Beginner’s Guide to Raising Goats

Goat Guide

Whether you already raise goats or you are thinking of getting a couple, you’ve come to the right place. This Beginner’s Guide to Raising Goats includes links to some of Thrifty Homesteader’s most useful goat posts. Caring for goats is not difficult or time consuming, but you do need up-to-date information.

There are three basic challenges to raising goats. First, most of us grew up with dogs and cats and have zero experience with prey animals, which have a completely different personality than the animals we’ve always known and loved. 

Second, goats are ruminants, which most of us have had zero experience with. Ruminants have four stomachs, and that kind of changes everything we think we know about mammals. The rumen is a finicky thing and far easier to upset than a single stomach.

Finally, most research on goats that was done prior to this century was only done on the genetics. We knew very little about goat nutrition or parasites until the early part of this century. Unfortunately, a lot of that old information from 20 or more years ago is still alive and well on the Internet, which leads to a ton of confusion when people are trying to learn how to raise goats. 

There are more than 550 articles on this site, and 175 of them are about goats, so feel free to browse by clicking on “goats” from the drop-down index menu on the right. Or you can get started with these posts that contains answers to the most common questions I receive.

Goat Terminology

  • buck — male goat
  • buckling — a male baby goat
  • doe — female goat
  • doeling — a female baby goat
  • kid — baby goat
  • sire — father goat
  • dam — mother goat

Getting Your Goats

Nigerian dwarf goats

These are things you need to think about or consider before buying goats or before you decide to go from goat owner to raising goats.

You may also want to check out my podcast episode, Thinking of getting goats? where I cover the basics of what should be considered before taking the plunge and buying goats.

Goat Care Basics

baby goats

Food, shelter, and health are some basic concerns of all goat owners, and these articles give you the latest information and research on what goats need and how to keep them healthy. 

 

Goat Birth and Raising Goats

female goat and kids

If you want milk, your female goats (called “does”) have to get pregnant. The following articles will get you started, but if you want to learn more about goats giving birth, check out my beginner’s guide to goat birthing for more information.

 

Additional Resources for Raising Goats

Sometimes, even after reading everything you can find, you still have questions. That’s when it’s helpful to have another person to ask! Nigerian Dwarf Goats is my online forum filled with friendly goat owners who are happy to help others and talk goats. Thrifty Homesteading is our Facebook group where we talk about all things related to homesteading, including goats and other livestock. Feel free to click on over and say hi!
 
If you want to learn even more, check out my Goats 365 membership program and online courses at the Thrifty Homesteader Academy
 
Raising Goats as a beginner
 

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39 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Raising Goats”

  1. Took your survey today – I’m the one who is interested in using goats for timber stand management. Looking forward to finally making solid plans to move forward with this. Thanks for having the info available in an easy to use format.

    Reply
  2. Took your survey yesterday; I’m the one who said, as an NRA Instructor, folks don’t know what they don’t know, so it can be challenging to state what one wants to learn. I’m particularly interested in what may set Nigerian Dwarf apart from other breeds. In other words, if I’ve known about Nubians, or read about dairy goats in general, what exceptions to the rules do NDs have?
    Thanks!
    Russ, PistolProf.com

    Reply
    • The main differences between NDs and standard size goats are: (1) butterfat is much higher, which means higher cheese yield, (2) since they’re smaller they eat less, produce less milk, and need less land, and (3) medication dosages based upon weight need to be adjusted. Biologically, they are the same animal, just as different dog breeds are the same species.

      The reason we prefer NDs over Nubians is because we are not big milk drinkers. We use the milk for making cheese and yogurt, so for us, the milk of the standard breeds is simply “watered down.” When I had LaManchas, I could make twice as much cheese with ND milk as with la mancha milk. ND yield vs Nubian would be about 1.5 x since the Nubian butterfat is a little higher than other standard size goats.

      Reply
  3. Enjoyed your site! I have 3 goats. 1 ND wether, 1 ND doe, 1 Reg. Pygmy doe.
    They are all almost 3 years old, never bred. The ND two seem to cling together more, and I am wondering if I should get another Pygmy. I have had health issues, pretty serious, the last 2 years, and unable to breed. My husband thinks 3 is plenty! They are my love….

    Reply
    • That’s a wonderful little pet herd. Breed isn’t necessarily why the pygmy is the odd goat out. It’s not unusual for some goats to bond more than others. Happens in every herd, regardless of how many goats. If the two NDs came from the same farm and have known each other forever, that would explain why they’re more bonded.

      Reply
  4. I have had goats this year freshen with a huge hard utter and very little milk. These are dairy goats. The natural goat book suggests vit c and dolomite ( which I haven’t been able to find). Someone else suggested testing for CAE. What do you think?

