Do what I say, not what I did!
Do not buy a single goat until you have learned the basics of goat raising. This may seem obvious, but few of us who are currently raising goats followed this path and goats have died because of our lack of knowledge.
Read everything you can get your hands on about raising meat goats. Search the Internet for successful breeders; go visit those that are closest to you and telephone/email those who aren't nearby. Recognize that there are crackpots and dishonest people in any business and know that you will have to learn quickly how to tell the difference. Tip: Steer clear of anyone who shows you numbers that indicate that you are going to get rich from breeding goats. You have to love raising livestock to want to be in this business. Under the right conditions, decent amounts of money can be made, but it is advisable to learn what these conditions are before jumping head-long into goat breeding. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Find a mentor, volunteer your time in exchange for learning . . . someone who is known for raising quality meat goats and who has a sound knowledge of goat health, nutrition, and management. . . .and offer your labor free of charge in exchange for learning opportunities. Learn how to design and build loafing sheds, catch pens, working traps, breeding and kidding areas, watering stations, and pasture shelters. Goats can handle cold weather but cannot tolerate wind and rain. Learn the importance of clean water, clean pens, and clean troughs, and then learn how to perform these chores efficiently and effectively. Learn how to effectively and safely catch, hold, and handle the animals themselves.
Pen and pasture fencing needs differ; learn which type you need in both places. There's an old saying in the goat business: If a fence won't hold water, it won't hold a goat. It's not quite that bad, but goats are the Houdinis of the fence world.
Work for your mentor, as time permits, through a complete breeding and kidding cycle. A great deal of what you need to know can only be truly learned by doing it. A lot of heartache, money, time, and goats' lives will be saved by following these recommendations.
Learn the lingo. If you don't understand terms like fencing and cross-fencing, short-bred and long-bred, covered or settled, toothing, legume and grass hay, then I've already made my point.
Learn to 'think like a goat.' I'm quite serious. Study goat behavior and learn to approach a problem like they do. Goats are very curious animals. If they can put themselves in harm's way, they seem determined to do it. Goats like to stick their heads through fences (the "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome), so use field fencing that has large enough squares for them to extract their horns. I use 12" vertical wire spacing for this reason. Yes, predators can get in more easily, but with good livestock guardian dogs, there will be less of this occurring than dead goats whose horns have gotten hung in fences.
Example of 'thinking like a goat': Building the new Onion Creek Ranch near Lohn, Texas has been a work in progress. Many changes in the field have had to be made to the plans as they existed on paper. One of the rotational foraging pastures had its gate located at the north end of the pasture. The goats are brought to loafing sheds on the south end of the property nightly. I ran myself ragged for two days, trying to get them to go out the north gate and into the alley that would take them south. But they knew that their home was south. On the third day, I started thinking like a goat. I cut the fence wires on the south end and told the fence builders to put a gate there the next day. Problem solved. Goats are linear thinkers: they knew where home was, so why go north first to go south? Think like a goat.
Locate suppliers in your area. Feed dealers and feed mills, grass and legume hay producers (square and/or round bales), stores than sell fencing and other ranch supplies, contractors who install fencing and/or build goat shelters, and sources for over-the counter goat supplies and medications.
Find a good goat vet nearby. If this is not possible, and in many areas of the country it isn't, contact an extension university specializing in goats and make friends with the goat vets there. Or find a goat vet some distance from you and offer to pay for telephone consultations while you implement their recommendations at your place. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this absolutely critical recommendation.
Different breeds have different needs. This is not just a catchy rhyme. Further, the same breed has different needs at different times of the year, in differing climates, and during breeding, pregnancy, and lactation. Find out the needs of the breed that you've chosen to raise.
Different SPECIES have different needs. Goats are not sheep, but feed dealers and vets will treat them as if they are. Stay away from any feed or mineral labelled "for sheep and goats." The words "goats" and "sheep" should not be used in the same sentence. Goats are more closely related to deer in terms of behaviors and what they eat. Goats are not "little cattle," either. If for no other reason than sheer numbers, and there are other reasons, goats are more time- and management-intensive to raise than cattle.
Proper feeding is essential to goat health. Goats need long fiber to make their rumens function correctly. Long fiber is found in good-quality grass hay and in forage/browse . . . .not in a sack of feed. Read my article entitled Feeding the Rumen on my website's Articles page. In most cases, forget recommended feeding amounts as stated on feed sacks. Those people are selling feed, while you are trying to raise healthy goats.
