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Basic Goat Care and information

Before buying a dairy goat - or if you need a quick thorough coverage of basic information - here are a few different topics it would be good to know about. Feel free to contact me about any you'd like more information on. :) Some of this information applies to all goats, some is dairy-specific.

 

Feeding - good quality dairy goats are quite unlike meat or fleece breed goats and sheep, in that, producing the most milk for their size of any animal, a difference in feed make-up can make a big difference in their health and production. Dairy goats need a supplementary ration daily, and the amount will depend on what stage of production, pregnancy or other they are currently at. A rough estimate is 500gms for maintenance and a further 500gms per litre of milk produced daily. Roughage, in the form of chaff, and protein, in the form of grain and pellets, are the main ingredients, with minerals (copper sulphate, dolomite, seaweed meal/powder and yellow dusting sulfer) often added to that ration. I like to do about 3/5ths lucerne chaff, and a mixture of pellets and oats, corn, barley, lupins etc. for the protein.

Fencing- a minimum of five foot is a good idea if it is not electric, although some goats will stay in with less. A three foot mesh fence, for example, attached to a strained wire at ground level and with an electric stand off at the middle and top, should be sufficient, and some goats will stay in simply with three strands of electric. Without electricity, five-six foot good quality mesh fencing attached to a top, middle and bottom strained single strand are a good idea. :) Single strand plain or barbed wire is pretty much useless, unless as additives to an existing fence - goats will figure out how to get out with even six or more strands of barbed wire sooner or later, and plain strands rather sooner. :)

Breeding - a good quality dairy goat should be able to milk for two years between kiddings, meaning she should be 'bred' (gotten pregnant) every second autumn. Some does will go longer (even up to four years) but two years in general keeps a reliable supply. Bucks used should be good quality dairy breed males, for which registration/papers can be good proof of bloodlines and production. Seeing the bucks' sisters and/or mother is also a good idea, and while bucks can be kept by beginners, they do need some skill in handling and raising to keep them gentle, respectful and well behaved, and are also extremely hard on fencing (some even being able to get over a six foot fence) so are definitely not recommended unless you have kept goats for some years and have very good fencing. :) Also, as a buck can easily handle one-three does every day during breeding season, so there's not really an issue for a breeder to try to conserve their buck for their own girls, it is usually not worth keeping your own buck unless you have too many does to take to a breeder with one nearby.
 
Kidding - it is very much preferable that all kiddings are attended, as supervision and occasional assistance can be the difference between a pretty simple, successful kidding and a disaster. Many goats will kid fine on their own, but especially with first timers and with lots of multiples, babies can tend to get tangled inside, and as dairy goats are usually very friendly, affectionate animals, most really will appreciate having someone to pat and comfort them throughout, and help dry off the babies. Also, disinfecting the kids' umbilical cords and observing abnormalities in the kidding can be very important to preventing other problems. Bottle feeding also leads to the next section, which I will address in more detail. :)

