FOR THE NEWBIE GOAT FARMER

October 5, 2008

As demand for goat meat continues to expand around the world, many people with no experience with livestock are getting into the goat business. Sometimes the idea of raising goats is attractive because it can be done either on a small scale or in a very large enterprise. But best of all, you can make money raising goats only if you do it wisely.

Caring for a herd of goats does not have to really be a full time job. Many people like us have other jobs and take care of their goats in the evenings and on the weekends. Those goats that are good foragers can “take care of itself” for much of the time.

Keep in mind that raising goats, as with any livestock, is not completely risk free. Disease needs to be prevented and treatment needs to be accurately and swiftly administered. A cost-effective feeding plan needs to be established and maintained. Also, a sound business management plan is required if you wish to make a reasonably decent profit from your goat herd.

What follows below is intended to help the inexperienced goat farmers begin to think and learn about the goat business. It contains a summary of information on a variety of topics that have been shown to be important in running a successful and profitable business. It is, however, not a comprehensive list of detailed recipes for success. It is a basic collection of ideas for you to consider. Each farm setting is unique and your business plan must carefully address your particular situation. You should use the following information as a starting point in your learning efforts.

Read and Study BEFORE you Start

Like most endeavors, you will benefit from learning about the meat goat (or diary goat) business before you make an investment in not only money but more of your time and sanity. There are lots of formal and informal ways to learn about goats. We share a few here to get you started. There are, however, many many other sources of sound information for you to choose from. One last piece of advice regarding how to study and learn about goats – don’t believe everything you see, read, or hear. Be sure to double check key points using multiple sources of information before making major investments or decisions.

Useful Books

Don’t overlook the easiest way to learn quickly about raising goats. You will most likely find goat farmers in your local area. Most goat farmers are friendly and will gladly show you around their farm if you call ahead to set up an appointment. By visiting a commercial goat farm, you will get a sense if breeding goats as a business is right for you. For example: How much work is it? How much money do you need to invest? What are the best kinds of goats for your particular situation? Where would you find sources of feed? Can you make money doing this? Will you end up bonkers? Seeing for yourself is an excellent way to begin.

Participating in the activities of goat associations is an extremely effective way to learn. Associations have a concentration of people who are very interested in all aspects of raising goats. You will have ready access to years and years of experience that would be impossible to obtain in any other way. Most associations are inexpensive to join and offer many services and events from which you would benefit. Admittedly there are very few if any goat farmer associations that are withing our state Sarawak.

Fencing

There is no more important item than fences when getting your farm ready for goats. Goats are smart and curious. They are known for their ability as escape artists. Whether you plan to fix up old fences, or build new ones, be careful to verify that you have indeed made your fence goat-proof. When refitting an older fence you will want to check for stumps or rocks that may be close to the fence line. Predators can climb on a stump or rock and jump in and conversely goats can jump out. Many types of fencing can be successfully used for goats, but it must be installed and maintained correctly. Woven wire and/or high-tensile electric fencing, with spacing suitable for goats, usually work well. There are also sources of fencing information on the internet. The careful planning and the time spent on your fences will be among the best investments you make.

Housing and Shelters

Goats can be managed with only a minimum of shelter from the rain, wind and snow, the latter of which we do not have here in the tropics. A three-sided shed works well. The open side should face toward the south to take advantage of maximum sunlight and the prevailing winds in many areas. Make sure there is adequate, dry floor space for the goats to lie down during long bouts of lousy weather.

Existing sheds can be modified to work well with goats also. Allow an open area for the goats to gather since they are herd animals. Other types of areas may include a private place for kidding, storage for feed, and a secure storage space for your supplies and special equipment. Adequate ventilation should always be a consideration. Water condensation on the ceiling or walls of the housing after the goats have spent a night in the barn may indicate there is insufficient ventilation in the building. These conditions can contribute to poor respiratory health in goats. Housing and shelters should be cleaned periodically to reduce the build up of ammonia (from urine) and to help control parasites and insect populations. The frequency of cleaning will vary based on ventilation, the type of flooring, and the degree to which surface water can and does enter your building. For new housing, place them to avoid any excess water.

