This fall marks 20 years on our farm. We have learned a lot about raising livestock over those two decades and have profited from it all, but the one species that is most misunderstood is the goat.
Usually, about this time of year, we start getting calls from people wanting to learn about raising goats. A popular idea is that a goat and sheep are interchangeable due to their relative sizes.
Goats are different
Goats are different from sheep in many ways. One of those differences is their mineral requirements. Goats need a much higher level of copper mineral than the sheep can tolerate. Sheep die from a high copper load.
We have pastured both species together for a day, but they must have separate time with their own minerals. High copper intake may not appear to be having any impact on goats, but copper is highly important for reproduction and the development of the neural tube in kids. Goats can easily run with cattle, on a bush pasture for example, because those two species can coexist very well.
Goats also do not metabolize medications like a sheep. Safeguard wormer, for example, must be dosed much higher than in sheep, according to a company representative. This is important to know because goats, which normally eat by browsing, have little natural resistance to parasites. They were made to eat brush and will graze if necessary, but do better in a bush pasture. Some medications simply are not to be used on goats. Micotil, for example, an antibiotic used to control respiratory disease in cows and sheep, will kill a goat.
When trying to plan housing for a goat operation we usually tell people goats probably do best in housing that would be suitable for a dairy calf. Goats do not appreciate getting wet or standing out in the wind. They do not handle damp weather and need shelter all year from the elements. This does not mean that they cannot go to pasture it means they have to be able to come home to a shelter if it rains. We have had our goats push through a five-wire high tensile electric fence, which normally contains them, to run for cover when thunder starts. In the winter months, if it is windy they will not go outside to eat hay. We’ve had to devise a way to feed them inside their shelters.
It is a fact that buck goats smell strong in the rut. Goats, first cousins to deer, breed from August to February and they have some very strange habits used to entice the ladies. One of those habits involves the males urinating all down their front legs and under their chins. This is a good reason to make sure that bucks’ feet are trimmed and any other required handling is done before the does start coming into heat. Usually does begin to cycle when the days get shorter. This year though we have one doe kidding in November. This will make our winter milk supply for lambs and our son easier to manage but it is quite unusual. When we first started raising goats my husband insisted we would never have a buck on the property. Now, we usually have about three at a time and although they do smell bad you get used to it.
Another truth about goats is that if they get out of their enclosures, fruit trees will be eaten. The answer to this is to keep your pens maintained and your fences electrified. Goats are very intelligent creatures and get bored. There is profit in raising them and they will make you smile daily, but the human has to be diligent in their job or a bored goat will soon be eating your yard trees. We have never had a problem with a sheep learning how to open a gate or walk a tight rope to go and play on our tractors.
A very popular misconception about raising goats is that they can eat anything. It is not true that goats can eat tin cans and other junk and live. Goats are highly productive for their size. Our Alpine does, which weigh approximately 150 pounds, can wean two 75-pound kids (which sell at meat prices for about $52.50 each). On occasion these does have gone on to milk for a few more months to feed orphan lambs.
Their nutritional needs are high and they are by far the pickiest eaters on our farm. Although they do not need pure alfalfa hay, goats do need good quality, fine hay. Timothy hay isn’t utilized well because they seem to just nip off the heads, which is where most of the nutrition is found, and leave the stalks. However, if timothy plants are young and fine, then goats will eat the whole plant.
Goats do, however, love weedy bales with a few shrubs in them, too. We cannot supply that on a regular basis, but it makes for very happy goats in the middle of January when we give them a bale from the edges of a field.
An adult doe will eat about 1,800 pounds of hay per year, and even receive feed in their night pens in the summer. We normally supplement with pea screenings in the winter to get their diet to about 16 per cent protein. This diet still leaves room to make a profit on market kids. Although difficult to calculate the value how much you save on milk replacer, that should be taken into consideration if goats are also milking to feed orphan lambs.
Goats are profitable to raise if you spend time finding quality, healthy breeding stock to start with. Then you’re able to build from a solid foundation. They need quality feed and solid housing and they will reward you with production as well as some entertainment.