    Reply
    • If you bought all of these goats from the same place, and they do not have a history of negative CAE tests, then testing would be a good idea, as this is a symptom of CAE. Although udder edema is basically a hard udder with little milk, that only lasts a couple of days, and it is pretty rare, so you should not see it in multiple goats.

      Reply
  5. I’ve already asked several questions and here is another I’ve been trying to research and I’m getting several answers which is typical. I don’t have a lot of money to play with and my goats are basically my pets. I’ve been planning to divide the pasture up into paddocks. ( at least 7).
    My question is about how to setup a dry lot.there is grass around the goat shed and water where I plan on setting it up. How do I get rid of the grass and can I use wood mulch? I can get it free. I’ve looked online and most are using gravel. If I mentioned to my sweet husband I needed gravel I’m afraid he’d explode. When it rains for a couple days it gets pretty yucky out there.

    Reply
    • You could wind up with hoof injuries if you use mulch. Gravel would be ideal. Sloped concrete works, but that’s more expensive than gravel.

      Reply
  6. I just listened to your podcast on Facebook on Coccidia! Do you have a certain medicated goat feed you recommend? Also do you suggest that I start my babies on it 2 weeks before the go to their new homes?

    Reply
    • That’s what the professor was saying about lespedeza, but I’ve never started giving the medicated feed before the kids were actually taken away from their mom, and it’s worked well. Remember the goal with the medicated feed is just to disrupt their reproduction, not actually kill them. Since I only buy one bag a year, I can’t remember the names exactly, but Purina makes one that’s medicated. It will say on the tag on the end of the bag — medicated.

      Reply
  7. Four days ago my Tog goat had twins. Udder is infected, extremely swollen, hard, hot. Her two kids have been adopted by another mother who just kidded. I have been massaging out clear liquid only, 4x daily. Bruised and sore udder, now. Is there over the counter antibiotic treatment. Few goat vets in this area.

    Reply
    • TODAY is an over-the-counter medication for mastitis that is usually available in local farm supply stores. It’s very unusual to have both sides infected. If she is off feed and has a temp, she could have a systemic infection and may need injectable antibiotics. Mastitis can lead to serious problems such as gangrene, a dead udder (or dead half), or in worst cases, it can kill a goat.

      Reply
  8. Thank you so much for your website, and for generously sharing your extensive knowledge! I have two ND wethers, both are almost 1 yr old. In addition to free choice loose goat minerals, baking soda and abundant fresh water, I feed them free choice hay (orchard, timothy or grass mix hay – whatever is available in our rural area at the time) A few times I’ve been very disappointed to open a bale and find it musty and/or very poor quality, which of course they don’t want to eat, so to have them adjusted to a backup in case there’s a period when I can’t find decent hay, I started offering a cup each of timothy pellets twice a day. At first they didn’t care for the timothy pellets, but now they love them and we’ve fallen into a routine where I give them a cup of pellets in the AM & PM along with a handful of chopped celery, carrots, cucumbers or whatever veggies I have on hand. Treats consist of raisins or apples. Before I lock them in their little barn at night, they each get a tortilla chip or a low salt triscuit cracker. They’re in great condition, and I don’t believe they’re overweight, because they have strong little muscles and I can feel their hip bones (although they do have those little ruminant bellies in contrast to their short little legs.) Each day we spend about a half hour together, playing and running around their pen. They do aerial jumps into the air off their platforms, having a ball, then we all sit down together for a rest and a cuddle. Obviously these two little monsters are completely loved and adored, but I know I can easily love them to death if I’m not careful. I’m hyper aware of urinary calculus in wethers and never want that to happen to my precious boys. Please tell me if I’m harming them by feeding them the timothy pellets twice a day and their nightly cracker or chip, in addition to their free choice hay. And any other words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated. Thank you SO much.

    Reply
    • Timothy hay pellets are just pulverized timothy grass, so nutritionally speaking, it’s not any different than giving them timothy hay. Since it’s pulverized, however, it does not require much chewing, and chewing is important for goats because that’s what causes them to make their own bicarbonate. If they have pasture available where they can eat other long-stemmed forage such as grass, weeds, and leaves, they should be in good shape. If not, then it’s a good idea to keep the baking soda available for them, just in case they need it. If they are not chewing much, then they may not produce as much bicarbonate as they need. Wethers can have all the GRASS hay they want. (Alfalfa is too rich for wethers.)

      The other treats are not a great idea, especially the high sugar things like fruits and raisins. Goats don’t brush their teeth, and even if they only eat forage their whole life, they may start losing teeth as early as 7-8 years old. If they are eating sugary foods, they may have dental problems even earlier, which can create a big challenge keeping weight on them. The only real answer at that point is to soak hay pellets so they don’t really need teeth.