Goats need high-quality but relatively low-protein feed. Remember that they are herbivores and ruminants; they eat continually and cannot digest high-protein ("hot") feed. Like horses, goats will over-eat and founder. If you push "hot" feeds on a goat, the animal will put on weight, but most of it is going to be fat. Goat meat does not marble fat; instead, the fat layers around internal organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys, slowing "choking " them to death. Bone growth won't be able to keep up with weight gain, causing permanent skeletal damage. Goats are not supposed to be fat animals. Indeed, one of the main attractions of goat meat is that it is both low in fat and very lean.
There is a world of difference between production meat goats and "show" stock. Goats raised for showing purposes are pushed beyond their physical limits with feed and additives. Many of these goats experience life-threatening health problems and even death while being overfed. This is neither good for the health of the goat nor economical for the producer. These animals do not develop the healthy rumen needed to be able to support themselves in a production meat-goat operation. A lot of these "show" animals have serious problems during breeding and kidding. Excess fat around the kidneys, heart, liver, and reproductive organs oftentimes causes difficult kidding and can even prevent conception. Too much weight on the goat's skeletal structure weakens the joints and stresses bone structure. These animals are not going to be able to deliver healthy offspring with as little intervention as possible on the producer's part. It is this writer's position that this type of feeding and management is nothing short of animal abuse.
Find your mentor by understanding what type of goat you want to raise. Look for someone who is running a successful operation in the type of goat you wish to produce.
Have your facilities, feed, and medications in place before the first goat arrives on your property. In a crisis, you don't have time to run for medications. Goats are the "poor stepchildren" of the livestock industry; almost all medications are used extra- or off-label, and many are not available locally.
Permanent pasture equals parasites. You must have rotational foraging pastures to avoid heavy worm and coccidia infestation. Goats as a species are not naturally resistant to worms to the extent that other species (like cattle) are.
Weather and water. Goats are dry-climate animals. Raising them in areas of high rainfall and/or standing water is an invitation to worms, hoof rot/scald, and meningeal deerworm infection. I define high rainfall as anything in excess of 30 inches annually. Have adequate space for the number of goats you intend to raise or reduce your population count. Goats need to roam over large amounts of acreage to protect themselves from worm infestation. That's why they eat from the top down, creating a browse line in the forage that they consume. If you try to make grazers out of goats, you are creating worm problems.
Predator protection is essential. Goats are low on the food chain and have little in the way of natural defenses except horns. They are sprinters, not long-distance runners. They are perfect prey for predators, be they wild animals or domestic dogs. In addition to excellent fencing, livestock guardian dogs are an essential part of your goat-raising program. If you have pets, keep them away from the goats. A perfectly well-behaved domestic dog can easily kill a goat just by "playing" with it.
Learn how to care for goats properly. De-worming and vaccinating. Illnesses and treatments. Hoof trimming. Preparing for breeding and kidding. Health problems of pregnant and lactating does. Abortion diseases. Health problems of newborn and young kids. Toxic plants. The importance of minerals and vitamins. Castrating young market-bound males. And the list goes on.
Resources for help available. The Onion Creek Ranch website has an extensive Articles page containing many of the articles that I've written on meat-goat health, nutrition, and management. Free of charge. Also on the Internet, the meat-goat discussion group ChevonTalk is available free of charge. Currently over 1100 goat producers worldwide subscribe, sharing information and getting help 24/7.
Additionally, Onion Creek Ranch is offering GoatCamp™ every October and March at the Ranch site near Lohn, Texas. This is an in-depth, two-day seminar taught by knowledgeable goat-industry persons such as Dr. Lou Nuti of Prairie View A&M University's International Goat Research Center in Prairie View, Texas; Dr. Terry Gipson of Langston University in Oklahoma Ed Lehigh, Vice President of Marketing for Colorado Serum; Bob Glass, President of Pan American Vet Laboratory in Austin, Texas; Kent Mills, Nutritionist and General Manager of Ezell-Key Feeds in Snyder, Texas; Jackie Nix, Nutritionist and Mineral Specialist from Sweetlix Minerals in Alabama. Classes are limited in size so that lots of student-instructor interaction is possible. Time will be spent both in-class and in-the-pasture with goats.
Good books on goat husbandry and health are few and far between. Though quite technical and written for professional vets and scientists, GOAT MEDICINE by Dr. Mary Smith of Cornell University is the most comprehensive text on goat health and remains the industry standard. Cost is about $85.00 plus shipping from any major book chain, but well worth the price.
Adaptability. One last and very important point. The first thing an animal loses when it is domesticated is its adaptability. This very trait is what kept it alive in the wild. Adaptability is also the very last thing to return to the animal when it is again placed back into its natural setting. Our challenge as goat breeders is to manage our animals as minimally as possible so that we do not take away from them that gift of survival that God gave them.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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