To take proper care of the goats in your backyard farm or homestead isn't rocket science, but it does take some preparation. These animals aren't as tough as some cartoons will make them out to be. They will need some special attention, including proper shelter and the right food. So follow these guidelines, and you'll be off to the right start.
They will need some sort of shelter as they hate the rain and shouldn't be out in it. In fact, it's downright dangerous as goats can easily become sick from standing out in the rain. So be sure to provide them with at least three walls and a roof - protection from wind and rain. If you have a smaller animal, such as a nigerian dwarf, even a dog house or igloo dog house will do. Dirt floors are fine, and many people prefer them. Your excess urine will soak into the ground, and you will need less bedding.
Do Fence Them In
Roy Rogers might have balked at the notion of being fenced in, but a sturdy pen is crucial for the safety of your precious animals. Stock paneling is probably the best - and most cost-effective method of keeping them in a smaller area. These panels are easy to install and move.
Do not use field fence as it's too stretchy. Your nubian will lean against it and stand on the wire until it sags so badly she can walk right over it. If you have a large area to enclose and must use field fence, then also include electric wiring to discourage your large buck from standing on it and ruining it.
What to Feed Them
They should primarily eat hay. Hay is made of grasses or legumes that have been cut at an early stage of their development and allowed to dry in the sun. Hay should be green in color. It is grass grown specifically for feed, such as orchard grass, alfalfa and timothy grass. The quality of the hay is determined by how it is cured in the field. If it rains while the hay is drying, then it loses its nutritional value and could mold. If the hay gets too dry on the other hand, the nutrition will be shattered and lost during the baling process.
The best hay for goats is alfalfa or clover hay because it has a high level of protein and calcium. However, don't feed white clover as it is poisonous. Straw, on the other hand, is the leftover remnants of grain after it has been combined - the dried leaves and stems of barley, oats and wheat. Straw is golden colored and is used for bedding and never for food.
They should also be fed a concentrated ration of grain every day to make certain they get needed vitamins and minerals. Goats will not eat feed that has been ground to the dust, so provide them with cracked or even whole grains as well, including barley, buckwheat, corn, oats and soybeans. Also, a good feed will have molasses in it to make it taste better and provide an important source of iron.
Go Easy On The Grain
Unless you have a goat who is producing milk, when it comes to feeding your goat grain, less is definitely more. Go sparingly on the grain, especially if you feed your goat a grain that is high in alfalfa. Goats who overeat can get bloat - excess gas that they are unable to burp away. It's extremely painful and could kill your goat, if you do treat it right away. If your goat does get bloat, treat him with Milk of Magnesia.
Never just throw hay on the ground, as this could lead to parasites. Plus many goats never eat anything that has fallen to the ground. Instead, provide hay in a manger. Place it high enough so they can't jump into it and contaminate the hay.
Take Care of Their Hooves
You need to trim your finger and toenails periodically, or you'll have trouble walking and using your hands. Likewise, you will need to trim your goat's hooves every 2-3 months. If you don't, it could eventually cripple them. You will especially need to do this if your animals spend all their time walking on the soft ground.
To increase time between trimmings, place ten to twelve rough cinder blocks in the pen with the holes turned to the side. It will provide both filing and entertainment! Use either pruning shears or goat hoof trimmers.
Sue Merriam is author of the website, Organic Gardening and Homesteading.