Tips for New Goat Owners
***This information has been compiled as general reference only. I am not a veterinarian, and this information is not intended to replace professional advice. I disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this information and offer no guarantees of its effectiveness.
doe – mature female goat
buck – mature male goat
kid – baby goat
wether – castrated male goat
Your new goat needs another goat for companionship. Goats are herd animals and the majority of goats are not happy alone. An unhappy goat is often very vocal and may disturb your neighbors and try to escape his new enclosure to be closer to you.
Goats are usually quite stressed when moved to a new home and may cry a lot and not eat or drink much. Usually by a week or two they have settled in. A little extra tender loving care is important during this adjustment period. I like to provide extra vitamins, immune boosting herbs, and probiotics with vitamin E.
Shelter from wind and rain and a dry place to bed down is essential for goats. On rainy days, most goats won’t go outside to eat and will need to be fed inside. Goats need a draft free but well ventilated shelter. If you plan to raise kids, you will need a better set-up than if you just have a pair of goats as pets.
My Nigerians are happy to stay inside the four foot tall woven wire pasture fence we use but I know of other people who needed to erect a five foot tall fence to contain their little goats. If they aren’t happy in their pasture, goats can become escape artists so be sure to plan ahead for secure fences. It isn’t any fun when your goat gets out of its enclosure, plays “king of the mountain” on your new car, and eats your prized rose bushes.
I don’t recommend tying goats on a rope or chain because they will often eventually find a way to strangle themselves. Also, they have no protection from dogs and other potential predators. I think it is okay to tie a goat if you are working close by outside and can watch them. I have found that a cable used to tie dogs, strung through an old hose, works well to prevent tangling.
Goats are browsers and are happiest when they can pick and choose from a variety of trees, brush, grasses, and weeds in a pasture or wooded area. Since goats like to eat so many different types of plants, it is especially important that you keep your goats away from your garden and other plants you don’t want eaten. For the goats’ safety, you need to remove poisonous plants from the goat living areas. Some plants are fatally poisonous to goats. A few common ones in my area are Azaleas and Rhododendrons. You can consult your county extension office for more information on poisonous plants or find a book or web site with a listing.
You may have heard the phrase, “goats eat tin cans”, but in reality, goats are very picky eaters when it comes to cleanliness. In fact, they usually won’t eat or drink anything that has any trace of manure or urine on it. Goats need to have their grain put in a dish or feeder so it isn’t soiled. Hay should be in a tub, wooden box, hay manger or something to keep it clean and help prevent waste.
Never change the diet of a goat quickly or you may have a sick or dead goat. Goats will eat grain until they kill themselves so never let them get into the bag of grain. Be aware that moldy hay could also kill your goat.
Growing animals, does in late pregnancy, and lactating does often require some grain in addition to good quality grass or alfalfa hay. I usually feed my growing kids and goats in early pregnancy ½ to 1 cup of grain a day. Does in the last six weeks of pregnancy are fed up to two cups a day. If a doe is a heavy milker, I will feed up to two pounds (about 4 cups) of grain a day.
Mature wethers and dry (not milking) does typically don’t need any grain but they do love a little treat. For health reasons, a wether should not be fed grain once it is over a year of age. You should be able to easily feel a goat’s ribs but not see them through the goat’s hair coat.
A commonly fed grain is called COB (corn, oats, and barley). However, growing, pregnant, and lactating does require a feed higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Many feed stores sell a 16% or 18% protein dairy goat feed. I mix my own feed to be 16% to 18% protein and include corn, barley, oats, soybean meal, black oil sunflower seeds, and pellets containing vitamins and minerals. I feed approximately 1/3 cup sunflower seeds per mature goat daily.
Always provide a mineral blend, which includes selenium (Se). Don’t feed your goats sheep minerals because sheep minerals do not contain the trace mineral copper which is essential for healthy goats. I mix my goats’ minerals with several other supplements including a product called “Diamond V Yeast Culture”, kelp meal, and baking soda.
I usually figure on my Nigerians eating about two to three pounds of good grass or alfalfa hay a day. I allow them to have free choice grass hay when pasture isn’t available and about a pound daily of premium alfalfa hay. Growing goat kids and lactating does often need additional alfalfa hay for added protein and vitamins.
