An introduction to the family goat for the newcomer
with information on buying and raising happy, healthy animals.
We’ve only had goats here at Black Mesa Ranch in Snowflake, AZ for a short time but we have come to really love the critters and have learned to appreciate them as much for their individual personalities as their productivity. We’ve learned a lot about starting out with goats and would like to share some of what we have learned here.
There are about as many ways to raise goats as there are folks raising them – maybe even more. This pamphlet presents some information on how we raise our goats. As you investigate further you will get all kinds of differing and sometimes conflicting information on any given issue but this is what works for us. We’re not meat goat people or show goat people, nor are we veterinarians, so we might have a different spin on things than you will find presented elsewhere.
Here at Black Mesa Ranch, we raise full-sized, purebred Nubian dairy goats so the references in this booklet to feed amounts, medications etc. are geared to these fine animals. Other breeds, especially the mini breeds, may have differing care needs that we have not considered or included in presenting our information.
And, of course, don’t just take our word for it! Especially for medical and health questions about goats ALWAYS contact your veterinarian for their advice and council.
Goats are incredibly versatile! Goats are used widely all around the globe for meat, fiber production, brush clearing, pack & draught work, showing, pets, and, of course, milk. Over half of the world’s population drinks goat milk. Goat milk can also be used to make ice cream, butter, many different types of cheeses, and much more.
As pets, goats are friendly and affectionate. At Black Mesa Ranch, our kids (the name for baby goats) sometimes even live in the house with us for the first few days of their lives. There, they are bottle fed, and cuddled, and handled quite a bit. They bond with people and get exposed early to odd noises and slobbery dogs, follow us on walks and experience many strange, new and wonderful things. All of this helps them become accustomed to changes in their schedules and environment and should help to reduce the stress of moving to a new home. It also makes them very trusting and loving.
Pack goats are now becoming a more common sight in the wilderness and along the trail. Many people who used to heft a heavy backpack for a hike in the countryside have found that goats can carry that heavy load and they make great hiking companions. Mature pack goats can readily carry 40 to 60 pounds in their packs and still be more agile than the typical hiker, all while following along on the trail like a puppy dog. At Black Mesa Ranch, we take the goats out along our ranch roads after the spring winds and fill their packs with any trash that has blown there. It makes the job fun and easy. Goats can also learn to pull pony carts either singly or in teams, and can be taught commands and draught duties, like harrowing for garden work.
You can do LOTS of things with goats! You could milk your goats in the morning, let them out to clear (eat) some brush and weeds, go for a walk with them in the afternoon, then hitch up the goat cart and give the neighborhood children rides. You could also just go sit under a tree and doze while your goats quietly browse nearby, or lay at your feet chewing their cud. Nothing can reduce your blood pressure better than watching a contented goat lazing in the sun, eyes half closed, rhythmically chewing her cud and groaning in pleasure.
Goats come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, and colors so when looking at which breed is right for you the most important question to ask is:
What do you want your goat to do for you?
You need to decide whether you want a milk goat, show goat, cart/pack goat, a pet, a meat source, or a combination. In addition, consider the availability of the various breeds in your area and factor in any personal preferences you might have. For other than meat animals, get goats that you will like to be around and look at.
Here at Black Mesa Ranch we have chosen to raise purebred Nubian goats. Nubians are known for their long floppy ears and distinctive Roman noses, a look we enjoy. Since we have to feed and care for our goats at least twice a day, every single day (not to mention all the other time we enjoy spending with them), it’s important that we find them nice to be around. As a breed, Nubians also produce a very rich, creamy milk. They are sometimes referred to as “the Jerseys of the goat world” and for our dairy needs, they are just the right choice.
If you want a goat primarily for milk, be sure to get a dairy type doe (female goat). If you’re looking for the milk right away, she’ll have to be “in milk” ( producing milk). If you’re not in a real hurry for the milk, you could get a bred (pregnant) doe. That way you could get to know your new girl before you have to learn how to milk her. Of course, if you do it this way, you will end up with extra mouths to share the milk with since her kids will need feeding.
As pets, both girls and boys are excellent, but the boys MUST be wethered (castrated). An intact male, called a buck, will get stinky and can be aggressive. The wethers, like the girls, stay clean smelling and are very social and loving. The wethers tend to grow somewhat bigger and faster than the does.
If you are looking for goats with primarily packing or showing in mind, there are some very specialized and specific criteria you will need to keep in mind, well beyond the scope of this booklet. Check out some of our recommended references and links for more information.
Once you decide what type of goat you want, or even if you just see some cute little goats that grab your heart and practically yell, “take us home with you”, the most important thing is to make sure they are healthy! Regardless of how cute they are, if they are sick it will cost you money and heartache. Goats are very easy to care for when healthy, but are not good patients. Here’s a partial check list of things to look for and to ask about:
- Are they curious and friendly with bright eyes and a healthy-looking coat?
