Tis the season for buying goats! Since most goats give birth in spring, and because dam-raised kids can’t be sold until they’re two or three months old, now is the time when new goat owners are bringing home their babies. Here are answers to the most common questions I receive from customers.
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One of the things I love about raising goats is that I don’t have to buy an expensive trailer to transport them. Goats can easily be transported in dog crates. Two or three young Nigerian dwarf or pygmies can fit into a large crate, while two or three standard-sized kids might need an extra large.
You can ask the breeder what size they are to be sure. If you are buying adults, you’d need a large crate for one ND or pygmy and an extra large crate for a standard-size doe. You will probably need a giant crate for an adult meat buck. If you are buying a buck that’s old enough to breed, he should be in his own crate.
A plastic crate can sit on the back of a pickup truck, but if it has a topper on it, be aware of how hot it might get in the summer sunshine when all closed up. Goats would be fine back there in winter, but if it gets above 100 degrees, it could be dangerous for them. On the flip side, they should not be in the back of a pick-up truck in a wire crate with no protection from the sun.
A plastic crate can also sit in a minivan or SUV. This works great for kids and does, but I would not recommend transporting a mature buck inside a vehicle with humans that have the ability to smell. You have no idea just how stinky an adult buck is until you’ve been cooped up in a small space with one! (Do I have to tell you how I know this?)
You could use a wire crate in a mini-van or SUV, but be aware that if a goat squats to pee in a wire crate, they could wind up peeing on the inside of your vehicle. (I made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.) You might want to set the crate on a shower curtain that’s been covered by an old sheet to absorb the urine so it doesn’t run off the shower curtain. It’s also a good idea to put straw or wood shavings in the crate to absorb urine during the trip.
If the goats will only be transported for a couple of hours, you don’t need to worry about food and water. If the trip will be three hours or longer, it’s nice to give them some hay to munch on during the trip. If it’s going to be four hours or longer, it’s a good idea to stop after a couple of hours and offer them a drink of water.
If your trip is even longer, then every time you stop for fuel, a meal, or a bathroom break, put water in the crate while you’re parked. Don’t leave water in the crate while driving, however, because the odds are good that they’d spill it.
Getting ready at home
Hay and hay feeder
If your goats will be spending the night in the barn, they need hay. If they’re living in a pasture 24/7, and it has plenty of grass, you may not need much of it, but it’s a good idea to at least know where you can buy hay, if the goats go through the pasture faster than you expect. You don’t want to let them eat the grass down to the dirt. Learn more about rotational grazing with this post.
In addition to reducing parasite problems that can be caused by feeding hay on the ground, you will also save a lot of hay by using a hay feeder. Goats are surprisingly picky about eating off the ground. If you put hay on the ground, they will eat far less than if it were in a hay feeder. It’s bad enough that if it is in a hay feeder, they won’t eat hardly any that falls on the ground.
Feed pan and grain
If you are buying wethers (castrated males), they really should not have grain. If you want to get some to use as a treat in the beginning, you can do that, but once the first bag is gone, don’t buy another one. Feeding grain to them increases their risk of urinary calculi. Bucks don’t usually need it either, for the same reason.
Doe kids may or may not need grain, depending upon a variety of factors. It’s a good idea to ask the breeder if they have been feeding grain so that you don’t make any sudden changes in the diet. At most, they would need 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup twice a day.
Does on the milk stand normally eat a 16% protein goat feed while they’re being milked, and most goat feeds recommend something around 1 pound of feed for every 3 pounds of milk produced. For more information about feeding pregnant does, click here.
If you feed grain somewhere other than the milk stand, you will need to buy a feed pan for about every four to six goats. Do NOT pour grain on bare dirt because it increases the risk of parasite problems.
For a complete explanation of what to feed goats, why, and when, check out What Do Goats Eat? It Depends!
Goats need loose goat minerals available free-choice, which means you need a mineral feeder. Check out my post on Goat Minerals: Why, What, and How for more information on the importance of minerals and what your goats need.
Do not think that you will save money on a mineral feeder by purchasing mineral blocks. Most of them contain salt as the main ingredient (sometimes more than 90% salt!) and a very small percentage of minerals that goats need. As an example, one company has 50 ppm selenium in their loose goat mineral but only 1 ppm selenium in their block! This is why people see goats licking a block all the time. They can’t get enough of the minerals.
It is also a good idea to provide free-choice baking soda to goats that are consuming grain or hay pellets, which don’t require a lot of chewing. There has been an unfortunate myth floating around social media that goats don’t need baking soda because they produce their own bicarbonate. This is a great example of how a little information can be dangerous. My article on baking soda explains how this really works and which goats may or may not need baking soda. (Hint: the goats know!)
Most goat owners use either wood shavings or straw as bedding in their barn. It soaks up urine, and the poop falls to the bottom. Price usually makes the decision for most people. We live in wheat country, so straw is the cheapest for us. But if you live in an area that has lumber mills, you might find that shavings are cheaper. If you don’t have bedding, your goats will wind up laying in their own poop and pee, and that’s just gross.
Please note that shavings are not the same thing as wood chips. Shavings are animal bedding; wood chips are for mulch. Shavings are soft and smooth without splinters; wood chips are rough and have lots of splinters and can cause hoof injuries and other lacerations and puncture wounds.
Goats need fresh water daily. This is one reason it’s not any additional work to care for three or four goats than it is to care for one. Even if they don’t finish a bucket of water, you need to dump it and give them fresh water once or twice a day. If you see poop in it, it must be changed immediately. Goats won’t drink from a bucket that has poop in it.
A two-gallon bucket is fine if you have only a few goats. Once you have five or six goats, it’s better to get a second two-gallon bucket than to provide a single five-gallon bucket. It’s that poop thing. If a goat poops in a bucket, it’s always nice to have another bucket available for them, in case it’s still a few hours from chore time.
If you are buying a doe in milk, you need a milk stand. Do not even try to milk a goat without a milk stand. Very few does will stand in the middle of a barn and let you milk them, although I have had a couple. It is not worth trying when you are new to milking, and you have a doe that’s a total stranger to you. Click here to learn more about milking a goat.
Additional Resources for Raising Goats
To learn more about goats, check out my online Beginner’s Guide to Goats.
Love to read books? Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More (second edition) is more than 300 pages of research, information, and personal experience to help you.