I get countless emails asking me about goat care. One of the most common questions is: what should I know as a beginner goat owner? When we first got Elderberry and Buckwheat, I had NO idea what I was doing: their sister, Rosemary, died from Coccidia, I had never heard the term “disbudding”, and hoof care, vaccinations, and feed were a mystery to me. I simply wanted to get some goats because I thought they were cute!
Since then, I have learned so much about caring for goats: like what to feed, when to de-worm, and how to care for them during the different seasons. Goats are absolutely wonderful pets, and can add so much to your family’s farm!
However, it is a common misconception that goats are easy keepers – in fact, they are our most high maintenance animals. They require a close eye and lots of attention, so I thought it would be convenient to compile a list of things I wish I knew before we got goats – if you’re considering getting goats, please, learn from my mistakes!
The goat version of Parvo. I had no idea what coccidia was, and my first goat Rosemary died because of it.
Coccidia is a parasite found in all goats. I don’t believe that it is true that goats only die from this due to bad conditions. Since coccidia is in all goats, the levels are generally manageable for the animals; however, when goats become stressed, or the weather starts to change, Coccidia levels can rise to dangerous levels and kill the goat.
Personally, I don’t think this pre-treatment is necessary, but it’s important to keep a close eye on this! If you have a baby goat with scours (diarrhea), it could very well be Coccidia!
Goats need (must have!) mineral supplements for their health. These supplements make up for what is lacking in your area’s soil.
While you can purchase mineral from any supply store, the best mineral supplement is one that is specifically developed for your area.
To find mineral that is specific for your area, visit your local large animal vet. They will more than likely have mineral for you to use.
Never feed a goat mineral that isn’t developed for goats. This is critical, goats are very sensitive and can suffer from toxicity easily.
Vitamin D Milk vs Milk Replacer for Bottle Babies
update spring 2018
This is my opinion after doing my own research and consulting with veterinarians, not breeders. Ultimately, you must do your own research and make the best decision for your farm.
I have read many articles stating how horrible milk replacement formulas are for bottle fed kids. It was said that milk replacer contained soy, and baby goats do not tolerate soy protein.
This is NOT true anymore. I’ve read many articles stating how horrible goat replacement formula is, and how it is almost certain to kill your baby goat. I do not believe this is true for formulas that are not specifically made for goats.
If you would like to bottle feed your baby goat milk replacer, it MUST be a formula specifically formulated for goats.
While I have been told by many many breeders that vitamin D cow’s milk is the best replacement milk for bottle fed babies, I don’t necessarily believe that to be true.
Whole, raw, cow’s milk straight from a cow is your best bet (aside from raw goat’s milk from a goat)! However, that isn’t feasible for most people raising bottle babies.
I am a part of a facebook group dedicated to goat health where veterinarians are the only people allowed to give advice. I trust this group, and every single vet there agrees that vitamin D cow’s milk is not actually the best milk replacement for bottle fed babies. This is interesting to me because it contradicts what I’ve been told and what I read.
So what should you bottle feed a baby goat?
Your best bet is to get raw goat’s milk from a goat, your next best is to purchase goat’s milk from the grocery store or use a milk replacer formulated specifically for goat kids. I have chosen to use goat’s milk from the grocery store. A more cost effective option is to use formula.
So why not Vitamin D cow’s milk?
I know many will disagree with me stating that cow’s milk is the best replacement. This is true if the cow’s milk is raw.
The cow’s milk purchased at the grocery store is actually different in fat and protein content than goat’s milk naturally is. Goat’s need about 4.5% fat, and “whole” cow’s milk contains about 3.25% (sourcing from veterinary group).
Keep in mind you must use a goat specific formula, and it must be mixed correctly. Bottle feeding a baby goat is a huge time commitment. You are acting as the mom, trying to emulate nature.
Feedings should be small, often, and warmed (over a stove, never microwave). If you aren’t up to the stress of bottle feeding, purchasing a dam raised goat kid is always an option, plus that goat will probably have a better immune system!
By now, you have probably realized, goats are a little more delicate than you first thought. This is true for their housing preferences too.
Goats prefer a three sided shelter rather than an enclosed structure because they need quite a bit of ventilation to keep their lungs happy.
Goat’s go to the bathroom A LOT, and they go right where they sleep. Unlike horses, pigs, and alpacas, goats don’t select a single spot as their bathroom, they just go, and go, and go creating toxic levels of ammonia.
Since goat’s lungs are very sensitive, the ammonia along with dust particles, will irritate them, it is best to have a covered, yet open area for them to find shelter.
Note: if an enclosed area is your only option, just clean more often, and add a bit of stall freshner to the floor.
I purposefully had my goat’s house built with a large door that we keep open as much as possible for this reason. I clean their house weekly, although sometimes I go a bit longer.
Many goat keepers clean their goat’s pen daily – I have found that mine are okay to go a week or two; however, I sweep and “pick-up” every other day. The most important thing is that their bedding is dry! When the bedding looks wet and dirty, I know it’s time to clean! Goats DO NOT do well in dirty conditions, they will get sick very easily!
My friend Lylah from The Simple Farm has told me her secret to healthy happy goats is fresh water. Lots of fresh water. Remember when I said that goats go to the bathroom a lot??
They drink enough to make up for it! It is so important for goats to have a steady, clean water supply! You might be lucky enough to have a creek in your goat’s pen, but if not, you’ll find yourself refreshing and cleaning their water supply daily.
In the winter, it is important for goats to have access to warm water. On the coldest days, I bring out buckets of warm water for my boys to enjoy. This is especially important for wethers, due to their risk for urinary calculi. Goats tend to drink less water in the winter, and by providing warm water, it will help them stay hydrated during the cold months.
Goats are susceptible to parasites of all kinds, especially stomach worms, which cause anemia and death. Just like any other animal, it is important to get on a good de-worming schedule.
However wormers vary by location, my advice is to call your vet or speak with someone in your area with goats to find out which wormer they have found works best for them.
Goat’s hooves must be trimmed every few months to keep them healthy. This is my least favorite chore – because it is a bit scary to do simply because the clippers are so sharp, and goats don’t generally tend to get excited about the task. This is a great article on how to trim your goat’s hooves.
You can’t just have one…
Goats are herd animals and depend upon each other for safety. In addition, they are actually quite unhappy when by themselves. Unless you spend countless hours with them daily, they will be lonely by themselves. When purchasing a goat, it is important to select two or more.
Wethers & Their Issues
Goats are susceptible to urinary calculi (kidney stones), especially wethers and bucks. When wethers are castrated, their urinary tract stops forming, and creates this high risk!
Prevention is the best form of treatment: lots of fresh water, and good quality hay. It is important to only feed male goats grass hay, roughage, minerals, and necessary supplements. Grain may also be useful, but only as needed, for example: kidding mothers, recovering animals, etc… Wethers do not need typically alfalfa or grain.