The 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Goats
So you want goats? Of course you do. They are ADORABLE, hilarious, eat weeds, make ready-to-apply fertilizer, and many make great milk. But hold your horses, er, goats. Answer these 7 questions before you run out and snatch up the first cute goats you can get your lonely, goatless hands on.
#1 Do you know your local ordinances?
I'll wait. Call someone, don't just look online because local government isn't known for their website design. We learned the hard way that just because your neighbors have livestock, doesn't mean you can.
#2 Where will you put them?
Goats need a three sided structure with the opening facing away from prevailing winds. Goats are both heat and cold tolerant (unlike me), they really just need to be out of the wind and rain. For your own peace of mind, you may want a structure you can close up in severe weather or because of predators - I did. That said, we still use our original three sided structure as well and simply tarp the front during bad winter storms. The other important thing to consider is fencing. Goats are fence testing escape artists. Four inch by four inch fence is often labeled "goat fence" - don't buy it. Baby goats can fit through the 4x4 squares, horned goats can get themselves stuck, and the fence bends faster. Buy the two inch by four inch woven wire fence (stronger than welded wire). Electric fencing, both permanently installed or portable are good options for goats too. Goats learn to stay off electric fences very quickly and portable ones allow you to practice good pasture management.
#3 What will you feed them?
Yeah, you are still going to have to mow your grass. Goats are browsers, not grazers. Browsers like to eat what they find with their heads up and like to sample everything around them. You will need a consistent source of good quality hay. Find a supplier you can rely on and build a relationship with them. Ask local goat owners on Facebook where they get their hay. Buy "horse quality hay" - you will sometimes find people selling what they call "goat hay" or they will simply say it's not for horses, which usually means it has lots of thick stems or it's really dusty. Goats don't like this anymore than horses! They like nice dry, thin, green pieces of hay. Second or third cutting is ideal, first cutting will do in the spring. Goats need constant access to loose minerals as well. Make sure it specially formulated for goats, incorrect levels of calcium to phosphorus will give goats Urinary Calculi (kind of like kidney stones) and it will kill them.
#4 Where will you buy them?
Buy? Them? Yes, buy them. Don't take the free goat on Craigslist. Vet bills and heart ache await. And you need at least two! Goats are herd animals who become depressed without a friend. You can always find a story about a goat that lived with a horse, or a dog, but we all know people that have survived in less than ideal circumstances too. Please, I am begging you, just get two. Now, where to get them? I recommend looking for a reputable breeder of registered goats. A healthy, well-bred goat will have fewer health issues in the long run. If you intent to breed and milk your goats in the future, you will want goats that adhere to conformation standards for uncomplicated births and good milk production.
#5 How much money do you have to spend?
If you are simply looking for pets, or want to try goats inexpensively, start with two wethers (neutered males). You can frequently find wethers with registered breeders. A responsible breeder will keep very few males in tact. We paid $150 for our first pair of wethers. If you are looking for a doe to breed or milk, she can run anywhere from $350 to several thousand dollars. If you do want a doe, make sure to pair her with a second doe or a wether. You cannot keep a doe and a buck together except for breeding. In addition to the cost of the goats, make sure to price fencing, housing, and feed. For example, you could buy a simple structure in most areas for about $750, fencing could easily be another $500 even if you install it yourself, and plan for $50-75 per month on feed depending on the number of goats you have. I also budget $125 per quarter for vet bills, something always comes up!
#6 Do you know a good goat vet?
I don't mean a livestock vet or a vet that specializes in cows. I mean someone who REALLY knows goats. Ask your breeder, jump on a Facebook group for goats, ask other owners in your area. Goats can be tricky and cattle principles applied to goats can end very badly.
#7 Will you make time for them?
Goats can be so easy to care for if you are proactive. Being proactive means you have to make the time to put hands on your goats twice a day and make sure you know what their "normal" is. Goats require weekly and monthly maintenance - cleaning the barn, maintaining pastures, providing supplements, trimming hooves, and even more if you are breeding and milking. In short, goats have to be on your priority list! If they can't be, maybe now isn't the right time for goats. We can talk about chickens though.... way less of a time commitment!
Goats are magical, wonderful, therapeutic, sweet creatures! I could not imagine my life without them. So what's it going to be? Are you getting goats?!?!?!