Goats grazing on a pasture

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Smallholder advice – how to keep goats

PLANNING TO KEEP GOATS ON YOUR SMALLHOLDING?

Goats are a great addition to a smallholding, bringing character and playfulness, as well as producing milk, meat and wool.

But if you haven’t kept animals on your smallholding before, or are just unsure if your smallholding is suitable for goats, how do you get started?

We take a look at what you need to know to keep goats on your smallholding.

Environment

Goats are naturally herd animals, and can get lonely on their own, so it is advisable to keep more than one.

Outdoor space that has well maintained fencing can be used for grazing, but goats will also require housing for shelter and warmth all year round – especially as their coats are not waterproof. Straw or shavings make good bedding and shelters need to be well ventilated, with about one square metre of space per goat.

Housing should be well drained and cleaned out regularly to remove smells, fumes, urine and bacteria, with the floor either concrete or earthen and slightly sloped.

Shear your goats twice a year, but this should not be carried out when the night-time temperature is below 12 degrees centigrade. They should be shorn standing – unlike sheep – as their internal organs are not suited to a sitting position.

Did you know? Goats were one of the first animals to be tamed by humans and were being herded 9,000 years ago.

Feeding

Goats can be grazed on grass, with the addition of hay or silage and a little concentrate ration in the summer, with more in the winter months. Hay or silage should be fed via a hayrack, as goats will not eat it once it has been spoiled, but don’t use a net as goats tend to get themselves caught in them. Allow for 25-30 small bales of hay per adult goat a year.

Goats need access to roughage all year round – such as vegetable and fibrous foodstuffs like hay – to aid the passage of food through the gut. However, they must not be fed catering or kitchen waste because of the risk of spreading disease. Fresh, clean water must always be available.

Keeping goats for milk

Although there are hundreds of different breeds of goat, not all are suitable to keep for dairy products – so do your homework before you decide what type of goat to buy. Does should be at least eight months old to be bred, and kids are usually born around 150 days after breeding. If milked regularly the doe will then produce milk for up to 10 months, and because goats produce large amounts of milk, the kids can nurse while excess milk is collected.

Milking goats is fairly simple, and your goat can be milked either once or twice a day.

Did you know? More people drink goat milk than cow milk. It is estimated that 65% of milk consumption worldwide is of goat milk.

Legal requirements

Anyone who keeps goats, even as a pet or temporarily, needs to maintain a register for their holding that includes movements to and from the holding, deaths, and an annual inventory.  

Each animal must be ear tagged, ear tattooed or electronically tagged for identification, which you can usually do yourself. Keepers must also follow regulations and complete records when taking goats to or from their holding.

If selling their produce, goat keepers will have to abide by other regulations such as farm assurance, food hygiene or local authority regulations.

The Government says that you don’t need a licence to slaughter animals at home, provided:

  • You own the animal and kill it on your property
  • it's for you or your immediate family, who live on your property, to eat.

Failure to follow any of the rules set out in the Government guidelines could lead to prosecution.

Common ailments

Worming and parasite control will be needed throughout the grazing season, as well as blowfly treatment during the summer.

Goats can also suffer from milk fever – caused by a calcium deficiency after giving birth – and staggers or grass tetany – caused by a magnesium deficiency. Both should be treated quickly by a vet, as should mastitis and lameness – regular foot trimming can help prevent the latter.

A medicine record book should be kept to record all farm medicines used, whether administered from a vet or personally.

Did you know? The typical lifespan of a goat is typically 12 to 14 years.