Feeding Systems and Strategies

Typically a goat business will be profitable or not based on how many dollars are spent on feeding the herd. If you buy large quantities of commercial feed and specialty supplements, you will likely compromise your ability to make a profit. If, on the other hand, you strive to have your goats forage for the bulk of their food (and you manage your other expenses) a profit may be returned for your efforts.

The key factors in choosing how to feed your goats is to make sure they get enough protein, salt, and trace minerals at the lowest possible cost.

Forage

Goats naturally browse for their food when given the opportunity. This is by far the most economical form of goat feeding. Goats are cautious in what they eat, but vines, brush, weeds, young trees, and grass are all typically fine for goats. A few things are poisonous to goats, so some care is required when adding goats to a new area of forage. Ask your local farmers about what plants are dangerous in your area. Using forested lands for forage is often ideal, especially when they contain large amounts of dense undergrowth for browse.

Grass Pasture

Grass fields are satisfactory for goats but it is best if the grass is high with lots of weeds. This allows the goats to truly browse instead of graze. Parasites live near the ground so short grass and plant growth is to be avoided as much as possible.

Hay

Free-choice hay (oat hay, grassy alfalfa, or first cut hay with lots of weeds are good choices) is often made available to goats as supplemental feed in the winter and just before and after kidding. Hay feeders can be purchased or homemade. Feeders should be sturdy and designed to discourage the goats from standing on the hay. Goats will not eat “dirty” hay. However in tropical countries like here in Sarawak you will need a dryer, an expensive expense. With our tropical weather all year around most times it is not difficult to access fresh grass/forage everyday.

Commercial Feed

Commercially available feed mixes are readily available for goats. This can be a very big expense if you are not prudent. If feed is used, it is often only used in the winter months (in temperate area’s) and just before and after kidding in small amounts. 2% body weight feed per day per adult goat is frequently recommended as a supplement if your goats is already fed with grass/forage/hay. Some farmers feed a tiny amount of feed as a treat even in the summer months when forage is readily available just to keep the goats coming to the farmer.

If feed is used, select it carefully. A key variable is the percentage of protein. Often 12% – 17% protein is chosen. It is also important to check for other supplements placed in the feed. Several feeds on the market today have useful additives especially selected to improve or maintain goat health.

Supplements

Supplements are typically not used extensively, but they may prove useful in selected situations. Depending upon where you are at, selenium may be a necessary additive. Selenium is important to muscle development and metabolism in goats. Selenium is found naturally in growing plants if there are adequate levels in the soil for the plants to absorb. Some areas of the world have adequate levels of selenium and some do not. Check with your local Agriculture department. (Note: Goats require vitamin E to metabolize selenium correctly, make sure it is also present in the supplement you use.) Protein blocks and tubs formulated specifically for goats are frequently used to supplement protein when goats are on browse with no grain being fed. These blocks and tubs may also contain the proper amounts of salt and minerals for goats negating the need for loose or block mineral. Read the label or check with the manufacturer.

Minerals

Goats require a free-choice supply of proper amounts of salt and minerals. Goats have requirements that are quite different from sheep and cattle. For example, goats particularly need higher amounts of copper. Loose or block minerals that are not specifically designed for goats should not be used unless the missing minerals are provided in some other form. Homemade mineral dispensers have been made in many designs from PVC pipe, wood, or metal.

Watering Systems

Like all animals, goats need easy access to clean drinking water. They don’t like contaminated water (and neither do you). We dechlorinate our water and clean the water troughs daily.

You will have to make many decisions about “how” to raise your goats. Collectively the answers you choose will comprise your “management system.” You will have to decide what type of goats to raise, where to purchase your foundation stock, what you will feed them, and what preventive measures you will take for their health and well being. The choices you make will greatly influence whether you make money or lose money and whether you have chosen a full or a part-time job. Don’t haphazardly make these decisions. Most importantly, try to make sure you will enjoy what you’re about to do! Here are some of the key elements of a management system for raising goats.