      A single tortilla chip or cracker per day is probably not a problem, but we really don’t know where the line is drawn in terms of goats starting to develop urinary stones, and we know that grain causes urinary stones. Tortilla chips are corn, and the other crackers are probably wheat, which they don’t need. I’m sure they love them, but they’ll still love you, even if you are not giving them treats every day. When people see my goats running up to me as I walk into the pasture, they ask me what they’re expecting, and they’re not expecting anything other than a scratch behind the ears because I don’t give them treats at all.

      Reply
  9. Thank you so much for your great advice, and for responding so quickly to my question! My little guys won’t be happy about missing out on their treats, but I’ll follow your guidance because I know it’s better for them in the long run. Thanks for the info on the timothy hay pellets, I’ll continue to keep that as a complement to their grass hay diet. They don’t have access to pasture, but we give them goat-safe plants and tree cuttings when they’re available. You are wonderful. Thanks again 🙂

    Reply
  10. This is an incredibly helpful guide, and I’m grateful for it.

    I have a question, open to answers from anyone. I have two wethered NIgerian dwarf males that my family and I bottle-fed from early on, who are now about 3 months old. We actually live in a city, so they are in a nice sized pen in the backyard, and eat mostly hay. I also take them out to parks to forage and even occasionally on trail hikes, where they follow right alongside us.

    My issue is that they are in the habit of making a good amount of noise, not just little baa-hs but some serious insistent bleating. And they sometimes watch the house like a hawk for movement inside. And if we sit outside in back but not in their pen, they bleat too.

    Are these “too attached”? We don’t respond to the noise (like, by feeding them). Or do goats just not do well in this limbo between family pet and farm animal?

    Reply
    • This is definitely more of a problem with bottle-fed goats. Many years ago I had a doe returned within less than 24 hours because she never shut up after the woman took her home. She said that the goat would start to scream the minute she left the barn … all … night … long! She was crying when she called me in the morning and said she had to bring them back. The wether that was with her had been dam-raised, and he was totally quiet. Bottle babies get very attached to their humans, and it is especially bad if they ever lived in your house. When we have had house goats that were put outside, they usually screamed a lot for the first few days but eventually quieted down when they realized they were never coming back inside.

      There is also a great deal of personality differences from one goat to another, and some are just not great at being city goats. I’ve had two goats returned from the Chicago area because they were being so loud that there were noise complaints against the owners months after they were at their new home. In both cases, I never heard a peep out of either of the goats after they were brought back here. I really think they were just bored being in a small pen. In one case we put the doe in a stall in the barn with a buck for breeding, and she never stopped screaming the whole time she was in there. But out in the pasture with a couple of acres to roam, she’s totally quiet.

      Reply
  11. Question actually…I have a 6 year old weathered male goat I’ve had for almost 3 years. His sister got killed by a cougar a year ago this pat Feb and I hadn’t gotten another goat till last year Sept..a 3 month old weathered male goat…oh he was adorable!!!. So the baby was raised with my older one but now he’s getting to be a bit of a stink to the older sweet gentle one by doing the head butting,side slamming stuff . And the when feeding comes fighting over the feeding DISHES ..there ARE 2 of them and the hay feeder is over 4′ + wide. Ok so plenty of room for everrrrryone..sheesh. So what gives with this lily darling? He’s about 3/4 the size of the older one and weight wise far under so picking on someone NOT his own size by far! Oh they are both dwarf Nigerians btw. So they have a huge 22×20 pen w a tower on top of their covered enclosed area..seriously spoiled. What I am wondering is if I should separate them at night when they go in…divide their enclosed area in half so they have separate living space instead of being together at night..to give the older one some space. He seems like he’s ki da tired of being rammed by the little pipsqueek…cuz I find him him hiding under the tower trying to get away from the other. Suggestions ? And thanks:)

    Reply
    • There is no need to separate them at night. As for feeding, wethers should not be eating anything in a dish. Grain (goat feed) can cause urinary stones, and they don’t need the grain. They are not producing sperm or babies or milk, so they just need GRASS hay (NOT alfalfa), a free choice loose goat mineral (NOT “sheep & goat”), and fresh, clean water 24/7. And they can have grass, weeds, and browse in the pasture. Here is more info about goat communication:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/when-goats-attackeach-other/

      Reply
      • Are you kidding me? Wethers should not have grain?. That seems contrary to everything else I’ve been reading regarding baby goats. I was under the impression they were supposed to have grain and hay and pasture && minerals .

        Reply
        • They can have a little grain up to about six months when they are growing fast, but it is a VERY well established fact in veterinary medicine that grain causes urinary stones. I have never seen a reputable source of info that says male goats (wethers or bucks) NEED grain. Only does in milk need the high protein content that grain provides. Male goats only need a good quality GRASS hay (not alfalfa, which has too much calcium for male goats), pasture, free choice loose minerals, and fresh water.

          Reply

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