- Do they look in good general health (no limping, lesions, runny nose, coughs, etc)?
- Are they up to date on vaccinations?
- Are they from a CAE-free herd?
- Are they from a CL-free herd?
- Are they free of internal and external parasites?
- For Nubian goats, are they guaranteed to be G-6-S Normal?
- On mature does are their udders smooth and well formed?
If the seller doesn’t know the answers to these questions, or shrugs them off as unimportant – find a different seller. This seller’s goats MIGHT be healthy, but why take the chance? Find a seller that knows and cares about their goats and is willing to offer advice and support even after a sale is made.
One other important consideration when starting out is that goats are very social animals. They are herd creatures and like to be with their own kind. A single goat will be very unhappy and will cry and scream. In short, it will change from a herd animal into a “heard” one when left alone. So plan on keeping at least two goats, but be careful as goats are addicting and you’ll probably soon want more.
Housing For Goats
Goat housing can be divided into three basic components: their shelter, their yard or pen, and their fencing. Generally there is some sort of shelter, leading out into a yard or pen, all surrounded by fencing.
Goats are very adaptable creatures and do not have any great needs as far as shelter is concerned. Our does used to live in a converted travel trailer. Other housing could be created from a garden shed, stable, large dog house, old chicken coop… just use your imagination. The shelter requirements for a healthy and happy herd are simply that it be draught free, dry, well ventilated, and big enough for the number of goats that you have. Use about 16 sq ft of floor space per goat in a group housing situation as a minimum size to work with. Additionally, you will want it to be easy to clean. A dirt floor is the easiest to keep clean and requires less bedding for absorbency, but wood or concrete will work (or even the vinyl flooring that our girls’ trailer came with). Use what you have and be creative.
They say that “Good fences make for good neighbors” and never is this more true than when those neighbors are your goats. A good fence makes life a lot safer, easier, and more fun when you have goats. On the Ranch, our goats stay in their pen at night and are let out to browse during the day. Most people keep their goats in the pen all the time, though some are never penned at all. Goats are notorious escape artists and can detect and exploit a flimsy fence, faulty latch or weak gate in no time flat. On the other hand, goats will generally be quite content in their pen when no ready avenue of escape is available. Our fencing here is 5 ft high cattle panels. Some people have 4 foot high fencing that keeps the goats in, but we like the higher fence in order to help keep stray dogs and coyotes out. Never use barbed wire – not only will it injure your goats, it WON’T keep them in! The minimum suggested area size for a pen is about 200 sq ft per goat, but the bigger the better.
The ground in any goat enclosure should be well drained with no long-term standing water, and the area needs to have some form of sufficient shade . Trees and large bushes can work to provide shade, but the goats will eat the leaves and bark off which will eventually kill the plants unless they are protected. Our goats have barberry bushes in their pen. They have eaten all the lower leaves, but the ones up higher than their reach still provide shade. Our goats also have what we call a “goat-ze-bo” in their pen for further shelter from the sun. It’s just a 4X8 piece of plywood secured on four fence posts with a ramp up to it so that the goats can climb up and sun themselves.
Goats love to play! Keeping goats entertained can prevent problems and we have provided them with a large pile of rocks on which to climb (great for their hooves) and a collection of goat play ground equipment (old tires, barrels, ramps and platforms) to amuse them.
A concrete block, stacked straw bales, a pile of rocks – all make great toys. But do be careful about what else is around that they might decide to play with. They can get their heads caught around the handle of their water bucket, or stuck inside a pipe or can. Never use a hay net! Goats can easily get tangled and strangle. If you are going to have collars on your goats when they are unattended, always have a breakable link or other “escape route” so that if they get caught they can break the collar and not choke. Remember to LOOK UP! Goat’s do! As early as a few hours old they start looking at what they can jump onto. Car hoods, window sills, over a half door, or low fence. They are great athletes. Try to “think like a goat” while looking over their pen – remove any dangerous items.
The first thing you need to know about feeding goats is that they are ruminants (like cows, sheep and deer). Ruminants have a four-chambered stomach that treats food differently than a non-ruminant, making their digestion process very efficient, but somewhat more complex. A goat’s rumen (one of the four chambers) can have well over two gallons of contents in it, so learning how to keep a goat’s rumen healthy is essential to keeping the goat, and her owner, happy. As you can imagine, with four stomachs it can mean real trouble if something upsets them. And while goats are generally regarded as being experts at self-regulating their dietary needs, in a closed environment they will not have access to what they need unless you supply it. In addition to proper feed, having a dish of plain old Baking Soda (Bicarbonate of Soda) available at all times for the goats to nibble on as needed will go a long way towards preventing many goat digestive problems. Free-choice loose minerals (preferably a goat-specific mineral mix) need to be available, also.
