Whether you are just gathering information about dairy goats or you have made the decision to purchase this article will be a great place to get the basic information you need for getting started.
When I first started researching diary goats I read everything and anything I could get my hands on and talked to numerous goat owners. Though it was helpful, I still felt overwhelmed and a bit confused. I wanted to make sure I had happy healthy goats that were giving me safe and yummy milk, but despite the endless articles I wasn’t 100% sure I knew how to achieve that. I read multiple articles telling me goats were a big undertaking and super expensive and just as many articles saying the exact opposite. I didn’t know who to believe. Finally, I found a book I think everyone wanting dairy goats should read. Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. This book gives a good reference from everything from the different breeds to marketing. I still reference this book frequently. It is worth every penny of the $14!
In addition to recommending the above book I also want to give you some tricks I learned throughout my process of getting started. Hopefully these tricks will save you some time and headache and make your transition into goat owning a bit easier.
Which Goat to Get
Deciding which breed to get is obviously your first and most important step. There are a variety of breeds out there and each one has it’s pros and cons. You just have to do your research on the different breeds and decide which one best fits what you are looking for. I personally raise Nigerian Dwarfs. This is a small and easy to maintain breed with a creamy rich milk (they have the highest butterfat of all the breeds which equates to delicious milk!!!!!!).
Where to Buy
There are a variety of places you can purchase goats from. You can do a simple google search for breeders in your area, you can peruse craigslist, or there are a multitude of livestock, farm, and goat selling groups on Facebook. If you are local to Colorado shoot me a message and I can give you of a list of ones I belong to. When I first started I explored them all. I ended up finding the right match for my first goat(s) off craigslist. It turned out to be an amazing situation and the breeder I purchased from was a wealth of knowledge and has become a mentor of sorts. She was amazing to work with and has taught me a lot. I was upfront from the beginning with her about just starting and not knowing much and she walked me through the whole process. Thanks to my research I knew some of the key questions to ask and was able to ensure I was purchasing a high quality animal for a good price. Now this is certainly not always the case with craigslist or any site so there are a few things you need to be on the lookout for.
– Keep an eye out for wording in the ad – If it has little to no description or pictures I would be leery. Good breeders with good quality animals will let you know it. They will give lengthy descriptions and mention lineage and any awards that have been in the family. They will most often mention age, last freshening date, registration, amount of milk they produce, if they have been tested, and so forth. If these things aren’t mentioned you need to ask about them. I would also make sure to ask if they are good mothers or have had any complications when kidding. You want these goats for milk which means you will need to breed them once a year to freshen (renew their milk supply by getting them pregnant) them, so how they handle kidding and parenting is a big deal.
– Make note of why they are selling the animal – Often people are getting rid of a milk doe because they are culling (getting rid of the weakest animals) their herd. If someone is selling a doe in milk for a screaming deal it probably isn’t that great of a deal because she is probably a dud: low producer, sick. etc… This isn’t always the case sometimes people have family issues arise or just can’t keep up with milking and such so they are wanting to get rid of them. You will have to evaluate the situation and use your best judgement. Just be sure to ask.
– Don’t overpay– You need to make sure to do your research. Simply keeping an eye on FB groups or Craigslist to see what registered or non registered does, wethers, bucks, are going for is a good idea. Going in with a ballpark figure of how much your animal should cost will help you to know if the seller is asking to much or way too little (something to be leery of). Goat owners tend to get pretty attached so sometimes they ask way more than an animal is worth. It is up to you if you want to pay that much or not, but there are a lot of goats out there and keeping to typical asking price is probably a good idea. Remember you can’t have just one goat they get lonely and a lonely goat is an escape artist and destructor of all things. Not to mention they will cry and cry and drive you crazy. You will need at least 2 of similar size is best, so you will need to take that into account and decide how much you can spend per goat.
Bringing Your Goat Home
Once you find the right match and make the deal you will need to bring your goat home. Please don’t think you can just bring them home let them go in your yard and figure the rest out later. That is a bad idea and you will end up very unhappy about having goats. You need to be prepared and have things ready so as soon as your goats arrive at your home you have everything set up.
– Shelter and Fence– It is a good idea to have a designated pen or fenced off area for your goats. Goats need about 150 square feet per goat. You can let them free range around your yard but know they will eat your grass, poop everywhere, and climb on everything so your yard will never be yours again. You can buy goat fencing or you can do what I did and keep an eye on craigslist for dog runs at a good price. I have bought countless dog runs (summer when people are moving is a great time) and just add them together to make one huge pen. The fencing is super sturdy and 6 feet tall so there is no escaping or destruction and I can break down the pen and move it to another area if I want. It is up to you, but know you will need some way to contain them to a certain area. You will also need a shelter of some kind. I found a metal garden shed someone was giving away and have that in their pen. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. You can do something simple like an old dog house or Dogloo (again craigslist or garage sales are a good place to find these) or I just made an A frame structure for my upcoming kidding season. A how to post for that is on its way. It doesn’t need to be fancy just needs to have 3 solid sides and be able to give them a break from the wind and cold weather.
