A friend of mine was thinking of getting into the meat goat business. Since I have been raising goats for several years now, she asked me a few questions to which I responded with the following. I thought that preppers considering adding a goat or two to their menageries might be interested in these thoughts as well. In the past five years I have learned a lot and it has taken five years to become really competent.
First off, it is important to get your goats from a reputable source. I got mine at auction, which meant that I was getting other people’s culls. Most of the does I bought this way were fine, but they did bring in some disease that I have had to fight ever since. I knew to isolate the animals for two weeks before putting them all together, but that was not long enough for a classic problem to arise. This is casseous lymphodonitis (CL), which is a bacteria that gets into the goat’s system through a break in the skin and manifests as an abscess, usually on the neck. It is said that there are only two kinds of goat ranches; “the ones that have CL or the ones that will have CL.” Everybody gets it sooner or later, I am told. You can have a specific vaccine made for it by sending a culture to a veterinary lab, but I haven’t done it. I have tried the commercial vaccine, which is good on several strains, but it did not work on mine. So, now I just lance the lumps and isolate the goat until it’s gone, but it seems to pop up again every so often. At least I have never had a kid get it and that is the most important thing. The disease seals itself off from the body, so there is no harm to humans to consume the meat, but it is illegal to sell the carcass of an animal that has it.
Another reason people cull a goat is that she might harbor parasites. It is said that 5% of the goats carry 80% of the parasites, so if a rancher notices one that gets wormy a lot or sooner than the others, he is going to be culling her. Parasites are responsible for nearly all goat death and battling them is the most important part of raising a herd. We drench with Ivermectin every three weeks through the summer, starting in March, or the month before kidding is expected to begin. Each nanny also gets a drenching the day she kids because birth causes an explosion of parasites for some reason. You check for anemia by looking at the inside of the eyelid, the pinker the better. If I see that the Ivermectin isn’t keeping the goats in the pink, I switch to Cydectin. It is recommended that you use only one type of wormer for a year because parasites develop immunity and you need to have a back up medicine that still works. Don’t even bother with Safeguard, goat parasites are completely immune to that.
The great goal of all goat people is to get to the stage where they don’t have to use any commercial wormer at all. This is accomplished by frequent field rotation so that the goats do not re-ingest larvae as they graze. Rule of thumb is to move the herd every three weeks to interrupt the life cycle of the pests and to move goats off a field whenever the grass is shorter than six inches. Some goat people swear by diatomaceous earth as a supplement, and we have tried it with good results.
To start with 5 or 6 goats, you wouldn’t need that much fenced space. You want to use field fence or some other stuff they are calling “goat fence” with holes of approximately 8 x 12 “. I just use the regular woven wire 39-inch stuff that sells for around $120 for 330 feet. The benefit of the larger holes is that goats with horns are not likely to get their heads stuck and all goats seem to think that the grass is greener on the other side. If you are going to grow meat goats, one good thing is that they are not the escape artists that the leaner dairy goats are. They seem to know that they are too heavy to jump over unless they are highly motivated. We also fenced off about half an acre to hold the billy when he is not in use as stud. Again, a Boer buck generally knows he is too heavy to jump over the fencing and as an added bonus, the Boer males are usually quite gentle and sweet tempered.
I would fence 10 acres to start and also invest in some solar powered electric mesh fencing so that you can rotate the goats from one section of the field to the next (to avoid parasite infestation). General rule is that one acre will feed 6 goats, but I don’t agree with that. We run 30 to 35 goats on ten acres, but we have two extra ten-acre fields into which they rotate every 3 weeks. This amount of land supports them fine as well as all their kids, of which we usually get around 50 a year.
Prior to when TSHTF, you will want to know about selling your kid crop for profit. Recent butcher kid prices were $1.34-1.44 per pound for 40-50 pound kids. 50 to 70 pound kids were fetching 1.60 a pound. Bigger than that and the price goes down. So, you can get $100 per kid if you can raise them to a good weight before summer forage peters out, which is questionable around here. My kids were not up to weight by the end of August this year, but I think it was because no one wanted to eat much during the heat wave. You will be paying at least $7 a head to the auctioneer and of course transportation costs because there are only a few places to sell goats. Get on line and search for usda goat auction prices. I am unable to get the URL to transfer in here, sorry. They publish each week the prices they are getting, August and Sept being prime time for goat selling.
