The following submission is part of an ongoing Guest Post Writing Contest.
– – – Rourke
GOATS FOR THE LONG HAUL
It seems that everyone has had one bad experience with someone’s pet goat, and for that reason, I hear many folks disparage the entire species. Now, just imagine that you are an intelligent, sociable creature and someone has chained you to the porch and expects you to mow the grass for them. You don’t even like grass very much and when you get lucky enough to find some of the food you do like, they come out and yell at you for tasting the roses. Most of the time, you are alone and lonely, but children and dogs arrive to tease you daily. I think you might butt somebody too. I have been raising meat goats for seven years and even with the bucks in rut, I have never been butted by a goat on purpose. Oh sure, somebody might shove somebody else in the herd and then the shove-ee runs into me, but that was unintentional. Meat goats and Boers in particular are quite gentle and sweet tempered.
The poor goat is also maligned as a stinky animal, but does (nannies) are virtually odorless and usually smell better than your dog. Of course, a buck in rut perfumes the air with his distinctive mating aroma, but this is not an overpoweringly negative odor. In fact, I welcome this muskiness each fall. It sends the ladies immediately into a romantic swoon and portends profit and a full larder for me. Without giving chevon (goat meat) a try, people turn up their noses at its mention, assuming that it has a strong, gamy flavor akin to lamb or venison. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chevon reminds me more of beef or pork. It is leaner than chicken and higher in protein than beef. Goat’s milk and goat cheese, at least, have their supporters among the enlightened consumer. There is absolutely no difference in flavor between goat’s milk and cow’s milk when it comes out of the animal. Once the flavor and most of the nutrients have been removed from cow’s milk through homogenization, pasteurization and the removal of fats, it is quite different from goat’s milk. But it is also quite different from real cow’s milk!
I am writing to sing the praises of adding a goat or six to your preps. If you are still living in an urban area, many municipalities permit the keeping of goats and if you have bugged out already and have an acre of land, you are perfectly set to raise a few of these enchanting creatures. They provide meat, milk, and endless entertainment. Each goat is an individual with her own distinct personality. She will talk to you and you will easily learn her language and be able to communicate with her. She will deliver and tend to her kids with little intervention on your part and pretty soon your herd will expand exponentially. Goats are of a size manageable even by children, and if they are conditioned to routines, they are quite cooperative.
To prepare to buy your first goat, you must build good fences. Conventional wisdom says that one acre will sustain six goats, but I feel that without supplemental feeds, that estimate is actually a bit optimistic. We run thirty meat goats on ten acres along with their kids, numbering maybe fifty. Every three weeks, we rotate the goats to a different ten-acre patch to interrupt the life cycle of parasites on the first patch. But, for just a few goats, an acre will do fine, especially if you are able to use a commercial wormer to combat the parasites. Fencing materials vary, but we have found that the best goat fence at the least cost is forty-eight-inch high woven wire (also known as field fence) that sells for about $130 for 330 feet. If you can find it, you want the “holes” in the fence to be of the twelve-inch size instead of the six by eight-inch size because goats with horns will not get stuck in those. A smaller gauge wire (around 11) is desirable so that it will bend to free those horns.
Goats do need a little bit of housing because they detest being out in the rain. A shed or lean-to is sufficient and we calculate about ten square feet per goat for the amount of space she needs. While a nice, cozy barn would be a delight, goats can survive deep winter conditions as long as they can find a windbreak. Someone stole all of the doors and windows from our barn before we moved here and we have not replaced them. The goats have sheltered in that drafty old barn just fine. We are lucky enough to have an old sow barn that contains four stalls. We use these to “jug” our new mothers and their kids for the first three or four days of life before returning them to the herd. This practice ensures that the kids know to whom they belong and also keeps the kids confined so that I can make sure that each is healthy and nursing. This is nice, but not necessary.
