Goats are gaining in popularity with the rise of homesteading, and self-sufficient living, it’s no wonder. Goats offer a lot to  a small farm or homestead. They make milk and  meat,  offer brush control, fiber, and even garden-safe manure fertilizer. When space is limited, the versatile goat plays a vital role in covering the self-sufficiency bases. However, if you aren’t careful a goat can quickly become your worst nightmare on the farm. Here’s a list of the top seven things every new goat owner should know.

#1 Despite Common Belief Goats DON’T Eat Anything

As a matter of fact goats are NOTORIOUS for NOT eating what you want them to! Goats are a unique farm animal in that they do not naturally graze like sheep, cattle, or horses. Goats browse, which basically means instead of sitting down to a good meal and plowing through it. They meander the buffet line picking and choosing but not finishing anything. Any waitress at a buffet will tell you there’s a lot of waste, and goats are no different.

In a pasture they prefer to eat trees, shrubs, briars, and tall broad leaf weeds first. Then they will move to grass. So if you buy a picturesque grassy field for you goats and they jump the fence to eat your rose bushes don’t be surprised. They use the same principle when eating hay. They will waste MOST of it picking and choosing only what they want to eat. We strongly recommend tightly controlled hay feeders to keep the waste to a minimum or you will spend a small fortune making a giant hay mountain in the goat field.

#2 Goats LOVE to eat what you DON’T want them to

While they might delight in using your beautifully nutritious hay as toilet paper, they LOVE to eat “forbidden fruit.” We’ve lost fruit trees, shrubs, garden plants, and flowers to goats over the years. It only takes 5 minutes for a loose goat to devastate years of gardening work-and when they do they leave no leaf, branch, or bark left untouched.

The destructive eating habits aren’t limited to garden plants. Goat are also masters of getting into dog food, pig food, chicken food and goat food and over eating on it. Grains like corn or feeds containing corn cause a goat’s rumen (4th stomach) to turn acidic. When that happens the bacterial balance shifts rapidly–and not for the better! The “bad” bacteria flourish and produce toxins that are readily absorbed into the bloodstream and cause acute toxicity that can result in death in as little as 6 hours!


#3 Activated Charcoal, Baking Soda and Milk of Magnesia are VITAL

For this reason ANYONE who raises goats should keep a few things on hand. Baking Soda-many people leave a tub of baking soda in the goat pen and offer it free-choice. Amazingly a goat can tell when they need to adjust their PH and they will eat the alkaline baking soda and self regulate themselves, many times warding off a potentially fatal event. If the goat didn’t self regulate and you find a goat down and in pain or lethargic with a bad case of diarrhea it’s time to take action. The magic formula for saving goat lives in the event of toxicity is: Activated Charcoal and Milk of Magnesia. I mix 1-2 tbs in 1 cup of water and syringe it down them. The charcoal will bind the toxin and help them flush it out. Then syringe them 10-20mls (depending on the size of the goat) of milk of magnesia. The milk of magnesia will do a rapid PH change in the rumen and bring the bacteria under control. We have saved many goats with this remedy and feel that no goat raiser should be without those three essentials.

#4 Goats DO Sometimes Chew on Tin Cans–But There’s A Reason

If you catch your goat chewing on tin cans, metal fencing, or even eating dirt they are looking for minerals. Much of the US has soil that is deficient in essential minerals like Selenium, Copper, Magnesium and others. It’s a good idea to keep a free choice loose mineral feeder in your goat pen. It should also be noted that goats require very high levels of copper to be healthy… levels that are so high they would kill other farm critters like sheep. Do not keep your sheep and goats together as there is no easy way to keep them both healthy. A copper deficient goat is a sick goat, and an “over-coppered” sheep is a dead sheep.

#5 Parasites are a HUGE issue

Parasites have become the number one problem facing goat raisers. The rapid rise of resistant parasites has spelled the demise of many goat herds. There are a few things you can do when the dewormers no longer work. Copper keeps parasite numbers under control. High copper minerals, or copper bolus helps to keep goats healthy and parasite loads down. Rotational grazing–moving the goats and leaving the ground to rest for at least 30 days before your return the goats gives the dropped parasite eggs time to die off before the goats return. Studies also show that most parasite larvae only travels 4″ up the plant shaft. Keeping the grass height in your pasture over 4″ will help keep your animals healthy. Cattle make great pasture “vacuum cleaners” put them in the pasture behind the goats and the cattle will consume the goat parasites and won’t be affected by them thus breaking the cycle.

You can read more about parasites and our struggle and solutions here.

#6 There is No Fence a Goat Can’t Get Out Of

Yes, I’ve seen it all. The day I watched a 20″ tall pygmy goat scale a solid board wall 6ft high my mind was made up. There really is NOTHING a goat can’t get out of. The trick is to make them think they don’t WANT out.  This is two fold. The goat pasture should never be so bare or full of “unappetizing” greens that the goats decide to visit the garden. If they are happily browsing a well stocked field they aren’t thinking about how to escape. For us, the other answer has been electric fencing. 4 strand electric fencing keeps them in 90% of the time but it has to be HOT. In our experience anything less than 7,000 volts is “worth running through” to get what they want. At 7,000 volts they would rather not. At 8-9,000 they have a healthy respect for it. A quality chargers, and WELL GROUNDED LINE make for a happy goat farmer. Don’t worry, if the system ever fails or weakens the goats will let you know in a matter of minutes by standing on the hood of your car, eating your herb garden, or looking in your windows. I don’t know how they know but they always do!

#7 Alfalfa Can Kill

Alfalfa is fed by many dairy operations to keep their does giving superior milk volumes. It’s a great feed resource for milking does and we utilize it in our herd management during peak production. However, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. In bucks and especially whethers (neutered bucks) eating too much alfalfa can cause them to develop urinary calculi. The urinary calculi stones form in their bladder and get stuck trying to pass through the urethra. This results in a buck or whether that is unable to urinate. The resulting backup is usually fatal when the pressure ruptures the bladder. Alfalfa should not be fed regularly to buck or whethers. Feed the Remedy before you have a problem: If you cannot separate your goats but feel you need to feed the does alfalfa make sure to offer a feed that contains ammonium chloride or you can add powdered ammonium chloride to the water. This will keep the stones from forming and could very well save your goat’s life.  Maintenance Dosing: 1.5lbs per 25lbs loose mineral or 1lb per 100lbs feed. Treatment Dosing: 1.5 Tsp mixed in water for 7-10 days.  Reduce grain and provide plenty of fresh water.

Be Sure You Know the Specifics

Each breed is different and has different qualities and weaknesses that they will bring to your small farm or homestead. Make sure you outline your goals and ideal raising methods before deciding on the ideal goat for you.  The wrong goat for you takes just as much time, energy, and money to raise and the right goat…choose wisely.  Do your research, define your goals and enjoy raising your goats!

To read more on the story of our goats click here