Non-productive goats will do quite nicely just eating grass hay and browsing on bushes, brush and weeds (goats typically “browse” rather than “graze”, preferring food sources well up off the ground). A pet goat’s food needs are incredibly easy to meet. Once demands start being made of the goat (through milk production, packing, or late pregnancy for example) its nutritional needs increase. Grains are generally used to supply the extra energy for these demands.
If a milking doe is not given supplemental grain in her diet her milk production will likely decrease and she will start losing weight and conditioning. The amount of grain depends on how much milk she is producing and on her metabolism. Some people recommend giving the doe one pound of grain a day plus another pound for every quart of milk she produces while other people say to feed her one pound of grain for each gallon of milk produced. That’s quite a difference! Our method is to feed enough grain so that the doe gives good milk without losing weight, but not so much that she gets fat. That requires some trial and error experimentation, but pretty soon you’ll figure out each doe’s requirements and be able to adjust as needed. A goat in the last month of pregnancy will also require some grain because of the extra demands on her body as the kids inside increase their growth rates.
Alfalfa hay is higher in protein and calcium than grass hay so it is a good choice for feeding your milker. Large alfalfa pellets are convenient, there is less waste and some types even have added vitamins and minerals. Here at Black Mesa Ranch, we have both inside and outside hay mangers, that way if the weather is wet or otherwise inclement, the goats can still dine in comfort.
Readily available, fresh, clean water is vitally important to goats and needs to be provided at all times. Putting the water bucket in an old tire or raised up on concrete blocks will help keep it from being kicked over or pooped in. We always have at least two water buckets in each pen so that if one is emptied, or made unusable (sometimes they’ll still manage to kick it over or soil it) they have a back up. Water availability and quality is especially important for milking goats since water is the main component in the milk they make. In cold weather, it is a good idea to give goats warm, to nearly hot, drinking water to help them maintain their body heat and encourage them to drink all they need or want. We find that our goats seem to prefer warm water even in the high heat of summer and offer it to them at least twice a day.
Milk and Milking
Wanting a source of fresh, wholesome milk in quality and quantity sufficient for making a little cheese now and then was what got us into goats in the first place. If you’ve never tried it (or worse, have tried that NASTY stuff sometimes found in grocery stores) you’ve got a real treat coming when you finally have a tall, icy-cold glass of the fresh stuff. It’s sweet, creamy and, contrary to many poorly-founded opinions, has no “goaty” taste or aroma whatsoever. I doubt you could tell it from cow milk, except for the fact it is so wonderfully rich.
The amount of milk your goat gives will depend on many factors – her age, breed, genetics, the time of year, her diet, and how consistant you are with milking her completely out on a regular schedule. But for a healthy, well bred Nubian you could figure on an average of 3 quarts to one gallon a day. She will milk more than that in the spring right after kidding, and less than that in the winter after she’s bred. Goats come into milk when they are “freshened” (have kids). This is generally done once a year but some goats will stay productive for several years without needing to freshen. Does can be bred as early as 8 months old, if they are well grown and healthy. Gestation (pregnancy) lasts 5 months (145-155 days). If your goat is giving milk while pregnant, you should dry her off for the last two months in order to let her put her energy into making kids instead of milk.
Goats should be milked twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as can be regularly managed. That the schedule be regular is more important than that it be exactly 12 hours apart. Here at the Ranch, we milk at 7AM and 5:30PM. If you don’t have the time or patience to milk twice a day, another approach might be to let the kids nurse off their mom during the day. This both eliminates the evening milking and keeps the kids fed. With this method the kids are then put in a separate stall for the night so that the doe can be milked in the morning before being reunited with the kids for the day. If you know that you won’t have time to milk the next morning, just leave the kids with her all night. This method gives you lots more freedom, but also means you interact less with the kids, and, of course, it means less milk for you. Kids can also be a bit rough on your milker’s udder as they bash it to encourage milk let-down.
The milking process is pretty straight forward. I use a home-made milking stand with a shelf for the grain bowl. I bring a doe into the milking area (with more than one doe, they quickly get used to their order of milking) and have her jump onto the stand. A stanchion holds her head and she begins eating her allotment of grain. This is a great time to do a quick, general exam of each goat looking for problems and also a time to sneak in a bit of one-on-one lovin’.
Next, I wash my hands, then I wash the goat’s teats well with an udder wash, finally I thoroughly dry the teats and my hands. I squirt a little milk from each teat into a “strip cup” to see how it looks and to remove the first milk from the orifice, which can harbor bacteria. Now, the milk bucket goes under, (between and slightly to the front of the rear legs) and I begin to milk. Goats have 2 teats so one for each hand works out well. I use a rolling-squeeze motion that took a little while to get comfortable with (not to mention building up the muscles for), pinching off at the top of the teat with my thumb and forefinger then rolling my fingers closed , one at a time toward the teat orifice. Done correctly this produces a satisfying solid stream into the pail. Never pull down or yank on the teat as it can damage the udder. From time to time during the milking, when the milk flow lessens, I massage the udder a little. This relaxes the muscles which allows more milk to be let down.
