Goats are probably one of the easiest animals to keep. They’re versatile, hardy and they don’t actually require a great deal of attention. Although their playful and curious nature can present certain management challenges, they are easily integrated with other livestock and are very adaptable.
Despite popular opinion, goats won’t actually eat your trampoline, children’s toys, tin cans or the washing from the clothesline. They will chew on the bark from trees and eat fallen fruit, most garden plants and flowers, but this is prevented with careful management and good fencing.
They are full of personality and make great family pets. As a general rule, does are not aggressive and even bucks can sometimes be friendly and approachable. The secret to successfully keeping goats is in the selection of your animals. Don’t rush into your purchase. Make inquiries and find out the facts first. You don’t want to be stuck with animals that simply don’t suit your needs.
Do Basic Research First
Step 1: Identify your reason for getting this animal. Is it for meat, wool, milk production, as a lawnmower or simply as a family pet?
Step 2: As with any animal, make sure you can properly care for it before you take it on.
- Do you have enough land to keep it happy?
- Do you have enough fodder?
- If you are going to grain feed, can you seriously afford to keep it?
- Do you have a reliable water source?
- Can you install adequate fencing to keep it safe?
And what about your bug-out location – does that have a reliable water source? You won’t be able to store water in advance for animals, so it will need to be somewhere near a waterhole or river.
You also need to be sure that you have a ready supply of suitable food for you goat at your bug-out location – you don’t want to have to store up food for a time of crisis.
Take the time to do your research thoroughly. While animals are an excellent way to be self-sufficient when things get messy, they are also added responsibility and expense.
If you are new to the goat ‘game’, it’s advisable to buy does (female goats) rather than bucks/billy goats (male). The latter requires more practiced handling, plus they have a very distinct odor which can be very unpleasant. Wethers or castrated males, do not produce the odor and are mostly fine for beginners.
Which Breed of Goat is Best for Me?
Owning your own dairy goat could save you a lot of money on your grocery bill. If you have the know-how and equipment, goat milk makes excellent butter, yogurt, cheese, ice-cream and soap. All items that are excellent for your own use and prove to be powerful for bartering in tough times.
However, you must first understand the lactation cycle. The only way a doe will produce milk is for her to give birth. The birthing process triggers the lactation cycle, a process known as ‘freshening’. Once the doe has given birth, you must decide how to raise the kid. There are two options, either leave it with its mother or separate the two and raise the kid on a bottle.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages so you’ll need to assess which one is going to suit your needs best. If the birth is a multiple one, you may be best to leave the doe with one or two, then take the other one or two and bottle feed them. This will reduce the stress on the doe and ensure that all of the kids receive an adequate supply of milk.
The initial quantity of milk will be high, then the supply will taper gradually over the course of the year. Goat kids can be successfully weaned at about 8 – 12 weeks, which means that you will have the better part of the year to enjoy the milk yourself.
Your doe may produce milk for up to three years and can be milked whilst they are pregnant, however you must let her ‘dry up’ at least two months before she is due to give birth again. This will allow the freshening to take place and give her time to build up her physical reserves again before the new kid arrives.
Common dairy breeds are:
- Alpines: large goats, sometimes known as French Alpines. Come in a variety of patterns and colors. Consistently produce a good amount of milk. Very hardy and versatile.
- Nubian: one of the most popular milking breeds. Large, floppy eared goats. Tend to be noisy. The butterfat content of their milk is high, which is ideal for making cheese. Also make good eating.
- Toggenburg: extremely attractive to look at, with colors ranging from chocolate brown to fawn. Milk production is moderate, but lactation is prolonged. The butterfat content of the milk is low and flavor isn’t as good as other breeds.
- Oberhasli: sweet tempered goats, which are easily milked. Beautifully colored and with distinct markings. Come in a variety of colors from black to reddish brown.
- Sable and Saanen: white or off-white goats. High milk production, which makes them an excellent choice for commercial dairies. Medium size. Very hardy and of moderate temperament.
- LaMancha: very friendly goats with very small ears. High butter-fat content of milk. Their unusual appearance makes them great show animals.
You must be prepared to take particular care about providing adequate and suitable food for your milking goats. To maintain a good milk production, your doe will need extra supplements and will not do well on grass alone. As a rule of thumb, 2.5kg of concentrates is necessary per day, plus access to Lucerne or hay, for a daily return of 4ltrs of milk.
Try to feed 500gms of concentrates per day per liter of milk, plus a little extra for maintenance. Goat kids can be weaned at 2 months, but you must be sure that they are eating pasture a little while before you take them from their mothers.
Goat meat has become increasingly popular for eating in the US. It is widely consumed throughout the world and is favored by many ethnic groups. It is lean and has a higher protein content than many other red meats, and its flavor is genuinely unique.
This meat, while delicious for your own consumption, is also going to be a real asset post-disaster. You’ll have something that is really worth selling or a powerful item to trade for something you need.
Typically, meat goats tend to be robust, low maintenance animals that are resistant to many of the parasites and ailments that can affect other breeds. This is largely because they evolved in somewhat feral conditions and have become largely self-sufficient.
They generally grow fast and are fantastic hedge trimmers as well as lawn mowers! They will happily chew their way through many weeds and plants that other grazing animals avoid. Most goats have the added benefit of being suitable for eating, however some have been selectively bred for palatability and size.
Some of the most common meat breeds are:
- Boer: white and brown. Often expensive to purchase, but very adaptable and hardy. Mild temperament.