Setting Goals

The old saying “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do” is certainly true in the raising of goats. Are you trying to make money or just have some fun? Is your business selling breeding stock, selling goats for the commercial meat market, or some combination of both? How much time and money do you want to invest? Take a few minutes to write down what you believe your goals are. It is recommended that you start out with a small number of goats while you’re learning about the goat business and actually experience goat farming. You can add additional stock and modify your goals as needed to suit your situation. It will help if you set goals that are measurable otherwise you will not be able to chart your progress.

Identifying Obstacles

Understanding what is standing in the way of achieving your goals will be very helpful in planning for success. Typical obstacles might include limited amounts of money to invest, poor fencing, not enough land, or a lack of knowledge. By identifying obstacles, you have automatically determined the areas where your energy needs to be focused.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations can be given for a variety of diseases. Local conditions and your individual preference will play a big role in your decision on what to give on a regular basis. There are not many vaccines that have been specifically approved for use in goats. Some companies, however, are starting to realize that there are market opportunities with goat vaccines. Expect to see more product offerings in the future. Some vaccines (and other medications) are given “off label” which means they have been approved for use in other livestock (perhaps cattle), but studies have not been done to show effectiveness in goats. Learn what other successful goat breeders are doing. Remember any “off-label” use is at your own risk.

A typical vaccination program for a goat farmer will likely include CD/T (Clostridium perfringens Type C&D and Tetanus Toxoid). This goat vaccine can be purchased over-the-counter to provide long-term protection against overeating disease and tetanus. Here in Sarawak we vaccinate for C. pseudotuberculosis, CI. Perfringes type D, CI Tetani, CI Novyi type B, CI Septicum & CI. Chavei

Parasite Control

The biggest health problem you will face raising goats is control of parasites, especially stomach worms. Some goats have been selected and bred to be parasite resistant, but that does not mean parasite free. Parasites can debilitate and even kill a goat quickly. Regular worming is used by most goat farmers (perhaps in the spring and the fall). Additional worming of any particular goat is best done on an “as needed’ basis. The overuse of worming medications can promote the development of resistant parasites on your farm – a severe management situation you definitely want to avoid!

You can test for the presence of parasites by doing fecal smears and examining the feces for the presence of worm eggs under a microscope. This test can indicate the relative quantity and type of parasites present (worm load). Another easy test you can do on your own is the FAMACHA test that requires looking at the membranes under the eyelids of goats. The degree of anemia is estimated by observing the degree of redness in the membranes. Please remember, no “test” is foolproof. Careful judgment is also required. Seeking professional training for performing the above tests is strongly recommended.

A primary preventive measure against worms (other than genetic selection) is rotating pastures so goats are always eating in a significantly worm-free environment. A rotational strategy may range from daily to 3-4 week intervals depending upon the size of the paddocks. Browsed paddocks should stand dormant for 12 days to 6 weeks or more before the goats are rotated through again. Appropriate dormancy periods depend upon the size of the paddocks and the frequency of rotation. Your county extension agent may be a good source of information regarding rotational grazing strategies for your area.

Worming medication can be given orally or by injection. Most breeders periodically rotate wormers to decrease the chances of developing resistant strains of parasites. Talk to, or access information, from other successful breeders regarding the various types of wormers used and the appropriate dosages. Not many worming medications are formally approved for use in goats, so several “off label” uses have been developed. Your local vet may also be helpful regarding parasite control. Be sure, however, to ask about his or her level of experience with goats. Many vets have not worked much with goats, but this is slowly changing as the interest in goat farming increases.

Other parasite problems are skin related. Some conditions to look out for in your herd are lice, mange mites, and ringworm.

Observation

Probably the most effective and efficient method of identifying a goat that is sick or in need of medical treatment is the human eye. If your goat is acting differently than it typically does (not eating well, standing off by itself, etc.) then something is probably wrong. If you notice this, then act quickly to identify the problem. Goats are sturdy, but not indestructible. They frequently don’t show many signs or symptoms at the early stages of illness, so by the time you see something is wrong, the situation has already progressed significantly.

