Goats 101 (becoming a goat herder)

Our alpaca venture failed miserably, with a great financial loss, and two stubborn alpacas now working as lawn mowers somewhere in Limon.  I had to give them away.  I do love our chickens.  I adore the ducks.  I love goats.  I am smitten.

Our adventure started badly enough, a doe that wouldn’t come near us, would sit in the milk bucket, and give us dirty looks.  Katrina is so happy in her new home though, surrounded by baby goats, chickens, little kids, and even lets her new mom milk her without a stanchion!

Our other doe loved us tremendously, following us like a lost puppy, always wanting to help and snuggle.  She died in March giving birth.  Yet, our hearts were still in the game.  We were ready to be goat herders.

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Elsa was a gift from my goat guru, Jill, after Loretta’s death.  Jill had to move shortly after and also offered me Elsa’s mom, who is our milker around here.  Gentle and sweet, she is the perfect goat.  Amy and Rob adopted Katrina’s doeling that was born on the farm and adopted three others from Jill and have been boarding them here.  Six caprine comedians taking up residence.  They are a delight.  I highly recommend getting goats.

Here are some things you may want to know when contemplating becoming a goat herder.

1.  What kind of goat?

Fainting goats and pigmy goats are very good companions for horses and other pack animals that may get lonely in a large pasture.  They are fun to watch and are incredibly, ridiculously cute.  However, they are not really great as milkers and pigmies have issues giving birth.  They are more pet status then anything else.

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Nigerian Dwarves make really great goats in the city.  Denver and Colorado Springs now allow small goats, which Dwarves qualify as.  They are a sturdy, fun-loving breed.  They can give a quart or two a day of fresh, raw goat’s milk, perfect for a family homestead.

Twila giving Isabelle ideas of things they probably oughtn't be doing.

Alpines, Saanens, Oberhasli, and Nubians are great milkers.  Large in stature (Isabelle is bigger than our greyhound), they have large udders and drop twins and triplets often.  Nubians have higher milk fat in their milk which makes very creamy cheese.  Turns out Dwarves have the highest milk fat but you would need four days of milk to get enough to make a good block of cheddar!

We started with Dwarves because they were easier to handle in my mind.  We ended up with a purebred Saanen and her daughter who is half Saanen and half Alpine.  They are very easy to handle.  I am coveting Amy and Rob’s Alpine that lives here.  She looks like a Siberian Husky and is gorgeous and adorably sweet.  I may be adopting one of my friend, Nancy’s goats.  When she passed away her goats were quickly dispersed but one has come around to needing a new home again.  She is an older girl but still a great milker and now that I am obsessed with making hard cheeses, I would like a Nubian.

Expect to pay anywhere from free (if someone is desperate because they are moving) to $200 for a non-registered goat and between $200 to upwards of $800 for papered, purebred kids.

Always get two.  They are pack animals and cannot live in singles.

2. What About Disbudding? 

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Remember my story about the bad goats at our friends’ house that were babysitting?  Made me not want large goats at all.  Or goats with horns.  One thing that Jill and Nancy did the same in their goat raisings was disbudding.  Seems mean, hold down a two week old goat kid while they scream bloody murder and set a hot curling iron looking thing to their horn nubs and burn it off!  But, on closer inspection, it is actually not what it seems.  Jill’s goat guru (do you think I will ever be called that?), Brittney, disbuds all of ours.  She showed us how they are screaming because they are prey animals and being held down means they are about to be eaten.  You’d be screaming bloody murder too.  The burning is only on the hard, nerveless horn endings and takes about ten seconds.  Done.  It doesn’t touch the skin and two seconds later the goat kids are running around playing again.  I appreciate not having horns stabbed into my hip if someone wants to play, or having them stuck in the fence.

