For the Love of Goats
This episode includes a basic equipment list for goats, as well as what goats need for housing. You’ll learn what you need — and what you don’t. We’ll answer these questions:
- Why do you need a hay feeder?
- Why do you need a mineral feeder for loose minerals rather than just getting a mineral block?
- Why is a water bucket better than a water trough — and why are two 2-gallon buckets better than a 5-gallon bucket?
- What’s the best kind of feed pan to use?
- Why do you need hoof trimmers? (Who trims a goat’s hooves in nature?)
- Why do you need a thermometer?
- What can you use a milk stand for (other than milking a goat)?
- Why should your barn NOT be insulated or heated?
This is a must-listen episode for anyone new to goats. And if you breed goats, this is a good one to recommend to buyers so that you can be sure they have what they need before taking home your babies.
For more information
Episode 4: Getting Ready for Goat Birthing (includes equipment list for kidding)
The sponsor for today’s show is Standlee Premium Western Forage
Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome back. Today’s episode is sponsored by Standlee Premium Western Forage. And before I get started, I want to let you know that if you think you hear a goat in the background, it’s because you do, you’re not losing it. And no, I’m not recording today’s episode from the barn. We actually started kidding this year. So that means that I have a baby monitor in my office so that I know what’s going on out in the barn. And know that is not a goat in labor that is unfortunately, a buck who keeps jumping fences. So we have locked him up in the barn and he is very unhappy about it. Yes, we have a friend in there with him, we put a wether in there with him. He’s actually been locked up for a month now he is still not used to it. He’s still expressing his displeasure. And so whenever anybody walks through the barn, he starts to scream. So I just thought I’d let you know that in case you hear somebody in the background.
Deborah Niemann 1:19
Today’s episode is about equipment and housing for goats. Now, if you are curious about the baby monitor I just mentioned, I’m not going to be talking about that, that today, because I actually talked about that a month ago in Episode Number 4, which was all about getting ready for kidding season. So if that’s the info you need, then definitely check out Episode Number 4.
Deborah Niemann 1:41
Today I am going to be talking about equipment and housing. So basically, this is information that you might need if you are thinking of getting goats or if you are about to get goats or just got goats. Or you might even wanna listen to this, if you raise goats, and you sell them so that you can refer people to this episode in the future to make sure that your babies are going to homes where people are really prepared for them, and they have everything that your babies are going to need.
Deborah Niemann 2:11
First off, let’s talk about equipment that you need. The most important thing you need is a hay feeder. Because goats need hay. Most of us have grown up, you know with dogs and cats. And so we think of like, you know, feeding them in a bowl, but the main food that goats are going to need is hay. And even if you are going to have them out on pasture, even if you’ve got browse, if you’re bringing them inside at night, they still need a hay feeder, so that you can put the hay in there.
Deborah Niemann 2:38
You do not want to feed hay on the ground for two reasons. Number one, is because goats are terrible about wasting hay. When it hits the ground, they’re like, “Ew, I’m not going to eat that”. So they’re not going to eat a whole, they’re not going to eat as much of it if you’re feeding it off the ground as if you have it in a hay feeder. The other reason that you want a hay feeder is because of parasites. If you’re giving them hay outside and you’re putting it on the grass, if they do nibble too close to the ground, they’re going to be picking up parasite larva, and so that’s bad. You really want to have a hay feeder, so that they will be pulling from above.
Deborah Niemann 3:20
There’s an old saying that goats should never eat below their knees, which in the pasture, that’s true, you they should not be eating short grass, they should only be eating tall grass. But really it means they’re browsers and so they should be eating from up above, they should be eating leaves and little tiny you know, the branches limbs, that those leaves are growing on, chewing on bark even not good for your trees, but they love bark, too. So goats should – our browser should be eating that. But when they’re in the barn, they still need to have something available to them, and they should have hay.
Deborah Niemann 3:55
And I get into what kind of hay they need on my website. I’m going to have this, the show notes for this episode is going to be absolutely chock full of links to other articles. Because if I covered all of this, it would be hours. And so I’m going to cover what you need in terms of equipment. But then in terms of like what you need to feed for hay, I’m going to give you a link to that because that’s explained in a article on my website. Because different, a doe in milk does not need the same hay as a buck or wether or growing kids like they all have different needs and in fact like goats at different stages of pregnancy and lactation and stuff. And all that is explained on an article on my website.
