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Questions for those with goat experience

 
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Location: West Tennessee
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My wife and I have been talking recently and have essentially decided to add some dairy goats to our farmstead. We're considering Saanens and/or Nubians. We have a spot on the farm that is a mostly isolated 3/4 acre open grassy area with adjoining woods. I'd like to fence the grassy area and part of the woods, creating a space of about one acre total. Standing out there it looks like a lot of space, but I see how this is just my mind projecting and I may soon learn that it may be inadequate after having direct experience with goats. We plan on getting three, possibly four weaned doelings or adult does and borrowing a billy goat for breeding. We don't desire to grow a herd of goats and know we must find homes for the weaned kids/yearlings, even if that home is the freezer for some of them. I'll build a simple shelter for them and a milking stand.

I'd love some replies to a few questions from those reading who currently have or have had goats in the past:

-how many goats do/did you keep on what size plot of land? Anything you would change?
-do you believe three to be a sufficient number to satisfy the social needs of goats?
-how much milk have you taken from a doe to leave enough for the kid(s) also and avoid bottle feeding
-do you think 4 foot tall welded wire fence is adequate or is 5 foot tall necessary?
-how far do you think a 50lb 2-twine square bale of hay will go for three adults?

I am also open to any suggestions, especially the "we learned this the hard way" advice.

Thanks!


 
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I have Nigerian Dwarfs that can clear a 5 foot fence with ease.  
 
master steward
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Nubians didn't work for us - we lost 3 in as many months, starting less than 6 months after we got them. I'm told it's because our climate/ land/ other goats combination is too harsh. We know people just 10 miles away, who do fantastic with them - but they have only Nubians, and on quite lush,  gently rolling pasture. We are on a rocky-clay ridge, with deep ravines,  and often struggle with standing water, or bad runoff - both of which promote parasite growth. They're not great foragers, and are easily cowed by other goats (our Nigoras, though half the size of the Nubians, bullied them too much, and we didn't have means to separate them, at the time), and all those factors were just too much for them, no matter how we tried to help them. There are many places where they eat Nubian, but honestly, their build doesn't provide much in the way of meat, compared to some of the other dairy goats.

I know nothing about Saanens.

With 3 adult & 1 adolescent small breed goats, we go through about 1.5 - 2 bales per week, during the winter, when they're confined to the paddock. In the summer, we go through maybe a couple bales per month,  primarily when it's raining for days at a time, because goats think they're allergic to rain, and would rather starve than go outside, in it.  

How much space they need will depend largely on how much you intend to buy feed (or grow it), outside their space. On less than an acre, you'll need to provide all their feed, unless there are lots of very leafy trees (with protected bottoms, if the trees are young), in their pasture. The bigger the goats, the more space they'll need, too. For play space, solitary space (yup, sometimes they need room to get away, too), and just normal living, with hay provided 24/7, 3/4acre could be fine, for 2 or 3.

As far as fencing... lol. We use cattle panels with roughly 50lb jacks, made from pallets, for both support and to weigh them down. Our herd king, Kola, will (if he finds a weak or light weight spot) actually wiggle his little nose under the panels, then shove his head under, until the weight is on his horns, the flip the fence up, and shoot himself under and out. 🙄 So, I'm slowly swapping out the pallet wood jacks for raised beds, attached to the outsides of the panels. (Let's see him pick up a hundred pounds of wet soil and garden!!)


 
pollinator
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We had a Nubian wether for years and years. He easily cleared a five foot fence or our driveway gate when the mood suited him. We ended up trying an electric  wire atop the fence, which he eventually learned to get past by hooking it with a horn and pulling it down to short it out. The final solution was to add a foot of chicken wire atop the fence. The six foot high fence kept him in. He was just a farm pet, but we catered to him his entire life.

Our alpines never challenged the fence, even when it was only 4 foot. We had one sanaan which would clear the 4 foot fence but gave up when we replaced it with 5 foot fencing.

My personality meshed better with the alpines, which were sweet and cooperative compared to the sanaan. The sanaan was friendly enough, but not as easy to work with as the alpines. And the Nubian was a source of frustration because he was noisy, a bit of a nuisance, and an escape artist. He would start hollering at 5 a.m. until we eventually came out to take care of our other livestock. He demanded his feed first. We usually fed at 6 a.m.  

