t jump out or push through the barrier. You can keep 2-4 goats on an acre of poor, sparse pasture, and 6-8 goats on good, fertile land. Remember, good pasture doesn’t necessarily mean weed-free—goats tend to prefer weedy forage to plain grass.
- Consider space. Goats prefer group spaces when it comes to housing. A small backyard barn is an ideal shelter for a goat or two. Does should have 20-30 square feet of indoor space apiece, while bucks require about 100 square feet. In the winter, bed the floor with straw or wood shavings, but leave it bare in the summer to prevent flies and other pests.
- Feed and water. You’ll need an assortment of feeders for hay and grain, and water troughs that are large enough to provide hydration all day long. Most goats eat a pound of grain per day, and up to four pounds for large meat goats or lactating dairy does. They will also eat between four and five pounds of hay or forage per day, and they should have access to a mineral block so that they aren’t missing any crucial nutrients.
- Go smaller? If you don’t have a lot of room, dwarf goats require roughly half the indoor and outdoor space that standard goats need. Dwarf goats also eat less—up to two pounds of grain per day and three pounds of hay.
- Pests, diseases. You should also familiarize yourself with the diseases and parasites that can affect goats. Coccidia, worms, and lice are examples of such parasites, but they are also easily managed. You’ll need to keep hooves healthy through proper trimming. For lactating goats, proper udder hygiene is crucial because it prevents mastitis, an inflammation of the udder. As with any animal, there is a lot to learn about keeping goats safe and healthy.
Which Goat is Right for You?
- If you’re raising goats for dairy: If you are interested in dairy goats, Saanens are considered the gold standard. Lactating Saanens produce up to nine pounds of milk per day, with 3.3% milk fat and 2.9% protein. Despite the lower milk fat and protein percentages, Saanen milk is still considered the best for cheese making because of the large fat globules it contains that improve the texture of the cheese.
- If you don’t have a lot of space: Nigerian Dwarf goats are ideal for smaller spaces. They are roughly half the size of standard goats, and they produce half as much milk: 3-4 pounds per day. Their milk has approximately 6% milk fat and 4.4% protein.
- If you want goats for meat: The goat meat industry relies heavily on Boer goats, and with good reason. These are the largest, most well-muscled goats that you can find. Does of this breed reach 225 pounds live weight, and bucks can grow to a massive 300pounds! Boer goats can also be milked, but they don’t produce as much milk as dairy breeds, and with smaller teats (sometimes four instead of two), they are more difficult to milk than most other breeds.
- If you’re raising goats for dairy or meat: Nubians are a good go-between breed. They are considered a dairy goat but are stockier than most dairy breeds, so they are sometimes raised as meat or meat-and-milk goats. They produce an average of six pounds of milk per day, which is considered among the best, with 4.9% milk fat and 3.7% protein. Does can grow to up to 135 pounds, while bucks reach roughly 160 pounds. Or consider pygmy goats if you have space constraints. The meat breed of choice. They look very similar to Nigerian Dwarf goats but don’t produce as much milk. Pygmy goats weigh 75-85 pounds on average—an ideal size if you don’t need or want much more than 30-50 pounds of meat in the freezer.