3. What Do They Eat?

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Goats like a diet of pure alfalfa flakes supplemented with pastures of weeds.  Actually their favorite is trees.  They love giant, green, taunting limbs of leaves.  And tree bark.  After the trees are gone, they will reluctantly munch on weeds.  It is a fallacy that goats eat everything.  One would be surprised to know that they are rather finicky eaters actually.  They will eat about three quarters of the hay you set before them, sigh, and wander off to find a nice bush sticking through the fence from the neighbors yard.  They do not eat tin cans, or odds and ends.

They should also be supplemented (this can be set out in small bowls to free feed) minerals and baking soda.  Minerals they are missing and baking soda to get rid of bloat.  They will help themselves as needed.

Lots of fresh water is imperative, of course.

4. Playtime

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Goats love a good time.  We have several discarded tires that are stacked up along with an old, rusty keg.  Doug calls it Mount Kegel.  It is a playground of fun (and used to reach the higher branches of trees).  Goats are really fun to watch play.  They head-butt (good thing they are disbudded) and jump 360’s off of wood piles and feeding troughs.  One night Doug was in the pasture with them at dusk.  Goats are particularly silly at dusk.  He would run across the yard then stop and turn to look at them.  All at once they would all rear up and start hopping on all fours like giant bunny rabbits….sideways towards him!  It was the funniest thing I have seen in a good minute.

5. Pasture Rotation

We are in a fine, old fashioned back yard so how we do pasture rotation is by fencing off half the yard.  They stay on one side for three weeks, then move to the other.  This allows them the grass to start growing back.

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6. Housing

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I bought a simple igloo for the goats as their house on one side of the yard.  The old alpaca shelter consists of a covering between the chicken coop and the garage.  It keeps the rain out and there is a gate on one side.  Goats do not need an entire barn.  The igloo is weather proof and kept rather warm even on our below zero days and nights last winter.  They enjoy sleeping outdoors when the weather is nice.

7. Breeding

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This one I have not experienced yet.  This is what I know.  Boys are smelly when they get older.  When they want to get it on they pee on their faces and let loose an oily substance on their skin that makes them irresistible to the opposite sex (of goat).  Lord, they are maniacs.  So, we will rent a man.  Jill knows of the perfect date for Elsa and Isabelle come late fall and either they will visit him or he shall come here and we will have a rendezvous and come spring will hopefully have adorable new babies around.  Dwarves should not be bred their first year.  That is what happened with Loretta (on accident).  Only the large breeds can have sex as teenagers.  The Dwarves need to wait a year.

8. Births, Milking, and Bottle Feeding.

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I have only had one birth here at the farm and it was while I was at the coffee shop so I missed it.  I did a post on milking. Click on any of the highlighted words in this post to read the relating post.  I highly recommend bottle feeding.

9. Fencing and Keeping Them In.

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Remember last year’s babies were out running down the street, eating the neighbor’s grass, and running through the fairgrounds during a rodeo?  We had the fence reinforced with smaller field fencing before this new bunch arrived.  Twila was being terrible to the little ones, as she usually is, so we put her in the other yard.  A split second later she cleared a four foot fence and was back with the little ones.

“How do you keep a goat in?” I asked Jill before this whole goat herding thing started.  She replied that if a goat wants out, there is no stopping it.  If they are happy, they will stay put.  I have friends that use six foot fences, some electrified, watch for holes, and things that they can use as spring boards.  We have a three and a half, some places four foot, fence of field fencing.  The kids stay put.  There was a new hole in one though the other day and Doug asked real casual like, “Why is Tank in your potatoes?”  He didn’t wait around to see if anyone was coming to fix the fence, he just wanted those potatoes!  Be vigilant but also know that they will and can outsmart you if they wish.  Just give them more tires and a lot of hugs.

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I am by no means an expert yet.  I am learning by trial and error, from my goat gurus, and from lots of books.  The goats teach me most of all.  Goats, as with every other creature on earth, are all very different.  Each one has a unique personality.  We have found a whole new layer of joy by becoming goat folks.

 

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