Keeping goats as a pet is a good idea, as long as you have enough space and basic knowledge of the goat world. We explain a little the general bases to get started and what we have learned from our experience with them.
Goats are smaller and more manageable than cows, they give more milk and youngs than sheep and they are more rustic, since their diet is more varied and they adapt to more environments , especially dry, because they hate the rain.
They are very curious, friendly and lively, they give more work and fun.
It depends a bit on your situation. Sheep eat with their heads down, feeding mostly on grass. On the other hand, goats like to eat a little of everything: brush, green branches, tender bark, rose bushes, fruit trees, natural fabrics, your children's homework, plastic bags, household cables, your hair ... Obviously they also eat grass, but they tend to up their heads when they eat and taste everything that appears in front their noses.
They are herd animals and need companions.
<< Never leave a goat alone >>
It is very important to have at least two goats and it is better to have 3, so not to have to find another one if one suddenly dies. If they don't have a herd to hang out with, they will want to stick to your shadow and to achieve this they will develop their full escapist potential. They're really good at it so it can be very unnerving!
A goat can live 12 or 13 years, or more.
They can adapt to the company of other species, such as dogs or other ruminants, but the communication is not the same and they will always be happier in their herd. You won't have to put much more attention, time and money to have a small herd than to a single isolated animal.
And be careful with dogs, even if they are the sweetest in the universe, especially at childbirth season. With newborn or weak kids, it is easy that dogs overdo the play and injure or kill them.
Goats need wide space to move around and to find grass, bushes and trees. They spend much of the day grazing (eating and walking) and they chew for about 8 hours a day.
Depending on the space and fresh food you have, you will have to take them out for a walk to exercise and to complete their diet and / or provide them with high-quality grain and forage, such as alfalfa, daily.
They need to be protected from the sun, the rain, the snow and strong winds.
It is enought to have between 1 and 2 square meters per animal, depending on its condition. As goats are hierarchical, insufficient space can cause fights between them.
In mild climates they can live in a 3-walled roofed shelter, as long as it is well oriented and there are no predators in the area. It should be very dry, have natural light and be well ventilated, because goats produce a lot of ammonia and it seems they like to warm their bed.
Hygienics is a must, as flies and other insects weaken goats' health, they can't stand a muddy floor, and the strong ammonia smell can irritate their respiratory system.
Inside the corral they should always have clean and fresh water, a space to keep the forage clean and ready to eat as well as a feederwhere they can give them their trinkets, which are some of the kitchen scraps, some pruning remains and their daily handful of grain.
We recommend installing an electric fence and avoiding loose fences.
Ours has three rows at a distance of about 25 cm. between them and at a height of 85 or 90 cm. At first it can be difficult for them to get used to it, but if the goat is comfortable in her house, it will avoid the current and stop jumping over it.
Fencing is very important to keep goats in a place. They love to scratch with any vertical surface, so if you put something loose on them, like chicken wire, they will scratch against it until they deform, break it and, as soon as they pass, be sure that their objective will be the garden, the kitchen, your precious rose bushes or the sofa you are sitting on.
But the best for us to keep the goats in their place so they don't eat the whole garden are our dogs, which are trained not to enter the goats' space and to chase them when they come out. But I repeat, dogs, no matter how domestic, are still predators.
You will need to build or buy some things. The main thing is the space where they will have the forage. Goats are huge forage wasters and depending on where you live it is expensive and expensive to find. Avoid using mesh sacks to put the forrege in them, they are dangerous for goats since it is easy for them to snag a horn or a leg.
Design a good fodder or you will see your money scattered on all the ground and avoid the ways goats find to getting inside it or they will fill it with excrements and do not eat anymore.
Goats need mineral supplements, often found in a block form, that you will have to put somewhere. It is better to give them the powdered minerals, for which you will need clean bowls that support the weight of the crazy goats. It seems that the mineral requirements of goats and sheep are different, but it can be difficult to find minerals differentiated by species. There are some blocks that come with dried garlic powder that will help prevent intestinal parasites.
