by Carrie Eastman
Congratulations! You bought a goat, or 3, or more! Are you prepared? Before you bring your goat or goats home, a bit of planning can save a lot of expense, stress and heartache. Everything mentioned in this article should be done BEFORE you ever load that goat up.
First, read. Read, read read. And keep learning. I have posted some key resources on my website. I encourage you to get at least 2 books to begin with. Just pick 2 that appeal to you, and get started. I also suggest this article that I wrote for a newsletter.
If you like Facebook, join some educational groups. I highly recommend 5: my group Common Sense Holistic Goats, TotallyNaturalGoats, Goat Health & Care, The Nervous Homesteader and Goat Vet Corner. You will see many opinions, and many approaches.
Decide whether you are going to follow a totally organic path, chemical-free, a mixture of chemical and non, or entirely conventional. You can change your mind later. What you decide will determine some of your choices for educational materials and starting supplies. Everything I post is from a mainly chemical-free gmo-free perspective, using chemicals and western medicine only when muscle testing or dowsing indicate (those are another subject. If curious about muscle testing and dowsing, check out my book The Energetic Goat.) If you choosing the western medicine path, there are still many books and groups to assist you, including several of the Facebook groups listed above.
Now that you have chosen a path to start down, it's time to think about details and start assembling supplies.
Assemble your goat first aid kit. I'm amazed how often someone contacts me about a sick goat (I refer them to a vet) and says they don't own a thermometer. There are a few medical emergencies where seconds and minutes count. Have your supplies purchased BEFORE you bring them home, and check expirations periodically. Some first aid items you may need to obtain via prescription. Another good reason to form a relationship with a local vet early. Know your basic goat vital signs - temperature, respiration, gum color, how to check capillary refill, how to check dehyrdation. Write yourself a cheat sheet if you need to, and tuck it in your kit with your thermometer. Did I mention you need to buy a thermometer? Go buy one. If you have chosen a western medicine route, there are many first aid kit lists to be found in the Facebook groups above, or in the books. Compare at least 2 lists to make sure you have everything you need. You will need a kit whether you go eastern or western medicine - it's just the kit ingredients that change a bit.
Research and plan your feeding program, including supplements. Purchase your feed, hay and supplements, and whatever they are stored and fed in. You can read about my own program here and here, and how I feed here. Generally speaking, if you are choosing a non-chemical route, stick to whole grains that you mix yourself rather than pellets or commercial mixes (unless they are labeled organic). What and how much to feed vary so widely that covering them in a nutshell is almost impossible. In general, black oil sunflower seed hearts, organic corn, oats and barley are all possible plain grains. If you use sunflower hearts, plan to offer some alfalfa and/or some free choice calcium to keep the mineral ratios balanced. Grass hay is usually the best option for free choice hay.
Wethers will have different nutrition needs than bucks and does, and bred does and milking does will have additional requirements above maintenance. If you are getting wethers, DO NOT overfeed. Most wethers do not need grain at all.
Hay feeders. Plan on this. Goats waste hay no matter what you do. Hay feeders help minimize the waste and they are an important part of parasite prevention. Again, look around. There are lots of pictures and ideas, including mine here and on Pinterest. My biggest warnings, based on my own experiences, are: Stay away from nets - it's too easy for goats to get caught up AND they learn to chew them up. Stay away from any feeder you cannot unscrew, cut or break. If a goat gets trapped, you want to be able to get that goat out quickly. A heavy welded-metal feeder is not easy to access.
Water supply. Whatever option you use, make sure your goats cannot get stuck headfirst and drown. With little kids, even getting stuck butt-first in cold weather is a death sentence. Goats need access to clean water 24 hours a day, although they do most of their drinking during daylight.
Grain feeders. All the same warnings and supporting points apply as with hay feeders and water sources. Grain feeders save feed and prevent parasites. Choose a safe option.
If you are asking your seller to vaccinate or deworm/delouse your kid, ask that this be done several days prior to your scheduled pickup to give the kids time to recover from the stress. This also goes for tattoing, hoof trimming, neutering, ear tagging and microchipping. Any stressful procedure should be done at least several days prior, ideally 2 weeks or more.
Are you buying a nursing kid? Is it weaned? If your kid isn't weaned and has not been trained to a bottle, ask the seller to wean the kid 2 weeks before your pickup date. Important: kids accustomed to nursing mom will often refuse a bottle when older. Kids must be trained to accept a bottle. Do NOT assume you can just supplement that older kid with a bottle. If you plan to bottle feed, research formula and get your bottles and supplies before bringing the kids home. There are many opinions about the best formula or milk to feed to kids, and many recipes online, as well as powdered options. For my own, raw goat milk with added prebiotics has been my preferred choice, followed by pastuerized goat milk with prebiotics.
