Goats are perfect animal to have on a survival homestead. Even if you live in suburbia, you should have enough space to keep a Pygmy or Nigerian Dwarf goat – they are not any larger than a typical family dog.
There are approximately 200 different breeds of goats. A goat will provide the family with both milk and meat. Some breeds of goats are considered meat, other dairy, and a few types are deemed “multi-purpose” breeds. But, all female goats will give milk and all goats will provide meat, some are just better producer of milk or offer a better quality of meat.
Keeping goats on your survival homestead will eliminate the need for weed eating or grass cutting. Not only does this save you valuable time for other chores – and wear and tear or your body, but offers the goat a more natural (healthier) and free diet, during the warm weather months. Even during the winter when the goat herd will need supplements of hay, there is still enough underbrush and grass going for them to browse for a portion of their diet in most climates.
Our Nubian nanny goats are five years old. I taught them how to free range in about one hour. They were basically “farm pets” at their old home and are still learning what it truly means to be a part of a goat herd and not a household. Thankfully, they are massive weed eaters and are already earning their keep around our survival homesteading retreat. Nubian goats are known for their intelligent and affectionate personalities.
Goats are ruminants, just like cows, deer, elk, and several other types of livestock and wild animals. Cows do not have four stomachs, that is a common misconception. They, and all ruminants, actually have four chambers to their stomach.
When the ruminant chamber gets out of whack, painful and potentially deadly bloat can result.– like cows.
Contrary to common belief, cows do not have four stomachs but four chambers in their stomach – like goats, sheep, deer, and elk – among a handful of other animals but wild and domestic. The ruminant is one of the stomach chambers and when it gets out of whack, bloat occur and must be treated quickly or a painful death could result.
Drenching small goats with a 1 to 1 ratio of a mineral oil and baking soda – with a few drops of peppermint essential oil thrown in, should break up the thick gas bubble rather quickly. Standing the goat up on its hind legs and gently rubbing the sides of its stomach should help produce the needed belching or flatulence.
There are many benefits of having goats on the homestead, but they do come with one major drawback as well..keeping them in the fence. Goats are notorious escape artists and incredible climbers. I opted to eliminate that common goat-keeping frustration and teach our herd how to free range. Unlike keepers who tie their goats out at various locations to eat weeds and browse for foot, our free ranging goats basically have the run of the place and only go into a “pen” at night.
The goat pen is simply a barn stall that my husband added a piece of divider fencing to when our Nigerian Dwarf goat was getting ready to give birth. Because she is a small statute goat that was very pregnant at the time, she could not escape the confines, but a standard goat could scale the makeshift divider in mere seconds.
Goat Fencing Tips
- A goat pen should be made of high-tensile woven wire or barbed wire affixed tightly and closely together around/through either wood panel fencing or wood pallets. The pallets must be turned so the deep pocket side is facing inward to deter goat climbing.
- Hog panels or similar sturdy wire fencing can also be used to frame out a goat pen when solid wood corner posts are used – do not use metal T-posts when setting up a goat pen, they will give too much over time and allow the fencing to sag enough to allow goats to climb out.
- Adding electrical fencing strands in between wood panel fencing, or even when wire fencing is used, is highly recommended, as well.
- A goat fence should be at least 47 inches tall to keep standard goats inside.
- To best protect goats from predators, use wire fencing with an opening no larger than four inches in width.
- A herd of two to 10 goats should be housed in a pen that is about 1-acre in dimension to allow humane freedom of movement and enough grass to eat on a regular basis.
- Goats love to climb and can get very fussy when they become bored. Use old tired mounted together, a wood platform, or similar structure to give the goats the opportunity to exercise their natural climbing tendencies.
- Goats are herd animals, they should be kept with at least one other goat. If you purchase your first goat and are still looking for more, allow the goat to commune with sheep or equine until its own little herd can be established.
- A small barn, shed, or similar structure must be provided for the goats to use for shade and to escape inclement weather. Even goat breeds that hail from warm climates will become overheated and dehydrated during the summer months if they do not have access to adequate shade and enough clean water to drink.
Goats will find something to climb on just about anywhere. If you leave your truck door open on a goat farm, or an ATV parked briefly in “their” field, expect to find either the animals still standing there upon your return, or their muddy hoof prints on your seat cushions!
How Much Does It Cost To Keep A Goat?
The price of a goat can vary greatly due to its breed, age, gender, time of the year (prices go up before the 4-H livestock tag in deadline) and your specific location. Just like with other types of barnyard livestock, the cheapest time of year to buy is during the late fall because no farmer, breeder, or homesteader wants to suffer the additional cost of wintering over an animal they no longer want.
