How to Raise Goats on a Small Farm

baby goat on a farm

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Goats are a great animal to add to your farm. They're easy to handle, they produce a large amount of milk, and they're also a source of low-fat meat. If you grow crops on your farm, you'll be glad to know that goat manure makes great fertilizer too.

Goats require adequate land for grazing or foraging and some heavy-duty fencing, but other than that, raising goats is no more difficult than any other farm animal.

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Buying Goats for a Small Farm

Herd of goats

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Before buying goats, decide whether you want to raise them for yourself or in order to sell meat or milk. Keep in mind that a single doe will produce 90 quarts of fresh milk every month for 10 months of the year. Even if you're raising goats for your own use, you'll need to keep at least two so they don't get lonely: a doe and a wether, or two does.

Another factor to consider when purchasing goats for your farm is that each bred doe will give birth to, at a minimum, one kid annually. Many goat farmers recommend starting with fewer animals that you ultimately want in order to learn how to raise goats without the pressure of a large herd.

Raising Goats for Milk or Meat

Two Boer Goats lying at a lake

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In addition to selling goats' prolific milk, many goat farmers make cheese, goat's milk soap, and other products with it.

Goat meat is popular in most of the world, and although it isn't commonplace in the United States, many people do eat it. There is such a demand that goat meat must be imported into the country every year. Each castrated male goat, or meat wether, will produce 25 to 40 pounds of meat.

It's fairly easy to keep dairy goats and raise the bucks for meat since you have to breed your does to keep them in milk and roughly half of all kids are male. The Boer is the main meat breed in the United States; it is primarily raised for meat and not milk, so you may decide to breed your milking goats to Boers or another meat breed to produce crossbred kids for meat, while still keeping does for milk.

Housing and Fencing Goats

Goat looking at the camera through fence

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Goat housing is simple: Just keep them dry and draft-free and they are happy. A three-sided structure is enough for mild climates. It’s helpful to have a small stall for isolating a sick or injured goat or for a pregnant goat to give birth. Packed dirt will suffice for a floor in the goat house, but it should be covered with a thick layer of bedding: wood shavings (not cedar), straw, or waste hay. Since hay is goats’ primary food and they tend to waste up to one-third of it, you can pitch the waste hay into the bedding area each day, saving money. Keep bedding clean and dry, spreading new layers on top and removing and replacing all of it as needed.

Fencing is a little more complex. Goats need a very strong fence that they can’t climb over, knock down, or otherwise escape from. If there is so much as a tiny hole, they will find a way to get out. They use their lips to explore their world, so if a gate latch is loose, they can wiggle it open with their lips and escape. They also chew almost everything—rope, electrical wiring, and so on, are all fair game. Goats can jump and climb too, so your goat house should have a climbing-proof roof.

A smooth high-tensile electrified wire is ideal if you want to take an existing fence and make it goat-proof. You can use a nonelectric fence at least 4 feet high but aim for 5 feet for active breeds such as Nubians. Brace corners and gates on the outside so the goats can’t climb up. You can use wooden fencing, stock panels, a chain-link fence, or you can combine a wooden rail fence with woven wire.

Feeding Goats

A dairy goat eating hay

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Goats can be pastured on grass or browse in the woods, eating shrubs, and young trees. It's important to rotate goats to new pasture so they graze it evenly and don't foul it up, which can lead to a buildup of parasites.

Goats require additional hay even when they have pasture, as they can't eat all fresh grass. You can feed hay free-choice—give them as much as they desire. Young goats and pregnant or milk-producing does require some goat "concentrate," or goat chow. Meat goats do well on just hay and browse unless they're nursing or growing kids.