When I’m satisfied that I’ve gotten all she’s going to give I hang the milk bucket on my scale to weigh it. This is optional and not done by everybody, but I like being able to follow my girls’ lactations. Changes in the amount of milk given can indicate health or nutritional problems. After the milking I dip each teat in teat-dip or use a spray, like Fight-Bac, which sanitizes and helps constrict the orifice which helps prevent unwanted bacteria from entering the udder. I always give the girls a little treat as they leave the stand. Animal crackers and raisins are their two favorites.
The milk is immediately strained through a special funnel fitted with a fine, disposable paper filter made specifically for the task. This removes any stray hairs, hay or dirt particles that may have gotten into the bucket. Left in for any time at all these contaminants will quickly taint the flavor of the milk and may contribute to spoilage problems. The milk container (I use a handled tote with a tight-fitting lid) is then put in a cold water bath for quick-chilling while I finish with the other goats and clean up the milk room before heading straight back to the house to get it properly refrigerated.
Milk handled this way stays fresh a very long time without further processing and we have chosen not to pasteurize it for our personal consumption or cheese making. As a matter of interest, goat milk is naturally homogenized as it comes straight from the animal. This means that the cream does not readily rise to the surface as with un-homogenized cow milk. Though it does rise to some extent on it’s own, it is more effectively separated out mechanically with a standard centrifugal dairy separator.
Health, Medical, and Safety Information
Healthy goats are very easy to keep healthy, but sick goats can be difficult to restore to health. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was surely made with goats in mind. There are numerous suggestions for safeguarding your goats’ health interspersed throughout this booklet. Here are a few additional guidelines:
Vets are an invaluable resource for helping you keep your goats healthy. Find one that is knowledgeable about small ruminants and willing to work with goats. That’s not always easy! Be sure to find a vet BEFORE you need their services. During an emergency is not the time to start looking. Goats are considered a “Minor Species” and most vets don’t learn much about them in school, so you may want to do some research and get a few books about goat health. You may even want to get your vet a few of those books, too!! Remember – your goats’ health is YOUR responsibility.
The immune system of your new kids isn’t really functional until they are a few months old. Until then they are somewhat protected by the thick, rich colostrum that they received at birth. Also, tentanus ANTITOXIN and CD ANTITOXIN can be used for temperary protection. Once they are 2 months old, vaccinate them for Enterotoxemia and tetanus. You can give the “all in one” shot referred to as CD/T vaccine. We vaccinate at 2 months, 3 months, and yearly after that. Some people vaccinate every 6 months, plus give a BoSe shot for supplemental selenium twice a year plus if ever the goat is sick. The selenium helps the immune system to work better plus it helps pregnant does deliver healthier, stronger kids. Arizona (believe it or not!) is copper deficient, so some goats may need extra copper supplements also.
Watch out for letting goats get too much grain, either through over-feeding or accidental access to your feed storeroom. An excess of grain can change the pH (acidity) of the rumen causing acidosis, founder, enterotoxemia, or bloat. Any of these conditions can be life threatening. Goats are browsers, eating high fiber foods like tree bark, leaves, grass, and hay. This fiber is key in keeping the rumen functioning well.
Some plants are poisonous to goats. We’ve heard it said that anything that is sold at a plant nursery is toxic to goats. While this is quite an exaggeration, it is best to find out if the plants that your goats will have access to are safe. Even your plants that they are NOT supposed to have access to should be considered since goats can be almost magical at times in their ability to get into things that they shouldn’t. Rhododendrons and Oleanders, as well as plants of the nightshade family (such as tomatoes and potatoes) are especially toxic to goats. Don’t worry though, the fruit of the tomato plant, whether ripe or green, is a great and nontoxic goaty treat.
Reduce stress. Goats don’t handle travel, or changes to their environment or diet very well and can be subject to stress-related ailments. Barking dogs, loud noises, rough handling, and even daily schedule changes can throw their systems off. Illness can also induce stresses in a goat which can complicate treatments and put the animal at further risk for even more health problems. The simplest thing is to avoid the stress to begin with if at all possible. Minimizing the stress factors for your goats will pay you back with improved productivity as well as happier, healthier animals.
Keep hooves trimmed. Goats hooves grow quite fast and need to be trimmed fairly often. Just how often depends on how active your goats are and what type of terrain they live on. I trim hooves every other month. Some people trim them 4 times a year. If they are looking chipped up or folded under then it is time for a trim. Using a knife or pair of shears it’s a quick procedure, but not one that will endear you to your goat – unless you give her some grain or animal crackers as a distraction while you do the work.