Typically, you can expect to spend approximately $85 to $200 for common goats. Some breeders can fetch up to $500 per goat if registered or a rare breed.
This is Not Negan. He is a Pygmy billy goat, a meat breed. He was purchased after a 4-H member who had shown him in a non-market category, no longer had a use for him. We bought him for only $40. To help defray the cost of keeping goats (as well as many other types of livestock) learn how to trim and clip their hooves yourself. Spending around $35 to $50 for the tools you will need to accomplish the task can save you hundreds of dollars per year.
A 50-pound bag of either all stock feed or goat feed usually runs about $9 to $11 per bag. If you want to buy organic grain feed or a type with a lot of added this and that which is supposed to be a great dietary supplement for your goats, expect to spend around $25 per bag. If your goats are either free ranging or allowed to browse for food while tied out, they really don’t need any supplements to their diet.
All livestock need some type of bedding in their pen, stall, or lean-to sleeping area. Straw is the most commonly used bedding. A square bale of straw generally costs between $3 to $5 each. When the living area is muck or scraped with a tractor, both the straw and the manure can go straight into the compost pile to eventually create top-quality soil for gardening plots.
Sawdust is also a commonly used bedding medium for livestock because it is both cheap and readily available. If you purchase a manufactured package of sawdust shavings from a farm supply store, it generally costs about $5. A bag at least containing at least twice that amount can often be purchased from a sawmill or farmer for half that amount.
Baling your own hay is the best and cheapest way to feed your livestock over the winter months. It is not only far less expensive if you have the necessary equipment and time, but you know exactly what goes into the material your animals (and eventually you in some cases) will be eating.
A square bale of quality hay (containing Timothy and alfalfa) typically costs about $5, unless you buy in bulk and then the cost goes down a dollar or two. Round bales can range in price from $25 to $40 depending upon the quality of the hay, how large the bale is, local demand, and the time of the year. Goats typically eat about two to four pounds of hay per day, depending upon the breed and how much grass, weeds, etc. they can find on their own.
Medical and Health Care Costs
Goats should be wormed between four to six times per year. You can worm the goats yourself by purchasing medicated pellets from a farm supply store. The pellets are flavored and the goats seems to love them. A jug of pellets large enough to worm a herd of six goats at least two or three times, will cost less than $20, on average.
If a vet has to be called to deal with a goat injury, illness, or pregnancy complication, the bill could range from $50 to $300, depending upon the severity of the issue and time spent traveling to your survival homestead and tending to the animal.
I have always been able to treat the medical and general care (fly spray etc.) needs of our livestock myself using homemade remedies and herbal tinctures. We grow our own pharmacy on our retreat to care for the health needs of both the family and the barnyard inhabitants.
If a farrier has to come out to trim the hooves of the goats, he or she may charge up to $25 per animal for the service. Learning how to properly file and even possibly trim the hooves is not a complicated task and can help keep your livestock healthy while saving you money in the process. Free ranging animals tend to need far less trimming, especially goats, because their hooves are worn down naturally when the walk on rocks, climbs, and traverse other types of rugged terrain.
The development of hoof problems due to neglected care can lead to expensive and sometimes even deadly, health conditions.
Types of Goats
This little goat family consists of Not Negan, a meat billy goat, Pearl, a Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat, and their kid (Pearl’s first) Rooster. Goats typically only have one kid the first time they get pregnant but then almost always have two kids (sometimes three) in each subsequent kidding.
Dairy Goat Facts
- Seven quality dairy goat breeds exist: Nubian, Saanen, Nigerian Dwarf, Alpine, Toggenburg, Oberhasli, and LaMancha.
- Both LaMancha and Nubian goats originated in warm climates and typically adapt well to summer heat.
- Goat breeds that are known to be cold weather hardy due to their places of origin include the Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Alpine, and Saanen.
- A Pygmy goat can produce up to 1 quart of milk per day.
- A Nigerian Dwarf goat usually produced two quarts of milk per day.
- A Nubian goat can produce about 4 quarts per day but may hit a half gallon of milk daily during her peak production period.
- A quality standard dairy goat usually produces up to 900 quarts of milk annually.
- Goat milk is a lot sweeter than cow milk because of its high butterfat content. It tastes a lot like buttermilk.
- The quality of milk decreases over time. When it gets a salty taste, the nanny goat’s milk cycle is coming to an end. The salty taste stems from an increase in mineral production in the goat’s body. While the milk is still safe to drink or use to make dairy products, the taste is not pleasant.
- People who suffer from a lactose intolerance problem can sometimes (perhaps, often) tolerate goat’s milk to drink and in recipes.
- A goat’s milk production begins after kidding (having a baby) this is referred to as the “freshening” period. As long as the goat is being milked daily, the production could last up to a year without the nanny goat kidding again in between.