So, how much work does it take to raise a few goats? Not that much, but there are things that must be considered before you decide to take on the task. Are you willing to give your goats a vaccination once a year? Can you find the time to worm them and trim their hooves about once a month? Are you willing to provide a feeding at least once a day, being alert to each goat’s condition? Will you be on hand in the spring to identify any doe that gets into trouble kidding? And if you want to milk goats, will you be able to do so twice a day, every day? That last is quite a commitment, but it is very rewarding both in the production of good wholesome food and the personal discipline it engenders. We started with meat goats because I was not sure that I could devote myself to the daily requirements of milking. However, whenever we ran out of milk in the house, at least in the spring and summer, I could hop out to the barn and tap a nursing nanny.
We have been working hard to free our herd from the need for commercial products. We have stocked up on medications and other supplies that will be unavailable over the long haul. These are not terribly expensive. The biggest challenge to the goatherd is parasites and it is the goal to keep the herd’s parasite population in check without resorting to commercial worming products. Nevertheless, as long as the products are available, there is no shame in using them. Fully 90% of goat deaths can be traced to parasite infestation, so this is of utmost importance. You check for anemia, which is caused by worms in the gut, by looking at the inside of the goat’s eyelid. The pinker the better. If the color is pale or white, you may be in big trouble. To avoid the need for commercial products, you must rotate your goats from pasture to pasture on a three-week schedule or whenever the grass in the pasture gets lower than six inches. If you have hot and dry summers, the parasites in the landscape may die out and frequently our goats do quite well from August through March without the use of worming concoctions. However, to be absolutely sure that the goats are in the pink, so to speak, I start drenching them with Ivermectin in March, the month before they kid. Then, on the day they kid, I give them another dose because kidding can cause an explosion of the buggers. After that, a good practice is to worm every three weeks until the weather kills off the larvae in the fields. In case commercial wormers become unavailable, it will then be necessary to rotate the goats’ pastures, as previously mentioned, without fail.
Another common problem with goats is scouring, but this can generally be avoided by keeping goats’ quarters fairly clean and making sure not to overpopulate your facilities. Scouring can be caused by overeating or by new spring grass, but the devil in the mix is called coccidiosis. This is an organism that is almost always present in the bodies of adult goats. They have become immune to its ravages. But when kids first start eating solid foods, they are not yet immune and can get very sick and die from it. Like human children, everything goes in the mouth with a kid, and even if they are not yet eating solids, they can ingest the bug. Our experience is that this is one area where we have decided to stockpile the commercial preventative and cure for this disease. We have put by twenty packages of powdered Corid, which is added to the goats’ drinking water in the preventative dose whenever I see any lethargy. If we see scours, we switch to the cure rate, which is a treatment of five days worth of oral drenches for the individual involved. The water tank gets a larger amount of Corid according to package directions. Do not let up on this!
Pink eye is just an eye infection, usually caused by stray dust or a piece of straw. You will see tear tracks down the goat’s cheek if she has gotten something in her eye and if you do not catch it early, you will eventually see the eye itself cloud up. Do not be alarmed. This is easily cured by a drop of antibiotic right in the affected eye and you may need to follow up with a second drop a few days later. We have stockpiled LA200, a broad spectrum and long acting antibiotic which you can purchase without a prescription. Don’t think about using it on humans though! Get your antibiotics from the fish department. We also use this antibiotic in cases of hoof rot, which seems to occur now and then, no matter how attentive we have been to trimming hooves. This usually happens when the weather has been rainy for a long time and hooves are muddy. To cut down on the incidence of hoof rot, we put our goat feeders on top of a circle of two-inch road rock. As the goats come to the bunkers, they walk off the mud and even knock off excess hoof growth to some extent.
Kidding time is the great joy of the endeavor. To ensure that kids are not born in winter, we separate our buck from the herd in June and do not put him back in until after Thanksgiving. Gestation for a goat is approximately five months and five days, which means that our kids arrive right around the first of April. By that time, it is usually warm enough for kids to be born and dried off without our assistance. If, for some reason, your kids arrive when the temperature is below freezing, you will need to get out there and dry them off, perhaps even bring them inside and use a hair dryer on them. A heat lamp is a good idea in such a case, but be sure that there is room in the stall for the kid to get out from under it. He is a hot little guy.