There is no need to be around to take care of the kids once they are born. Nannies are great for taking care of their kids. Of course, you will almost always get one bottle kid a season, where for some mysterious reason a nanny will reject a kid. If you are going to insist that she feed that kid, then you would have to be on hand to catch her and make her do it 4 times a day, or you would have to be around to do that feeding for the first couple of weeks. But the easier thing to do at that point is to sell the kid cheap, or give it away to a 4-H-er. I only feel that I have to be on hand for the births and most of the time, not even then. Out of my 30 nannies this year, I was needed for only one breach birth. I stay with them long enough to make sure the kids know how to eat and after that, they are on their own. I do “jug” my new families, put them into privacy stalls for three days before returning them to the herd. This is to make sure all is well, the doe is getting enough to eat, and the kids know exactly whom their mothers are, but you don’t really have to do this. If you are willing to lose a few kids, you can leave them completely on their own.
If you leave your kids on their nannies, there is little that you need to be on hand for, but maybe you were thinking of taking the kids off and feeding them from a milk bar so that you can re-breed the nannies faster. If you do that, of course, you will have to be around to fill those canisters. But, if not, all you really should do is watch to make sure the kids are eating. Right after they are born, they usually find the teat within a few minutes. If a kid searches too long and gets tired before getting that first dose of colostrum, he may just give up and die. So, I help them out in finding the teat. Often though, a doe will kid unexpectedly and by the time I have found her, she will already have those kids cleaned up and nursing. I would say only about ten percent of the newborns need any intervention at all, as long as the weather is reasonably warm. About an hour after the kid has had its first meal, I check back to stir the kid up for a second meal. They can get sugared out and sleep too long if their mothers don’t wake them and then they are too weak to get back to the breakfast table. I find that it is usually a first time mother that doesn’t know to nose the kid back to life. If a kid doesn’t get to the teat at first, I milk some of the colostrum out and give it to the kid in a syringe. Just an ounce of that stuff is enough to save a kid’s life.
Timing your kidding is the most important thing to being able to sit back and enjoy it. I don’t put my buck into the herd until November 1, so that our kidding always starts in April. If kids come in the winter, you MUST be there to dry them off, warm them up and get them in under a heat lamp. They will almost certainly die if you don’t. Much better to wait until all danger of freezing is past. Gestation is five months and five days, so you can pretty much time your kidding for your vacation or take time off from work if you want to do all of the things I do. Lots of people just let Nature take its course and they lose a few kids, but that is the price of not having to be there. One great thing about goats is that they almost always kid during daylight hours. I don’t think I have ever had one kid at night. In April, one of us checks the herd every two hours during the daylight hours. When we notice kidding happening, we stick around, but more often than not, the nanny doesn’t need us at all. But, if a doe is in labor for an hour without kidding, you have to intervene, go in and get those kids out. Most men’s hands are too big to go inside a doe, so I hope there is a willing woman on the ranch. If you don’t intervene in a breach, you won’t just lose the kids; you will lose the nanny too.
The other big thing about goat tending is trimming their hooves and this probably takes more time than anything else we do for the herd. If you don’t do this, you will get foot rot, the animals won’t want to go far to graze, they will re-ingest parasite larvae and then they die. So, foot rot is no laughing matter. You may get rot even with perfectly trimmed hooves and they get a kind of weepy skin condition in between their toes in wet weather. I slather them with a commercial hoof antibiotic and give antibiotic (LA 200) injections if the case is a bad one. A footbath through which the goats must walk each day would probably get me out of this chore, but I haven’t ever figured out how to make those demons go through one. They hate wet feet. Putting the goats’ feed stations on top of a circle of gravel or rock also helps to keep hooves drier and excess hoof growth in check.