Raising - there are about as many different ways of raising kids as there are breeders. The right option for each case depends greatly on the amount of time and commitment available, and the  plan for the kids. The main four ways are: 1, leave the kids on mum to be raised. This is very unhelpful with dairy goats, since the entire purpose of the kidding is to have milk for human consumption, but if the doe is a high producer and doesn't let the kids drink it all, it does very occasionally work. The other major drawback is that the kids end up being as wild as galahs, and screech and fight as much when caught. 2 is to leave the kids with mum for the first three days, then separate completely. This has the benefits of no mid-night feedings for those first few days and all the fuss and bother which goes with that, but you can never let the kids and mum together and be sure the kids won't drink. If you are planning to sell the kids on the bottle, that is fine, as you don't have to worry about keeping them separate until they are at least three months old, but otherwise it can be a nuisance. Another drawback is that it is not very nice for the kids or mum to be separated and never have each other again, and the kids don't learn to be goats from their mum. 3 is to leave the kids with mum during the day, and separate overnight, milk the mum in the morning, and either bottle feed the kid or leave some milk in the udder for it when let out. Major benefit is that if time to milk is not available, holidays are wanted etc, the kid can just be left with the mum and no milking is required. Drawbacks are that some kids will flatly refuse to take the bottle if they are with mum during the day, and will still be completely wild even if handled every day. This is not always the case, but something to keep in mind. Another drawback is that you only get half the milk (as the kid gets all of the day, and you only get the morning minus what the kid needs), and you do need to be able to catch the kid and have a very secure pen for overnight. 4. is to bottle feed from birth, and leave the kids with the mum. My personal preference, the major drawback is the regular feeds needed for the first few days (I have them down to three-five feeds by a week old, sometimes younger, but eight-twelve feeds for the first few days) and that the kids may need to be in a smaller pen for the first few days to ensure that they don't learn to drink when you aren't looking. By a few days old, the mums have usually decided that the kids are not allowed to drink, and the kids haven't even thought about it. The major benefits of this method are that the kid is extremely friendly and tame, you get to have all the milk that the kid doesn't need, you know how much the doe is producing, you don't need to have separate pens, the mum gets to keep her babies, the babies get to learn to be goats, and you can sell the babies on the bottle without a battle to get them drinking from it first. Due to time constraints, this would not work for everyone, otherwise I would recommend it for everyone. ;)
Apart from that whole base issue, the amount, size and regularity of feeds per kid can be a learned skill. I can give general guidelines for small, medium and large kids, at minimum, medium and optimal amount and sizes of feeds. :)
Then of course, hay, greenery and water are best from birth, grain from one-two weeks, drenching, vaccinating, disbudding, tattooing lead-training all have different recommendations depending on who you ask. From my own experience, drenching and vaccinating at two-three months disbudding (very important for safety, as dairy goats are regularly and closely associated with people) at three-ten days, tattooing (only for registered goats) at one-three weeks, lead training from one-six weeks. Good handling and good feed are the most important though, for healthy, happy and well behaved goaties when they are older. :)

General - housing, hoof trimming, milking, drenching, vaccinating, showing, registration and testing cover almost all the other things related to dairy goats. Milking is a skill, quite quickly learned for most people, but varying greatly in technique and amount of time depending on the individual goat and her teats. Housing/shedding, including a milking shed, can have innumerable designs, but should above all be easily cleaned, shady in summer and protected in winter. Hoof trimming every six-twelve weeks, depending on the goat and the terrain, and also a very necessary skill, which is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Drenching, three-six months in most areas, depending on stocking rates (more regularly for large numbers of goats, and in certain hot and humid parts of Australia, less for very low stocked and/or well rotated herds in dry areas) and is best done using a different family of drenches each time. Milk-safe drenches can be hard to come by, but can be supplemented by keeping a good (but safe) level of copper sulphate up to the goats. Vaccinating depends on the area, but is usually recommended to be 5 in 1, with a yearly booster after the first dose. Some areas will need much more regular doses to maintain protection, and in some areas/herds, vaccination is not much of an issue. Showing needs registration with the DGSA, and also requires testing for CAE and JD. Registration is not required or necessary for healthy, good producing goats, but is a very helpful guide for finding suitable milkers and maintaining bloodlines and records. It is also necessary for showing goats, which can be a good tool to compare and evaluate goats and a great way to meet other breeders. Testing for CAE and JD is not a great deal if you purchase negative stock and they never leave the property or come in contact other goats, but as most goats will come in contact with others or new ones will be introduced to the herd, testing for peace of mind and, when selling goats, for buyer security, is a good idea. For 'quiet' herds (with not much activity with outside herds) once a year should be fine, but for those who have a lot of contact with other goats and/or a lot of goats are brought into the herd, more regular tests are a good idea. Most shows will only accept entries who have been tested in the past 3, 6 or 12 months. Purchasing only recently tested negative goats is also very important for a healthy and safe herd. 

And I think that is pretty much all! Goats are very intelligent, and can be trained many tricks, but in the same way, can quickly find escape routes and get up to mischief. Well trained, well raised goats are affectionate, gentle, easily handled and a pleasure to spend time with. :)
For more information on raising kids, check out 'Bottle Raising Kids' or contact me.