At kidding time, we check our herd every two hours, but this is not necessary. Most births will be accomplished without any intervention on your part. However, cases of breach can occur and it behooves you to read up on that possibility. In the seven years I have held goats, and with over 200 kiddings, I have had only one case of full breach birth, backwards and upside down. That doe also delivered the placenta first, so we were pretty sure the kid had perished. It was necessary to go inside of her and pull the fetus out. If a doe is in labor for over an hour without success, you will need to go inside the doe to find out what is wrong. My vet remarked that birth does not need to be nearly the sterile process we think it does. Nevertheless, I wash with antibacterial soap up and down my arms, using a brush for the palms of my hands and under my fingernails. Then, I apply some antibiotic gel and rinse it off with water. After that, I put on a coat of KY jelly for lubrication. In the meantime, my helper has used antibacterial soap and warm water on the doe’s vulva to make sure that I do not carry germs inside with me.
More often than not, you will find that the kid’s head is just a bit behind the front hooves. It belongs right on top of them so that the head can be delivered first, but as long as it is above the hooves, you will probably not need to further intervene. You may find the kid’s head turned backwards along his backbone. In this instance, you should gently turn the head frontward and then let Nature take its course. Sometimes, especially with a first freshener, you may need to help the mother deliver even if the kid is properly positioned. I get a good grip on the kid’s head and gently pull in tandem with the doe’s contractions. There are a number of other breach possibilities, for which you should prepare by reading a good goat-raising book or veterinary handbook.
Kids will rise to their feet and wobble over to mother’s teats within the first hour. If a kid is weak or unusually stupid about it, you can help the process along by holding the teat upward toward his mouth and by putting the kid back under the doe over and over again. If the kid seems to be getting too tired to keep trying, milk out some of the mother’s colostrum and feed it to the kid with a syringe. Just an ounce or two of this miracle fluid will give him the strength he needs to continue. First time nannies usually have only one kid. After that, twins is the norm, however, triplets and even quads are not unusual. After the kids are born, the placenta will deliver. Once that has happened, I put my new families into a privacy stall so that I can make sure the kids’ tummies are round and full at all times. If not, the mother may have rejected the kid and I will have to start him on a bottle. Or the kid may be the runt of triplets and the other kids are pushing him aside. In such a case, I take the other kids away for several hours a day so that the little one has his chance. Bottle kids are expensive to feed and often not as healthy as their nanny-fed siblings. For this reason, I sometimes donate a bottle kid to 4-H, or sell him cheap.
You will also need to decide whether to castrate your buck kids. Because we butcher at a young age, we have discontinued castrating. A boy being a boy will not taint the meat until he is mature and intact males grow faster and put on more weight than their “wethered” brothers. In addition, you will need to address the question of whether to “disbud” your kids. Removing their horn buds with a hot iron-like device seems cruel to me, so we do not do it. This results in kids getting their heads stuck in fences for a while before they learn their lesson and we count our herd daily to see if anyone is missing. If we come up short, more often than not, one of the kids is stuck.
My experience has been with meat goats, but I bought my first dairy goat last Christmas. She just kidded last week and I am learning the ins and outs of milking. If you are serious about dairying, you will probably want to remove the kid(s) so that you will be the recipient of the doe’s bounty. I have decided to leave the kid on the mother and share. This is working out fine so far and I am getting about a quart a day for my own use.
With regard to feeding goats, it is not true that a goat will eat anything. She is a browser, rather than a grazer, and prefers tree leaves, shrubs and vines to grass, though she will eat the grasses and forbs in your fields. A goat requires a higher level of protein in her diet than do other ruminants. For this reason, as long as it is possible, we feed a cup per day per goat of a good commercial goat pellet. However, in the case of SHTF, that will not be available. To prepare for the day that feed cannot be purchased, we have planted several acres of alfalfa. Alfalfa is a complete feed for a goat and she will need about four pounds of it a day. In addition, we have over seeded our established pastures with a good “deer seed,” which is usually made up of alfalfa and clovers, perhaps a little timothy and even some turnip. To make sure that the goats receive all of the vitamins and minerals they need, we also offer free choice, a high protein mineral block purchased from the local farm supply.
