By Laura Childs   

   What’s not to love about goats? They will feed you, clean up the overgrown mess in the fields, and take long hikes with you while carrying your supplies. They will make you laugh when you’re sad, provide extra income for even the smallest farm, carry you to town and back in a little cart, and perhaps best of all, they will gaze upon your face with earnest adoration.

Most of us, though, are excited about the prospect of keeping goats for their deliciously sweet milk and low-fat, nutritious meat.

Goat’s milk is consumed in larger quantities by more people than cow’ s milk. A staggering 65 percent or more of the world’s population choose goat over cows’ milk for reasons other than availability or economics. Perhaps even more surprising, over 60 percent of all red meat consumed worldwide is goat’s meat, which has substantially less than half the fat of chicken, beef, pork or lamb.

To keep, the goat is both a pleasure and and all-round multi-tasker, traits that are  appreciated as we seek the means to cut back on stress and find purpose for every facet of our lives.

Goats provide many blessings for minimal cost and care and can easily be kept on just a few acres of land—or less. They are a livestock staple in all of the old-world European countries and are finally gaining the attention they deserve from North American farmers.

The goat has been called the poor man’s cow for far too many years. Although their service may initially fit the bill for the frugally minded, there is little chance of counting goats as a lesser animal once you start tabulating their virtues. You may have one main reason for your interest in goats today, but once they are in your keep, you can’t help but notice how wonderfully suited they are to a farm or family’s needs. In time you will have forgotten why you bought that first goat, being left only to wonder how you ever got along without them.

Your appreciation of the goat won’t stop at the barn door though. Every goat you pour your time into will also be working its goat-given charms on you. 

As you reap the gifts they repeatedly bestow, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to discover the joys of keeping goats.

goats

To keep, the goat is both a pleasure and and all-round multi-tasker

Weed Whacking & More

I am often asked which feature of the goat is the most valuable. For me, as I look upon my own fields of this centuries-old farm once covered in brambles and weeds from years of neglect, I might say the most important reason to keep goats is brush control.

Keeping the weeds down and the fields open for grazing doesn’t just increase the value of a farm, it also affects the quality of life on that farm. Our region is predisposed to large populations of black flies and mosquitoes. Our goats keep the fields open to sun and wind, which in turn pushes those nasty spring and summer pests back to the forest interior.

If I were looking over my financial records (instead of my fields) when you asked that question, I’d say that the most important reason is economical. Raising goats has decreased the stress on our household budget while helping our family to be more self-sustaining. We’ve cut back on our trips to town to purchase milk and cheese. We haven’t needed to buy fertilizer for the garden for the past 10 years. And our freezer is full of delicious meat at one half the cost from previous years.

Goats also make great pets and provide the lessons of responsibility for children. Your child might choose to care for and show a goat as part of a 4H project. If you homeschool like I have with Veronica, goats also provide good fodder for lesson plans—animal anatomy, how to make soap, or train a goat to walk on a leash, to name just a few exercises and studies we’ve performed in the past.

Early Lessons

According to the old Turkish saying, “The goat becomes the professor whenever teachers can’t be found.”

My daughter Veronica and I began raising goats 11 years ago, entirely by accident. This method of foraying into goat husbandry is not suggested, but it does illustrate how just about anyone can raise a goat.

We were greenhorns, city slicker imports with 17 empty acres and a barn to fill. This is why, while at the county auction to buy turkeys, five-year-old Veronica saw a large white goat walking calmly on a leash and instantly fell in love.

Knowing absolutely nothing of goats, I could plainly see that her new object of affection was aged, tired and had suffered neglect. Her hooves were so overgrown she walked on the folds of them. Her head hung low, and she would not make eye contact. Knowing this would be more of a rescue mission than a proactive step into goat ownership, I entertained the idea nonetheless. My Veronica is one rather determined individual.

Ten minutes later and $28 poorer, we were the new owners of a tired goat.

I don’t ever want you to buy a goat by following in these footsteps. There were clearly three strikes against this purchase—first, it was on the whim of a child; second, the goat was plainly ill-kept; and third, coming from an auction house, you never know what disease a goat could be bringing onto your land.

