For us goats have been the perfect starter animal for our ranch, giving us more confidence than ever to dip our toes into getting larger livestock such as alpacas, donkeys, cattle and much more.
First and foremost, we absolutely love these gentle, kind and hilariously playful creatures. I could spend hours in the pasture just lounging with the goats while they forage around.
Before we had even gotten goats, I expected the real reward of raising them to be in the traditional returns such as milk production, meat, soap, fiber, and so on.
Even the skin and hide, rich fertilizing manure, and weed control were all attractive benefits to boot.
But truthfully, our goats have been wonderful companions; much like our dogs. From their parkour jumps to graceful spirit, it’s super easy to bond with them.
Best of all, raising goats is incredibly inexpensive, and they are for the most part self-sufficient animals. We originally thought getting goats was going to be this huge ordeal, a serious commitment, but honestly, it’s been wonderful not to mention, downright easy.
We’ve read countless books on raising goats, and have had a lot of experience learning first hand at our ranch. With that said, we put together a list of the top 50 things we learned raising goats. A how to raise goats guide if you will. It’s something we wish we had before we had gotten started, and we hope you find a get a lot of value out of it.
From time to time, we’ll keep adding new lessons we learn, tricks, tips and experiences while enjoying the company of our at times stressful and mostly wonderful goats.
1. Goats love to forage on their own.
These sweet animals love to wander around the pasture in search of the best greens. They find that a delicious treat to munch on is satisfying when encountered independently. In comparison, we’ve learned that goats don’t necessarily like to be given one thing in particular unless it’s pellets. When it’s pellets, they will consume those like a pack of wild animals who haven’t eaten in months.
We’ve noticed they prefer to get a mixture of handpicked weeds rather than just one type at a time. They love it when you scatter these weeds, creating a treasure hunt.
2. Goats like the prickly weeds best.
However, there is a limit to prickliness. Our goats won’t eat thistle or cactus, but they’ll devour other softer, prickly weeds around the pasture like wild lettuce. They love wild lettuce but will only eat so much of it before getting bored.
We often wonder if the prickly texture gives them a unique eating sensation that they enjoy. I know as humans, we sometimes prefer certain food textures over others. In contrast, we’ve given them super soft, velvety leafy plants such as rabbit’s ear and (X?), and they won’t touch them. Unless they are out of hay and all other options, including wildflowers, grass, and weeds, are gone, it just sits there until it dries out.
3. Goats are amazing at wildfire mitigation and brush clearing.
Put two goats in a small pasture, say 20×10, for a few weeks, and before the month is up, they will have stripped the entire land bare. This is terrific news for us, as we live in a high-risk wildfire area in the Colorado Mountains.
There’s no way we can mow the tall wild grasses on our property due to steep hillsides and ultra-rocky soils, so without the goats, we’d be relatively helpless. Even using a string trimmer would take hours and hours, which we don’t have. Luckily, the goats have all the time in the world to munch and crunch.
4. Goats love pine tree needles.
Being in Colorado, we have a ton of pine trees up here, hundreds if not thousands and counting. During our first month of having goats, we put in large pine tree branches to give the goats a little playground of sorts. Sure, they climbed on the limbs and had fun, but to our surprise, they stripped all of the branches bare of pine needles. We’ve since then continued to give them fresh pine branches that are cut when we do our wildfire mitigation.
Now, while goats love pine needles, they won’t go right for them unless they are in the mood. Our goats will always go first for hay, wild weeds, and fresh grass before stripping the pine off the branches. We’ve noticed, too, that they’ll eat pine needles even if they’re not bright green.
Yes, you can feed your goats your leftover Christmas tree.
5. Goats will eat bark.
Our goats were stripping the bark from our pine tree trunks in the play area, to our surprise. They seem to enjoy a nibble here and there, every now and then.
It turns out the bark from our Ponderosa Pine trees contains condensed tannins. Tannins are said to be proven at fighting off internal parasites such as coccidia and barber pole warm.
6. Goats prefer to eat higher up.
Eating with their head off the ground and raised towards the sky gives the goats a better vantage point of predators in the area. Perhaps that’s why they enjoy chewing on pine needles from taller branches?
7. Goats will always find a way to get into a predicament
No matter how slick on the hoof, how high up in the air, or how awkwardly difficult, our goats will give it a try. We’ve learned that playtime is critical to raising happy, healthy goats, as aside from eating, it’s what keeps them moving and grooving around the pasture.
