So You're New To Goats (Part 3)
by Gary Pfalzbot
January 12, 2002 - (revised, March 7, 2015)
About the Author
If I have planned this article right, at this point you should have your fence and shelter built, and are anxiously awaiting to start putting goats on your property. Reading back through part 1 and part 2 in this series of articles has caused me to rethink how I wrote and presented this article. Should I have made part 3 the part 1? Should I have been more in depth or written less? Anyway you look at it, a person needs a starting point. And here in part 3, I am going to discuss the areas that I likely wanted to include in part 1, but didn't because I didn't want to confuse the reader or cause them to skip over important steps before getting their goat(s). In reality, what I had hoped is that the reader would read all the material I have provided before actually going out and getting a goat.
I would be the first to tell you that there are a great number of highly informative and helpful books and web sites written on this very subject. I always try to encourage people to explore as many resources as possible just so they can get a better understanding of goats, and also see why I may or may not be presenting information in the way I do. But just as importantly, please do not try to overload yourself with too much information and buy or bookmark everything ever written about goats. There are differing viewpoints and opinions that you will find, and in the end, only what you learn through your own experiences will ultimately be what makes your efforts with goats successful.
People raise goats for a number of reasons and some of these overlap one another (dual purposing) while some are more specific. Some of the primary reasons for raising goats are pretty straightforward: dairy, meat, fiber, show, pack, and brush control. Of course there is one reason that seems to outrank many of these and that is in the area of pets and companionship. Whatever reason you decide upon for getting goats, there is one area that stands out above all others before ever letting a goat or goats set foot on your property: health.
Just as important - Goat Health
I've held off on the subject of goat health up to this point because I don't want to dissuade anyone from getting goats just for that reason. But nonetheless, just as you wouldn't want to allow just anyone to show up and come into your home, neither do you want just any goat to come onto your property.. At this point you are going to have to be wise, shrewd and very set on what goats you allow and what goats you won't allow.
Goats can be and are sometimes carriers of some diseases that will devastate your herd before you really get a chance to get started. The big three as I call them CL, CAE and Johnes Disease have the capability of doing just that. As a goatkeeper, you will need to become familiar with these diseases if not now, soon.
What this means to you is that you need to be very careful to not buy the first goat(s) you see without a bit of knowledge. While these diseases can be devastating, they can be tested for - before you allow the goat onto your premises. Please repeat after me, BEFORE YOU ALLOW THE GOAT ONTO YOUR PREMISES! Some may think I am being coy or cute here. I'm not. I am trying to save you grief and heartache that will result if you do not follow that rule. I've dealt with many situations over the years where someone didn't know about this issue, found out at a later date, and were left with sick, dying and infectious goats and land that had been contaminated by diseases not that easily eradicated.
I like to think that the majority of goat people are good people with good moral fiber, and they are, but no matter what a persons interest or endeavor in life, there are people out there in any given field who will try and pull a fast one on you. When going to look at your very first goat(s), pay close attention to detail of how the goats present themselves; do they look malnourished, unhealthy or uncared for? How do the premises where they are located at present itself? Does the seller seem like a trustworthy person? But more importantly, will the seller agree to have a blood test performed on the goats before selling them? This is very important and just taking someones word for it isn't good enough unfortunately. I've heard the stories of the seller that tells the buyer his or her goats are clean, disease free, and aren't. I've also heard the stories of the seller who tells the buyer they will do the blood test if the seller agrees to take the goats right then and there before the results are back. Not good enough.
There are a few people that will tell you otherwise, and that blood tests don't really matter. They do.
If you only learn one thing from reading this article, please know that you want to have a goat tested for diseases. The devil is always in the details, but the details are always important in any transaction, and if you don't pay attention to those details, well, you'll deal with the devil later. A blood test doesn't take that long or cost that much, and in your negotiations with the seller, you may want to agree to split the cost of the blood tests. Each goat should be tested. It doesn't matter how old they are, how cute they are, or even if the price is free or darn near free. Get the blood test results before you bring the goats home. It all means that you have to be very discriminating in your efforts to locate and obtain your new goats. And this does apply to all goats for whatever purpose they are intended. As I said before and I will say again, it will save you a lot of heartache and grief in the longrun to know that you started out with disease free goats.
