How to Keep Backyard Goats

Goats make excellent family pets. They come in a variety of sizes, colors, and with certain specialties. However, before adding a goat to your yard, homestead, or farm, make sure you are equipped and choose the best breed that meets your needs.

Goats are used for milk, fiber, meat, weed control, and companionship all over the world. They need a proper diet and protection from the elements. Choose a breed that you can comfortably accommodate and that meets your needs and expectations.

Goats as Pets

Cute Organic Weed Eater

My current journey with goats started the day my daughter asked for a dog.

I have always been a big proponent of having children learn responsibility by taking care of an animal.

But a dog?

I love dogs, don’t get me wrong, but there are some aspects of owning one that I’d rather avoid.

Mainly the cost of feed and the cleaning up of their…well…digestive remains.

As I struggled between the desire to give my daughter an opportunity to develop responsibility and the fear of stepping in something, my friend presented me with a perfect solution.

She had begun raising dwarf goats, and one of her favorite nannies had just given birth to twins.

She offered them to us, and I fell in love.

We live somewhere with lots and lots of goat friendly weeds, so feed wasn’t going to be an issue.

As for their manure, it doesn’t smell nearly as bad as a dogs, plus it is great for our soil.

Goat Milk for Babies

Shortly thereafter, my daughter turned one and was ready to make the transition from formula to milk.

However, when I feed her whole milk from the store, she broke out in rashes.

My baby had a sensitivity to cows milk.

In the past, we were able to get goat milk from my in-laws, but they didn’t have any available at the time.

My husband and I decided that instead of subjecting our baby to canned goat milk from the store that we would get our own set of milk goats.

I contacted an old fried from college whose mom I knew had a small goat soap company to see if she had any she was willing to part with.

From her we gained two beautiful Nubian girls that we fell in love with.

We eventually went on to buy a billy goat and have built lots of memories caring for our goats and their little babies.

How to Care for a Goat

Before choosing any goat as a pet, you need to make sure you have the essentials to care for a goat.

Proper Goat Nutrition

Despite the stereotype of goats eating cans and other garbage, goats cannot live by eating your trash.

A proper diet of hay and pasture grasses is important to keep your goat healthy.

Goats typically need between 2-4 lbs of hay or other pasture feed a day.

Goats prefer leafy plants, and will usually graze the leaves while leaving the stems bare if the plant’s stems have started to become tough or woody.

Most goats will stay away from anything that is poisonous, but it is a good idea to know what kind of plants they have access to.

Sometimes, I feed my goats special treats such as:

  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Watermelon
  • Spinach
  • Carrots (not their favorite)
  • Lettuce
  • Pears
  • Sweet Feed and Dry Cobb (this is like goat candy to build trust and entice them on a milking stand, offer sparingly)

However, some foods NEVER to feed a goat include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Animal feed with animal byproducts

For those wanting a goat for milk, what the goat eats can affect the taste of the milk they produce.

Warning: Watch out for signs of bloating in a goat.

Bloating can be caused by a blockage of the esophagus, or eating too green of pasture.

Bloating can be deadly.

If a goat’s stomach looks inflated, call a local veterinarian or someone with a small tube to get the gas to escape from the stomach. Check out this article from the University of Arkansas that discusses signs and treatments.

Goat Shelters

Goats are able to live in a wide range of environments, however they do need some accommodation to stay safe and healthy.

How much room does a goat need?

The amount of room a goat needs depends on the feeding strategy you choose to use with the goat.

If you decide to pasture your goat with little supplemental feed, you will need to make sure the goat has enough access to plants to meet their 2-4 lb. feed requirement.

If you plan on feeding them hay, a goat can be placed in a pen.

They make great companion animals to horses and cows.

The pen should give the goat room to move around, so about 20 square feet per animal is ideal.

Keeping Goats Dry

Goats hate being wet.

When designing and building a pen, make sure there is a place that a goat can go to stay dry when it rains.

This can be a small canopy, tin shed, or anything that the goat can go under to escape the water.

