Saturday, November 3, 2012

What Goats Need

- Companionship -
Goats are herd animals. They generally do not do well alone. "An only goat is a lonely goat" A lonely goat will let you know it, and no one will be happy. They need other goats, or at least other livestock such as sheep, pigs or horses. When keeping goats with horses there are some important considerations, such as the ability of the goat to compete for food.
We recommend that you consider having a minimum of three goats. This allows for an interesting mix and keeps things dynamic. Also, with three goats, if one goat dies you will not be left with just one goat while you locate a new companion.

- Protection -
Goats are vulnerable, particularly to attack by dogs. Dog-proof fencing is essential. (see Fencing, below). If your goats do get out and are running away from you, do not chase them. Run the other way and they will follow you! Much has been said of the cleverness of goats, and they will find a way to escape from time to time. Keep a container of grain (e.g. COB) handy. If the goats get out, rather than trying to herd them, Just run and get your grain can and start off in the direction you want to go while shaking it loudly. The goat (or the whole herd) will follow you anywhere.
It's a good practice to call out to the herd whenever you are offering food or treats. If I want the herd to come back to the barn for food, I call out "goat, goat, goat" and they all come running.

- Shelter -
Goats need shelter from rain and wind. They need a dry place to bed down. A three-sided shelter is sufficient, as long as the open side is on the lee, away from the wind. Goats are bossy, and a dominant goat might take over a particular part of the shelter. In that case it is best to provide a variety of shelters, sufficient for the individuals in your herd. We have found that large dog houses, or "Dogloos" are very good goat houses, plus they are fun for the goats to play on. If you live where it rains for long periods, consider that the goats won't want to be stuck inside a small shelter. Then they need a nice big roofed area where they can move around and still stay dry. When designing your shelter, it's best to offer two ways in and out. Smaller goats will generally avoid a space they can get trapped in by a bigger goat, and bigger goats will prefer the larger spaces.

- Bedding -
In cold weather, a bed of straw or left-over hay is very good. We feed our goats both from mangers and directly on the floor of the barn, and let the left-over heay build up on the ground. This hay, combined with their own poop, composts and creates heat, such that if you were to dig down just a few inches with your hand you would find it to be quite warm. When the goats bed down on this surface, they enjoy the heat. The warmth from the floor heats their stomachs and actually helps them digest their food.
For that reason, we suggest that a clean, bare floor is not really the best thing for goats. Even though it seems hygienic, in a cold climate a bare floor deprives the goats of the benefits of warmth.

- Fencing -
Four-foot fencing is generally sufficient to keep goats in. Young goats may jump over a fence that high, and we have had "climbers" who will climb a four foot fence, but that is very unusual. Often these climbers are pygmy goats. Full-sized goats are just too heavy to get that high off the ground.
Several kinds of suitable fencing are suitable. We prefer "no climb" fencing, which consists of 2" wide by 4" high mesh. "Sheep" or "Field" fencing is OK too, but not quite as strong or impenetrable. Also, young goats with horns may put their heads through the larger mesh and get their horns caught. Recently we have been using a good compromise between field fencing and the more expensive no-climb, consisting of a uniform mesh of about 3" square, and designed specifically for goats. All fencing should be woven, not welded, since goats will butt and rub against it, and break the welds. Be sure that your gate latches are not too simple or too accessible. Goats are very clever and will quickly learn to open them.
If you are concerned about dogs getting into your fenced area (and generally you should be), consider running a length of electric fencing around the outside of the fence, near the bottom.
Electric fencing is inexpensive and easy to install, and can be useful under certain circumstances. For example, you might use it to fence off an additional area of pasture that the goats might not otherwise have access to. However, goats can get through it, electricity can fail, and dogs and other predators might choose to jump it or ignore it, so you should only use it when you are around, and you should bring the goats in to sturdy wire fenced enclosures at night. In my experiments with electric fencing, I found four-strand tape or cord fencing to be much more effective than three-strands. The white tape or cord is more visible to the goats and easier to work with.
Goats will girdle and kill some mature trees. To prevent this, wrap the tree trunk several times around with chicken wire.
Do not stake out your goat or put them on a tether. Not only is this illegal in many areas, it can be very dangerous for the goat. A staked out goat is prey to dogs. It can easily turn over its water and wrap its tether around any obstructions. Also, a staked out goat is alone, and goats don't like to be alone.

- Nutrition -
Goats are a lot like deer in their eating habits. They can live on a steady diet of good alfalfa, but that is probably a little too rich. They will be healthier and happier on a varied diet that includes of shrubs, leaves, tree bark, etc. We feed our goats mostly local grass hay. Even if there is plenty of brush, they will still need a little alfalfa or oat hay as a supplement, particularly in the winter.
They need a salt/mineral block too. There are mineral blocks made especially for goats. These contain copper -- which goats need, but which is harmful to sheep. If your soil lacks selenium then it is important to provided it. It is best to provide the salt and minerals in granular form, as this encourages them to take as much as they want.
They need a source of fresh water at all times. Chopped apples, carrots and a handful of grain makes a great goat treat. A few plants are poisonous to goats. If you are not sure, don't feed it to the goats. Be especially careful about trimmings you get from neighbors because you might not know what is in them.

- Recreation -
Goats love to climb and to stand on top of things. They like it if you introduce new things from time to time, or at least move things around. They love to go for walks, and do not need to be leashed, as they will follow you. However, do not take them where there might be dogs.

- Maintenance -
Hooves: Goats need their hooves trimmed approximately every three or four months. In general, goats with dark hooves seem to need less frequent trimming than those with light-colored hooves. It's easy to tell when they need trimming, because the horn will start to splay out in the front or wrap under along the sides. You can learn to trim the hooves yourself, using a sharp pair of pruning shears or specially designed trimming sheers. My favorite sheers were designed for sheep's hooves. During the winter, if the ground is wet, their hooves tend to de-laminate on the sides. If this happens be sure to trim as high up as necessary to eliminate any pockets that might get packed and infected. If you do this, then the hoof will grow back out during the summer.

Vaccinations: Except for worming, we do not maintain a course of vaccinations. This type of treatment is probably more suited to commercial settings. We give our goats Ivermectin shots worms. This medicine is available at feed stores if you want to do it yourselves, or through a veterinarian.
We keep some injection vitamin B and antibiotics handy for those situations that seem to indicate it.

- Horns and Disbudding -
Almost all goats are born with heads that will produce horns. The horns begin to develop (bud) within the first few weeks of birth. We do not disbud our goats, but plenty of the goats we rescue have already had their horns removed. Any herd of goats has a hierarchy, and the horned goats are almost certain to be dominant over any goats in the herd that do not have horns. That's usually not a problem.
We do not recommend removing the horns of pet goats, although we do recognize that there are situations and circumstances where people might find this to be their choice. Certainly if it means the difference between your taking a baby goat or not, it is better to satisfy your concerns and disbud than to not take the goat. Usually, though, you don't have a choice, because if disbudding is done it should only be done when the goats are very young. Very soon, the sinus passages grow up into the horns, (sooner for males; sooner for some breeds such as alpines, than for other breeds, such as nubians) and there is a risk of infection. Once the horns are about an inch long, the sinus cavity has probably already reached the horns.

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