Predators — Wild and Domestic
Dog or other predator attacks are the largest cause of untimely goat deaths. And it’s not always the wild dog packs or your neighbors animals – your own pet dog, the one that is so docile when you are around, can be a bigger culprit. Goats, especially kids, can bounce around and really get a dog’s hunting instincts to kick in. Always supervise your other animals when they are around your goats, watch their body language, note how they interact with the goats. Never allow them to “play” with the goats.
A conscientious goat owner needs to provide all possible security for the herd. Proper fences are good, well trained Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are even better. Also, if your goats are larger, be careful that they don’t hurt the dog!!! A powerful head butt can break bones.
Whether you are looking for your first pair of goats or you are a long -time goat breeder, it’s important that the goats you get are healthy! This is a partial list of things to look for and be aware of to help ensure that the goats you get will be happy and healthy!
Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE)
CAE is an incurable, contagious disease that can be devastating to you, your adult goats, and their kids. It has been referred to as Goaty AIDS since it is a retrovirus very similar to the AIDS virus. Goats infected with CAE have a compromised immune system which makes them more susceptible to mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and other serious and costly diseases. CAE is most commonly transferred from colostrum or milk of affected does to the kids that drink the milk. It can also be transmitted through blood, mucus, and other excretions.
It was only identified a few decades ago, at which time over 85% of all goat herds tested had the disease. Through education and testing the numbers of affected goats is much lower now – but still way too high. Please don’t cause more suffering – only purchase CAE-free goats! Some breeders don’t test for the disease, but feed pasteurized milk to combat it’s spread. Unfortunately, it only takes one slip-up of the pasteurizing temperatures to infect all the kids. We know many breeders who have made that mistake! Always insist on actual CAE test results.
Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL)
Caseous Lymphadenitis is a chronic and contagious disease often referred to as “abscesses”. It causes pus filled abscesses to form usually around lymph nodes. Once the abscess bursts, the pus can infect any goat that comes into contact with it. It’s best to never buy a goat from a herd that has CL since an affected goat may not show the symptoms all the time. There is a test available, though it’s accuracy is sometimes questioned.
Cocci is a parasite that infects most goats. Adult goats have a tolerance for it, but young kids need to develop theirs. Signs of cocci are diarrhea – sometimes with blood in it, a rough hair coat, and poor body condition. Treatment must begin immediately as cocci can kill a kid quite quickly. Albon (or generic equivalent) can be used to treat it.
Some people feed a coccidiostat (cocci preventative) such as decoquinate (Deccox). Cocci can be identified by doing a fecal exam.
This is a contagious eye infection that can be passed on to other goats and to the goat keeper! Keep affected goats away from the others and always wash your hands after handling a goat with pink eye. Don’t bring a new goat into your herd if it has red, weepy eyes.
Entero is caused by the overabundance of a bacteria that is naturally in the goats digestive system. Usually the pH of the rumen plus the movement of the food through the system, keeps this “bad guy” at bay. However, sudden feed changes, overfeeding (accidental or intentional), sickness, or anything that slows down the digestive system can allow the entero bacteria to rapidly multiply. Death can happen quickly, or it can take several agonizing hours. Vaccinate against this disease, always have the CD antitoxin on hand for emergencies, and monitor what your goats eat.
G-6-S is a genetic defect that Nubians and Nubian crosses can have. A Nubian affected with this defect will fail to thrive and die at an early age. Unfortunately, most Nubian breeders don’t test for this defect, and often the early death of a G-6-S affected goat is chalked up to other causes. Nubians that do not have this defect are referred to as G-6-S Normal. It is hard to find Nubian goats guaranteed to be G-6-S Normal – but if you are serious about having healthy Nubians, it’s important to know their G-6-S status.
Sometimes called Orf, it is a highly contagious virus infection. Blisters form around the mouth and nose of the goat and can be so painful that you need to be sure that the goat or kid continues to eat. It will heal in a few weeks.
Sore mouth can be passed to humans, so always wash well after working with animals that have Sore Mouth, and never bring one into your herd until it is fully healed. The scabs from the healing blisters will remain contagious for years.
UC is the formation of mineral stones in the urethra of a goat. While it can occur in either sex it is only a problem in males because their urethra is smaller in diameter and follows a more convoluted path where the stones can lodge and cause blockages. These stones are caused by an unbalanced diet. It’s important that the Calcium:Phosphorus (C:P) ratio in the diet be approximately 2:1. Feeding male goats grass hay with no grain is one way, or if you feed alfalfa hay which is high in Calcium you can off-set this by giving a little grain, which is high in Phosphorus.