Climbing Objects for Kids

Like human kids, goat kids seem to have a lot more energy then their parents.

They love to run, jump, and climb.

You may have seen videos of baby goats in pajamas scaling ladders, buckets, hay bales, and other goats.

To help give your goats safe climbing opportunities, place sturdy objects like hay bales and other anchored objects where the kids can jump, but not too close where the babies can jump out of the pen.

Keeping the Food Dry and the Water Clean

Find somewhere that you can place hay where it won’t get wet or moldy.

Also, make sure you have a deep water trough located where it is easy for the goats to reach and where you can easily clean it out.

Pastured Goats

If you choose to pasture your goats, make sure they have some sort of perimeter that protects them from predatory animals or from visiting your neighbor.

Electric fencing is very effective in keeping goats where they need to be.

However, make sure that the fence is constantly electrified.

Goats can stick their heads through the openings of netted electric fence and die of strangulation when they twist themselves in the netting when they panic.

Goats with horns are very prone to this since it is easy for them to slip their heads through, but the horns make it almost impossible to slip their heads out.

Tip: If you have trees, wrap the trunks with chicken wire or some other goat deterrent.

Goats can nibble away at the bark of trees, essentially killing the tree.

WARNING: Do not tie your goat up with a leash.

Goats get tangled up easily and can be suffocated if the leash becomes wrapped around their necks.

Choosing What Breed of Goat is Best for You

With over 210 different breeds of goats in the world, it can seem a bit overwhelming trying to decide what breed is best for you.

According to the Cooperative Extension from the USDA, the most common breeds of goats in the United States are:

Breed of GoatPurpose Classification
Nigerian DwarfDairy
Tennessee Meat GoatMeat

When choosing the perfect breed of goat, determine what that goat’s purpose will be.

  • Do you want goat milk?
  • Are you raising a goat as a livestock project?
  • Do you want to have a goat mainly as a pet?
  • Do you want to shear it to collect fiber (mohair) to make yarn?

Dairy Goats

I have to admit that I am partial to dairy goats.

That is because they are the main ones that we have raised for the past 5 years.

We have had mostly Nubian and one LaMancha.

Looking for a Goat to Give Milk

Milk Ready Nannies

To get milk from a goat, you need to have a female goat that has recently had a kid.

Like other mammals, goats produce milk to feed their young.

If you purchase a goat and you want milk immediately, find one that is ‘in milk’.

This means that the goat is currently producing milk.

Milking Commitments

However, if you decide to milk a goat, prepare for the time commitment of milking it every day at least once or twice.

If a goat goes too long without being milk, the milk supply will begin to dwindle until the goat no longer produces any.

The goat will then need to be bred with a male and have another kid before she will produce again.

What to Look for in a Milk (Dairy) Goat

An ideal goat will be between 2-5 years old, with a fairly even bag (utter) without any lumps.

When inquiring about a goat, make sure that the goat comes from a Coccidiosis free herd.

Coccidiosis is a bacterial infection that is easily transmitted to baby goats from their mothers. For more information, read this article by North Carolina Extension.

Different goat breeds produce different quantities and qualities of milk.

We prefer Nubians because at their peak milk production they produce about a gallon of milk a day, and is fairly creamy and sweet.

Milking Equipment

We use a milking stand for milking our goats.

We are able to secure their heads gently where they are able to eat a little sweet feed, which keeps them content while we milk them.

The stand also elevates the goat so it is easier to reach its udder,

Usually a milking bucket is all that is needed for the actual milking.

Cleaning supplies to clean the udder is also used, but this usually consists of warm water and soap.

A funnel with a filter is needed when the milk is poured out into a jar to catch any unwanted debris.

We usually chill our milk in the freezer for an hour or two to kill off some of the ‘goaty’ taste.

Laws About Selling Goats Milk

Depending where you live, you may need a special permit to sell raw goat milk.

When tying to give milk away online, many people post ‘not suitable for human consumption’ or ‘for craft purposes only’.