Will one acre suffice? It depends upon the kind of vegetation and how quickly it regrows. In my area, an acre would support 4 goats during the rainy months, but not during a drought. Goats like to browse rather than graze, so you need to consider that when you establish your pasture. Graze they will, but it depends upon the type of grasses. I live in a tropical area, so my grasses and browse is different from the mainland USA.

Goats need long fiber in their diet. So they  can run into trouble if you feed pellets when the browse isn’t available. Far better to feed a grass/alfalfa mix hay. For milk production, you will need an energy supplement, normally a grain mix. Keep in mind that having dairy animals means that you are married to them. No taking the day off to go visit the grandkids or have a fun trip to the seashore. Those does need to be milked regularly, otherwise your milk production quickly reduces to a trickle.

We have kept a kid with the dam sometimes, when I was working a job that kept me from getting home in time for milking. We put the kids in a dog crate overnight. Milked the doe first thing in the morning, then left the happy family together until late that night. That worked as long as we kept them in a shed at the back of the property where no one could hear them screaming. They don’t scream constantly, but will holler for a while from time to time, especially just about dawn. So as long as you can deal with the hollering, this system works fine for you getting a bit less than half the milk while also raising a kid.
 
Carla Burke
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100% agree with Su Ba! We do keep a small supply of pellets on hand, that I use to trick them into taking Red Cell (their iron supplement
- our hard-clay & rock land is apparently poor in iron), as an occasional treat to coax Kola back, if instead of following us around like a puppy, like normal, he decides to be obstinant about going back into the paddock, after he's done channeling Houdini. Usually, he only does that, if he's pulled all the hay from the manger, and stomped it into the ground, or is just bored. They essentially need a playground. I've thrown a couple old tires & an old bow target in, for them to play on, which has helped, quite a bit. Also, their hay needs to be up, of the ground. They'll instinctively refuse it, to protect themselves from the parasite overload that's so easy to happen, if they eat off the ground.

Other than the pellets as 'treats', the only things I feed are (rarely) shaped, wildflower/herb/hay treats from smallpetselect.com, a non-gmo lactation feed, when they're in milk, and colostrum & milk replacer, just in case, for rejected or orphaned kids. I also make an herbal dewormer, and emergency, molasses-based energy/health booster, as needed.

I'd advise digging into all the info you can find on the breeds you're interested in, to ensure the breed is compatible with your personalities, your needs & expectations, and your environmental requirements. Do you want to pack/hike with them? Have them pull a cart? Do you want meat, dairy, fiber, or some combination? Smaller goats are often easier to handle, but bigger ones produce more milk - but Nigerian Dwarfs & Nigoras, while both smaller, produce a richer/ higher fat milk, as well as the does coming into estrus monthly, allowing you to alternate freshening cycles, to keep the milk coming, year 'round. The gestational period is typically 145 - 155 days, for goats, with slight variations from one doe to the next, even within the same breed. But, most goats only come into estrus seasonally, and few stay in milk for more than a year, most are less.

If you get the goats, be prepared to lose your hearts.

 
James Freyr
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Thanks y'all for the replies.

I've been learning a lot recently and have a little time to prepare. I'm going to be getting started on the fence this week, and hopefully by the end of March have a shelter built and some sort of playground/jungle gym for them to climb around on. I just looked and found some 5 foot diameter wooden cable spools on facebook for $25 which looks like something they would enjoy climbing on.

So far I've selected the breeds of dairy goats we want based on what's available within a 2 or 3 hour drive. I've learned that Nigerian dwarfs are very popular, at least here in Tennessee, and seem to be everywhere, but my wife isn't so keen on dwarf breeds. Found a few Nubian breeders, two Saanen and one Lamancha and one farm with Toggenburgs. Haven't found anyone with Alpines in Tennessee so far. We're not real picky about registered goats, though if we did buy registered stock that may at least be another window of opportunity for selling kids.

The farm we purchase our non-gmo layer feed at also offers a goat ration. I would like to try to have them bucket trained similar to my cows so if they get loose, they'll readily come to me or follow me with a bucket full of treat.