- Kiko: well-muscled animal of large size. Meat is very lean. Animals are extremely adaptable to a wide variety of climates.
- Tennessee fainting goat: generally shy and reserved, but easily handled and of sweet temperament. Smaller breed.
- Spanish goat: requires minimum care and attention. Are polyestrous (can breed all year round) which allows for constant kidding and meat supply.
- Savanna: drought tolerant and heat resistant breed. Does make fantastic mothers. Highly adaptable to harsh climatic conditions.
Correct slaughtering techniques are really important to maintain the tenderness of goat meat, so you need consider this aspect too.
Goats for Fiber
We often think of sheep as the best source of home-grown fiber, however many of the more luxurious and extravagant fibers come from goats. Mohair and cashmere are two examples. If you are a home spinner or have a local market for fine fibers, this may be a really good option for you.
Raising fiber goats requires more work and care than some of the regular meat or dairy breeds, so you need to consider a few of these points before deciding to head down this track:
- Do you have equipment and/or local facilities to undertake correct shearing?
- If you are not intending to use the fiber yourself, is there a local market you can easily tap into?
- Are you prepared to invest the extra time in care that is needed?
If the answers to the above questions are yes, a smart prepper can get the best of both worlds by choosing a fiber goat that also makes a good meat goat.
Here are some of common fiber breeds:
- Cashmere: not a breed, but a type of goat. Good for both fiber and meat. Hardy, but require more shelter from rain and cold.
- Angora: generally white, with long locks of wavy hair. The fiber from angoras is known as mohair. Does are not good mothers – may require help with suckling kids, or mothers may abandon kids. Sensitive to cold and very wet weather. Fiber from animals raised in humid conditions is generally not such good quality.
- Nigora: mini fiber breed. Good for milk as well as colorful fiber.
- Pygora: mini breed of fiber goat. Clever and active. Produce slightly less than a regular angora.
General Care for Goats
Pasture and Housing
Strictly speaking, goats are not grazing, but browsing animals. Therefore, they need a certain amount of extra fiber in their diet, such as leaves and branches. They eat plants from the top down, instead of breaking them off at the base of the stem, and will happily chew their way through blackberries and other unwanted weeds.
This browsing nature means that they can be successfully kept along with other grazing animals such as cattle or sheep, without competing for food. The agility of their bodies and the diversity of their diet also means that they can be kept on terrain that is totally unsuitable for other grazing animals. Adequate fencing is one of the biggest issues facing goat keepers.
It’s no secret goats are Houdini’s and it’s not unusual for them to wriggle through or under what you thought was a goat-proof fence! They are curious too, so if it’s chewable they’ll chew it and if it’s climbable they’ll climb it. Ideal height is about four-foot high. Maybe a little higher for more active breeds – it’s a case of knowing your stock and their personalities.
Wooden, tin or chain link fencing are all good options. If you’re simply fixing up existing fencing or low on funds, use electric wire. You will need multiple strands, one high so that they can’t jump it, one in the middle and one low enough they can’t crawl under it – goats aren’t dumb and they’ll try everything!
Access to shelter is also necessary. Your climate will largely determine what sort of shelter you provide – if your winters are severe you’ll need a much more weather-tight shelter than if you live in a moderately warm climate. Use your common sense to think out what they’ll need, but remember goats hate the rain!
Shelter doesn’t need to be fancy – a simple shed to protect them from predators at night and provide relief from the elements. They like to come in before dark. The shelter can also double as a sick bay for ill or injured animals or for pregnant or birthing does.
Your livestock will require a good source of clean drinking water, especially if your summers are hot and dry. Consider these two points when choosing your BOL too.
Health and Care issues
It is wise to maintain a good relationship with your local veterinarian and seek medical advice if you are concerned about the health of your animals. Taking time regularly to study your flock will help you recognize the warning signs of a sick animal. You’re bound to face illness in your animals from time to time, so here are some things to watch for:
- Lack of appetite
- Hot and inflamed udder
- Teeth grinding
- Persistent crying or unusual calling
- Crusty-looking eyes or pale eyelids
Goats are particularly prone to gut worms, so they need to be treated accordingly. This problem may be helped by regularly rotating pastures. Check your stock regularly for parasites such as lice or ticks. Bathing your goats is not strictly necessary, however it may help to remove parasites and make clipping easier.
It is advisable to brush and clip your goat’s hair at least once a year. If this is done at the onset of summer, it will keep the animal cool during the hotter months. However, many breeds shed their coats after winter and will not require this procedure.
Trimming the hair around the tail and udder regions of your does will help to keep the area clean during kidding and lactation. It is also necessary to trim the hooves of your stock about once a month so that they don’t become overgrown and difficult to walk on. Goats require immunizations from time to time – consult your veterinary practitioner for advice on this.
Overall, I honestly believe that goats are an easy and relatively trouble-free animal to keep. They are generally self-sufficient and can provide enough milk and meat to be really worth the space they occupy. Goats are also really good fun! We have found them to be far more intelligent than sheep and the hand-raised kids are extremely playful and love human company.
Post disaster, there is nothing quite like animals to restore a sense of normality and routine into your life. They can, of course, become your suppliers of milk and meat, but more than that they can be vital to healing the distressed mind and creating a reason to keep living.
You just don’t know what’s around the corner, so the wise prepper is forearmed. Keeping a few of your own animals will ensure you and your family can eat, as well as providing you with some really desirable bartering items. And when it’s all boiled down and survival is the order of the day, what more could you want?