Deborah Niemann 4:40
The next thing that you absolutely must have for goats is a mineral feeder. And that is basically, they do, my favorite one looks like two black squares that you just, you screw onto the wall and they’re open and you pour loose minerals into one side, you pour baking soda into the other side. And goats need loose minerals rather than a mineral block, because they have a small soft tongue. And they, many times they cannot get enough minerals from a block. So that’s why they need to have the loose minerals. And it needs to be goat minerals.
Deborah Niemann 5:19
And again, I’m gonna have a link that takes you to an article all about minerals and how you need to choose a good mineral. There is a lot of junk out there, I mean a lot of junk. There are minerals, they say minerals, and then you look at the ingredients, and it’s like 80% salt, well, salts a mineral all right. But that’s not what your goats need, like your minerals shouldn’t be more than 10 to 20% salt. Other than that, it should be all like legit minerals, you know, like selenium, copper, zinc, and things like that, that goats do need more of.
Deborah Niemann 5:54
Number three, they need a water bucket. Now, if you’re only getting a few goats, do not go out and buy a 50-gallon or 75-gallon water trough. I grew up in Texas around cattle. And I remember visiting my grandparents’ ranch and my uncle’s ranch. And so when we got our farm, we thought we needed these ginormous stock tanks. And so we went to the feed store and that’s what we bought. And that was a very bad decision for multiple reasons. Number one, my goats could not even reach, reach it like and if they, you know, could put their paws up on top of it to get their head into it. Like they couldn’t drink for more down much further than a couple inches, because their neck wasn’t long enough. So we wound up digging a big hole in the ground to bury like half of the stock tank. Terrible idea.
Deborah Niemann 6:49
The other thing is now baby goats can jump into it. And we have unfortunately had a baby goat that drowned in it one time. And we’re not talking newborns here, we’re talking a kid that was a month old. So it jumped in there, it was the baby goats can’t swim. It jumped in there, the water is like two feet deep and so it drowned. So please do not get a stock tank for goats. A bucket is great. Depending on your personal physical ability, you can either get the two gallon buckets, or the five gallon buckets. You know, again, huge mistake we made in the beginning was buying five gallon buckets.
Deborah Niemann 7:26
I was in really bad physical condition when we moved out here. So I had trouble initially carrying the five gallon buckets. I did get better at it. But I know a lot of times, you know people who get goats are older and not in the best shape, it is perfectly fine to get two gallon buckets. Because here’s the thing, goats do not like dirty water. So don’t think oh, I’m going to get the five gallon buckets. So I only have to refill it every two or three days. No, no, no, your goats will not drink enough water in that situation. And then especially with like bucks and wethers you know you’re going to put them at a higher risk of urinary calculi because they’re not peeing as much because they’re not drinking as much water.
Deborah Niemann 8:04
So you definitely need to change those water buckets twice a day. And I, you know, when people told me this when I was new to goats, I thought,”Oh, that’s silly. They don’t know the difference.” But they really do. I have experimented with this so many times where I have a bucket and I’m like, and also I, we accidentally unknowingly experimented with this, when our children were home, and they were in charge of chores, because a lot of times they would look in there and go, “Oh, that water buckets, three quarters full, I don’t need to do anything”. You know, like they drank less than half of it in 12 hours, so I don’t need to add more or do anything.
Deborah Niemann 8:43
And you come in the next morning and that bucket is still three quarters full. So you need to dump it and put clean water in there. The other thing is that it’s really better to have two buckets. I don’t care if you only have three goats. It’s better to have two buckets. Because if somebody poops or pees in a bucket, the other ones are not going to drink from it. So this is why it’s better to have two two gallon buckets than it is just to have a five gallon bucket.
Deborah Niemann 9:11
The next piece of equipment that you need is a feed pan. Now this could be a feed pan if you’ve got a milker you know there’s a feed pan that goes on the milk stand. But you’re really only going to need a feed pan in most cases if you’ve got, if you are raising goats, if you have mamas with babies. The main time that we use a feed pan is for feeding mamas and babies, when the baby in the first couple months, when the mamas are with the babies 24 hours a day. Because we put the, we put their grain and alfalfa pellets in that pan and we give it to them and that’s also how the babies learn to eat.