Carla Burke wrote: If you get the goats, be prepared to lose your hearts.



I'm totally ready for this. I have fallen in love with our cow family, watching the calves grow up and it is a joy to care for them. We're friends, and I talk to and can pet most of them, including the bull. He likes to rub his head on my leg. This is part of the very reason I want goats, just to have the experience and forming bonds with them. I'm ready for the good and the bad. We lost a calf last year, and took a cow I had bonded with to the processor. I was completely ok with the cow, knowing she had an excellent and happy life on this farm, as short as it was. It was all ok, it was just part of it.



 
steward
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Understanding that each of us have our own specific conditions and preferences and all that, I am curious why you decided on goats and not a dairy cow?

I have Saanens and one Alpine, they’re now all retired from milking. I’d say a lot in dairy goats care depends on the area you’re in. Easier to keep in a drier area than in a wet one, like where I am.

Parasites are a big thing to watch for, and proper diet and minerals especially when they’re in milk, and especially for a high producing breed like Saanens.

One way I was able to fend off worms was to move them often, using electric netting to make paddocks around blackberries or some other things I wanted them to eat.

As for kids and milking, it’s doable to separate at night, milk in the morning and let the kids with mom all day, but in a lot of cases ( if there are two kids for instance), this will force the doe to produce so much, it may take a toll on her health.

Back to diet, if having a high producing doe, you would have to feed some suplemental concentrated feed when in milk, the animal just doesn’t have the rumen capacity to make all that milk out of hay/browsing/grazing alone.

As for how long a bale of hay will last, it depends on a lot of things: in milk or not, time of the year, protein content of the hay, first cutting or second (or third) and so on.

Lots of things to think of.

There is a goat group on groups.io with lots of knowledgeable people willing to help, if you want to, I’ll post the info.
 
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James Freyr wrote:
-how many goats do/did you keep on what size plot of land? Anything you would change?
-do you believe three to be a sufficient number to satisfy the social needs of goats?
-how much milk have you taken from a doe to leave enough for the kid(s) also and avoid bottle feeding
-do you think 4 foot tall welded wire fence is adequate or is 5 foot tall necessary?
-how far do you think a 50lb 2-twine square bale of hay will go for three adults?



We started with three Nubians when we got into goats three years ago, and they all came bred. We had them on half an acre, but we were managing with rotational grazing,. When you rotational graze, you stimulate the regrowth of the plants, and it actually makes them healthier. Grazing that way also makes it possible to have more animals per acre than normal, because the land is healthier.
Our three did alright as far as companions, but they had trouble keeping warm in the winter. Saanens and Nubians are built for warm weather, so you have to take that into account. You have to understand that a goats method of staying warm is to hunch up and puff out their fur (it looks like they're freezing, but they're just doing it to stay warm). At night, they pile together and create a "goat pile," where they use each-others body heat to stay warm. Depending on your climate, and how much pampering you're willing to do, three may not be enough for them to successfully stay warm at night in the colder weather. We're in Wyoming so the winter gets really rough, and have had at least one Nubian get hypothermia pretty much every winter (they have nice shelter, but it's not heated). The kids take longer to stand up, and they don't develop the drive to nurse until later, which causes the kids to have issues with hypothermia really quickly. This winter, we decided to try Spanish, since they are built for colder climates, and grow a cashmere coat in the winter. Our goal is to cross the two breeds in order to have a sturdy and hardy milker. So when you get into goats, make sure you do the research to understand what breed you should get. What are your goals? What is your climate like? Do you want them to be able to thrive on pasture without tons of supplements? How much are you willing to pamper them in the winter? Those sorts of questions. I realize now that we should've taken more time to research the different breeds of goats before just diving in. Nubians are super cute, but they don't do well in the winter and they don't handle tough pasture well.
I'm not as experienced here, since we've had some issues with milking, but here's what I do know about milking in general (including sheep and cow experience). We don't get as much milk from ours as we could because of how we manage it, but it's a choice we're making. Pull the doe out once or twice a day in the beginning and milk her out as much as possible. If she's comfortable with you, she won't hold up heavily. Take the time to get to know her, and trust her instincts. She knows how much the baby needs. Once the kids are at least a week old, separate them at night. Milk the doe out in the morning, and let the kids back in with her. The doe adjusts her milk production to match the needs of her babies. If you consistently take milk, she will make extra for you. Just know that if you want to kid share, you're going to bring in less milk.
Four feet should be fine, specifically depending on the breed of goats you get. Nubians and Spanish aren't as prone to escaping as other goats, and we've gotten away with 42" electric net fencing.
Probably a couple days. We ended up getting into round bales because they didn't go moldy as fast and weren't as expensive per pound. I will mention that you should probably look into hay net feeders, or some other slow feed method. They waste a TON if you just open feed. If you're using it as a way to help poor pasture, do it conscientiously, but in winter feeding they will waste a lot in a useless battle of "find the tastiest hay."
goat-pile.png
goats in a pile
 
