PHOTO: Steve Bates/Flickr
Although we spent a lot of time doing research before we added goats to our little farm, the minute we lifted the trio of six-month-old Boer/Kiko goats from our hatchback and let them loose in the pasture, we knew we were unprepared. It took multiple trips to our local farm store and visits with the vet before we felt like we were properly set up. This spring, we introduced two Nigerian Dwarf goats to our herd, and the process was much easier because we had all of the right equipment on hand.
Here are the eight things I suggest having before bringing home goats:
1. Strong Fencing
We built a fence to keep our chickens from wandering away, and we believed the 4-by-4 posts, top rail and woven wire were enough to keep the goats contained, too. Within hours, they started pushing their bodies against the wire, bending it until it snapped free in a corner, giving them an escape route to the garden. Reinforcing the fence with an additional board (at the height where the animals pushed their bulk against it) gave them a place to scratch without breaking out.
Heed the warnings about the need for a strong fence: Look for gaps—goats can push through the smallest spaces—and reinforce areas that might not hold up under insistent pushing. Strong fences are essential for safe goats. Electric wire keeps predators out and prevents goats from testing the fences.
Goats need protection from the elements. A basic shelter such as a three-sided shed or pole barn large enough to get them out of the rain and wind will do. Multiple goats can share one stall—pregnant or lactating does and their kids will need their own space. To minimize scuffles over food and sleeping spaces, we separated the Boer/Kiko goats from the Dwarf Nigerians.
Straw or wood shavings provide a comfortable spot to curl up for the night (and also help soak up urine). In cold climates, bedding also provides warmth. Remember that bedding needs to be removed and replaced so the barn/shelter doesn’t start to smell and attract flies.
4. Hay and a Hay Feeder
Even goats that have access to lush pasture and a lot of brush will probably need supplemental feed, especially during the winter. You should make good quality hay available all the time. A hay feeder is essential. We tried five-gallon buckets, an oversized plastic storage tub and a laundry basket before handing over the debit card to buy a “real” hay feeder, which has stood up to goats standing on it—and sometimes in it. Animals that receive small amounts of grain or treats will need a separate feeder.
5. Water Buckets
Access to fresh, clean water is essential. Get a dedicated bucket—or several for multiple animals—and keep it filled. Mount the bucket higher than the tallest goat’s backside so the goats cannot poop in it.
Loose minerals, offered free choice, are also essential for good health. Choose a goat formula (loose minerals for sheep don’t contain enough copper). Goats don’t have rough tongues like cattle do, which might make it hard to get minerals from a block; loose minerals might be a better choice. Look for minerals with salt (or supplement with a salt block). Baking soda should also be offered free choice; it helps goats maintain good digestive health, protects against bloat and helps with acid upset.
7. Grooming Supplies
Overgrown hooves can make it painful for goats to walk. This can also cause foot and leg problems such as tendinitis and arthritis. Having hoof trimmers on hand is important. Farm stores stock specialized hoof trimmers, but a pair of straight-edged garden pruners works, too. Use a curry comb or bristle brush for grooming.
8. A Mini Medicine Cabinet
Stocking common medications and supplies means goats can be treated for minor illnesses at home without an unexpected trip to the farm store. Stock a mini medicine cabinet with a thermometer; blood stop powder (to deal with nicked hooves during trimming); antifungal treatments for ringworm and minor wounds; dewormer; Pepto Bismol to treat diarrhea; electrolytes for dehydration; Nutri-Drench to provide vitamin and minerals to goats recovering from illness; and oral and injectable syringes in multiple sizes. Some hobby farmers also stock antibiotics, but resistance is a huge issue so we leave these kinds of medications to our vet to prescribe.
9. Play Structures
Goats love to climb. Providing play structures lets them exercise these natural instincts. We set out a couple of sturdy platforms and turned the big trunk of a fallen tree into a series of platforms for them to climb, rest and play on.
Taking the time to prepare before bringing goats home can help the new additions settle in and ease the transition from an empty pasture to a happy herd.