Signs of a Healthy Goat

  • Attitude – Alert and Curious
  • Appetite – Shows Interest in Food. Chews Cud after Feeding
  • Breathing – Regular and Unlabored
  • Coat/Skin – Clean, Glossy and no Lumps
  • Droppings – Pellets are Firm
  • Eyes – Bright, Clear and not Running
  • Gait – Steady with No Limping
  • Nose – Cool and Dry
  • Weight – Average Weight and Gain

Livestock Guardians

Goats are very susceptible to attacks from predators such as a pack of local dogs out on the loose. A good fence will help keep predators away from the goats (especially an electric fence), but many goat farmers in many countries choose to also have some form of livestock guardian animal. Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) live full time with the goats and usually do an excellent job of protecting their herd from intruders. There are many types of dogs used for this purpose including Great Pyrenees, Anatolians, and others. Most professional farmers try not to turn their livestock guard dogs into pets, as this is a distraction from the dog’s “work.” In Australia Llamas have also been used successfully in certain settings as guard animals. At our farm we use SSPCA rescued dogs like Ayu to keep an eye on intruders.

Kidding

One of the most exciting times of the year is when your does are kidding. This miracle is a wonder to see and typically you need do nothing (or very little) to help the process. Does have a reputation as excellent mothers requiring very little attention. Kids are often up and about in a matter of seconds. Standing, walking, and suckling within a few minutes is not unusual.

Although birthing problems are infrequent, you need to decide how much intervention you’re willing to do if problems do arise. Some things you may want to learn how to do are tube feeding a weak newborn kid and raising a kid on a bottle if the mother cannot provide enough milk or has rejected the kid. If a doe in labor has been pushing very hard for thirty minutes and has produced nothing, it may necessary to go in and move or reposition a kid so the birth can proceed normally. This is a specialized skill requiring additional learning on your part. Work with someone who already knows how to do this or in many cases, your veterinarian will be glad to teach you these skills. Before your goats have kids you should do some reading in more detail about pregnancy and kidding. The more prepared you are, the better things will go if intervention is needed. See the referenced web sites and books for more information.

Choose your breeding time so you are having kids when you want to have them. The length of gestation for a goat is about 150 days. Many breeders deliberately schedule their breeding program to avoid kidding during months of extreme cold or extreme heat. Of course, if you choose to have your buck run with the does all year round, then scheduling is not an issue.

Record Keeping

If you plan to make money in your goat business, you will need to have a basic plan including estimated costs and projected income. As in any business, failure to pay attention to financial details can be troublesome, if not fatal. Several web sites and other publications have examples of business plans that are helpful in understanding what to plan for and what variables are most important.

A typical goat farm will have many expenses. Some of these will be obvious such as the purchase price of stock, feed, and other supplies, but some will not be obvious. These can include medications, marketing costs, transportation expense, or even the cost of specialized equipment such as ear tags.

If you intend to turn a profit, you should determine during the start-up of your operation the cost of raising a doe for one year. Successful meat goat farmers manage every possible penny out of this number.

Income can come from different sources. A prime source of revenue is the sale of goats for slaughter. Often a secondary (or even primary for some) source of income is selling quality breeding stock to other goat farmers. Raising good breeding stock requires additional skill and knowledge. Only a disciplined, selective breeding program with rigorous culling will guarantee long-term success. Other sources of income may include the sale of goats for pets, renting goats as studs, selling goat poo as part of organic manure, or even creating your own value-added goat meat products. Non-meat sources of income can include goat milk, cheese, soap, and other products (a better option with dairy breeds).

Successful meat goat farmers have a target price in mind for the annual sales that result from breeding a doe. A revenue target of twice your actual expense will typically result in a sustainable goat business. It is important that you understand the inputs and outputs of your business

Goat meat is in high demand around the world. Malaysia imports thousands and thousands of live goats and untold kilo’s goat meat each year to meet a growing demand. Various ethnic groups use goat meat in their diet and everyone can appreciate goat meat’s low level of fat and delicious taste. Near any large city there will be demand for goat meat especially around certain religious holidays. Ask around to make sure you know at least one place you will be able to sell your goats when the time comes.

