With the changes in our farming landscape, I am finding more and more homeowners, myself included, who want or have farm animals. Due to scale, we are limited to the type and number of animals that can be owned and appropriately cared for. Many are choosing Sheep or Goats as their animal of choice. As a result, these new farmers need a crash course in animal husbandry and the specifics of their chosen species.
I have searched and found a few resources that each new farmer should be aware of. I will use the question and answer format based on questions that I get in the office. If your questions aren’t answered here, please contact your local Extension Agent for advice and resources. Some of the following was adapted from articles out of the North Carolina State Extension Service, as well as Virginia Cooperative Extension other state Extension Services.
That depends on many factors. Fully determining your own goals of production, and what resources, facilities and markets exist around you will help answer the question. Ask yourself things like: Are these pets or production animals? How much time do I have to dedicate to the project each day? What forage, acreage, and feed do I have or am I willing to buy? Some goats are better suited for certain production systems than others. For milk production, the Alpine, LaMancha, Toggenburg, Saanen, Oberhasli and Nubian (Nubians are dual purpose, milk or meat production) are popular breeds. For meat production the Boer, Myotonic/Tennessee stiff-legged, Pygmy, Spanish and crosses of these with dairy breeds are all common. For fiber production, the Angora and Cashmere breeds would be good choices.
General it is 6 to 10 goats per acre for stocking year-round. This rate depends on quantity and quality of forage and browse available. Browse includes shrubs, woody plants, weeds and briars.
Goats have a high nutritional requirement. This requirement varies with stage of production, stage of growth and the type of production system. With the exception of milkers, high quality browse and forage will meet most goat's requirements. Goats will consume 4.5 pounds of dry matter per 100 pounds of body weight per day.
Understanding the stages of maturity and how this affects forage quality is important. Graze grass when it is 6 to 8 inches tall and remove the goats when grass is 3 to 4 inches. Matching forage quality to the animal's nutrient requirement can reduce the need for supplemental grain, saving you money.
If forage and browse are not available, such as in winter or during severe drought, supplemental feed is required. This is usually given in the form of hay or grain. Fresh water and a loose mineral supplement should be available at all times. If you are feeding grain to wethers (castrated males) or bucks, be sure that the feed has a balanced Calcium:Phosphorous ration of 2:1 or greater. Wethers and Bucks are susceptible to urinary calculi (stones in the urinary system which if untreated can be fatal).
Goats work well as companion grazers. This is true because goats prefer plants that are undesirable to other livestock. Goats will prefer browse and weeds over grass and clover. The result is more desirable forage (grass and clover) for the other livestock.
You can run one to three goats for each cow. Again, this number depends on the quality and quantity of forage and browse available. Seven or eight goats will eat about as much as one cow.
Woven wire fences do a good job of containing goats. Goats with horns can get their heads caught in this type of fence, so we recommend dehorning if this is your fence choice. High tensile electric fencing (5 strands) will also work well and is less expensive to build and maintain. Be sure the electric fence is working, and wires are spaced correctly to prevent escapes. Goats are tough, and if given the chance, can go through electric fence unless it is installed properly.
Housing needs will depend on the production system you choose. For meat, fiber or brush control goats, some type of structure to protect the goats from cold, wind, rain and wet ground is recommended. This can range from a natural wind break or rock outcropping, to a traditional barn. For a dairy, you will need a building to use as a milking parlor and a place to keep the baby goats (kids) away from their mothers and out of the elements.
Goats can have from one to five kids. Twins are the most common birth rate. Four or five is very rare.
Gestation lasts five months in goats. The range is 146-155 days.
It is best to breed a young doe when she is one year old. Breeding her earlier will stunt her growth and could lead to birthing difficulties. A good rule is to breed does when they reach 60-75% of their mature weight.
Wean kids when they are three months old. This will allow the doe to gain weight before her next kidding. You do not want a doe to be in poor condition when her next kids are born because her milk production will be reduced and there is a possibility of kids being born weak.
The best time for these procedures is when the kids are 7 to 10 days old. Performing these procedures at this age will be less stressful on the kids. Dehorning is best accomplished with an electric dehorning iron. Castration can be done surgically or by banding. Do not castrate earlier, as the bucklings urinary tract isn’t matured until after the first several days following birth.
Tetanus, Enterotoxemia (overeating disease), Soremouth, Caprine Arthritis, Salmonellosis, Jone's Disease and Pasteurella Pneumonia are a few diseases that goats can contract. Vaccinations are a cheap way to give goats protection from some diseases. The two most common diseases goats are vaccinated for are Enterotoxemia and Tetanus. Use a vaccine with CD&T marked on the label, which is for Tetanus and Enterotoxemia. Caseous Lymphodenitis (CL) is also very common.
One of the most important things with young kids is to be sure that it nurses the doe in the first 12 hours after birth. Babies need the "first milk" (colostrum) from their mother in order to get antibodies that will help the kid fight off diseases. After 12 hours, the kid begins to lose the ability to absorb the antibodies. It is also good to dip the navel in a weak betadine or iodine solution to protect the kid from bacteria that can cause infection or death.
Diarrhea is a common problem in kids. You need to be able to identify the cause of the diarrhea in order to administer the proper treatment. If the diarrhea is green, the kid has probably eaten a poisonous plant. If the diarrhea is brown or yellow, the kid has scours. If the diarrhea is black, the kid probably has coccidiosis.
There are many plants that are poisonous to goats. Rhododendron, Wild Cherry, Nightshade, Velvet Grass, Yew, Azalea and Laurels are a few of the most common species of poisonous plants. For a complete list of poisonous plants contact your local County Extension Office.
Internal parasites are a problem in goats. Most worm issues are related to Haemonchus contortus (Barber Pole Worm). Failure to de-worm goats will result in breeding problems, poor milk production, weak kids, poor performance, and death loss. Unfortunately, there are very few products labeled for use in goats. A veterinarian can give you permission to use products that are approved for other livestock. Read the label to make sure that the product you use will control the parasites that infect goats. Cooperative Extension has several publications that provide a Goat Herd Health Calendar which will be of great use to the new goat farmer. Also the FAMACHA system is a great way to assist in determining when your goat may need de-worming. This is a process that determines if your goat is anemic or not. If the animal is anemic at a specific level, then it is time to worm.
Some breeds, as well as individuals within a breed, have faster growing hooves than others. The terrain and environment can influence the amount of wear on the hoof. Most goat owners trim feet four or more times per year. If hooves are not trimmed foot rot and lameness may occur.
Resources for this article come from materials by Brian L. Beer, Assistant Agricultural Extension Agent, North Carolina State University; VCE publication 412-501 (Goat Heard Health Calendar); and Dr. Joe Tritschler, Animal Scientist at Virginia State University.
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