- It is recommended to give the nanny a break and allow her some down time (about two months) from milking in between kids to ensure her overall health and to muster the necessary strength to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Simply stop milking the nanny goat on a daily basis (milk only every several days) and her milk will “dry up” in a relatively short amount of time.
- Goats come into heat twice a year, typically during the spring and fall.
- A goat’s gestation period lasts around 150 days.
Goat Milking 101
A milking stand, either homemade or store bought, is pretty much a necessity – even for the most compliant and docile goats. A new commercially manufactured goat milking stand typically costs about $150.
How To Milk Goats
- Put a lead strap on the goat and walk her onto the stand.
- Place the milk bucket in the appropriate spot on the stand under the goat’s teats.
- Tied the lead strap onto the stand. Using a treat or little cup of food will make leading and keeping the goat in place a far simpler endeavor.
- Wash the teat and the area around them to make sure they are as free of debris as possible.
- First, you need to pinch your thumb and index finger around the nanny’s teat in a gently yet firm motion. Never grab or tug the teat.
- Now, grasp the rest of the goat’s teat with the rest of your fingers on the same hand and apply gentle yet firm pressure while pulling it downward.
- After gently pulling on the teat a few times, milk should begin to flow into the bucket.
- Rub some coconut oil or other safe antiseptic and skin soothing alternative onto the teats to prevent them from getting dry or cracked after milking.
Meat Goats 101
The Spanish, brush, boar, and Tennessee breeds of goats are often considered the best eat producers. A mature male standard meat goat typically weighs between 170 to 325 pounds. A mature female standard goat generally weighs between 150 to 220 pounds.
Top Meat Goats
- Spanish – These goats are hardy in warmer climates and a very popular meat breed choice in the South.
- Boar – This breed of meat grow tends to grow quickly and also boasts a high fertility rate. They are stocky and sturdy enough to have once often been used as pack animals.
- Tennessee Goats – This breed of goat is also often referred to as “Fainting Goats.” Although they are now often purchased as novelty farm pets, they also produce quality meat. Tennessee goats typically have a long breeding season and are also known to be a substantially fertile breed.
- Brush – This meat goat breed is highly adaptable to a variety of climates and can thrive in even rugged terrain.
- Pygmy – These goats were initially imported to the United States from Africa for use at petting zoos. These fertile little goats may not produce as much meat as a standard goat, but they need less room to roam and cost less to feed – making them a great choice for preppers who live in a small town, in the suburbs, or on a low acreage survival retreat.
- Kiko – These are among the largest of quality meat goat breeds. They hail came to America from New Zealand in the 1990s. They are known to thrive even when living in harsh terrain.
How To Tell If Your Doe Is In Heat
- Her tail becomes swollen, is slightly red, and is usually wet from discharge.
- She urinates far more frequently.
- She is a lot more vocal than normal – she exhibits this same behavior when preparing to kid.
- She appears to be mounting other goats, both male and female – this is known as “being bucky.”
- She engages in “flagging” which means wagging her tail frequently.
- The doe experiences a loss of appetite.
- She may behave in an unusually aggressive manner with other members of the herd or humans.
- Her volume of milk fluctuates.
- She becomes giddy, a state some goat keepers refer to as “acting drunk.”
A goat will need a “kidding stall” set up when the time to give birth gets close. Keeping her in a contained space will allow you to keep a close eye on her if she gets into distress, to protect her and the kid from other members of the herd. Some goats, especially first time moms, will panic when the pain of delivery starts and try to run, hide, or climb away from it.
How To Tell If Your Goat Is Pregnant
- Take her to the vet for a blood test – these usually range in price from about $25 to $100.
- Lift up the tail of the doe and check but her anus and her vulva – this is commonly called the “pooch test.” If the anus is sagging away from the tail area and the vulva is elongated, the doe is probably pregnant.
- About two weeks after a successful breeding session the belly of the doe begins to tighten. Press your fingers firmly but gently to the front of her udders. If the area feels soft, she is likely pregnant.
- Approximately six weeks into the pregnancy the doe will begin to “settle in” to her condition. Her teats should become rounded and grow at least slightly larger.
Preparing For Kidding
A doe should not be milked during the final 60 days of her pregnancy. Some does stop producing milk on their own during the final stages of pregnancy. The goat needs time to rest and muster as much strength as possible before kidding.
She should be given a larger ration of food to help her garner as many nutrients as possible to help ensure a safe birth and healthy kids.
If you are new to keeping goat, resist the urge to buy an entire herd at once, even if they are offered to you free of charge. Start small and hone proper husbandry techniques and get a better gauge on how much they will cost to raise and how helpful they are at clearing the land, before committing to caring for more than just a few.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.