Goat Health supplies
Here is a list of some items that are good to keep on hand.
BioMycin 200 is a antibiotic that works well for goats even though it is not specifically labeled for them (PLEASE check with your vet before using any drug “off-label”). If your goat spikes a fever, ask your vet about giving 5cc/100# every 36 hours, for at least 3 doses.
CD Antitoxin: Sometimes the CD/T vaccine can't keep the "bad guys" down. In that case the antitoxin will help - and FAST. We give it anytime the rumen slows down, and even though we've never seen a case of enterotoxemia we keep watch for it and would give the antitoxin if we suspected it. (signs of entero include fever, depression, loss of appetite, loud and painful screaming, diarrhea, and death).
CD/T vaccine: Give 2cc's SQ or IM yearly to help prevent enterotoxemia and tetanus.
CMPK Oral Drench: (sometimes called MFO) this is a balanced Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium combination that will help if you have a milking or pregnant doe with hypocalcemia (milk fever). If her temp is sub-normal (below 101.5F), she's not eating her grain, lethargic - give 60cc twice a day orally until she's better. It's a life saver if you have a high producing doe. DON'T use the CMPK gels, they are caustic and will burn skin and mouths.
Dose gun (drench gun): a great way to get CMPK, KaoPectate, or other liquids down. Fast and effective. Can also be used for bolusing.
Epinephrine: Anytime you give a shot, have epi on hand. We've never had a goat go into anaphylactic shock, but we know breeders that have. The couple of dollars it costs for a little bottle of epi is good insurance! Shock can happen when injecting drugs.
Fortified Vitamin B: Make sure it has AT LEAST 100mg/ml of thiamine. This is one of the best things you can have on hand when your goat is sick. We give 5cc/100# to any goat that is off feed or sick. It does wonders!
Hoof trimmer shears: We also use a utility knife or sur-form plane for getting a flat bottom on the hoof.
Probiotics: Goats are ruminants and depend on microbes to help them digest their food. Sometimes due to the use of antibiotics, excessively high or low body temperatures, or other reasons, the good microbes die off. Commercially available probiotics are good to help repopulate the microbes in the intestine, but the rumen bacteria can’t be duplicated this way. It may be necessary to do a “cud transfer”. To do this, fill your drenching gun with 102 degree water and flush out the mouth of a healthy goat that is chewing cud. Have a helper hold a bowl under the goat’s mouth to catch the green water. Immediately feed that to your sick goat. Neither goat will appreciate this but it will help jump start the rumen.
Syringes: If you plan on taking your goats heath into your own hands and use some of the above products, you'll need syringes and needles. I use 3cc, 6cc, and 12cc syringes and 3/4 - 1 inch long 20 gauge needles. For really thick meds I have a few 18 gauge needles - but rarely use them.
Thermometer: If you think your goat might not feel well, the first thing to do is take his or her temperature. We like the digital thermometers that beep when done.
Weight tape: A specially marked tape measure for estimating your goats weight - important for figuring medicines or tracking growth.
Basic Care of Nubian Kids
Kids are goats less then one year old and they are about the cutest things on earth! They are well known for their exuberant antics and sweet trusting dispositions, especially if they have been socialized correctly.
Real milk or milk replacer?
Here at BMR, we only feed our kids fresh, natural, unprocessed goats milk until weaning. Frankly, this is the most expensive option but we feel it is the best one for the kids. Other breeders often use “milk replacers” and if you chose this route, use caution. Some commercial milk replacers can cause bloating and diarrhea! This simple recipe will keep your kids growing and healthy. But, of course, goat milk is better – as long as the goat it came from has been tested and found free of CAE. Straight “whole cow milk” will work, but this recipe adds more milk solids to the kids’ diets.
Milk Replacer Recipe
1 gallon whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 can of evaporated milk
Pour off enough of the gallon to fit the rest in and mix well.
Feed colostrum as often and as much as they will eat. That may be 3 oz or 8 oz for each feeding. Some kids come with a bigger appetite than others! But try to feed at least 10% of the kids body weight in the first 12 hours – that’s 12 oz of colostrum for an average 7.5 pound kid.
After the first few days
Feed milk 4 times a day, as close to every 6 hours as possible, offering about 8 - 10 oz each time. It might take a week or so for some kids to drink that much at one time, other kids will think you are starving them - don’t believe it!! At a week or two old they can be fed 3 times a day, 12 oz – 15 oz each feeding. Provide hay and fresh water. They will just play with the hay at first, then get serious after a week or two.
When they start chewing cud (about 3 - 4 weeks of age)
Feed milk 2 times a day, about 20 oz each feeding. Provide hay, loose minerals, and fresh water. Watch for signs of coccidia –diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it, a rough haircoat, poor condition, and/or weight loss. If you see these signs, treat immediately with a sulfa type product, such as Albon.