This is because the health department and other organizations have had ordinances and laws passed that prohibit selling unpasteurized milk without the right permits.

Check with your local and state government to see their stance on this issue.

Milk Goats as Livestock Projects

Depending on your county, there may be a ‘Dairy Class’ of goats that can be exhibited at county fairs and livestock exhibitions.

Here, they will judge the goats bag and overall appearance and the showmanship exhibited by the handler.

However, check to see what breeds are allowed. Not all milk goats can be showed at fairs and exhibitions.

Meat Goats

In other countries outside of the United States, goat meat is a popular menu item.

Meat goats, such as the Boer goat have a much more stockier frame than dairy goats.

These goats do very well foraging on pasture that isn’t the most ideal.

If you are willing to part with a pet, Boer goats are excellent show animals for fairs and exhibitions.

If you would like to raise some for eating purposes, it is my recommendation that you find some goat meat and try it before you commit to raising them.

Goat meat has a different smell, taste, and texture compared to other meats commonly eaten in the United States.

Fiber Goats

Like sheep, the hair of a goat (called mohair) can be used to make textiles.

In fact, some of the most expensive natural fibers come from goats, such as cashmere.

If you choose to raise goats for their fiber, make sure that you keep goats cool in the summer and have the proper shearing equipment.

FAQ about Goats

What kind of physical maintenance do goats need?

  • Goats don’t need much in way of physical maintenance, except for occasional hoof trimmings (their hoofs grow constantly, kind of like human fingernails).

Do only male goats have beards.

  • No, male and female goats can both have beards.

Do all goats have horns?

  • Most goats eventually get horns. However, many goat owners choose to burn off horns on young goats. This makes them easier to handle and less likely to get their heads caught in netting.

Are goats nice? Do they have a good temperment?

  • The temperament of the goat is largely determined with its interactions with humans while young. We generally take the kids off of the mothers soon after they are born and bottle feed them, which builds a bond between us.
  • Trust with a goat can be achieved by spending time with it, and giving it treats.
  • Talk to goats in a calm voice.
  • However, there are some goats that are aggressive by nature.
  • If a goat tries to butt you, stop and discipline the behavior immediately.
  • Give male goats their space when it is rutting season.

What is a good breed to start with?

  • Dwarf goats are generally a good starting goat because of their size and playful temperament.

Can anyone have a pet goat?

  • Before getting a pet goat, make sure your area is zoned for that particular type of livestock.

Where can you find goats to buy?

  • We found our goats through a friend, however you can put out a general inquiry on social media groups.
  • At one point Craigslist had an option to find some, but recent policy changes make it so you can’t post animal ads on their platform anymore.
  • Livestock auctions. Type in your area and the search term ‘livestock auctions’ and see what comes up. If you call the number, they might have information on local breeders in your area.

How long do goats live?

  • Goats live to be about 8 years, with some reaching 12. Milk goats usually slow down on milk production around 5 or 6 years of age.

How many babies can a goat have?

  • Depending on the breed, goats can have anywhere between 1 to the rare exception of 5. Twins and Triplets seem to be the most common.

How long is a goat’s gestation?

  • It takes a goat about 5 months from initial breeding to have a baby (babies).

Do you need a boy (billy) goat to get baby goats?

  • A male goat is required to breed with a female to get babies. However, you can opt for a breeding service to have your female bred instead of buying a male goat.

Is it safe to drink unpasteurized goat milk?

  • There is a risk in drinking unpasteurized goat milk, however humans have been drinking it for over 10,000 years.
  • You can milk to 162 degrees for 30 mins to pasteurize milk at home.

Goats Make Great Pets

We absolutely love our goats and highly recommend them to others as pets.

We have laughed over our goats, we have cried over our goats, and we have gotten to experience many of life’s miracles through our goats.

As a parent and wanna be farmer, I can’t think of another type of animal I’d rather have, except for maybe a Kune Kune Pig and a few chickens.

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