Goats do need some shelter. They hate rain, but don’t mind snow a bit. As far as food goes, goats need higher protein levels than other ruminants, so we feed clover/grass mixed hay in the winter, alfalfa for the last month before kidding. We also set out several high protein vitamin and mineral blocks. Goats are picky eaters and they are terribly wasteful with hay. We use V-shaped square bale feeders with a tray beneath to catch falling hay. You can also just set a round bale in the field, but pretty soon it will be soiled from goats jumping up on top, and most of it will be strewn around the ground. But a round bale of plain old grass is fine for filling them up, even if it doesn’t give them all that they need. If you go this route, you should also feed a cup or so per goat per day of commercial goat pellets. They push and shove each other in a mad dash to the dinner table when you feed pellets, so we have to make sure that the underlings in the herd get something to eat. No goat will ever admit that she is full and will always tell you that she is starving.
Few vets have much experience with goats, so you are on your own a lot. You will need to learn about health issues, preventions and treatments. Whether to castrate or not. Vaccinations. Get some good books and make friends with other goat people. Your local land grant university may have a goat expert and a small ruminant project, so you can go to classes or even just call them up. And be prepared to fall in love. You know, a sheep is a sheep is a sheep, but each goat is an individual. They are clever animals and very personable. You will quickly learn their language and be able to communicate with them. After my dogs, my goats are my best friends. Oh, that reminds me. You don’t want to have a herding dog on the ranch. Instead, you want a guardian, like a Great Pyrenees. Any dog that starts to chase a goat should be banished from any dealings with them, for sooner or later that dog will give in to instinct and either hurt or kill a goat. Even little dogs are a danger in this regard. Your enemies are dogs first, coyotes second.
And that also reminds me to tell you that goats don’t herd, they follow. If you try to herd them, more often than not, they will just scatter and circle around the herder to get back to wherever they want to be. We accomplish herd moves by pouring goat pellets into a wheelbarrow and walking down the lane with the herd following. Goats are so smart that they learn any routine involving food in a matter of a day or so. I just honk my truck horn and they all come running up from the field. They can be stupid too, though, forgetting how they got where they are and wanting to go through a fence instead of back to a gate. Just remember that you are smarter than a goat and if you think about it for a minute, you will figure out a way to get them to do what you want them to do. One of the best bits of advice I ever got was, “if you are fighting with your goats, you are doing something wrong.” Pay attention to what motivates them, which is always either food, the need to be in a herd, or the well-being of their kids. Pay attention to what is happening in any move. If kids get too far behind, you will lose them because they only care about Mommy, not pellets. So, always make sure the kids are keeping up, slowing your movements to allow for that. Keep the herd herded up as much as you can. Any stragglers will be impossible to catch. Watch the nannies too. They will show you what they care about most at any given moment by looking at it. If they start to lose interest in the food you are offering to make them follow you, it is a matter of proximity, so get closer.
In conclusion, I know that I have neglected to tell you which items you should stock up on and how to tend the herd without any commercial products. I have not yet addressed this issue in my own herd in a complete manner. I would definitely pre-order a good supply of a long-acting antibiotic along with a drenching gun that doubles as a vaccinator. Be sure to order replacement parts and lots of needles. Get five good pairs of hoof trimmers. An annual vaccine that must be kept refrigerated is Clostridium Perfringens Types C and D with Tetanus Toxoid. I have stocked a five-year supply. I also keep on hand about twenty pouches of powdered Corid for the treatment of coccidiosis, a condition that can be avoided for the most part by keeping goat quarters clean. To get around purchasing commercial feed, we have planted twenty acres of alfalfa and that is a complete feed. I feel that Vitamin B injectables are necessary just in case you see a goat convulse. I also mix up my own “go juice,” which is a combination of water, corn syrup and vitamins. I give this whenever a goat may need a quick jolt of energy. Finally, I keep a powdered supply of electrolytes for dehydration. There are many supplements and preventative or curative products on the market. You will simply need to decide which ones to stock up on for yourself, given your specific circumstances.