We’ve used everything from old giant tractor tires to simple wood board ramps, tree logs, and more to give them a little variety. At one point, we were installing a new hay feeder, and to our surprise, Topaz, one of our male goats, hopped onto the top, a straight three-foot jump upwards like it was no big deal.
That said, hay feeders can be a blessing for saving hay and a curse for acrobatic goats.
8. Goats will move rocks on their own.
We placed handfuls of large rocks around our fences to keep predators from digging under our fences. However, our goats love to climb rocks so much and kick around them that these end up scattered in the pasture. In the past, I’ve set a walkway of larger than hand-size stones on the ground, only to see them ultimately moved around into various places within a few days.
More giant boulders and rocks, of course, can’t be moved by the goats.
9. Their legs can get caught easily.
If you’re transporting them by crate, please put a cardboard sheet on the bottom to protect their hooves. When we first took home our goats, we learned of a story of a goat getting his hoof caught in a metal crate and breaking it.
One night we were walking the ranch and heard a scream from one of our goats. Topaz had climbed our new hay feeder and got his leg stuck in the metal wire panel. We only had our hay feeder out for an hour before it happened. Thankfully, he was not injured seriously, had no broken bones, and made a full recovery in about a day. It’s scary to think about how easy it is for them to get their hooves caught in all kinds of places.
10. Female goats will follow castrated males.
Even after their “flower” falls off, female goats will still follow around the males, the same as they would non-neutered goats. While I wished our first two male goats were still intact, keeping them together with the females has been just great.
11. Male goats play more than female goats.
Our male goats will head-butt each other and head-wrestle over food, females, and just about anything. Now, it’s not dominance, stay out of my way type of thing, but rather more playful. While our female goats are still lively, it’s rather apparent the males like to be more active.
12. Goats don’t care for bedding in the summer.
Whenever we lay a fresh layer of mulch, straw, or pine shavings in the summer, we notice it has been moved by the next day. Our goats prefer to sleep on wood boards rather than any type of bedding during higher-temperature nights.
Concerning bedding, it’s critical to keep it dry from rain and snow. The last thing you want is to discover a goat with a severe loss of body heat during cold weather or heavy rains.
Overall, we’ve found that the best setup is wood slat boards (thinking decking style) with a small gap between the boards for drainage and airflow. Not only does this design reduce bedding material, but it also helps to keep our goats nice and clean.
13. Goats are a lot like humans, personality-wise.
We’ve learned that bottle-fed goats as babies are super human-friendly as they age. Even ones who are not bottle-fed can still be exceptionally close and sweet. Now, just like humans, we believe there are all sorts of goats out there with different personalities. Some are super social, others super reserved and timid.
We love our Ruby, a female goat who’s beautiful and sweet but exceptionally timid and gets terrified by everything and anything. We also love her sister, Pearl, who is the complete opposite. She’s adventurous and brave and, while not overly pet-friendly, still enjoys our company in the pasture.
Topaz and Druzy, our two other male goats, on the other hand, are social butterflies. They are all over you when you step into the pasture, demanding pets and attention.
We got the boys at two months old and the girls at four months old. I’d prefer to get all our goats at two months instead of later. They seem to be more attached to us.
14. Don’t walk straight toward goats.
This strategy doesn’t work for timid goats; it’s about the same as running toward a nervous goat. The best approach is to go slow, zig-zag your walking pattern, and hunch over a bit. Give them some more encouragement by talking to them gently and softly. If you have to stop because they are becoming overly nervous, then do so; there’s no limit to how many times you can stop.
You’ll get frustrated trying to catch a loose goat, but the patient one always wins. One helpful trick I’ve learned is never to push a goat’s back when trying to nudge them forward. Doing so just makes them sit down. It’s far better to lift on their high thigh or put your hand on the high collar portion of their neck. Works wonders.
15. Goats are herd animals.
Like most other animals, they prefer to stay together in a pack rather than be separated at a distance. You’ll introduce anxiety and discontent if you try to isolate just one goat for a long enough period. Always try to keep them in pairs whenever possible. We’ve learned that when doing herd maintenance, it’s far better to do it while surrounded by a group of animals (in the same pen) rather than just to grab one and take them elsewhere.
