So You Think You Want Goats: Things to Know Before Becoming a Goat Owner

Goats are the best, and if you are searching online for goat information, you’ll see their adorable ears, their cute noses, their fuzzy faces, their gorgeous eyes, and of course, you will see a lot of wildly adorable baby goats! What’s the catch? There’s NO way anything can be bad enough to take your attention away from the cuteness… right?! But after researching goat care in-depth, you may realize you do not want goats. Goats aren’t like dogs, they aren’t like horses, they aren’t like chickens, and they aren’t like any other creature. If you think because you have owned one of those other animals that you are prepared for goats, you are wrong. Goats are amazing, but I’m here to tell you all the “bad” (without their adorable faces just begging you to bring them home) and then you can make a very educated decision on whether or not goats are right for you, and what you’ll need to do/have to be an amazing goat owner!

I hope this blog post does not discourage those who have dreamt about owning goats, because goats are amazing, rewarding creatures. My hope is that you will achieve a better understanding of them, and will be more prepared after reading this (well, you will be fully prepared once you join my Natural Goat Care Academy!) to own goats.

Do you have the space and environment for them?

SHELTER:

Goats don’t need a ton of space—not nearly as much as horses or cows; however, their shelter requirements are more specific. Unlike sheep, cows, and horses, a three-sided shelter is usually not suitable for goats. Goats HATE rain, they are not huge fans of snow, and they don’t do well with winds and drafts. Instead of thinking of a run-in, or a lean-to, consider the words “barn” and “shed” because that is the level of protection they need from the elements. Now, I live in New Jersey, USA, so my climate does have different requirements than yours! While we do have all four seasons, our summers have tolerable temps, and our winters (while frigid to me!) are very reasonable for goats. Goats can tolerate very hot and very cold temperatures (as long as they are healthy) but rain, wind, and snow are all things that goats should be heavily shielded from. A wet goat is a sick goat, so keep them dry. If you live in an area that is very dry and hot, consider a more open shelter design to allow air flow, while avoiding trapping heat inside. If you live in a very cold climate, you will want a sturdy shelter, which retains heat well, and one that allows for a lot of indoor time. When goats are indoors, ventilation is extremely important. If you live in an area that is very wet or cold, you can expect your goats to spend a lot of time indoors; in this case, make sure you have lots of ventilation (but not too much as to cause drafts) so the air stays free of ammonia and other breathing risks. 

Your goat barn size depends on how many goats you plan on having—you may only want a couple as pets, in which case a 10×10-10×12 (ft) shed is a good minimum size. If you want a breeding operation, you’ll need a larger barn with space for kidding stalls and a milking area. A good idea of how much space you need for your barn is about 30-50 square feet of interior space per goat. I am a big fan of having a more modestly-sized barn, with a larger awning attached. Most of the time, goats will spend their time under the awning only; when there is inclement weather, they will use their indoor portion. Whether you have 2 or 20 goats, an awning attached to your barn is extremely helpful (and will allow you to be less “extravagant” with the indoor structure). You will also have to decide the flooring and bedding of the barn. I like a rubber mat base. Many goat owners use deep bedding (or, at the very least, they put bedding down in the whole barn); I prefer to litter box train my goats (yes, it’s possible). If you would like more info on litter box training, leave a comment below or send me a message; for now, I will simply say that I only put bedding in one portion of the barn, and that is where my goats urinate. They will still poop everywhere, so daily cleaning to sweep up their “berries” is necessary. If you like things to stay clean and tidy (like me!), litter training is for you. If you don’t want to clean up daily, “deep bedding” with monthly clean outs (or sometimes even seasonally) may be a better option. It is your choice, your goats won’t complain either way! If you are concerned you won’t know when to clean your bedding, get down on all fours, pretend you’re a goat, and see how you like breathing in the air down there.

FORAGE:

Goats are not grazing creatures, they are browsers. Their bodies are made to eat branches, leaves, weeds, and brush. Not everyone has the ability to provide their goats with this, and that is not a big problem. Goats do fine on a dry lot (no grass or forage) as long as they have suitable hay. If you have a grassy area for them, keep in mind that because they weren’t made to graze, grass can pose some parasite issues for them; when goats eat with their head down where they poop, the ingest the larvae of parasites they have shedded. For this reason, if you plan to keep goats on a pasture, prepare to do parasite prevention, and if you can, have enough space to rotationally graze.

SPACE REQUIREMENTS:

As for overall size requirements of outdoor area, I try to be generous, which will always be healthier in the long run— a minimum of 1000 square feet for 2 goats (minimum amount of goats one can own), with an added 500 square feet for every 2 goats that you have is required. For large goat breeds, you may need to double this. You will also need secure, tall, no-climb fencing. Give your goats as much space as you can and you will thank yourself for doing so in the future!

CLIMATE:

Goats are raised all over the world; they are raised in rain forest conditions, island conditions such as Hawaii, desert conditions like Arizona, and even snowy conditions like Greenland or Alaska. Goats have been raised everywhere. However, the best climates for goats are dry climates. Goats do not do well with rain and high humidity. However, if you live in a rainy climate, don’t be discouraged—you can still own goats, just be very diligent about keeping them dry, keeping them parasite-free, and keeping their immune systems strong!