Clean water in small buckets. If the water is dirty they do not drink and if they do not drink they do not produce as much milk, they do not pee as much and they have a higher risk of suffering from urinary stones, so water must be changed often and it is better to have several buckets in case one gets dirty. The difference in water consumption is enormous throughout the year, in summer they will drink a lot and in winter it seems that they do not even touch it.
Feeders for grain. We use buckets that we carry and clean as if they were dishes. That has the advantage that you can separate goats to eat, because if they eat all together they will usually fight, one of them will start the "vacuum cleaner" program to steal the others food or the food will literally fly through the air.
We milk, and they eat grain while they give us milk.
The milker is a structure in which you can comfortably milk the goat and they cannot escape, but are also comfortable. Tying with ropes is a bad idea because they go crazy pulling the rope. It is better to fix their necks with wood so that they cannot force the structure and distract them with food as much as possible, without overfeeding them.
You will also need the tools and learn how to trim their hooves, it is not as difficult as cumbersome, but frecuency will depend a lot on the genetics of the goats and the terrain they usually tread. If we don't trim their hooves when they need it, they can break and become infected. The milker can be a still place to do this work or you can make your goats get used if you doi it since they are young.
Lastly, a thermometer is a great help if you have a depressed goat. The temperature is taken from the rectum and knowing whether or not a goat has fever is essential for an early diagnosis.
Goats are ruminants, so they must eat a lot of green, either fresh (grass) or dried (forages). But their diet varies, depending on sex, age, stress, health, pregnancy and milking status.
The rotational grazing is a good way to avoid intestinal parasites, a very typical problem in goats.
Long-stemmed forage or green plant are essential to keep your rumen working. They are also provided with a little grain daily, some fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen (from time to time, knowing what is done and as trinkets), mineral supplement blocks and there are those who offer them free choice of sodium bicarbonate, which helps them to expel the gases of digestion.
Feeding goats is a bit complicated and, especially at the beginning, the guidance of a veterinarian is very important.
Tis are some particular cases in the goats feeding:
- When goats give milk, they need prepared goat cereal grains and alfalfa, rich in protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals.
- In the last months of pregnancy they eat less fresh grass, since kids take up space in the rumen, so mama needs less and more nutritious food.
- Castrated males should not eat a lot of cereals, unless they are underweight, because they can more easily generate urinary stones, but can be prevented by supplementing with ammonium chloride.
- Alfalfa is too rich for male goats and can lead to a zinc deficiency due to the high calcium content.
They do not eat if the food is trampled, has dirt or faeces, so we must keep their feeders and drinkers very clean. We often give them remains from the garden and pruning, but you have to know what to give them since some plants are toxic or indigestible for them (tomato leaves, potatoes or cabbage, for example) although they are very clever and themselves avoid eating them, you can learn more about th the post: Potential toxic plants for goats.
The feeding of goats is a very important point to study, they are very delicate since they depend on the nutrients produced by the microbes in the rumen. Diet changes should be always gradual and take aprox 2 weeks and the cereal intake should be very measured. The grain should be given in moderation because too much grain produces bloating, colic and ruminal acidosis: their stomach becomes so swollen that they can die from suffocation.
Male or female
Unlike females, it is easy to castrate a newborn male. Males do not go into heat every 18 to 21 days in the fall. Uncastrated males smell strong, fight, chase all the females, run away and they really enjoy soaking their snouts in urine...
If you want to have goats just to see them walking and grazzing, a good option is the castrated male.
Females in heat can be another nightmare, they gore each other, they move away from the herd screaming and searching of a male and they can spend 3 days in a row screaming as if they had all the evils in the world. And they are not at all cheap to castrate.
There are many breeds of goat, but to have a pet at home it doesn't need to be one of the most productive.
