Goats have a reputation as the ideal small farm animal due to their size, their productivity (they can be used for meat, milk and fibre as well as companionship) and the fact they are relatively easy to look after. So how does their reputation stack up against the reality of raising goats on a small farm?
Small animals for small farms
Compared to other livestock, goats don’t take up much space. You can keep up to seven goats in the same area you would need for one cow perhaps that’s how they got their nickname, ‘the poor man’s cow’.
Space requirements are still an important consideration, because you can’t keep just one goat. Goats are herd animals and will suffer (and cause trouble) if they don’t have the companionship of another goat.
But don’t feel you need to get a Noah’s Ark pair – the best advice is to start with two does (females) and borrow a buck (male) for breeding if you are planning to raise kids. Bucks are not only aggressive when in rut, but give off a strong odour. This scent can even affect the taste of the doe’s milk if the bucks and lactating does are pastured together, so they need to be kept apart.
Goats are clever animals (reputably even smarter than dogs) and they are great escape artists. To contain your goat, you need to start with strong fences and check them regularly. Goats can wiggle through very small holes and gaps so you will need to get onto repairs swiftly.
Goat experts recommend mesh fences at least 120cm high with wires on top, or an electric fence. The fences should be braces on the outside so goats can’t use the braces as footholds for climbing. You’ll also need good closures for gates as goats can learn how to open them using their mouth. Remove any debris that can be climbed on from around fences, as goats will climb or jump over if they can.
Goats also need shelter from the weather this can be a simple well-ventilated structure that provides protection from wind, rain, and sun. Clean, dry bedding made from waste hay, straw or wood shavings should also be provided.
For biosecurity, all livestock owners must be registered with a property identification code (PIC) and understand how they must identify their stock. This prevents the spread of disease by managing the movement of animals from one property to another.
For goats, NLIS ear tags imprinted with your registered brand or PIC are required. The NLIS ear tags can be visual or electronic and are colour coded for the year of birth.
Goats are easy to feed compared to many other farm animals. They are browser rather than grazers, with four stomach compartments and require plenty of roughage to stay well. Goats will naturally consume about 80% of their energy needs in woody weeds, bushes, and shrubbery (keep them away from your prize roses!) and about 20% in pasture.
However, they are flexible and will get more energy from pasture if this is available, but you will need to supplement their diet with roughage in the form of hay to keep their digestive system functioning properly. Goats also need plenty of clean fresh water daily and will need mineral supplements in their diet (product link). Lactating and pregnant goats will have higher energy needs.
Like sheep, goats can be infected by internal parasites and flystrike. You should conduct faecal egg counts regularly to check if parasites are present.
Goats are vaccinated and drenched with similar products to sheep such as Virbac Alben.
Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) virus is a virus that causes chronic arthritis/synovitis in adult goats and hind leg weakness followed by ascending paralysis, fits and death in kids.
Mastitis can be a significant health issue for dairy goats. The symptoms including swollen, painful, and hard udders, and flaky, watery milk. To help prevent mastitis, the milking area should be kept clean and milking equipment should be treated with teat spray after each goat is milked. If mastitis is suspected, it will require antibiotics to treat and should be overseen by your vet.
What can you do with goats?
Goats are a very versatile animal and can be kept for milking, for meat and for fibre (wool) as well as for companionship. You should understand the role you want your goats to play on your small farm before choosing them, as different breeds are better suited for all these purposes.
There are also some uses, such as dairy farming, which are highly labour intensive. This may not be the best choice if you are managing your small farm around outside employment or if you prefer to enjoy more leisure time on your property.
Goat’s milk is a popular alternative for people are sensitive or allergic to cow’s milk and can also be used to make sought after dairy products such as goat’s cheese and yoghurt and even beauty products. For their size, goats are prolific milk producers.
If you want to use your goats for dairy production, you will need to allow them to kid (give birth) every year from 8 months of age. Kids can still be allowed to nurse with plenty of milk left over. Each doe will lactate for around 10 months after giving birth, producing around 80 litres each month. Does then must be allowed to dry up for a minimum of two months before being bred again.
Dairy goats need to be milked at least once a day (often twice during peak lactation) every day, while they are lactating, or they a high risk of developing mastitis. Given that most goats lactate for 10 months at a time, you need to consider whether you have the resources and interest to milk your goats at this rate. Milk production is seasonal due to the breeding cycle so this may provide some time off during the year.
If you are keen to run dairy goats, you can choose from several breeds that thrive in Australian conditions. British Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, Anglo Nubian, Australian Melaan and Australian Brown are six recommended dairy breeds.
Did you know that Australia is the world’s top exporter of goat’s meat? While goat’s meat is not traditionally eaten within Australia many different cultures from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Central and South America and Europe have eaten goat for hundreds or thousands of years. A popular goat breed for meat production is Boers, bred in South Africa at the start of the 20th century specifically for meat production.
Rangeland goats, a hardy breed derived from feral goats, are also a highly productive choice for meat goats and account for most of Australia’s export meat. Around 95 per cent of Australia’s goat meat production is exported, although it is gaining popularity within the country as a lean but flavoursome meat.
If you want to sell your goat meat directly to restaurants, the main domestic markets are for milk fed kids or capretto (3-6 months of age) and Chevon (Boer goat under 12 months with a weight range of 35-40kg). While most of Australia’s goat meat is exported, there are strict protocols in place and you should research this area thoroughly, seeking advice from an industry body like the Meat and Livestock Association.
Goats are social animal, intelligent and easy to train. As herd animals, you will need to keep at least two preferably does as bucks can grow aggressive and smelly when they are in rut.
Dwarf or pygmy breeds are popular as pets. Aside from making great pets, goats are great at clearing weeds but be very careful not to house them near any ornamental plants which may be poisonous.
If you are thinking of getting some goats for your small farm, you are choosing a hardy and versatile animal that can have a long-life span of 15-20 year. Goats are social and intelligent and can be a pleasure to look after, while also having the potential to earn you some income.
However, before diving into goat ownership, and particularly raising dairy or meat goats, carefully consider the resources and time commitment you will need to make it work. Breeding, goat husbandry and management, animal health and marketing are some of the skills you may need to gain.
The WA Department of Agriculture give some good advice for those looking to benefit financially from owning goats: “Markets should be established before production begins so that you are not stuck with a product you cannot sell when the herd comes into production”.
For more information on goats and resources call us on 9651 1312 or drop into our Moora or Yerecoin stores; we’re a local family-owned business and we love helping our customers.