At About 7 weeks old
Feed milk once a day, about 20 oz. Provide hay, loose minerals, and fresh water. Continue to watch for coccidia (cocci) – it’s one of the biggest killers of kids along with enterotoxemia and predator attack.
Feeding after kids are at least 8 weeks old
At 8 to 12 weeks old, if the kid is vigorously eating solid food, the kid can be weaned. Continue to give free choice hay, loose minerals (goat mineral or horse 12-12), and baking soda. Be sure to always provide plenty of fresh water.
These bottle feeding guidelines are minimums!
It won’t hurt your goat kid to be bottle fed until it’s 6 months or even one year old!! It’s your choice, but 8 – 12 weeks is a good balance point between the expense/work of bottle feeding, and the growth of the kid. Some goat keepers feed TWICE as much milk as I outline here. Just be sure to check that their little bellies don’t get overly filled! Feel free to feed more often. It’s better for the kid to eat a smaller amount that’s fed more often, then to have too full of a belly.
Check their little bellies. If they are firm or a little tight, that’s a good amount to feed. If the bellies are really tight, that’s too much. A loose, empty feeling belly needs more food! Over feeding is dangerous! Overeating disease (Enterotoxemia) is a painful way to die.
Always watch for signs of Coccidia (diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it, a rough haircoat, poor condition, and/or weight loss, looking sad and listless) – treat if necessary. De-worm kids and adults as needed.
Feeding Full Grown Goats
Feed 4-6 pounds good quality hay or as much as is needed to maintain a good body weight. Working goats – milkers, pack goats, breeding buck, heavily pregnant does, etc – can be fed several pounds of grain a day. For a grass hay fed wether, keep the amount of grain fed to a minimum. Give it as a treat only. If you feed your wethers (or bucks) alfalfa hay you can increase the grain amount – to maybe one or two pounds a day.
More Feeding Tips
Don’t feed hay or grain on the ground: Put their hay and grain in a manger or some other above ground feeder. When food is placed where it may contact fecal matter, the goats won’t eat much of it and it could cause the goats to become infested with parasites. NEVER use a hay net – it’s a death trap for goats!
ALWAYS PROVIDE YOUR GOATS WITH LOTS OF CLEAN FRESH WATER!!
Other Special Care for Kids
Most kids will grow horns. A nice set of horns on a fully-grown goat can be quite magnificent and beautiful, however they can also be dangerous – to themselves, to other goats, and to the goatkeeper. Horns can get caught in fences, leaving the goat subject to strangulation and vulnerable to attack. Even a good natured, sweet goat with horns can accidentally cause serious damage to you or herd members. This is why most kids are disbudded. Certainly all pet and dairy goats should not be allowed to carry horns and there is little evidence that they are of much value to the domesticated goat in any application. Disbudding is a process of burning the horn buds, most often with a special hot-iron tool, before they become horns. It’s usually done when the kid is 3 to 10 days old. It’s definitely one of the worst jobs a goatkeeper has to do, but it’s best for everyone.
Male goats, not destined to stand stud as bucks should be castrated (making them “wethers”). Wethers are greatly preferred for packing companions and pets as they remain friendly, devoted and even cuddly, much like big kids as they grow up. There are many varied opinions about when and how castration is best done and it would be wise to do a good deal of research to see which methods and schedules best fit your needs.
At Black Mesa Ranch, we castrate by banding. The banding process involves slipping a very small, strong rubber band over the scrotum and above the testicles of the goat using a special tool. The blood flow is cut off to the testicles and within a few weeks the sack atrophies and simply falls off. The other most common castration method is a cutting procedure that physically removes the testicles from the sack. Surprisingly, it is nearly bloodless (unless there are complications) but it does leave an open wound into the kid’s body that can be an invitation for infection, fly blow or other difficulties. Regardless of which method is chosen, the timing of the castration needs to be a balance between doing it as early as possible (to minimize trauma) and as late as practical (to allow as much urinary tract growth as possible to avoid future health problems).
Here at Black Mesa Ranch, we use our goats’ milk for our dairy so, even though our kids get fed the pure milk, we don’t allow them to nurse. We let the mom and kids bond to each other through a barrier that allows the mom to lick the kids, but the kids can’t get to the mom to nurse. We bottle feed the kids and when they understand that WE feed them, not the doe, then we unite them. The kids go to mom for comfort, warmth, and safety, but run to US when they are hungry. This allows us to have one consolidated herd with milkers, wethers, and kids all together while continuing to let us control the kids’ milk intake. The kids are bottle fed until weaning between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Usually they almost wean themselves since they are so busy browsing on salt bush and barberry, and drinking out of every water bucket they see.