Are you prepared to keep them healthy?

FIRST AID:

Goats are difficult creatures to keep healthy. When goats become ill, they go downhill quickly. You must be prepared to provide veterinary care yourself, or have a local vet that you can (and will) call as needed. I like to advocate for goat owners practicing as much self-care as they can, as vets are not always available or skilled/specialized in goat medicine. However there are some situations which goat owners cannot manage without veterinary intervention, especially when a prescription medication is needed. If you have goats, make sure there is a vet in your area that you can call if necessary; additionally, be sure you have the funds for an emergency vet call.

Practicing your own healthcare for your goats involves keeping most first aid and supplies on hand. If you do not have a local livestock store or vet to get medications from, stock up on important supplies and never be without them! Here is a very, very basic list of goat supplies that you will need. As a gentle reminder, it may seem expensive to stock up on all these items, but it will benefit you in the future (when you have what you need and do not need to call a vet) and it is the most responsible thing a goat owner can do—be prepared!

PARASITES:

Goats are notoriously parasite-prone. As a goat owner you will need to be prepared to monitor, treat, and prevent parasitic infections in your goats. Are you prepared to do natural deworming regularly? Are you prepared to treat them correctly with chemical dewormers if needed? Are you prepared to deal with the repercussions of a worm infestation? These are all manageable with the correct care and knowledge.

ILLNESSES:

Goats are prone to pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, bacterial/viral/fungal issues, neurological illnesses, deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, and more. They are not easy creatures, and they are not low-maintenance. When you own goats you should be on constant alert for any symptoms of illness, the diligence required to keep your goats healthy is a life-long task. Following proper protocols to keep your goats healthy will greatly reduce the incidence of illness. This is a topic I often assist people with in my Natural Goat Care Academy.

Can you financially support goats?

Everyone will have different costs based on the type of goats they have, how many, and their geographical location. For that reason, I am not writing out a budget—however, keep in mind that some of the expenses you will have at a bare minimum are as follows:

Hay

Grain/Feed

Bedding

Supplements (Minerals, medications, herbs)

Vet bills (if needed)

Shelter + Enclosure building and maintenance

Various supplies – feeders, bowls, buckets, etc.

If you are running a breeding operation, you will also have costs for your kidding supplies, certain medications and vaccinations, a milking parlor with a stanchion, filters, pails, udder wipes and other sanitation supplies, vet bills for castrations, disbuddings, or emergencies, and a whole lot more.

If you are running a breeding operation, you will also have costs for your kidding supplies, certain medications and vaccinations, a milking parlor with a stanchion, filters, pails, udder wipes and other sanitation supplies, vet bills for castrations, disbuddings, or emergencies, and a whole lot more.

Are you able to pay for an emergency veterinary bill if needed? If your answer is no, stop reading this post now because goats aren’t for you. While goats do not regularly go to the vet, and you should be able to keep them healthy on your own, you should still be able to afford a vet in an emergency.

As said above, those expenses are just the bare minimum—this is not a goat budgeting blog post. Just keep these things in mind, as your bank account will see charges for most of these things regularly.

Do you have the time and energy for them?

Goats require feedings and cleanup twice a day. Even when it’s raining, and when it’s -10F in a blizzard, you will be taking care of them daily. On a weekly basis, you should do a full body check, look at their condition, their coat, check their FAMACHA scores, and dose them with herbal dewormers and other supplements. On a monthly basis, you will have to restrain them for hoof trimmings once every 1-4 months depending on the goat and their environment. Annually, they may need vaccinations, medications, check-ups, and more.

Are you able to meet their dietary needs?

As said above, you do not need miles of forage or pastures to keep your goats well-fed (though that would be awesome!) You need a very important thing called HAY! Make sure you have a local farmer or hay supplier that you can purchase hay from year-round. Goats also need a good water source. If you’re considering ponds, or lakes, big NO! These water sources can contain deadly parasites. Your goats need fresh, clean water. While ponds and lakes are poor choices, rainwater collection is absolutely fine for goats, and encouraged! As for the water sources that most people have, like well water or city water, watch for hard minerals (calcium, iron, sulfur, molybdenum), and filter them out if needed. Hard water can cause mineral deficiencies—it is manageable, but you will need to take extra precautions with it. As for minerals, goats need free choice loose minerals 24/7, not just salt, and not a mineral block. Read more about what to feed your goats in-depth here: What to Feed Your Goats: A Detailed Diet Explanation!

Do you have the tolerance for the little buggers?

Goats eat, sleep, and poop. When they eat, they waste most of their hay and they are picky; they like to sleep on platforms or loafing areas; goats are absolute prima-donnas and love to be pampered; and they poop everywhere. By everywhere, I do quite literally mean that there is not a single place you won’t see goat berries… they will be on the ground, they will be on their sleeping platforms, you may find one hiding in their mineral feeder, or the occasional poop in a water bucket (SANITIZE them well after this!), and there will always be those days when you find a goat berry in your work boot, even if you have no idea how it got there!

But if you are prepared to laugh all of this off, have the space and time they require, and you are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep them healthy, you will make a wonderful goat owner. Goats are not easy creatures, but when you take the time to make sure they have proper care, they are the cutest, sweetest, most rewarding animals.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional.

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