Deborah Niemann 9:54
Baby goats will start eating at around two or three days of age because they’re imitating mom. This is one of the challenges of bottle feeding them is that they don’t usually start eating solids until three or four weeks because they don’t have the role model. And so it’s just harder, takes longer to get them started on solids. So when you put the feed pan in there with mom, the baby goats will eat it. So they don’t actually really need it, it’s just a learning process for them at this point, it does not mean that you can give, that they need less of mama’s milk, they still need to have access to mom 24 hours a day.
Deborah Niemann 10:30
It’s just a learning experience for them at this point, and it’s also getting their rumen to gradually start working. Because their rumen does not work in the beginning, they are drinking milk, it’s going it’s bypassing the room and you don’t ever want milk in the rumen. Because that can cause an upset, because the rumen is a giant fermentation vat and you don’t want to add milk to a giant fermentation vat. So your baby goats are drinking their milk. It’s bypassing the rumen. And then they’re also but then once they start nibbling at the hay and the grain and stuff that mama’s eating, that is going to get their rumen to start working.
Deborah Niemann 11:06
So in the feed pan, this is my little opportunity here to give a shout out to Standlee Premium Western Forage, who I decided would be a great sponsor for this episode, because we add their hay pellets to the grain. So when the mamas are eating grain, we add some alfalfa pellets to it. I also, the other time, I will use a feed pan is in the dead of winter, if I don’t have enough grass hay for my bucks. Usually, I have no trouble finding grass hay. But there have been a few years when I wasn’t able to find enough. And if bucks are on a diet of 100% alfalfa, they’re probably going to wind up with zinc deficiency because there’s just too much calcium and alfalfa for them.
Deborah Niemann 11:55
So bucks just need grass hay. When I cannot get enough grass hay for them, I will give them a little bit of alfalfa twice a day because they need that long stem forage to be able to keep their rumen working at its optimum level. If you want to know more about that, check out Episode Two, where I talked to a ruminant nutritionist about forage and why they need that long stem forage. But to keep the bucks from having too much calcium in the alfalfa, I know I can always get the Standlee hay pellets at my local feed stores. And I can get those Timothy pellets for them. So sometimes in the middle of winter, I do need to feed my bucks Timothy hay pellets. And I will put that in a feed pan.
Deborah Niemann 12:47
Now they sell these feed pans that you can hang on the wall, which are really the ideal. I will have a photo of this in the show notes, so you know what I’m talking about if you’re having trouble picturing this. If you just get the a round pan or a square pan and you put it in the middle of a stall or in the middle of the ground, goats will sometimes fight over the pan literally over it. You know, like ones on one side ones on the other side, and they’re like,”No, it’s mine. Get out of here!” And those are butting heads, and then one of them will invariably run through the middle of that pan, flip the pan over and all your pellets or grain goes flying. So to avoid that it is much better if you can either feed them against a wall.
Deborah Niemann 13:32
Now if you’re only feeding two or three goats, you can put any feeder up against a wall so that they can’t buttheads above the feeder and, and wind up knocking it over. But if you’ve got five or six, then they are going to be in a circle all the way around it. And so that’s when it’s better to get that fence line feeder. Or there’s one place calls it a goat trough and it’s got hooks on it and you can hang it on the wall. It’s about three feet long and you just put the feed in there. And that way everybody is facing in the same direction. Now they might try to but the goat away from them who’s standing next to them like, “Hey, I want this! Get away!”, but they can’t run through it and knock it over and make a big mess. So that’s why I like the feeders against the wall.
Deborah Niemann 14:25
The next thing that you need for goats is hoof trimmers, you are probably not going to need to use these very often. Now keep in mind that goats are mountain and desert animals you know, and this is for those people who are like well who trims their hooves in nature? The mountains trim their hooves and the sand trims their hooves, think sandpaper. So if goats are walking around in a sandy desert that is wearing down their hooves, if a goat is climbing on mountains all day long, that is trimming their hooves. It’s wearing them down. Some goats are pretty good at wearing down their hooves, even on pasture. However, some are not. So this is why, you know, I’ve heard people say, “Oh trim their hooves once a month or every six months”. The answer is going to be different.
Deborah Niemann 15:14
If you guys have listened to many of these, you know, my answer is usually it depends. I have had goats that really truly need to have their hooves trimmed every single month because they grow really fast, they do not wear down at all. I don’t like goats that need to have their hooves trimmed very often, because it’s a it’s more work. And so it’s not, so I don’t really like that. It’s funny. I actually know, the person we interviewed last month actually calls for that. Or not last month, it was last month, it was last week, in the Meat Goat episode. That’s one of the things she looks for is goats whose hooves don’t need to be trimmed very often, she prefers to have a buck who does not need to have his hooves trimmed often.
