by Debbie Dahl DairyDoll@Juno.com
You've decided to get a goat or two and try them for a while, but don't know where to start. If you have never owned any livestock before, getting started is a simple but big step. Goats are only one choice, but their versatility and small size allow them to fit many different sized needs. Maybe you want an animal for brush control. Or you're tired of chasing cows and want something smaller to deal with. I don't blame you!
Not only do goats produce milk, but their meat is lower in cholesterol than beef, and healthier. And you can take one to be butchered without a trailer, and not have several hundred pounds of meat to freeze. Goats make just as good (or better) pets as dogs or cats, but they give back more than just companionship.
Consider how much land you have to raise livestock on, paying particular attention to existing fences. If you have no fences, you can try electric wire or build fences as you go along. A holding pen is necessary for any animal, as you will need some way to contain them occasionally, such as to give vaccinations or other care.
How much time you plan on spending caring for the goats will be a major factor in what kind of goat(s) you get. If you want fresh milk, a dairy goat near the end of her lactation will provide you with an idea of what is involved in milking at least once a day before time to dry her up, without an excessive amount of milk. For entertainment and companionship for children (both young and old), a Pygmy goat makes an excellent pet. If brush control is your main concern, any breed of goat will do an adequate job, whether it gives milk or not.
Although you may be tempted by the price and convenience, as a new buyer, it's best not to start off with purchasing them from a Sale Barn, as you won't know anything about the animal's background or why the owner is selling it. There is usually a good reason why the price seems so cheap. Even a goat that has registered papers is no guarantee that the animal is free of diseases; it just means it came from registered parentage.
Your local library should have at least one good book on raising goats, with associations listed in the back index. Send off for free information on the different breed associations and compare information they send you. Most associations have a list of members and can tell you where to find them closest to your area, or a District Representative to help you. They also have information on goat-related publications to subscribe to. Write to the publishers, asking for a sample issue. Read every page or every article, if possible, because you will learn more by taking advantage of all the different opinions to raising goats.
Look in your local paper (including the small newsletter types) for several issues in a row and make phone calls to find out what breeds are available in your area. You will also save time driving around until you have a better idea of what you want. If there are no listings, try placing an ad to find them, requesting goat-owners to contact you.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. If the seller won't give any background information, look elsewhere for your goat. It may be that he just bought them from a Sale at a cheap price and is trying to turn a quick profit. Check the animal thoroughly from how many teats it has to if it's feet are trimmed, and handle the animal. A reputable seller will welcome your interest and be more than happy to give you a good "look over" of the goat.
It's usually best, as a new owner, to start with a few instead of starting out with a sizeable herd, until you and the goats get used to each other. Remember, goats multiply fast every year, and three does will be about ten in a matter of about a year if you keep all of them. (Some people sell or even give away the buck kids almost as soon as they are born, so that they can have extra milk for home use, and keep the doelings. Be sure newborn kids have had an adequate supply of colostrum, even if you don't plan on keeping them.)
If you are looking for a bred doe, in hopes of milking her when she freshened, ask for a written guarantee that the doe is truly bred. Size is not an indication of being bred or how many kids a doe has inside of her. Ask how many kids the doe has had in her previous years, if the kids were free from abnormalities, and how old the doe is now. If any lab tests (CAE, TB, Brucellosis, etc.) have been done, ask for copies for your records.
If you are buying for milking purposes, ask to watch the goat being milked to confirm that there is no mastitis, damaged teats, or unusual tasting milk. If you have never milked a goat before, ask for a lesson to get you familiar with handling the goat. Temperament on the milking stand can be a deciding factor to get rid of many good milkers if the owner is unwilling or unable physically to deal with training it. No goat is perfect, no matter how good the genetics or pedigree records are. Ask what faults the goat may have, and why the seller is selling it.
If you have any unanswered questions, ask to come back in a few days and spend more time looking over your intended purchase. This will give both you and the seller time to consider the deal.
When buying, be sure to ask if the seller will take a check or if it should be cash. Most sellers have at least a few bad checks and have lost good goats that way. Ask for a Bill of Sale or some kind of receipt to prove your ownership, and a few days' of feed to go along with the goat. This will make the move less stressful for both you and the goat. A good goat owner will not hesitate to pitch in a little feed. After all, feed is not very expensive, and you will know what type to look for when you start buying feed.
If the goat is registered, be sure that the registration papers are part of the deal. Don't be afraid of repeating the question clearly until you get a "yes, with papers" or "no, not with papers" answer. Some registered herd owners sell quality animals at regular "milk stock" prices (without papers), keeping the best show quality goats for their own breeding purposes. If it is registered, you will be asked for information and probably given the paper with the names of the breeding parents. Ask for an idea of what additional cost(s) it will take to change the registration papers to your name. Usually there is a different fee for members than for non-members, and if you are buying several goats, you may want to become a member at the same time you register them in your name.
If you have several goats, you will probably also have a buck. But if a friend or neighbor has one nearby, it is possible for you to probably borrow it for about thirty days in order to get your does bred. Most goats are bred in August and September, although some are "held back" until about February in order to stretch the milk supply through the year.
Dairy goats usually freshen (or kid) in the Spring and the heaviest peak of milk production seems to be about the same time that the grass and clover are growing the thickest. This gives the milking goat the best possible browsing arrangements available all year long, and the young kids are easily tempted to start eating more grass and nursing for milk less.
Baby goats are usually available in abundance in March and April, with a few born in February. If you plan on starting your herd slowly, by raising them up as kids on bottles, it will be a while before you can expect to have fresh milk, but they will be very tame and easy to work with, come milking time. It's a pleasure to see them grow up this way.
In September and October, prices start a seasonal drop going into winter. This is the best time to buy goats to increase your herd size. Owners decide to sell a few of their "extra" does before carrying them through another winter. Chances are that the breeding buck has already bred them in August or September, and it is only a matter of waiting a few months before milking time.
Do your homework. Be an educated buyer, a future producer, and a whole lot happier for having made the right decision before picking up your goat(s). You will be prepared to make the best choice possible and get a goat!
Dairy Doll Registered Nubians
Boer, Spanish, Meat & Dairy Goats
AKC Great Pyrenees Guardian Dogs
Debbie & Richard Dahl
Route 1, Box 147-2
Colcord, Oklahoma 74338
Telephone (918) 326-4291