Broad trends in the goat meat industry are generally positive, but there are always new developments that may affect your business. Government regulations covering your goat operation and/or goat-related products should be clearly understood. Serious efforts should always be made to be in compliance with federal, state, and local law.

Work with a Proven Breeder

Why it is important? There is no substitute for quality, experience, and integrity. The guidance of an experienced breeder can easily make the difference in whether the start-up of your goat business is a success or failure. Learning by trial and error when buying goats can be expensive and even fatal when resources are limited. After you learn the basics of breed conformation and production traits, you will feel more confident about buying goats from sources that may be more “risky,” such as a local sale/auction. By then you will be able to determine if the animal for sale “looks” right, appears to be disease free, and is worth the asking price. Many people buy goats only from proven breeders since it dramatically lowers their investment risk.

Breeder lists are available on association web pages, trade publications, and other sites on the internet.

Keep Good Records

Obviously you need good financial records for tax purposes, but that is only the beginning of the information that will be useful to record and organize. Good records will allow you to make informed decisions about which animals should be culled and which animals are producing well. Good records to keep include:

  • Expense and income for taxes
  • Goat weights (birth, 30/60/90/180 days, for calculating average daily gain over time)
  • Doe productivity data (number kids born & weaned, data about mothering skills (maternals), etc.
  • Health data (wormings, vaccinations, specialized treatments for illness, etc.)

Go Slow

The easiest and most common mistake to make when entering the goat farming business is to ramp up too quickly. This can be frustrating to the inexperienced goat farmer, because the natural tendency is to want to grow a herd as rapidly as possible. However, a lack of experience in daily care of the herd and in evaluating signs of poor health is a recipe for disaster. Nothing is more discouraging than to have your goats start dying and not understand why. You can add more goats as you learn and gain more confidence as a breeder.

Start with a small number (less than 10 goats is typical)

Learn through personal experience what works and what doesn’t work on YOUR farm

Reduce Stress

Raising goats should be very rewarding. You can make money and have a lot of fun at the same time. One important, but little talked about, key to success is practicing stress reduction in your herd. The goats will be healthier, more productive, and more profitable.

Isolate new goats coming to your farm (for a minimum of two weeks) to check for disease and let them adjust to your management practices

Don’t consistently “startle” your goats by making loud noises, moving too quickly, letting children or dogs chase them, or making changes in their daily routine unless absolutely necessary. Change things a little at a time, allowing time for each change to become routine. Always make dietary changes gradually.

Remember that sometimes you will lose an animal. This is part of the natural process of life. You should expect some animals to die because of old age, undetected disease, or even accident. Some degree of loss is unavoidable in any livestock operation, so be prepared to learn from these situations and continue to move forward.

Be particularly careful when transporting goats to keep them dry, out of the wind, and “on the road” only the minimum amount of time.

Remember that goats do not come with a guarantee. You will make mistakes like everyone else. That’s how you gain experience. No business plan ever written has precisely described what a business is doing several years down the road.

Have Fun!

Goats are entertaining and very interesting. Make sure you have a camera handy, especially when your new kid crop is romping around the field. Goat watching can be a ready source of entertainment for you and for your guests.

Remember the Bottom Line

1. Goats and goat meat are in high demand around the world

2. Keep expenses low

3. Know your local markets and how to access them

The ideas suggested here are for educational purposes only and provide no guarantee of success in a goat farming business. Specifically The Kebun does not in any way guarantee or endorse these steps. Every agricultural situation is unique. The information provided here is offered as points to consider when developing your own plan.

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2 Responses to “FOR THE NEWBIE GOAT FARMER”

  1. Allen Taylor Says:

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  2. sbhlass Says:

    Farmer adrian… you are a godsend. I have been surfing so many websites and yours is the most comprehensive by far. THank YOU.


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