Deborah Niemann 15:57
And I know she had one buck for like six or seven years. And I think they only had to trim his hooves once like, you know, after three years, because he did such a good job of wearing them down. And now was one of the things I accidentally got lucky enough to get in my early years was a buck whose hooves did not need to be trimmed more often than about every six months, which is about the best I’ve seen in my Nigerians. That other person had Kikos, but my Nigerians about the best I’ve seen is ones who can go six months, if you don’t trim them, they just keep growing and they come out in front and they look like skis. They look really terrible. I will also post a photo in the show notes of a overgrown hoof, so that you know what I’m talking about. And you don’t want it to look like this. You don’t want them to look like and I’ll also post a link to a video about hoof trimming.
Deborah Niemann 16:53
And then the other thing, and this is the last thing on my regular list that you need. And it’s the only piece of medical equipment that I think everybody absolutely needs. And that is a thermometer. Because a thermometer is the thing that is going to tell you, it’s going to narrow down the possibilities if your goat goes off feed. So if you’ve been following me for very long, you know, I’m always quoting this vet that told me years ago, I have a hard time getting excited about a goat, that’s just a goat walking around eating, drinking. Because I rushed this buck into the vet at nine o’clock at night, because I thought it was dying, he clearly was not. But if a goat is off feed, that is a big danger signal, that means something is definitely wrong. And there is no way to know like immediately what it is.
Deborah Niemann 17:48
So one of the first things you can do is check their temperature. If they have a fever, it’s probably an infection, like, you know, so they probably need antibiotics. If they don’t have a fever, then it’s probably worms. Worms is like the number one cause of death in goats. And so, you know, almost always when somebody has a sick goat, or an underweight goat usually that the problem is worms. But, but you should check their temperature first. If they have because if they have a fever, then you know that they have some kind of an infection. And a goat’s temperature is not as predictable, as humans and other animals.
Deborah Niemann 18:30
You know, like humans were like, “Oh, 98.6”, and other animals have a very definitive, you know, we get it down to the 10th of a degree. Goats are not that good. It really somewhere between 101 and 102 is good. I don’t usually worry until it starts to fall down closer to 100 or get closer to 103. And then I’m like, you might you know, and this isn’t something you need to do regularly because their temperature is variable. But if a goat is not eating, and they’re laying in the corner looking sick, like that’s one of the things that you can do to try and figure out what’s going on.
Deborah Niemann 19:12
Now, if you buy a milk goat, you need to have a milk stand. This is not the same thing as a sheep fitting stand. It looks very similar to that except that a sheep fitting stand has a head thing where you just you tie their head in there. Whereas a milking stand, there’s a place for you to put a dish of grain because goats, so if you’re milking a goat, that’s where you give them their grain is on the milk stand. And it’s a really good idea to if you’ve only got a few goats and you have a doe that’s going to be kidding soon. Put her on the milk stand to give her you know, like some alfalfa pellets and a handful of grain just to get her used to being on the milk stand, just to jumping up there and saying, knowing this is good.
Deborah Niemann 20:01
It’s also kind of nice to have a milk stand. Also, just for trimming hooves, you know, like, if you only have a couple of pet wethers and you can afford a milk stand, that really is going to be the easiest way to trim hooves, otherwise, you probably are going to need somebody to hold the goat for you. And it’s just more challenging to do things like trim hooves, given injection, and things like that if they’re not in a milk stand.
Deborah Niemann 20:28
Now let’s talk about housing. This is one of those areas where people can literally kill their goats with kindness. I am in Illinois, which gets very, very cold. The coldest temperature we’ve ever had is 25 degrees below zero. All of our goats survived just fine, we do not have a heated barn, we do not have an insulated barn. And at that temperature, we actually did not even have all of our goats in the barn. Bucks are in a three-sided shelter. The only time we bring them into the barn is if we’re gonna have a snowstorm where the snow is blowing.