– Feed and Feeders– Everyone feeds differently especially depending on their area. I feed a product called Chaffhaye (it is an organic fermented alfalfa I highly recommend as my ladies love it!) and an all natural grain along with veggies from the garden in the summer and of course they graze the pen/pasture. I am pretty careful what I feed my ladies as I don’t want their milk tasting funny. If you want to keep it simple I would head to your local feed store and pick up a bale of alfalfa and a bag of grain. They don’t need much grain though a cup or so a day depending on their size is plenty. You will need something to put the alfalfa in as well as the grain. Both need to be up off the ground otherwise they will poop and pee on the feed and it is wasted. You can buy hanging feeder or you can get creative and be thrifty and use a simple plastic basket purchased at the dollar store or a thrift store for around $1 and a couple carabiners or wire to hang. I have done both personally I love the idea of saving where I can and since the goats don’t care what they eat out of I say save the money and put the savings toward feed or another goat 😉 You will also need a water bucket . They need plenty of fresh water accessible at all times. A simple bucket will do doesn’t have to be a specific water bucket. Again if you have something laying around you can repurpose for this I say go for it. If it is winter time you will most likely need to purchase a heated bucket these can get pricy, but worth the money as you will get years of use out of them and you don’t want to be going outside every hour to break ice. Last thing you need is minerals. You can put out separate tubs of all the different minerals or you can go my route and just buy a goat mineral block and stick it out in the pen and let them munch on it when they want. My mineral block was $20 and after 6 months isn’t even half gone. I would put the mineral block under the shelter if possible so the weather doesn’t eat away at it and it lasts longer.
– Milk Supplies– If you have a doe in milk or one who is going to kid soon you will need milking supplies. This includes a milking stand (super easy to build yourself, post on that coming soon), stainless steel pail , pot, stainless steel bowl, whatever just as long as it is seamless and stainless steel. When I first started I spent $25 on a fancy milking pail all these people recommended and you know what my goat hated it, I hated it, and I wasted more milk from it being spilled or stepped in than I care to think about. I switched over to a simple kitchen pot I had and VIOLA! no more issues! I got the pan for $5 at a thrift store 😉 It is up to you what you want to do some people prefer a pail. I found the shorter pot or bowl to work better for me. You will also need teat spray, either disposable cloths (I have used these and they work great, but I hate creating all that extra trash) or a cotton cloth, and udder balm. I make my own teat spray (recipe coming soon) super easy and I use a Norwex clothto clean. If you haven’t heard of norwex check them out they are awesome. I only have the body cloths and a kitchen cloth but I love them. They get the udder and teats super clean and it is all natural no chemicals which I love. I use the same cloth for about a week depending on how soiled it is then I simply throw it in the washer and get a clean one. I also make my udder balm again super easy and recipe for that coming soon as well. Last thing you need is a strainer, filters, and some canning jars with Plastic lids. Depending on what breed goat you get depends on the size jar you get. For instance quart jars are plenty big enough for nigerian dwarfs as you won’t get more than that out of them a milking. If you buy a nubian or lamancha you will want the 1/2 gallon jars. Plastic lids are the best option as the metal will rust over time and can cause contamination. There will be a milking process and handling post in the near future.
– Goat Enrichment– You goats are going to need some toys otherwise they will get bored. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy some simple wood stumps if you have your own firewood, an old table, a stack of rocks, a yoga ball, etc… Goats love to play and they love to climb and be high so giving them items to jump up on will help keep them happy and when goats are happy they don’t try to escape. Just keep climbing items away from the fence so they can’t use them to jump over.
– Misc Items– Some other items you will need at some point are a brush, leash, collar, hoof trimmers, and wormer. If you have a dog leash laying around that will work fine as well as an old dog collar as long as it is big enough. You will need to trim hooves every 6 weeks or so these are a must have item. Lastly, wormer, I try to keep my animals as natural as possible. I don’t want any unnecessary chemicals going into them, the milk, or my family. I buy a natural herbal wormer from Molly’s Herbals. It is given weekly and works amazing. 100% natural and totally safe for everyone. Also there is no milk waste time with the herbal wormer. You can also buy some goat treats if you want, but my ladies actually hate them and too much will make them sick. I would stick to some fresh fruit or veggies as a treat instead.
Lastly Enjoying You New Pets
Last thing to do is enjoy your new pets. With the basics taken care of you can figure the rest out later. As with anything you can adjust as you go and figure out what works best for you and your situation.