Basic Goat Care For New Goat Keepers

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Basic Goat Care For New Goat Keepers
If you are thinking about getting goats it’s a good idea to have an overview of basic goat care.

I know when I first started researching goats it was quite overwhelming.  They seemed much more complicated then chickens and I was afraid I would be do things wrong in preparing for them.

I was overwhelmed, and so I procrastinated.  Of course it’s usually worse to do nothing at all then to give it your best try.

So if you are going to try goats, don’t let overwhelm stand in your way.  Here are some basic goat care tips to help you get started with goats.

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Basic Goat Care Essentials

Goats can have a bit of a learning curve, so get your basic goat care down first before you bring your new goats home, or dive into more advanced care such as breeding and pregnancy.

It’s always a good idea to have everything set up and prepared BEFORE you get a new animal.

Read through some books.  Set up your fence and shelter.  Pick up any essentials from the feed store, and have a few phone numbers like a vet or experienced goat keeping friend to call if you need help.

Related Posts: How To Get Started Breeding Goats and Basic Goat Care: Pregnancy and Kidding

Also, keeping goats can sometimes seem really complicated.  There are a lot of details that you should be writing down, such as their pedigree, age, and all the supplements and other care that they need.

Keep All Your Goat Records In One Place

It’s a good idea to have one central place where you record all this information, especially so you can grab and go in an emergency if you need to.

One good resource I’ve found to make this easier is the Busy Homesteader’s Goat Management Binder. 

This printable binder is good for record keeping AND quick and easy reference while you’re out with your goats.

Shelter

Goats hate to get wet!  They need a sheltered place to sleep and get out of the rain.  Every recommendation I have seen suggests that a three sided shelter is sufficient.

Our shelters grew with our goats from a small shelter made out of scrap wood, to a dog igloo, and finally a shed.

Goats love to jump, so make sure they have some different levels they can get to.

Straw bales, the top of an igloo, picnic tables, custom built platforms or cable spools are all good choices.

Picnic Tables Make Great Goat Playgrounds

Remember that once you start kidding, you will want more space for separating kids, breeding does, and for setting up your milking stand.

Dwarf goats need a minimum of 10 feet of indoor space each.

Goat Proofing Your Yard

Also, goats really are escape artists.  They can fit through tiny holes, and jump onto and over the most unlikeliest things.

I have the yard goat proofed now but we had a few surprise visits in the garden before I realized what they were capable of doing.

A good rule of thumb is that if my cat can get past the fence so can the goats. Chain link is the best fencing.  Electric can be good too.

Nothing less than four feet tall will keep a goat in, and even then you may need to go up to six feet.

Nutrition

Goats need access to browse/pasture, or at the very least hay, and if they are growing, pregnant, or in milk they may also need grain.

Alfalfa can be good if they have a hard time keeping weight on while milking because it is very high protein.

The best way to feed hay is with a net or manger.  Our first hay manger had a slanted lid and an overhang to keep the hay dry.

It wasn’t too long before they jumped on top of the lid of their first manger and broke it.

Next we made a snazzy upcycled goat manger.  They decided to take naps in that one, and then complained the hay wasn’t fresh.

Our last manger we went all out and built a tall one with 2x4s.  It could hold an entire bale of hay, and it even went with my goats when they moved to a new home!

Related Post: How To Make An Upcycled Hay Manger

Minerals and Supplements

Goats also need supplemental minerals, which you can pick up at your feed store, and baking soda.

The baking soda is important for keeping their rumen happy, and without it they could get bloated and possibly die.

Originally, I put their baking soda and minerals in a dog food dish.  I noticed straw gets kicked into it a lot, so I tried mounting it off the ground slightly.

Then they stood on it and broke it.

(Are you sensing a theme yet?  Perhaps basic goat care is, “don’t let your goats break everything”…)

Now I use black rubber dishes because they are easy to dump and wash when they get soiled.  Check out the rubber dishes here.

Remembering when your goats are due for each supplement such as copper and selenium or other minerals can sometimes be a pain.  Make sure your write it down in one central location.

If you want to print a pre-made health record, check out the Busy Homesteader’s Goat Management Binder.

Entertainment

Give your goats things to climb, such as cable spools and plenty of space to move and things to eat!

Goats like to jump and browse, so make sure they have plenty of things to do.  Just be sure to move everything far away from the fence line so they don’t accidentally jump out!

Goats can be rather picky about what they will eat, but most of them do a great job keeping bushy plants like blackberries under control.

If you don’t have a large yard, plan to take your goats on walks for their exercise.  They can be trained to a leash quite easily.

And one of the best parts of having urban goats is that you get to spend time with them!

We all enjoyed bringing them a little treat whenever we passed by.  They would come running for a back scratch and a snack.

In fact, sometimes they’d give a little “baa” to say hello and ask for a treat!

Related Post: How Much Space Do Your Goats Need To Be Happy

Health

Goats don’t have a lot of health needs, but chances are you will need to do most of their care yourself, as there are not as many vets available that have experience with goats.

A mentor can help a lot while you learn to do basic health maintenance for your herd.

Related Post: Three Health Problems To Watch Out For In Dairy Goats

Hoof Trimming

Hoof trimming is pretty straightforward to teach yourself.  The first time I trimmed their hooves it went well.

Here’s how to do it.  It’s loads easier with a hoof trimmer, but you can use a pocket knife in a pinch.   Here’s the hoof trimmer I prefer.

Trim your goats hooves at least every couple months.

Control Worms and Parasites

Conventional goat keeping advises treating goats with a dewormer every six months.

You should be able to pick it up from the feed store to administer yourself.  You may also have the vet do it if you have one in your area.

Parasites are becoming more resistant to dewormers, so it’s best to only deworm as necessary.

Rotate goat pasture to reduce parasites

You can use FAMACHA or fecals to tell when it’s time.  Rotating goats from pasture to pasture will also help prevent the build up of worms on your property.

Worms can be one of the most damaging problems your goats will ever face.

This may seem like a lot to manage, but it’s important if you want to keep your goats happy and alive for the long term.

Annual Disease Testing

Unless you own your own buck and have a closed herd, send in each goat’s blood annually for disease testing.

At the very least, check for CAE/CL, although there are more comprehensive panels available.

You will need the testing results before breeding your goats if you hire a buck.

If there is a vet in your area, they will be able to complete this for you.   You can hire someone to do the annual blood draw, especially the first few times.

 Ultimately it’s a good idea to learn how to do it yourself.

This was always very difficult for me, but it’s really, really important to raise healthy stock prevent problems from spreading.

Also, make sure you KEEP ALL THE RECORDS!  You will need them before breeding or selling your animals.

The Goat Management Binder is a great place to store these sorts of documents.

Your goats will have additional needs as you start breeding them and milking them.  But it’s nice to get the basics down and have happy, comfortable goats.

Always be prepared before bringing an animal home, and understand what type of care it will need!

Basic goat care isn’t difficult to learn, but know what to expect before you bring your first animals home!

Resources

University of Maryland on Goat Management

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