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I have had goats for years,  4 nigerians and two jacob sheep. I had a bear two years in a row kill two of my goats. devastating because they are my pets and part of the family. The game warden came and suggested electric which I had had, but it kept blowing out  even with grounding rods so I didn't replace it after the third time. My stupidity thinking a bear wouldn't come after years of no problems. But I was wrong one lean winter and he found my goats.
I had a four foot fence and put wire around the top and the bear came and got the second goat.  we changed the fencing to six foot horse fencing with four arms sticking out holding electric wire. with 4 x 4 pressure treated posts with an electric line around the top also. I don't milk mine, but they have around  a 100 ft oval sort of pen. A thing to know is they waste a ton of hay. I think over half of my supply goes on the ground. And they wont eat any that hits the ground. I dont know if this is true with all goats or just mine might be fussy. I did have a nubian, such a sweet goat, but like I said the males are always wethers. Good luck with your project even two goats are good for companionship it doesn't matter the size of the herd as long as they aren't alone, when I got my first goat he was young and lonely and before I could get another someone gave me two jacob sheep and he was perfectly content sleeping on one of them like a bed and made a close bond with them. Hope this helps.
 
Carla Burke
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Yup, goats will pull all the hay they can, looking for 'just the right piece', lol. I built an enclosed manger, with a latching top, so they can't pull it out as easily, and it has cut my feed costs, probably by half.
 
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Welded wire fencing doesn't work well with goats unless you use electric fence to keep them off the welded wire.  The goats will climb up the wire with their front feet and stand on it and they break the welds. Then you will have goats all over the place and will need to put up new fence.  

If you are going to fence in goats probably the best fence is woven wire goat fence. I haven't had any of mine jump over the 52 tall stuff.  If you have polled or dehorned goats, you can use cattle panels or regular woven wire field fence.  

I make a lot of my goat shelters out of pallets with a metal roof on 4 x 4 pressure treated posts for skids so I can move them around the pasture.  

I have made some nice fence using pallets that works for most of my goats. I did have to make the pallet fence 6 foot tall and in two rows to keep my bucks in.   Most of my fence is either high tensile with positive negative alternating wires six wires of it, cattle panels, and some woven wire goat fence.  

I have been raising goats for years now. I have about 40 head of adult goats. I have Kiko meat goats and I have few dairy goats.  I like Alpines and Saanens.  You might want to look into the Kinder Goats.  I have had Nubians and found them to be too needy same for Lamancha goats.  But that was my personal experience yours could vary.

good luck!  
 
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Hi James,
we adore our goats. We raise minilamanchas/Nigerian cross. We choose this breed based on personality descriptions and market availability. Some nigerian goats have really small teats...too small for largish lady hands.

We have about two acres fenced off for 5 goats and 2 livestock dogs. I think the ratio recommended is 3-4 goats per acre. We rotate the goats. Ideally they wouldn't be back on the space pasture for at least 7 weeks. For parasite life cycle.


Fences
1st, fence is welded wire and 6ft height. My favorite fence. No one has escaped. string of hot sire at the top and is now turned off.
2nd fence, welder wire about 2ft, then three strands of electric. Sometimes dogs or chickens get out. rarely the goats.
3rd fence, 5 strands of electric fence. We trained them to this fence. put a little bit of jelly on the wire. Herd queen licked it and everyone learned a valuable lesson.
Also use portable electric netting fence. Always keep it hot!