More commonly dairy goat kids are kept in a separate pen away from the milkers, but we like our arrangement better. Other options for kid rearing are to let the kids nurse the doe during the day and separating them at night. That way the doe can be milked in the morning before being reunited with her kids. If the kids are left with their high milk producing moms they will be getting too much milk, while the poor owners don’t get any! It’s also harder to socialize the kids when they are so attached to their mom, plus they will have to go through the stress of being separated at weaning time. Some places allow the kids to nurse their mom for a couple days in order to get the colostrum, then they separate the family. I personally don’t like this method since it lets the dam and kids bond before taking them away.
Goat Body Language
Learning to understand “Nubianese”
Did you know that goats TALK?? Sure… goats make noises and sounds, and if you listen carefully you can tell what they are saying. From a gentle nicker to a giant roar goats have a great vocabulary.
But they can say a lot even without making a sound! Nubians are very animated and if you watch their ears, tails, backs, expressions, even their hair you can understand them – at least some of the time!
A healthy Nubian goat has smooth shiny hair, an upright tail, straight back, with ears dangling loosely down. So what does it mean if things change??? Of course each goat has it’s own personality and slightly different ways of “talking” but here’s some guidelines. Each goat will “speak goat” just a little differently.
The tail is usually held up or horizontal and it will sometimes wag when the goat is happy, glad to see you, or getting fed. If the tail is clamped down it means that something is bothering her. If it is clamped down and wagging something is REALLY bothering her. It could simply be a fly. But it could also be a sign that she doesn’t feel well. Check other “body language clues” to get the whole story.
The ears. Well, Nubians have BIG ears and they are very expressive. Held up high, away from her face probably means that something is interesting or she’s about to do something mischievous. If they swing back, away from her face she could be challenging another goat. Watch how the head is turned – she might shake her head to challenge or to “egg-on” another goat. Are her ears flared and tail straight up while she shakes her head??? It’s probably a game. Soon some head butting will probably start. Sometimes head butting is just for fun, other times it can get more intense as a way to determine who is the Top Goat.
Goats have hackles, like dogs, and they will raise them – usually with flared ears as part of a challenge to another animal. Sometimes she’ll prance sideways while doing this.
If her entire hair coat is standing on end, she could be cold or she could be getting sick! Make sure you check it out - this could be a BAD thing especially if she is hunched up. This would be a good time to take her temperature to see if she has a fever – especially if her head is hung low or pressed against a wall. Those are signs of not feeling well.
Watch your goats – you’ll learn lots more of their “language”, understand them better, and have a great time!
Healthy and happy goats are an absolute joy to have around. Like big, productive puppy dogs, they are much more than just livestock. They easily become an integral and interesting part of life in the country, bringing a whole new flavor and dimension to it. The ideas, suggestions and precautions for keeping goats we’ve presented here should help get you off on the right foot, get you asking the right kind of questions, and thinking along the right lines for successful and interesting goat ownership.
We’re always happy to try and answer goat-related questions if we can, or at least steer you in the right direction. Our contact numbers and addresses are in the following “Sources” section of this pamphlet. We’d love to hear from you and “GoatTalk”.
I never even considered getting goats until my husband got a book about them from an eBay auction. I laughed at him and told him that he had just wasted the five dollars that it cost. After he read the book he handed it to me, told me to read it, and just walked away. I was surprised since I had been laughing at the idea of having goats since the book arrived, but sat and read the book anyway. A couple of weeks later we had goats!
The infamous book from eBay that started it all:
Goats and Goatkeeping by Katie Thear,
Merehurst Press, London, England, copyright 1988
Other helpful books:
Raising Milk Goats Successfully by Gail Luttmann,
Williamson Publishing, Charlotte, Vermont, copyright 1986
Goat Husbandry by David Mackenzie, Faber and Faber, London, England, copyright 1957, revised fifth edition 1993
Raising Milk Goats the Modern Way by Jerry Belanger, Storey Communications, Pownal, Vermont, copyright 1990
Nanny Manicures by Diane Gray,
Stringalong Enterprises, Wauchula, Florida, copyright 1998
The Pack Goat by John Mionczynski,
Pruett Publishing Company, Boulder Colorado, copyright 1992
Practical Goatpacking by Carolyn Eddy,
ECPG, Estacada, Oregon , copyright 1999
Goat Medicine by Mary C. Smith and David M. Sherman, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, New York, NY, copyright 1994
On the World Wide Web
General Goat Information
(American Dairy Goat Assoc.)
(North American Pack Goat Assoc.)
Goat Products and Supplies
Internet Goat Discussion Groups
There are dozens of goat groups of varied scope and participation. Start by looking at: http://groups.yahoo.com/ for “Practical Goats”, “Packgoats”, or NubianTalk groups among many others.
Kathryn and David Heininger
Black Mesa Ranch, Snowflake, AZ
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