Goats can be a delightful, productive and profitable addition to your small farm. To make the most of goats, however, you have to be prepared to meet their needs. Is your farm ready for goats?
Why You Need Goats
If you don't have goats on your farm, you're missing out on a wide range of profitable opportunities. Different goat breeds can produce differently to meet your personal or commercial interests, with options including…
- Milk, meat and cheese for consumption or sale
- Fleece and hides for sale
- Fertilizer from goat feces
- Offering goats for commercial brush clearing services
- Opportunities to rent goats out for petting zoos, nativities or other activities
Goats can also be great companions for other livestock, including sheep, horses and cattle. As companions, goats can help reduce the stress of other animals and provide entertainment and enrichment with play and games. Furthermore, goats are just plain fun and entertaining for humans as well, and are great for agriculturally-minded kids to raise or for a 4-H program, scouting project or similar educational opportunity.
What Goats Need
Like all livestock, goats have basic needs that must be met or they will not be healthy, thriving members of your farm community. To properly care for goats, you must provide…
Goats are hardy and can do well when pastured, but they do need some variety of simple shelter or windbreak with 2-3 sides and a roof to provide protection from severe weather. A more enclosed structure, such as a stall in your barn, may be necessary for sick goats or if you have pregnant nannies. Both in an outdoor shelter and in the barn, suitable hay or straw bedding should be provided for warmth and comfort.
Goats can be escape artists, and sturdy fencing is essential to be sure they don't wander away. Depending on the breed's size, a fence at least 5-6 feet high is best, and it should be constructed with bracing on the outside so nimble goats cannot easily climb out. Posts should be securely set so goats cannot butt or lean and knock them down, and a goat-proof latch is necessary to deter curious lips from opening gates.
Goats browse and forage constantly, eating all types of weeds and other plants, and it is important to check that there are no plants poisonous to goats in their pasture. Extra hay can be welcome in skimpy pastures or if many goats are present, and nutritionally-rich supplements may be necessary for pregnant or nursing goats. All goats should have constant, reliable access to fresh, clean water.
These are intelligent animals that can get into a great deal of mischief. Providing a safe structure for goats to climb and balance can give them room to play, and they will appreciate a pile of hay bales to use as a mountain, or even a simple hay bale maze to explore. Goat-friendly toys are another necessity, and will help exercise and entertain the animals to keep them out of trouble.
All livestock needs regular veterinary checkups, including goats. Be sure your veterinarian is experienced with goats, even if the animals are kept as pets rather than for commercial or productive purposes. Learning basic goat first aid and keeping a close eye on the animals to note any irregularities is a good practice to be sure small problems don't develop into far more difficult health concerns.
Many people prefer to keep nanny goats because they are the milk producers, and nannies are generally more even-tempered than male goats, or billies. A female goat won't begin producing milk until she has had at least one kid, however, and many goat keepers find it easier to rent a billy if they plant to breed their goats. It is important to note that billies have a strong musk, and the odor can taint milk and cheese if a male is in close proximity to females long enough. Putting up with the hassle of breeding goats is well worthwhile, however, not only to encourage your nannies to produce, but also to increase the size of your goat herd for even more production or for extra goats to sell in the future.
Goats can be a fun and worthwhile addition to your small farm, and if you provide these clever animals what they need, they'll provide you with the production, profits and entertainment you want.