Recently, I have received a number of emails asking for information and advice about raising goat kids and keeping dairy goats. While I’m far from an expert in this area, we’ve collected some useful information over our first year of having the goats on the Farmlet. To mark the one-year anniversary of Daphne and Lulu’s arrival on the Farmlet, I thought I might post some of this information in question and answer format to make it accessible to anyone who is interested. Some of this information has been given before in other posts. Here I’ve just tried to put it together more thoroughly and in a more consolidated format.
By the way, sorry about the long gap between postings. I accidentally deleted this one, and have had to write it all over again — hence the delay!
How old were your goats when you first got them? What did you feed them when they were very young?
Daphne and Lulu arrived on the Farmlet when they were about 5 weeks old. This gave them time to get a strong start by drinking their mother’s milk. By the time they arrived here, they were already starting to forage and enjoy solid food. We bottle-fed them on formula, giving them up to 1 litre twice a day, though they often didn’t take this much. For the first couple of feeds after they arrived here, we gave them part formula and part goat milk. This helped ease their transition onto formula, and avoided any problems with scouring or other digestive distress. Daphne and Lulu were already used to being handled by humans and drinking from a bottle when we got them, so I can’t really comment on initiating this. We weaned the goats off formula by the time they were 12 weeks old, reducing the bottle feeding to once a day, and then tailing it off altogether. While they were still on formula, we introduced them to having a treat of some barley-maize meal with a bit of molasses in it. This encouraged their interest in solid food, and taught them to come to us to get treats.
How did your goats become so friendly? How did you train them?
By bottle-rearing the goats, we were able to build a strong bond with them. They really came to think of us as their family. Goats are naturally intelligent and fond of human company. From the beginning, we spent lots of time handling and playing with them, taking them for walks, playing with them etc. We love all this as much as they do, and we think it will make things a lot easier when the time comes to milk them. We started using some simple commands with Daphne and Lulu right from the beginning, and were amazed how quickly they learned to understand â€œcome on,â€ â€œleave it,â€ and (their favourite) â€œfeedies.â€ I found a neat tip about teaching the â€œleave itâ€ command on the â€œPath to Freedomâ€ website: When the goat starts to nibble at something forbidden, say a sharp â€œleave it,â€ and then quickly give the goat a squirt of water in the face from a little plastic squirt bottle. After a while, the goat will respond to the command before getting squirted, even when you are standing at a distance. We taught Daphne and Lulu to tether and walk on a leash from an early age, so that they’d be used to it. Generally, though, we let them run loose when we go for a walk (unless we are on the road or near some especially succulent fruit trees). They enjoy the freedom to run around and play, and naturally want to follow their human herd.
What do you feed the goats?
Daphne and Lulu eat mostly rough pasture and a bit of scrub â€“ that’s what grows in their goat paddocks. We also give them plenty of tree branches and prunings, weeds, and overgrown vegetables from the garden. They love all this! We sometimes give them a bit of hay, especially over the winter when forage is poor and the pasture tends to be damp. They also love a treat of a bit of meal mixed with molasses.
How do you keep your goats in good health? Do they get any regular medicines and supplements?
We buy the goats a small salt and mineral block and make it available to them at all times. As foragers, goats have high mineral needs, so this is important. Since our soil is very heavy and acid, we quite often add some extra dolomite to their meal. Goats can quickly become very sick and miserable if their parasite load grows too large. The people we bought Daphne and Lulu off have been running organic dairy goats for many years and gave us some excellent advice on how to minimise the parasite problem and keep the goats healthy: We have two goat paddock and move the goats between these every 21 days. This is meant to break the life-cycle of the parasites. About 3 or 4 days before each move, I dose each of them with 5ml of concentrated apple cider vinegar, about a teaspoon of kelp, and perhaps a bit of garlic. This is a general tonic, and also helps them expel parasites before the move to the new paddock. Every few months, I give a stronger pre-moving worm treatment of finely chopped tansy leaves â€“ about a handful to each goat. Tansy is meant to be a fairly potent herbal vermifuge. On a couple of occasions, I’ve added a teaspoon of sulfur powder to the dose because I noticed they had ticks. Ticks can be a problem here, as our soil tends to be sour and rather deficient in sulfur. I’ve also read that you can add a bit of extra copper sulphate to the dose if you detect a problem with foot scald or intestinal parasites, or if you know your soil is deficient in this mineral. I’ve preferred not to do this so far, since our soil is not copper-deficient, the goats have not had foot scald or any obvious parasite problems. . . and copper can be toxic. How do I get the goats to swallow all these goodies? Just add them to their grain along with plenty of molasses. It seems as if the goats would think anything is a treat if it has enough molasses on it!
What about trimming their hooves?
We trim their hooves every 6 weeks, or about every second time we move them to a new paddock. Goats need regular hoof trimming to prevent foot scald (a foot rot precursor), especially if they are mostly walking on soft ground. If the job is left too long, the hooves apparently become very hard to trim, so don’t put it off! We trim Daphne’s and Lulu’s hooves with a sharp pair of secateurs. They are quiet enough that I can sometimes just hang out with them and trim their hooves while they are sitting down chewing their cud. When the ground is wet and/or we are in a hurry, we tether them very closely to the gate. Kevin distracts them with treats while I lean against the goat body to wedge it between me and the gate. I then lift up each hoof for trimming. The goats don’t mind this. In fact, I think they enjoy the treats and attention. Sometimes I mix up a tea tree oil solution and dip the hooves in it after trimming as an extra scald prevention measure. I’ve heard you can also use iodine spray, or a paste made of petroleum jelly and copper sulphate. Obviously, these measures would be more important if you noticed any signs of foot scald.
Where do the goats live? How do you keep them out of the garden?
We have two goat paddocks, with standard post and batten fencing and two electric wires. Before we sorted out the electric wires, Daphne and Lulu were managing to escape by pushing through the fence. We ended up using A-frame collars to keep them in the paddock. We were glad to remove the collars once the fence was fixed, since they looked pretty cumbersome. Daphne and Lulu are saanens, and this breed is not known for jumping. Certainly, they have never shown any interest in jumping over their fence. I’ve heard that other goats (especially from other breeds) can be very different in this regard, though! Our goats have a little goat shed in each paddock to give them shelter from the cold and wet. We muck out the sheds fairly often, and leave a bed of hay or dry grass for them to rest on.
The goats have a tendency to choose a play area in their paddock at any given time â€“ and they tend to trash this area! Usually they choose a small, steep area and dance around on it, bunting heads, stamping hooves and playing silly games. I don’t begrudge them their fun, but after a while, the grass gets worn off the slope and presents an erosion problem. I have found that by spreading the litter from mucking out the goat house on any area that starts to get trashed, I can solve this problem. The litter heals the ground and stops erosion while the grass grows back, and the goats (not liking to play in their old litter) find another area for their prancing and head bunting.
When will you start milking the goats?
Goats generally go into heat seasonally, in the Autumn. Daphne and Lulu were cycling last Autumn, but at only 6 months old were too young and small for it to be healthy for them to get in kid. By this coming Autumn, Daphne and Lulu will be 18 months old — mature enough to go to the buck. If we can find a suitable billy goat for them this autumn, as planned, then they will give birth to their kids and start lactating next spring (goat gestation is about 6 months). So, in about a year’s time we may be able to enjoy some fresh goat milk and goat cheese here on the Farmlet.
Can you recommend any books about raising goats?
My favourite is “Natural Goat Care” by Pat Coleby. She’s an Australian writer who focuses on pasture-based systems and natural approaches to goat health care.