Nigerian Dwarf goats are interesting pets since they can weigh about 35-40 kilos, they produce less milk and meat than other breeds but their milk has much more fat, so it will be better used when making cheese.
If you want Nigerian Dwarf milk, look for a seller who does not raise them just for appearance but with having the production in mind as well.
As dwarf breeds, there are also the adorable American Pygmy and the long haired Australian Silkie. Dwarf breeds come from crosses with African goats and are more manageable in size but sometimes a they are a bit crazier than large breed goats.
The main production breeds in Spain are Majorera, Malagueña, Murciano Granadina and Florida.
In addition, there are autochthonous or local breeds, which are many, they are disappearing and vary from one area to another. It is interesting to know what breeds there are in the area where you live, since these will be better adapted to your environment and they will be healthier living outdoors.
There are some breeds of milk goats, such as the Alpina, that are very productive and can also have what is called extended lactation, meaning that they can give milk for some years. These breeds are interesting because in this way you can get milk without having to breed annually. The most productive ones come from crosses with Swiss breeds.
Other breeds of goat are popular for being pack animals. The Saanen and Sables breeds are suitable for this. The males, usually castrated, can carry 2 times their weight and the females should only carry a load equal to their weight.
How to buy a goat
When you take a young goat home with you, it should be at least 8 weeks old. If we remove it before the mother's time, the baby, not being used to it, may reject the bottle and the lack of adequate nutrition at that age can quickly cause immunity problems, weakness and malnutrition.
If you are taking a very small goat home, make sure that recognizes the bottle as a source of food.
Ask to the seller if he can feed the baby and watch the baby's reactions, he should smell the milk and take the tip of the nipple by himself without the need for help, no matter how young is. If he doesn't know how to drink from the bottle don't take him with you.
Goats that grow up without their mother may have learning disabilitys, for example by not recognizing solid food when the time comes.
If you want to produce milk, we recommend bringing an already pregnant goat, with enough time to make it feel comfortable in its new home at the time of delivery. If she is pregnant you will no longer need a male until the following year. Observe their health before buying it and keep in mind that at the end of pregnancy they need more grain and less green, generalizing.
The main problem with keeping a goat in a confined space is obesity and acidosis caused by overfeeding with grain. Goats walk and eat at the same time. They do a lot of exercise in the pastures and it is not worth taking her for a walk for 30 minutes, they walk between 4 and 6 hours a day.
Another problem in the city is the garbage that people throw on the ground.
The goats will eat cigarettes, papers, plastics and who knows what else. Obviously that is not healthy, it can give health problems, for example, a pregnant mother who habitually eats cigarette butts can give birth to small babies or dead due to the nicotine in tobacco.
Finally, you have to think about the food, which in the country is easily free. If you have a small garden in 2 days it will be bare and you will have to pay for 100% of its food.
If you want to produce milk
To guide you, each goat will give you from 0,25 to 0,6 gallon milk a day, depending on many factors and with many exceptions.
But keep in mind that you normally have to raise goats every year, so you will need to mate your goats with a male only for a few months each year. The rest of the time males should not be around the goats because their scents are transferred to the milk and because the goats could breed 2 times a year and that would ruin the milk season.
Goats can give birth from 1 to 4 kids. Usually they give birth to 2 or 3.
So if you want to produce milk or make your own cheeses, you must understand that year after year you have to manage the growth in number of the herd.
And they must be milked once or twice a day without exception during the 6 or 8 months that they give milk. With milk you can make cheeses, yogurt, kefir, and soaps.
In Spain, this aspect is regulated by each autonomous community, so the laws will be different depending on your region.
In general, in Spain you must have the necessary facilities to house them, request an authorization from the town hall, get a veterinarian who will be responsible for their health, mark them and register the space as a self-consumption farm or zoological center, depending on the amount of animals you want.
A little complicated everything but it is worth the effort.