15. Goats have a pecking order much like Chickens.
Just as chickens peck their way to the top of the hierarchy, so do goats, minus the pecking. We learned that raising goats can be much easier if you introduce young goats to herds rather than adults. Most adult and young goats will readily accept new, young goats with no problems.
The best time to introduce young bucks is during their non-breeding season, which eliminates aggression problems. For all other new animals, put a fence between them and let them meet with a barrier. This won’t magically make them friends, but we’ve learned it can sometimes help.
We’ve found that you can use a buck rag to ease the process of introducing new does. Simple grab a rag, rub it on the most substantial odor-bearing parts of a buck, and then rub it over the new doe’s shoulders and head. When introduced to the herd, the other females will take an interest in her new fragrance and be more inviting.
16. “Half of your herd”
A doe can pass on anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of her genetics, while a buck can pass his genes to hundreds of offspring. Hence, we’ve learned it’s super important to take the purchase of your buck and his genetics more seriously.
You can evaluate goats on a lot of levels, including general appearance (mild deformities like a wry/crooked face), teats (for ease of nursing or milking), mammary system (udder), body capacity (narrow chest), capacity and texture (milk production), meat (bone growth), fiber, and much more. We’ve learned there are a lot of factors other than just finding a good-looking goat.
If you are a data nerd, look for producer records, pedigrees, show ring performance history, genetic programs, and herd appraisals.
17. Double gated fences are a blessing.
We started with a fenced-in pasture with a single-hinged gate. This worked great until our goats got wiser and decided to run out of the gate every morning. No matter how hard you try to shut the gate behind you, they can often weasel their way out.
When building your gate, consider using a double gated approach, much like the ones you’d find at a local dog park. You can go in, close the gate, and then open the next gate. Should one goat get through that gate, they are still in a fenced-in area.
18. Spot grazing works excellent with a portable electric fence
We’ve got this spot on our property where I’d love to let the goats graze wild, but getting a barrier in place would be impossible.
We learned there are pre-made electric mesh panel fences you can buy for a few hundred dollars that are ready to go. You just push the post into the ground and plug them in. You’ve got a 100-square-foot pasture that can be moved anywhere and anytime.
19. Checking your goat’s weight constantly can save you considerable time.
We’ve learned that the best preventative medicine isn’t vaccines, supplements, etc.
In reality, it’s knowing the weight of your goats so you can spot problems before they become big. Often a small amount of weight loss can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your goat.
20. Goats love platforms and shelves.
They enjoy spaces where they can romp around on and lounge throughout the day.
21. The right amount of space per goat
We learned that 20-30 square feet per adult goat is the minimum amount of space for things like lying and loafing. When we built our first loafing shed, we opted to go with a 5×12 foot design for a handful of goats.
22. Water and mineral stations are vital.
We started filling up 5-gallon buckets with water, then moved to 55-gallon drums, and finally drums connected to automatic waterers. We prefer using automatic waterers, but you can also go with water nipples, heated water troughs, or even repurposed ice chests and coolers.
Mineral feeders can be messy, so the most straightforward solution we found was to use PVC piping. The slanted pipe angle fits the muzzle of a goat just fine but also works to catch any spilled minerals from falling to the ground. Simple, cheap, and super effective. Using plastic or metal caterer bins, you can also offer a covered mineral buffet.
23. There are all sorts of ways to protect your goats.
We’ve got all sorts of creatures lurking in the night, including bears, mountain lions, foxes, and so on. You name it, and it’s been caught on game cameras up here. We started with a no-climb wire fence but soon added an electric wire fence.
Next up was our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog. Many folks we’ve met have guardian llamas, but the best solution we’ve seen over the years was guardian donkeys. We once traveled across the country to attend an alpaca workshop and discovered mountain lions had attacked the farm. Their fences, LGDs, and other tricks had all failed time and time again. The only thing that worked; Donkeys roaming around the perimeter in a separate boundary fence.
24. On storing manure and goat waste
Windrow composting is the way to go.
25. The saliva of goats is about 8.1 PH.
It contains multiple buffers and compounds that can counteract and absorb excess acid produced by fermentation. Not to mention, goats regularly regurgitate wads of rumen contents and rechew them often. Goats sort of play their stomach soundtrack throughout the day.