Locate a goat veterinarian in your area if you don't already have one. Call and introduce yourself, get your information entered as a new client and learn their emergency numbers and hours, as well as their policies. Note: because a veterinary practice CAN treat goats does not mean they are experienced with goats. Goats can be tricky. Ask some questions and see how many goats they work with annually. I also recommend the Facebook group Goat Vet Corner. While there is no substitute for a hands-on live goat vet, in an emergency, this group can be a lifesaver. Keep in mind, not all members of Goat Vet Corner have extensive goat experience, and none (as best I can tell) are experienced with eastern medicine and holistic methods). Ask to join before you have an emergency.
Let's talk about fencing a bit. Visit my Quercus Knoll blog for a lot more information about fencing and pastures. Keep in mind a few key things as you design or inspect your fencing. Fencing must not only keep your goats in, it must keep predators out. If you cannot fence predators out, you need to be planning on some sort of livestock protection animal. Also, plan your fencing to allow for pasture rotation for parasite control. Some folks go for more intense rotation, called high-density stocking or high-intensity grazing. These are discussed at Quercus Knoll. Figure out what pasture management best suits you and plan or adjust your fencing. Generally speaking, one big pasture is NEVER better than a few smaller ones. I also like to have a dry lot with gravel footing around my goat shelter, for times when they need to be off pasture entirely. Are you doing electric fencing? If so, what is your plan for power outages? Again, go check out the posts at Quercus Knoll and plan ahead a bit.
Goat shelters. There are many ways to shelter goats. There are tons of ideas on Facebook, on Pinterest, in goat books, on my website. There is no one right way. The only rules are fresh air and a clean dry surface. Do your research.
Bedding for shelters. Goats will eat wood chips, wood shavings and sawdust. Straw works well, with the warning that most grains are sprayed with glyphosate or other weed-killers before harvest, and that residue will remain in and on the straw. I let my goats bed down on any hay they waste.
Plan your transportation. Goats should be transported in a safe enclosure, large enough that they can stand, turn around and lie down. Goats that do not know each other should not be squeezed together in a small crate. Goats should be protected from direct wind in the open back of a truck, and from the rain. (Side note about goats and bathroom habits: If you are transporting your goats in your car in a crate, keep in mind that goats can back up to the bars and pee or poop through the bars outside the crate.)
If you currently have goats, and you choose to quarantine (I recommend it), set up your quarantine pen. Besides secure fencing and shelter from the weather, you pen should include fresh water and free choice supplements. You can google "goat biosecurity" for many articles on biosecurity procedures.
Before leaving the seller's place, ask if you can have a sample of hay and grain to help your kid transition onto the feed at your place. A one or two day supply is plenty.
Do you have a signed sales contract? Your kid's medical records? Get these before you leave.
When you get home:
Once you get your goat(s) home, put your new goat(s) in the quarantine pen. Plan on keeping them apart from existing herd long enough for any illnesses to show up. There are many opinions about isolation times ranging from 2 to 6 weeks. To some extent, the time depends on where you got your goat. Goats from a known breeder whose management practices you trust will need a shorter time than a goat you bought at auction. I personally have waited only a few days with goats from a local breeder I trust. Remember, quarantine means no nose rubbing through the fences with your other goats or shared feed/water buckets please. Change your shoes or clean your boots when entering and leaving the pen. Wash your hands. If you got a single new goat, pick one goat from your herd that is a good size and temperment match to live with your new goat.
I like to withhold grain for the first 24 hours at least, waiting until I see that the goat has calmed down and is settling in. Only hay and forage during this transition. When the goat is settled, then slowly add grain back into the diet.
I give a prebiotic (not a probiotic) at least twice daily for the first couple days and during the transition back onto grain. I use Dynamite DynaPro.
After the first week (assuming the kid is settled in and healthy), if the kid was vaccinated, I give a dose of homeopathic thuja 30C by mouth. I also give some montmorrillonite clay (I prefer Dynamite Miracle Clay) and some zeolite for a few days.
Quarantine is also a good time to do a fecal check for parasites (including tapeworms) and deworm as necessary. See my blog post on parasites for more information.
The quarantine period is also a good time for your veterinarian to check your kid and perform any testing for diseases. (What diseases you test for, if any, is a topic for another post.) Some breeders consider the vet check optional during quarantine.
Once your goat finishes quarantine, you can begin the transition into your herd. Watch for excessive bullying and be prepared to intervene if necessary. During the transition, resume the daily prebiotic and make sure your goat is getting access to the free choice hay, salt and minerals as well as water.
Have fun with your new goat!
Copyright ©2015 Carrie Eastman.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your veterinarian about any changes to your goat’s health program.