Goats don't have a lot of ground contact, a fence needs to be hot.

I've raised goats for three years. I won't keep any goat that test me too much. I've got a lot of patience. haha
If the goat is difficult, getting out, too ornery at hoof trim or milking, then she is sold. The goats we currently have are super sweet and easy milkers.

Milking, I've always milked in the morning, like early with a headlamp before the kids awoke. I'd get about two quarts of milk daily. The kids would nurse all day long. I also never seperate the kids from their mom.

When the kids were weaned, I'd milk three times daily getting about 3 quarts of milk daily.

During the winter in Western NC, we go through about 2 bales of hay weekly for 5 goats and a mini horse. During the summer it's maybe a bale a week. Like mentioned before, goats act like they are allergic to rain.

Happy goat herding.
 
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If your life is too calm and peaceful.. get some goats! Haha..
7B22E32A-FE39-434D-9F5C-D5A2C87F8C5D.jpeg
goat with its tongue sticking out
 
James Freyr
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Thanks everyone for all the helpful replies.

Does anyone supplement their lactating dairy goats daily feed with a grain ration? If so, what kind? Whole, ground?

I see some on the internets like to give their dairy goats unhulled sunflower seeds.

 
Carla Burke
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I am blessed to have a local cattle farmer, who wasn't happy with the locally available livestock feed options, and started his own shop. I buy 50# bags of non-gmo dairy goat feed from him, and my does get separated from everyone, and they get about a cup per day, each, until I start milk sharing with the kids, when they're at about a month old. At that point, I do my sharing schedule in reverse of how most people seem to.

We have a LOT of predator pressure, and no LGD (these are 2 issues that are a VERY sore point, in our home right now), and I don't want the kids crying all night, drawing predators in. So, I leave them with their mamas overnight, and separate them during the day, then I milk in the evening, instead of in the morning. While they're on the stanchion, they have free access to all the dairy feed they want. This keeps them happy, and loving their turn on the stanchion, bolsters their milk production, so I can get a good amount of milk, and still gives the babies plenty of milk, while at the same time, everyone gets all the day-time browse &/or hay they can stuff themselves with.

It's important with the dairy feed, that the bucks & buckling don't get it, though, because it can badly mess up their entire urinary tract.
 
James Freyr
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We got our goats 5 days ago. They're adjusting well I think, and are settling into their new home. They came from a woodland farm where all goats are fed hay and goat pellets. They took to the forage and browse right away, nibbling on all the different flora growing in their 1 acre pen. One had the scours when we got her, and a few days of living plants to eat seems to have had an effect on balancing her guts and has scours no more.

Carla Burke wrote: be prepared to lose your hearts.



I have verified through my own direct experience that this is true. We think our goats are adorable, and the whether is really affectionate and clingy. When I kneel and am petting him, he does these full body rub-ups around me like a cat would do. The girls had a little trepidation about my wife and I, but with a few handfuls of goat treat that subsided after a few days and we can pet and handle them now. I have fallen in love with these goats, wondering why I we didn't get goats sooner. They haven't hardly been here a week and I'm totally attached to them.

goats1.jpeg
nubian goats
nubian goats
goats2.jpeg
nubian goats
nubian goats
 
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Nice looking critters,full blooded nubians look like,look at those long floppy ears!Enjoy,they are a very rewarding animal to have and care for.
 
pollinator
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They look thin as if they have parasites.  A goat with plenty of browse should have protruding rumen,  if not, it is usually the parasites interfering with their digestion.   Check their eyelids, pull it down so you can see the inner eyelid.  It should be bright pink, not pale.   Diarrhea can have many causes, coccidiosis, other stomach worms, too much green feed when they are not used to it, or a bacterial scour infection.   They can’t handle much grain at the time, and it can kill them if over fed too much.  Medicine plants for goats would include brambles and wild roses, both of which are anti-bacterial and stop scouring from that cause.  Lots of good goatkeeping info on Internet if you do a search.   There are lots of other topics related to goats or livestock forages on Permies if you Look for it.  

Picture below is one of our little bucks.  Sire is a registered purebred, and dam is not purebred, but high percentage Nubian.  
3F531762-721C-412C-BAE3-153127911902.jpeg
young buck foraging
 
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