26. Minerals work in unison with other minerals.
Minerals can be co-dependent on other minerals and vitamins to successfully be metabolized. Of course, the process can be halted too by certain minerals like molybdenum which can block the absorption of copper. We’ve found that there’s a balance you have to find to achieve the proper nutrition for your goats.
Once in a blue moon, have liver biopsies done when you harvest one of your goats. It will tell you a world of knowledge about your herd’s general mineral levels and overall bill of health.
27. Sometimes you can spot mineral deficiencies.
When raising goats, we learned how to spot mineral deficiencies by looking at things like tail hair losses. Often this is a sign of a copper deficiency (they call it fishtail); however, you have to be careful with assuming, as it can be simple pulling or rubbing that causes it.
You can spot other things like goiter, where the thyroid gland swells around the neck. A simple iodine deficiency can cause this. Administering iodine under the skin of the tail can often solve the problem.
28. Not all wild weeds are safe for goats to eat.
We’ve got all sorts of wild plants, flowers, and weeds on our mountain property. Luckily, our neighbor is an expert on all things wildlife up here. However, we’ve had to figure out some things on our own, and the research online can be conflicting. Some places say this or that is highly toxic, while others say it is fine in moderation. Well, which is it?
We’ve learned that moderation is the key phrase here. If your goats are eating a single, specific weed for days on end, they will survive. Though, there are some toxic weeds that you should one-hundred percent avoid (such as wild rhododendron). Most notably, we’ve discovered that some younger weeds can be safely eaten. However, once these weeds mature, they begin to develop toxins.
Most experts on the subject also assume that just because a weed is toxic for livestock like cows and sheep, it must be toxic for goats. That is just not true! Western bracken fern can be nibbled at, and your goats will be fine. If they are consuming much of it, expect goat polio or stargazing to occur possibly.
29. All hay is not the same.
Sure, there are first, second, and third cuts, but we learned you could send your hay off to be lab tested for nutritional factors. You’d be amazed at the difference in quality from farm to farm and the cost; it’s that expensive.
30. Garden crops and barley fodder are wonders.
We feed our leftover garden scraps to our goats, and they love it as much as we do! We’re always trying to use 100% of everything we grow, so this works out great for us.
If you’re short on space, you can use shallow trays filled with water to grow barley and other grains. There are all sorts of tricks out there when it comes to non-hay feed. We even learned about a gentleman growing water plants in his lake and harvesting them as livestock food.
31. Moderate to deeply sedated goats should never be left on their side.
We learned the general rule is never letting your woozy goat rest on its side for longer than 30 minutes. The reason is that gas buildup in the rumen can put a lot of pressure on the lungs and heart.
32. A handful of issues can cause a lack of hunger.
We learned that this could be anything from pain, rumen dysfunction, and metabolic imbalance, among other things.
33. Grinding teeth and shaking is usually a sign of pain.
This can be another telltale sign when a goat presses their head against a wall. Shifting weight from leg to leg, standing with back arched, an entire coat that’s “fluffed up,” partially closed eyes, and kicking at the belly can also be signs of pain in goats.
34. The tail can be a telltale sign of an illness or even depression
While raising goats, we learned how a tail held down for minutes at a time, especially after a stretch, can be a sign of illness or depression. The same is true for a goat’s lack of interest in engaging activities.
35. Pale inner eye tissue can lead to big problems.
Normal inner eye tissue is a red to rose color, but when pale, it can be a sign of coccidiosis. This is a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract that can cause anemia.
36. We’ve learned to keep a daily vital sign checklist.
Keeping historical records of each goat is so helpful when it comes to diagnosing future problems that may arise. When record-keeping, log the vital signs using things like rectal body temperature, around 102-104F. Adult goats have respirations of 10-30 per minute, while young goats range from 20-40.
Rumen makes frequent sounds at no less than one per minute. When listening with a stereoscope, we listen for a “roar,” not a “gurgle or rumble. We’ll also check the sound of the lungs, hoping to hear non-cracking and non-wheezing noises.
Heart rates are measured at 140-200 for kids and 70-90 for adults in the normal range. We’ve noticed this can vary by breed.
37. Having a medical and treatment kit on hand is critical.
You never know when the unfortunate will happen with your goats. There are all sorts of medications, remedies, and tools/supplies to keep on hand. Even small things like blood clots can be a lifesaver and handy for all minor injuries.
