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PHOTO: Tessa Zundel
Maybe I should have titled this “Goats: A Child’s Perspective” so as not to be confusing. I didn’t interview baby goats for this article; I interviewed two children, Liah and Ivan, living on two separate homesteads but both having real-life experience with goats.
Ivan is 13 years old and loves homesteading and animals, in addition to soccer, horses, technic legos and cooking. His dream is to be an organic meat farmer and a butcher. He camped for six months with his family while we built our home. After five years of living off-grid, they recently moved to a rural town closer to his dad’s job, where they’re saving to buy a bigger piece of land. He misses their farm but is learning to urban farm for now. Liah is a homesteading kid living with her family in a highland desert, where they raise dairy goats, chickens and some very silly ducks. Also living there is her special horse, named Blaze. Liah wants to work with animals for the rest of her life and is off to a great start.
If you’ve ever thought about raising your own meat or dairy for your family, chances are you’ve done a little thinking about goats. Here are some things to consider as you make your decisions about which animals you’d like to raise. If you have children on your farm or homestead, pay special attention to Ivan and Liah’s perspectives, as they can tell you a lot about just how much responsibility your children really can handle.
What breeds of goat have you raised so far? Which was your favorite?
Ivan: I have raised Nubians and LaManchas. My favorite breed so far has been the LaMancha—very intelligent and loving animals.
Liah: We have raised Nigerians and various breeds of miniature goats. We were given some full-sized goats: Nubian/LaMancha mixes. I think that my favorite goats are Nigerians because they are so cute and spunky. My second favorites are the minis because they are so floppy and will stay with you all day.
Tessa: LaManchas are typically very sweet, but it’s good to remember that goats are individuals. We had a top of the line, purebred LaMancha that was pure evil. In fact, we nicknamed her “Evil Murdoch.” Be prepared for anything as far as goat personalities go!
What are your plans for your current herd? If you’re raising only dairy goats now, might you do meat goats in the future?
Ivan: We recently moved away from our off-grid farm, and sold our goats. It was a very sad day, but we do plan on getting some again soon, and I would definitely do meat goats in the future.
Liah: We have nine goats right now. We had 11 babies; nine of them were Nigerians and two of them were minis (Nigerian/Nubian/Lamancha crosses). As far as meat goats are concerned, no. Now that I have had dairy goats and have loved on them, I wouldn’t be able to eat one, even if it was a different goat.
Tessa: Liah brings up an important point. As you engage in animal husbandry, death will be part of the picture no matter how it comes, and it’s good to have everyone’s input on how that will be handled. Be sensitive to your family members’ personalities and desires and engage in quality dialog. Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for the animal and the homestead but have some good conversations now with your family and talk to other homesteaders to see what they do.
How many dairy goats would be your ideal number?
Liah: Probably two full-sized, three minis, and ether three or four Nigerians.
Tessa: This is totally based on your personal needs, your space, any zoning laws and how goofy you get over baby goats that you simply must keep. Goats like to have friends, and unless you have a similar sized animal on your property, you will most likely need at least two goats to begin with so one doesn’t get lonely and cry all day. Please believe me: All. Day.
Why did you pick goats and not a cow?
Ivan: A goat was financially a better choice for our family to start out with. Plus, our neighbors had goats and helped us [begin] and we really learned a lot from them.
Liah: Goats are easier to handle, they eat less, and they take up less room.
Tessa: All good points and I’ll add one more. There’s less work involved to get the does hooked up with a buck when you’re ready to breed. Goats are easier to transport and so date night isn’t such a hassle.
Liah: My mom usually asks her homesteading friends and we find [a buck]. This is the first year that we are going to keep a buck and we will see how it goes.
Tessa: If you have the space for a buck, controlling your herd genetics and not having to take your does from place to place is a big plus. Local, online classifieds have been a big help to us when we didn’t have our own buck because we could talk face to face with people in our community and visit their land to make sure that the biosecurity issues that are important to us were important to them, as well.
I don’t want to extol the virtues of goats while bashing on the humble homestead cow. I love cows and I always will. And goats have plenty of faults. However, size really was an important factor in making the decision to begin with goats when we were newbie homesteaders. We have five children and I wanted all of us to learn about dairying from an animal that wouldn’t be so far out of our weight class that we couldn’t handle it. We’re ready for a cow now, but we sure weren’t back then.
What your top-five favorite things about goats?
Ivan: I love to milk goats; it’s relaxing and enjoyable. They’re so easy to handle. They are such loving animals! They really are cost-efficient. My goat, Clara, ate very little and loved treats I gleaned off our land. And did I mention how entertaining they can be?
Liah: They are so sweet and cute. It is fun to watch them play. They bring you joy. They give you undivided attention. They love you no matter what.
