by Debbie Dahl
As goat owners, it seems we are always busy with tending and caring for our animals, reaping the benefits of entertainment and fresh milk along with ownership. But goats require minimal time, effort and confinement as compared to other types of livestock. What breed to raise depends on how much time you want to invest in them and what you want your goats to do for you.
Dairy goats take more time than most other breeds, but are also more rewarding because they have fresh milk for your home use. Also, teats and udders are the essential parts of the goat, and require a certain amount of attention and more management than other breeds. Most dairy goats are dehorned as a safety precaution to other goats and the people handling them, and to let them graze along fencerows without getting caught. Each one seems to have its own distinct personality and temperament, making them a valuable companion. Bottle feeding young kid goats is a delight for both grown-ups and children. While young kids are jumping on everything that seems to make them taller, the older goats usually are content to stay on the ground. They can be taught many useful tricks, and willingly jump up on a stand to be milked while quietly munching their feed or hay.
Worldwide, more people drink goat milk than cow milk. We are the only nation that has chosen to put cow's milk on a pedestal, only to find that some our infants (and adults) are allergic to it and thrive on goat's milk instead. Goat milk is easier to digest. Calves can be raised on goat milk and fatten better than nursing on their own mother! Because the fat globules are smaller, it makes excellent cheese compared to cow's milk, tasting smoother.
Meat goats require very little time and effort. They grace your table with meat instead of milk. They forage for almost all of their diet, don't require grain feeding (although they can easily be fattened this way) and basically only need a quick careful look at least once a day. Some people only check them every few days. For long periods of time or for safety from predators, it is advised to have guard dogs who stay with the goats continuously.
Meat goats are hardier than dairy goats, therefore requiring less time and management. If bottle fed or handled frequently, they can be just as friendly as dairy goats. They kid uneventfully and quietly go about the mothering business without any help. The horns are left to grow out as a measure of protection to defend themselves under pasture-raising conditions. (Hog wire fencing is not recommended for any goats with horns.) Most people don't eat goat meat very often, if ever, much less every day, like goat milk. But our diet would be better off if we did eat it frequently.
Pygmy goats are a wonderful source of entertainment, and make good pets, especially for children. Their smaller size as compared to dairy goats gives them a cute appearance. Body size is more compact, and the horns (if not removed) grow to a substantially larger size than dairy goats. Some times the horns are as tall as the body of the goat! However, the ones I have owned have been more active than a full sized dairy goat and required just as adequate (or better) fencing. One young kid I owned who was born earlier this year, at only three months of age, managed to jump on top of a woodpile, then playfully leap onto the top of our large wellhouse. He thoroughly enjoyed romping from one side to the other of the slanted tin roof, noisily getting everyone's attention immediately. He ended his show by jumping off the edge of the roof, ten feet off the ground, and ran off to play with the other young kids.
Angoras are neither dairy or meat animals, but provide excellent fibers to weave with, if you have the skill and a few pieces of equipment. They usually don't cost as much as dairy goats and still do a good job of brush control. Shearing of several goats is usually done by an experienced person, especially on the underparts of the goat. For a few goats, you could do it yourself instead of having to hire someone to do it for you.
If you already have some type of livestock such as cows or sheep, adding goats will be a blessing. And you already understand the responsibilities of ownership. If your cow jumps your fence and eats all the corn in your neighbor's garden, you are responsible to make things right with your neighbor, and fix the fence so that it doesn't happen again. And if your neighbor's dog chases your animals, you must work together to eliminate the problem. After all, you never know when you may need your neighbor's help. And he may decide to get rid of his dog so that he can have goats too, when he sees how fast they multiply!
All types of goats require sufficient vaccinations and worming, usually a minimum of twice a year. Goats confined to small areas require being wormed more often and tend to be more susceptible to diseases than goats that have a large area to roam. So try to have as large a grazing area as possible.
Try to make the grass on your side of the fence more appetizing than the grass on the outside of the fenceline, and your goats (and other livestock as well) will be content to stay at home. As with any animal, if there is not enough to eat, they will look for it somewhere else. If you have very few neighbors close to you, and put out grain for them, they will be trained to coming back to a main pen at night, knowing your presence means protection.
If you have experience with at least one type of goat, adding another is just a small step. Don't be afraid to take a friend's advice and try a different one, especially if it is compatible with what you already have. You may end up switching, or combining (like a Pygora), and find that the end result fits your needs exactly. Like crossing a dairy goat with a meat buck. The offspring will have lesser milking abilities, but have better meat qualities. The buck kids would be in higher demand than the straight dairy bucklings, due to the meat.
Debbie Dahl DairyDoll@Juno.com
Spanish, Meat & Dairy Goats
Debbie & Richard Dahl
Route 1, Box 147-2
Colcord, Oklahoma 74338
Telephone (918) 326-4291