At some point, we’ll put together an ultimate goat survival kit guide, but for now, consider things like electrolyte mix, vetrx nasal drops, tropical wound spray, syringes, bandage tape, and so on.
38. Goats love street sweeper brushes.
Finding a used street sweeper brush is a difficult task, but get creative here as there are other options. Goats love to brush against the bristles to remove their winter cashmere undercoat, and of course, to satisfy that itch. Have you ever seen the cow backscratcher?
39. How to give oral medications like a pro.
The trick to oral medication with a drenching syringe is to take your first hand and gently grasp the goat’s jaw. Go ahead and put your thumb under their top lip and cusp the bottom of their chin. Now you’re ready to get down to business.
40. How to give subcutaneous injections like a pro.
While raising goats, we learned the best way to give subcutaneous injections is to hold the animal between your legs. You’ll stand before them, tucking their head below your waist/legs. Next, gently pinch a wee bit of skin and pull it outward. Now, insert the needle at the base of the lifted skin.
41. The biggest issue you’ll encounter raising goats.
Parasites. For most homestead folks and commercial farmers, parasites are a significant problem for goats. For those using organic methods, I feel your pain. Dewormers can work wonders to reduce parasite numbers, but they aren’t always a magic bullet. Resistance to medications makes parasites tougher to deal with at times.
We prefer to take a less routine medicated route and learned to focus on our herd’s health through diet and nutrition to make them resilient and less dependent on alternatives. We’ve also heard of using everything from specific botanicals to copper oxide wire particles, tannins, and other things.
42. Hoof trimming happens
Even with our rocky terrain, we learned that our goats still needed hoof trims from time to time. We use the ends of the trimmers to clean out the debris from the sole and scrape out any tiny rock fragments. This helps keep our blades sharp and makes for a smoother, cleaner cut. We then trim the hoof wall evenly all the way around and nip off the overgrowth of the soft heel.
43. Examining goat poop at home
We learned that you could do a fecal float test right at home using a basic microscope, Mcmaster slides, and a few other things.
44. When you have to draw blood from a goat…
The jugular vein on the neck is the way to go (either side, there are two), and yes, it’s terrifying the first time. 18 gauge and 20 gauge needles will serve you just fine for this purpose. The key is to have a needle gauge size that is large enough to allow red blood cells to enter easily.
While raising goats, we also learned the most common lab test for bloodwork is an ELISA, followed by an AGID, PCR, and culture.
45. You can help restart good rumen function in another goat
Grab a healthy goat, rinse fresh cud from their mouth, and administer it to an ailing goat.
46. Breeding the herd
Naturally, we wanted to grow our herd of goats, which means time for breeding. Raising goats has taught us that one to two years of age is the right time for a doe to give birth.
47. Hormone production can be affected by daylight.
When the days become shorter in the fall, the goat’s brain will automatically regulate home production regarding fertility. Bucks are affected, too, with scent and eagerness to breed becoming more noticeable. With that in mind, we learned why some producers use lights for off-season breeding.
If you look, you can find a study by Cornell University that exposed bucks and does to 20 hours of light for 60 consecutive days. The study helped bring does into heat in the off-season.
48. On making goat babies
We learned that the mucous plug is passed before labor begins. This vital part of birthing helps to protect the uterus from infection by sealing off the cervix.
Back feet first is a typical sight to see. Front feet can be relatively rare. The entire process takes about 45 minutes from the first push.
49. The loss of goats
An acceptable rate of kid goat mortality would be zero in my mind, but that’s not the reality; it’s 5 to 10 percent. On average, 3 to 4 percent can be expected after weaning.
50. Do we disbud and dehorn?
While you might think it’s solely for appearance, there’s more to it. We learned that registered dairy goats could not be shown with horns at registry-sanctioned US events. So if you’re ever planning to sell livestock with horns, they may view this “flaw” as a deal breaker.
I find horns beautiful and awesome. Remember that while adult goats can be dehorned, it’s a high-risk procedure; young age procedures are always the best option.
Even more things we learned about raising goats:
– Keep their hay off the ground to avoid contamination from tracked mud, poop, and pee.
– Goats will nibble at your shirts, pockets and anything fabric.
– Goats can be escape artists; if you make it too easy for them, they will wander.