In this same realm is the condition of the premises where the goats are located. A clean, kept environment is much more desireable than an unkept, filthy environment. And it is at this point you will meet all types of people who go from one extreme to the other. I've been to a few farms where the owner would make you walk through a bath of bleach before stepping into the area where the goats were kept. I suppose I can relate to this because I used to make people take off their shoes if they were going to ride in my car. It is just how far a person can go for biosecurity on their farm because they know just how fragile the health of their herd can be.
For sale by owner or sale barn (auction)?
I'd be the first to tell you that I've purchased a number of goats from sale barns or auctions, and in retrospect, I wish I had not. Again, it's a case of those three diseases I mentioned. Many of the auctions are considered "slaughter channels" and that simply means that the livestock that pass through there are usually being auctioned off for reasons that the owner did not want to keep them. Disease is one of those unspoken reasons. That's not to say that all the animals that go through these channels have something wrong with them, but usually by the time they've gone through these channels they have been exposed to a number of diseases that are not desireable. At a sale barn or auction, you aren't going to be afforded the opportunity to have a blood test performed.
Overall, the best place to look for goats is through a private owner, who you can deal with on a personal basis, and really get some background as well as the confidence that your goats are disease free. As I've mentioned, many goat people are great people and will actually enjoy the time they spend talking goats with you. I prefer to buy from this type of situation where I can really get a good observation of the goat(s) I'd like to buy. There shouldn't be any impulse purchases made. Take your time and really look around before you commit to a sale.
In looking around at different goats, you are going to see many different breeds offered, and you will also see goats reacting in different ways. As I've gotten older, I really don't enjoy goats that are wild in nature and present difficulty in handling. There are nice goats who have great personalities and there are also mean goats that will be just as happy to butt you with their heads once your back is turned. Some of them won't even wait for you to turn your back! I'll be discussing a bit more about goat behavior shortly.
Well behaved or a problem child?
One of the first things to understand about goats is that they are herd animals. I've talked with a number of people over the years that want a goat, just one goat, to lavish with affection and love. While this all seems genuine and okay on the surface, the individual goat is going to suffer somewhat in nature because they do better with other goats. And before I get to in depth with this thought, please know that a number of goats have been purposed to keep horses and cattle company, and are the only goat in the bunch. Does the goat suffer psychologically from this type of arrangement? It is difficult to say exactly. But as I discuss the behavior of goats, you will perhaps understand what makes goats tick.
Young kid goats have a tendency to bond with whoever is feeding them; the mother (nanny). In situations where a kid is bottle fed by a human, that kid goat will bond with the person feeding them, and this bond usually lasts the lifetime of the goat and the person. This also means that the kid goat will react to the person the same way it would react to the nanny. Goats of any age will display various behaviors that range from comical to unwanted. That young kid goat that would play with you and rub up against you at 10 weeks of age is certainly cuter than the same kid goat that weighs 150 pounds at 2 years of age and still wants to play with you. But, if you see where I'm going with this, you might already be thinking, "getting a young goat is the way to go because they will be easier to handle". That is true more often than not.
The behavior of a goat is such that they use their head and horns to their advantage, and this means that a goat will use their head and horns on just about any other animal or goat that is in their immediate vicinity as well. Goats respect the use of their head and horns too. What this means is that goats often head butt each other to establish a pecking order of dominance and submission in a herd, or in a situation where there are other animals. I have seen it quite often over the years; if a goat feels threatened by a dog, it will attempt to head butt the dog in a defensive posture. The same goat will also head butt a human as well. This is something that should be understood from the very beginning as a common behavior of almost all goats.