Goats typically need their hooves trimmed every 8 weeks. You can buy hoof trimmers called “Shear Magic” from livestock catalogs for around $17. Most experienced goat owners wouldn’t be without these really great hoof trimmers. However, you can use garden pruners if they work for you.
Internal parasites are a common in goats and thus goats must be checked for worms on a regular basis to keep them healthy. It is best to have fecal samples tested for worm eggs by your veterinarian to determine the type of worms and the extent of the problem. My goats are dewormed routinely in the spring right after kidding and again in the late summer before breeding. There are many dewormers for goats including both chemical and natural ones so consult a veterinary for your best options.
I give my goats a vaccination called CD&T once or twice a year to protect them from Enterotoxaemia and Tetanus. Vaccinate a doe 4-6 weeks before she is due to kid to give the kids protection when they are born. Opinions vary so consult your veterinary, but I vaccinate kids with CD&T when they about 5-weeks-old and give them a booster shot 3-4 weeks later. I buy the CD&T vaccine through a livestock catalog but you can also obtain it from your veterinarian and feed stores. I give the vaccine SQ (under the skin) in the armpit area of the goat. I use a 3cc syringe with a ½ inch 20 gauge needle.
Most of the northwest is deficient in Selenium so a supplemental shot of BoSe (selenium and vitamin E) is commonly required for good goat health. Injections are given only in areas of the country deficient in selenium and it must be obtained from a veterinarian.
In our mild climate, goats will often get lice. If a goat is fond of itching itself, it probably has lice. Especially watch for lice on young kids. The lice can take so much of the small kid’s blood that they actually stunt the kid’s growth. You can buy lice powder at most feed stores or dust them with diatomaceous earth (the type used in gardens for pest control). Clipping a goat’s hair short in summer (1/4 inch) will discourage lice. My preferred method for getting rid of lice is a product called Eprinex because it is simple and works 100%. Don’t worry; you won’t get lice from your goats!
A normal rectal temperature for a mature goat is 101.5 to 102.5 degrees. An active kid can have a normal rectal temperature as high as 103. If a goat has a temperature over 104 and isn’t eating, you definitely have a sick goat. Sick goats often have their hair fluffed out and stand with their head down and body hunched up. If they have a fever, they may also be shivering. It is best to consult a veterinary for advice when a goat has these symptoms.
I highly recommend having goats disbudded (horn buds burned so horns never grow) for your safety and the safety of the animals around them. However, I don’t recommend disbudding your own kids until you become a more experienced goat keeper. Most buck kids are ready to be disbudded at a week of age but doe kids sometimes don’t have their horn buds emerge until they are closer to three weeks of age. Most kids are over the stress of disbudding soon after the process is complete. Some kids are naturally polled (hornless) if one of their parents is polled. I am breeding for polled goats because I dislike disbudding my babies.
There are several options for castrating a buck kid. I use a band-castrating tool because it is simple, bloodless, and the kids aren’t uncomfortable for very long. I usually put the bands on the kids when they are 7-8 weeks old. I castrate all buck kids unless someone has reserved a particularly nice kid as a breeding buck or I am saving one for my herd. Bucks are very smelly and are often more difficult to handle than wethers and thus do not make very good pets.
Until you are an experienced breeder, I recommend you wait until a doe is at least a year old before breeding her. Personally, I wait until my doe kids reach a minimum of 40 pounds and are at least 7 months of age before breeding them. Be warned, a Nigerian buck kid can be fertile as early as 7 weeks so don’t wait too long to separate buck kids from the does. Doe kids often start coming in heat at 3 months of age.
Goats are typically pregnant for 145 to 155 days. My does typically kid on day 146 of pregnancy. Many Nigerians can breed year round but some show “heat” (when they can be bred) only from August through March. A normal heat cycle is 21 days and they are typically receptive to a buck for 1-3 days.
Mature Nigerian does often have triplets and quadruplets are not uncommon. Kids weigh between 1 and 6 pounds at birth with most around 3 pounds. Most does can easily feed twins (if the does are well fed) but only some does produce enough milk to raise healthy triplets or quads. Bottle feeding is an option when does can’t feed all their kids. Make sure kids always get colostrum for a day or two before you begin bottle-feeding. I start my bottle kids on five feedings a day (4+ ounces) but drop them to three bottles a day within a few weeks.