Protecting goats from predators is mainly accomplished by having good fences. Your number one enemy, surprisingly, is the neighbor’s dog, though coyotes will sometimes come after your goats. Almost any dog can be a deadly threat to a goat. A dog that shows any signs of chasing goats should be banished from all dealings with them. You may trust your dog completely, but something clicks in the primitive part of his brain when a goat flees and your gentle best friend may become a killing machine. This is a tragedy you want to avoid at all costs. Don’t take any chances with your dogs! We have employed a good guard dog that was raised from puppyhood with goats. She is a Great Pyrenees and though she prefers the porch to the goat pasture, she patrols the property all night long, barking a warning into the night that this is her territory. Also, you do not want to use a herding dog with goats. Though goats are herd animals in the sense that they need to be with their own kind, they are not easily herded, as are sheep. Goats are followers instead. They will follow our dog or they will follow me. To make sure that they do, just feed them yummy pellets by hand a few times. A goat never forgets where once she found food! The information that you have a handful is somehow transmitted through the herd like lightning and they will all come running.
I hope that this article has begun to answer the question of how much work it takes and what it is like to raise a few goats for the long haul. In addition, I have tried to think of all of the things that are necessary to stockpile in advance of SHTF. Here is a list of the items I have set aside:
1000 cc’s long acting antibiotic for injection
100 5 cc syringes with large bore needles (for antibiotic injection)
100 3 cc syringes with small bore needles (for vaccinations)
2 bottles of annual vaccination – Chlostridium C and D with tetanus toxoid (must be refrigerated)
1000 cc’s of ivermectin-type wormer labeled for swine (it is also labeled for injection, but we administer by mouth)
20 packages of powdered Corid
Powdered electrolytes (or you can add Gator Ade to the goat’s drinking water) for dehydration
Vitamin B for injection (in case you see convulsions or someone stumbling around like a drunk)
Several drenching syringes
Several hoof trimmers
10 High protein mineral blocks
Alfalfa seed and deer seed, repackaged in mylar and air pumped out with “Fresh Saver” handheld vacuum pump. Store seed bags in tightly sealed plastic or metal containers to keep the rodents out.
Iodine in the 7% strength to treat foot rot topically
Wound treatments – hydrogen peroxide, blood clotter, and spray on antibiotic (like Bactine)
Vet wrap, and gauze
Anti Fungal Spray
Castrator and 100 extra bands
Jar of suppositories (human, for constipation). These are perfect for lubricating the bands for the castrator.
Several good, sharp surgical blades
Boxes of latex gloves, unpowdered
Case of baking soda (Set some out in the spring to prevent bloat. Goats know to lick it.)
Books, books and more books
Stainless steel milking bucket and large stainless steel milk storage can (no seams)
Or, glass milk bottles or glass canning jars to store milk
A milking stand with keyhole headstall and feed pan (find plans on the Internet)
Bleach and gentle dishwashing detergent, paper towels to use for udder wash
Small Dixie cups to contain the teat dip (same stuff as the udder wash)
I have also compiled a few items from the vet, which cannot be purchased without a prescription. You will need to develop a relationship with your vet so that he trusts that you are using these medications properly.
Baytril (high end and expensive antibiotic for use on mastitis or other serious infection)
Sedative – I need to knock out the buck to trim his hooves. Though he is a gentle soul, he is much bigger than I am and he doesn’t like me touching his feet.
Nice to have, but not necessary:
Combination injector/drenching gun
Hand pumped milking machine
In conclusion, let me say that having goats in my life has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. They are intelligent and personable, loving and great fun. They take good care of themselves and need little from me. Most of what I do for them is my choice and they would probably do fine without me. Just be aware that they need more nutrition than you think they do and they can be very susceptible to parasites. Get started now, so you have worked out the kinks by the time you must rely on your goats for sustenance.
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