Never turn your back on a goat
I'm quite often asked about the "problem" goat that is suddenly head butting everything and everyone in its path. There are certain times of year when male goats go into rut, and it is at this time that the testosterone levels are running high. That docile goat you have lavished with love and affection suddenly turns into a raging monster that everyone in your family including yourself, is suddenly afraid to be around. While the male goats are notorious from this behavior, female goats can display this behavior as well. There is an old saying among goat owners that is entirely true: "never turn your back on a goat, no matter how well you think you know the goat."
A goat kept in an individual situation is going to display various behaviors with its owner/handler, that it would otherwise display with a herd of goats. This is just natural and while some of these behaviors can be modified, some cannot. Perhaps the best way to describe these behaviors is by having potential goat owners observe an actual herd of goats. Left amongst themselves, they behave and act out with each other in an individual way. When they feel threatened, or another stimulus such as a person or other animal is introduced into their environment, they pack (herd) up together reforming the herd. For the most part, their individuality goes out the window in these situations, and instead of "every goat for themself", it becomes "all for one and one for all" - but in general, I have never seen one goat defend another goat. It may appear that they do, but they don't.
It was recently brought to my attention, that I had overlooked "companion animals". For the sake of discussion, a 'companion animal' should not be confused with a service animal. A 'companion animal' as will be discussed here, is an animal - a goat - that is used as a companion for another animal of a different species. A horse and a goat are a rather common example. I've also noticed a goat or two and cattle together. Persons raising goats as companion animals should also be aware of all the health issues as well. In short, it really does not matter the purpose for which you are raising goats, it matters that they will all have the same basic needs.
My goat has trained me well!
A question you may be asking right now is, "are some goats more suitable for raising than others?" Yes and no. Some goats do seem to have better temperaments (personalities) than others. Pygmy goats are considered one of the friendlier breeds. But I think a lot of it has to do with the goat owner themselves. Some people are better suited to handle German Shepherds than Poodles. Some people are better suited handling cats then dogs. And so on and so forth. A goat of any breed is going to require a certain amount of daily attention, and beyond that, if you intend to attempt to train your goat(s) for something like showing, it is going to require a great deal of time and patience on your part.
On the other hand, the person wanting a goat just to keep the weeds down around the place, probably isn't going to pay a whole lot of attention to the goats other than feeding and watering them on a daily basis. And at this point I should mention that I would sincerely hope that a person doesn't get a goat just to have a goat. I have seen this many times where a goat or two are put in small pens and not allowed a great deal of space to roam freely. These situations usually mean that the goats cry out in despair thus causing the owner to think of them as a nuisance. Just think how your life would be if you were placed in a small jail cell.
Goats need a certain amount of space to thrive in. I'm not talking large expanses of land, but at least enough space where they don't feel entirely caged in. In urban settings, a large backyard is about right for a couple of medium sized goats. One of the ways I determine a proper amount of space is by the amount of plant growth an area can sustain with goats placed upon it. If the goats have eaten everything down to bare soil in a short amount of time, they need more space. The ideal space will sustain continuous plant growth at all times with the goats included.
This mostly goes back to a statement I made in this article, "one acre will support up to 11 goats". One must only use this as a rule of thumb and not as "the rule". One acre of nothing but dirt isn't going to support one goat let alone eleven. On the other hand, one acre of densely thicketed weeds and brush might support 20 goats. And the size of the goat comes into play again as well. One pygmy goat can't each nearly as much as a large breed goat. So use a little bit of logic here and proportionalize the environment for the long term.
About the author: Gary Pfalzbot is a Service Connected Disabled Veteran and the web master of GoatWorld as well as some other web sites. He has raised goats over the years, been involved with 4-H (as a young boy) and currently resides in Colorado where he and his wife Pam raise a few breeds of goats and other animals, and primarily author the GoatWorld web site to continue to inform, educate, and promote the industry.