Whilst often characterised as farm or working animals, a small holding of goats can be very rewarding for the owner and is relatively easy so long as some basic rules are followed. A small holding of goats can be an excellent source of milk and meat for the owner and by raising goats yourself you can be confident they were raised in a healthy manner. Goats can also keep your land practically weed free.
Goats are social herd animals and you should plan to allow at least two goats to live together. The best breeds to keep will vary dependent on whether your main reason for keeping them is milk, meat or fibre, or whether you want them primarily as pets.
Male goats are known as bucks and the females does. Infant goats are called kids. Goats generally live 10 to 12 years, although there have been cases of goats living up to 15 years. There are over 300 distinct breeds of goat and they are most closely related to sheep, with which they can cross breed, although this is not recommended. The main products associated with goats are milk, cheese, meat, mohair, and cashmere.
Goat milk is becoming more popular and a large dairy doe can produce 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of milk each year (On a daily basis 2 to 3 quarts). In most areas the milk will need to be pasteurized if you want to sell it commercially, although you can drink untreated milk from your own goats. You should be aware there is some research suggesting health risks with consuming un-pasteurized goats milk. As with the milk there is growing demand for goat meat and there are claimed to be health benefits when compared to other red meats and chicken. If you intend to sell the meat you will need to comply with the rules a small commercial processor has to follow. The rules are less stringent if the meat is intended for your own consumption. Some goat owners find it more practical to outsource the slaughter to a licensed slaughterer. Goats have also been prized for three types of fibre, mohair, cashmere and cashgora.
A dry draft free building is suggested which will protect them from the elements and offers sufficient protection from rodents and other predators. Rodents could introduce disease as well as eating and fouling food and water supplies. With regard to dimensions there should be sufficient room to allow the goats to stand upright on their hind legs with necks outstretched. If penned separately each goat should have about 4 sq. m. of floor space. If the goats are housed in a group in the same area a minimum of 2 sq. m. per goat needs to be provided, although more than this minimum is recommended if conflict is to be avoided. Horned and disbudded or hornless goats should be penned separately.
Although they have a reputation for eating almost anything, they will not thrive unless provided with the right balances in their diet. Whilst they will eat weeds and other vegetation including pasture, they will need access to good quality hay. Legume hays contain more minerals, vitamins and nutrients, although as with other hays the quality can vary dependent on the harvesting, preparation and storage.
There are a number of illnesses that can affect a goat both in a chronic and curable form. Some of these illnesses can be passed to humans and other animals while some illnesses are specific to goats. Two illnesses that can bring sudden death to a goat are coccidiosis and pneumonia. Of most concern to breeders and producers are worms and parasites. A goat that is ridden with parasites and worms and left untreated will most likely suffer a rapid decline in health, production and often result in death.