We were fortunate. Nanny (Veronica named her) brought only blessings. Once she was in top form for her age and cleared by our veterinarian, we bought her a few goat companions. In return for her health and happiness, she gave us six years of milk, seven kids, a lot of laughter and a fine excuse for an education in goat ownership.

benefits of goats

For many farmers, goats are the animal of choice because of how multi-beneficial they are

Goats Reign Supreme

I am biased, I know it, but I also truly believe that goats are the animal of choice for farmers in the know.

Dare I say that goats are superior? They eat the weeds and brush that no other farm animal will eat, they supply a premium grade of milk with multiple uses and their meat is of the highest caliber. Even the goat’s excrement has a superior quality—it is 2.5 times richer in nitrogen and phosphoric acid than cow manure, making it an excellent choice for both vegetable and flower gardens.

When compared to cows milk, goat’s milk is higher in phosphorous, riboflavin, niacin, calcium and vitamins A and B1 and is lower in cholesterol. Right off the udder, it is loaded with antibodies and has a much lower bacterial count than cow’s milk. Based on these benefits, goat’s milk is often recommended by doctors to safely treat physical conditions such as vomiting and insomnia in infants, children and pregnant women.

As if that were not enough proof of superiority, a goat will produce more milk than a cow from the same quantity of food. The nutrient conversion efficiency for milk production from a goat is 45 percent; the cow is only 38 percent efficient.

Goat’s milk is also richer than cow’s milk. Some dairy goat breeds produce milk with an average of 6 percent butterfat, which may even jump above 10 percent during different stages of their lives. This makes goat milk an excellent choice for cheese production. The high butterfat content also lends itself to making luxurious soaps, which are often prescribed for the treatment of skin problems, such as rashes, minor irritations and eczema.

Although some goats produce milk high in fat, the meat from that goat is leaner than chicken. Found most often for sale within ethnic and health-conscious communities, chevon or cabrito (meat from young goats) is growing in popularity. At the time of writing, North American–grown chevon is not meeting market demand. Most of our goat meat is imported at high cost to the consumer and to the environment.

goat kids

When feeling frustrated with your goat just think that you are dealing with a three-year-old in a goat costume

Hair Today, Sold Tomorrow

Aside from breeding your goats and selling live kids, you can also sell or use the hair from your goats. Goats produce two fibers—angora and cashmere. Angora is only grown by one breed, but cashmere is produced by many. Cashmere is the lightest weight, warmest and completely nonirritating fiber known to man. One cashmere-producing goat will create a quarter to a third of a pound of cashmere every year.

If you’re both business and environmentally minded, you’ll enjoy this ancient business practice made popular again. The United States is seeing a revival in the business of renting goats out to land owners to control overgrowth. Construction and telecommunications companies have been securing the assistance of small herds to clear vines and brambles from building sites and from the bases of cellular and radio transmission towers. Forty goats can clear 3,600 square feet of land per day, and they do it all without expensive machinery or greenhouse gas emissions.

Related Stories: Fencing Goats In And Predators Out

Stay Safe & Sane

Goats can be both all sweetness and full of shenanigans, loving and demanding, obedient and troublesome—all within a 130-inch frame. They can double you over with laughter as easily as they make you cry out in utter frustration.

To keep them safe while maintaining your own sanity, remember my favorite mantra: “A goat is like a three-year-old in a goat suit.”

Goats’ antics, quick minds and ability to find trouble where mere mortals had never thought to look make caring for them a lot like running a day care for preschool children—really smart preschool children. Don’t let the challenge put you off though. Much like raising children, with a little experience, you’ll quickly learn to stay one step ahead of them.

Our first doe taught me a lot about the intelligence of a goat. For her own reasons that I would never understand, she would only leave the barnyard area when the front door of the house was open. This was usually on our arrival home from town. The moment we’d come barreling down the driveway with a car full of groceries, she’d begin her barnyard escape. By the time we were returning for the second carry, there she was, standing in the middle of the kitchen.