Tessa: Goats are great foragers, and their feed-to-milk conversion is super! They also have been known to eat the paint off the barn and kick over milk buckets, but life is give and take.
What are your least favorite things about goats?
Ivan: Well, they do need good fencing to keep them where they are supposed to be.
Liah: They are super stubborn and pushy.
Tessa: Bwahaha! I love Ivan’s very diplomatic answer to that one. Liah tells it like it is, too. My head dam is awesomeness itself—like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way—except she herds me with her head up my booty if I don’t move fast enough with the treats. She steps on my feet when she’s cranky. She nips and butts other, inferior goats. She tears open my apron pockets looking for sunflower seeds. She sits down on my clippers if she gets bored while I trim her hooves. She refuses to take her sweet tasting, immune boosting herbs, and after a year of trying to hand feed her herbal wormers, I gave up and toss her dose in with her rose hips and homemade supplement at milking time and pray she gets at least some of them. The point is, after all, that she won and I lost. Match to the goat.
What do you feed your dairy herd?
Liah: We are feeding them alfalfa every day, and the goats that we are milking we give grain. They get most of our kitchen scraps (vegetables and fruit). Someday we would like to do fodder, sprouts and pasture grass. [Liah lives on an 1-acre, semi-urban homestead without pasture on site, though they do have some pastureland around them.]
Tessa: Grain is an obvious but controversial choice for feed, and many people are choosing to provide pasture, fodder or sprouted grains for their animals—meat and dairy goats alike. As I said, goats are fantastic foragers and will find a good deal of their food is you have space for that or will happily munch up all your edible weeds and herbs. And your prize roses, so I refer you to Ivan’s comment about fencing. We allow weeds to grow up on our homestead so that we can supplement our goats’ rations; weeds like lamb’s quarter, mallow, amaranth, purslane and other herbs are very nourishing for goats.
Do you use your goats as a source of income in any way?
Ivan: We didn’t use them for income; however, it really saved my parents money on milk and dairy products.
Liah: Yes, we sell milk to some our homesteading friends, and when we have babies, we sell most of them. This year we sold nine baby goats just by word of mouth.
Tessa: There are savings built into having your own goats, but not all of them are simple to quantify. You pay for some kind of feed (purchased grain and the water to grow pasture and browse), various health needs (blood tests, wormers, et cetera), and equipment to milk or process or a fee to the butcher—or both!
However, you save resources, as well, by having this protein source on your homestead. First of all, you’re not relying on a tenuous commercial food system to provide you with protein. No trucking strike is going to interrupt your supply of milk and meat, unless your feed isn’t local.
On the homestead, the benefits of having goats around are plentiful. To start with, goats are wonderful weeders and composters—their dung is absolute gold in the garden! They produce wholesome milk and meat, which can be turned into so many different products to sustain and nourish your family. They provide companionship and love, which is of value, too.
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So, are those questions you’ve asked yourself as you’ve thought about homestead goats? I know there are others, but that’s a good start, I think. The other stuff you’ll work out with a little time and experience. Don’t fret if you discover that goats aren’t for you; just pass them along to good people and go try something else. I do encourage you to give them a try if cows seem a bit intimidating and a water buffalo is hard to source locally. The goats have increased our family’s health while providing companionship and love. And some head butts to the rear.
Farm-Kid Animal-Care Schedules
There’s one last thing I wanted the children to share with me that I thought might be helpful to you. I asked our young friends if they would share a quick synopsis of their homestead day so you can get an idea of how the whole animal-bigger-than-a-chicken-thing might look on your homestead. Really, the chores become your normal, but it’s good to make sure that you know what’s coming. This will make it easier to delegate responsibilities throughout the whole family. Even small children can help bring treats and weeds down to the goat pen, pull a wagon full of water buckets and brush out a goat’s coat (with supervision). For ideas on animal chores for children, please visit this post.
Ivan: When I was living on our off-grid farm, I would wake up and milk around 7 a.m. I would then feed the goats, horse, chickens and ducks. I would fill up the wood box in the house and usually start a fire. Mom would be making breakfast and getting the kids ready for school. Next, comes school for the rest of the day, and then playing around with the animals. I loved riding my horse. Evenings I would milk again and finish up chores. My brother and sisters have their own chores, too.
Liah: We usually get out at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. to do animal chores. My sister takes care of feeding and watering all the animals. Me and my mom milk all the goats; the night before we put away baby goats so that the moms will have lots of milk in the morning. I milk the Nigerians and my mom milks the full sized goats. Then we go inside and put the milk in the freezer. Then we take care of house chores and go on to study (homeschool).
Doesn’t sound too hard, right?