Deborah Niemann 21:11
Because a blizzard, or a snowstorm with blowing snow could wind up blowing snow into that shelter. All of the the openings on all of those three sided shelters go out to the south, our prevailing winds if we have a snowstorm, the wind is going to be coming from the north, all winter, our wind is coming from the north. Unless we have a warm up, you know, like it’s going to warm up to 40 degrees or something, then we may have some wind coming from the south. But the shelters are, are long and narrow. And so when the goats are in them, they’re not getting hit even then they’re not getting hit with wind like they would if they were standing out in the open, because the wind cannot blow through it. So you only have one side open so that the wind can blow through it. It just comes in and stops.
Deborah Niemann 22:04
Our milkers come into the barn at night. And we keep our kids in the barn. In fact, our kids we keep in the barn for a couple of weeks. And the reason for this is because if you’ve got a pasture, it is very easy for kids to get lost. You hear moms and babies out there calling to each other. And they do learn to recognize each other’s voice very quickly after birth. However, first fresheners are not the most experienced, I don’t want to say they’re dumb, they’re just not experienced.
Deborah Niemann 22:42
And we did have many years ago, this was actually I think about our third year with goats. We had a first freshner who lost a kid for so long, like we don’t actually know how long she lost her. But we went out there in the evening. And she’s running around screaming bloody murder because she can’t find her. And we are looking and looking like we had three or four humans looking and we couldn’t find her. And so we thought that she must have gotten eaten, you know, she must have like, somehow gotten outside of the fence and either wandered off so far that she couldn’t find her way back or gotten eaten by a coyote or something.
Deborah Niemann 23:23
And it was like the worst night I ever had asleep because I had very little sleep. I just kept feeling like I was a horrible goat owner and feeling just so sick that like this poor little baby wandered off and died of starvation or got eaten. And then the next morning, we went out there and there she was, she was happily nursing with mom. So it did turn out okay, but it scared me badly enough that I just, I do not let kids go outside until they’re a couple weeks old, by which point I know they’re very well bonded to their moms. And there’s, I never say anything’s impossible with goats because I feel like sometimes they’re just always out to prove you wrong. But we have never had any issues with kids getting lost or separated when they’re that old.
Deborah Niemann 24:13
Now I want to circle back to the idea of insulating or heating your barn and explain why you don’t want to do that. Goats produce an incredible amount of ammonia. And there is no way that you can get rid of that. So that means it’s building up in the barn if it is airtight. So we keep the door on the east side of our barn open 365 days a year. Again, the only time that we close that door is during a snowstorm and that’s just because we don’t want snow going into the barn. You know the less we have to shovel shovel, the happier we are. So we leave that door open all the time as well as both of the windows on the east end of the barn so that the ammonia can escape.
Deborah Niemann 25:03
Do not be fooled and assume that it’s all okay. Just because you can’t smell it, because the human nose is so pathetic that by the time we can smell it, it is already high enough that it can cause lung damage. And pneumonia is a problem that a lot of people have with goats in the winter, typically, because they are keeping them inside. Putting your goats outside every single day is not going to hurt them. My goats go outside every single day, if it’s maybe if like, if we’re below zero, I may not force them outside, but I’m going to open the door so that the option is available to them and they can go outside if they need to.
Deborah Niemann 25:51
But if it’s above zero, they are outside. Now they do have a windbreak because they’re going to be, we’ve got pasture shelters that they can go into. They give them a windbreak so they’re not in the wind. If they go out to we’ve got the barn is 100 feet long. And so if they go out one of the little goat doors on the south side of the barn, they’ve got that whole 100-foot barn, blocking the wind from the north. So they always have a wind block, but they can get fresh air when they need it. And some barn, some goats are gonna be barn potatoes, you know, like the goat equivalent of a couch potato if you don’t force them out. And so that’s why, if it’s 10 degrees or warmer, I am definitely putting them all outside and closing the door so they can’t come back in again, until evening chores when we’re going to be feeding and milking and stuff.
Deborah Niemann 26:45
And that’s it for today’s episode. Thanks again to Standlee Premium Western Forage whose hay pellets I have been using and loving for more than a decade. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss any future episodes. And I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review so that it makes it easier for other people to find the podcast. And I will see you all again next week. Bye for now.
Top photo below — three-sided pasture shelter that is available in all of our pastures so goats can get out of the wind, snow, or rain whenever needed.
Bottom photo below — A fenceline feeder that hooks onto the wall so goats are not facing each other while eating, so they can’t butt heads over the pan and run through it and flip it over, spilling the feed.
Subscribe to my weekly newsletter!
My weekly newsletter includes recipes and articles on homesteading, raising livestock, health, and gardening.