Over the years, her occasional appearance inside the house was endearing—but not the morning she awoke a world-renowned speaker and business client. He had driven for 10 hours for a private consultation and then spent the night in the front bedroom. While I was in the hen house collecting eggs for breakfast, Nanny took the opportunity to sneak in and nuzzle the cheek of my sleeping city-slicker guest. 

Editor’s note: “Get Into Goats” was reprinted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing from the title The Joy Of Keeping Goats: The Ultimate Guide To Dairy and Meat Goats, by Laura Childs. The book retails for $14.95 at skyhorsepublishing.com

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Fall 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here

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  • Madravenspeak

    Anyone who could kill a goat for money and meat is the most heartless person on the planet – which encompasses a lot of people. We are a failed species that considers only ourselves and uses all life ( including people we want to exploit ) as commodities for our convenience and abuse. Watch the documentary EARTHLINGS on you tube to get the scope of it. This giddy write-up about how much you need to USE goats for their killing is a tragedy exposing how really cruel humans are.

    I speak from experience. I moved to the country and then took in a court abuse case of 46 goats and sheep ( 26 had starved to death from the previous owner, a Mexican restaurant owner who closed his doors and just left the animals to starve ). Goats and sheep are gentle, smart, bonded to each other, LOVING, and in love with life. How anyone could promote killing them for MEAT AND MONEY – ugliness to the maximum. End the slaughterhouses. 52% of climate change is due to slaughterhouse animal production. See the new documentary COWSPIRACY. It applies to goats and all animals we so callously abuse.

    • MsPony65

      So, you’re basing your opinion on your work in animal abuse.

      Way to paint the world with your broad – yet narrow-minded – brush.

      Get over your self-righteousness.

      • Madravenspeak

        So reverence for life is a “narrow-minded” view? Puh-leez. Do read “A Natural History of Human Arrogance” by John Livingston ( 1923-2006 ), Canadian former director of Canada Audubon – or his “ROGUE PRIMATE”. Get over your killing rationale. Seems that opposable thumb and “reason” gives the rogue primate human the right to slaughter anything for his “rationale” of human utility and profit.

  • Keith Taylor

    You have the right idea and I applaud you for it. Please ignore the bleeding-hearted vegans and vegetarians who have already started trolling on your post.
    Goats are excellent for meat, as are rabbits, but the latter don’t provide milk. However, they don’t climb trees, end up on the roof or eat everything in sight, as goats do. Another thing: please emphasise the need to keep a small, controlled flock, as goats are not known as “desert makers” for nothing.
    Well done and keep it up: it is people like you who will survive best when the brown stuff strikes the impeller, the bottom falls out of the economy and inflation renders money worth less that the cost of the paper it’s printed on.

  • MsPony65

    Lovely article, but who wrote the captions for the pictures? “Troublesome nature” in goats?

    No. They’re just highly intelligent animals, and we have to work to keep up with them. 😉

    • nuncha

      blah blah blah shut your ugly pie hole

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  • Lifeonerth

    Excellent, lovely article! Well done. Goats are enjoying a surge of popularity in the public consciousness these days, as seen in the success of the fun and adorable video game “Goat Simulator.” There is nothing like the real thing though. I wish I had a farm so I could surround myself with animals and plants of all kinds and live a more independent and healthy life. Anyone who thinks killing is unnatural has never been close to real, unmodified nature. Nature is red in tooth and claw. Predators are vital to the survival and long term health of prey species as much as or more so than their own. Domestic animals being raised for meat and milk would not exist were it not for our need of them, as we bred and raised them. It is up to us to ensure that the life we show them is a good one while they are with us. It is better for them and it is better for us this way, as their meat and milk are far more nutritious and more enjoyable when they lead good lives in as close to optimal conditions for their species as we can provide. This is why I eat organic, free range, grass-fed meats and dairy products from small farms, as local as possible. I would raise my own if I had the land, and while they lived I would love them and care for them as much as I could. They would have very good lives and die humanely. It is much better than many humans get.