For the homesteader, goats can fill many needs. Depending on the breed, they can provide milk and dairy products, meat, soap and lotions, or fiber. They are also browsers and help keep unwanted foliage in check. In addition, their milk is healthy and can be ingested more easily by those with lactose intolerance.
Once you’ve decided on goats as an addition to your homestead, the next step is to determine what breed(s) to start with. While you’re doing your research, it is essential to prepare appropriate housing and fencing. No matter the breed you choose, without the proper planning you’ll end up having to do some major back-pedaling, and may lose your investment to predators or disease.
Nubians For Milk
My mom, Jan Zimmerman, of Twin Meadows Nubians, went through several breeds before settling on Nubians. She chose Nubians for the rich flavor of their milk and its high butterfat content, and for their colorful appearance and personality. Nubians have the highest butterfat content of large dairy goat breeds (4 to 5 percent), making them excellent for cheese and yogurt production, with Nigerian Dwarfs having the highest for small/mini breeds (8 to 10 percent).
She finds that the variety of colors in Nubians, along with their floppy ears and sociable personalities, add to the range of color, diversity and enjoyment she feels are essential to farm life. Goats are very personable animals, and each breed and familial line will have certain personality tendencies. This is largely a matter of perspective, but most goat farmers will tell you that a deciding factor in the breed they chose to focus on was whether or not they enjoyed the personality of the breed, a necessity for any small homestead!
Goats For Meat
For those looking to raise goats primarily for meat, breeds such as Boers and Myotonics (Tennessee Fainting Goats) are good options due to their heavy rumps and deep chest cavities. Myotonics can also be used for dairy goats, but Boers tend to produce little due to their short lactation periods. Goats can provide meat that is lean, healthy and plentiful (for their size).
Any breed will provide sufficient meat to feed a family, but if you’re planning to butcher for market, choose a breed that is bred specifically for this purpose, as you will produce more meat per goat. Regardless of breed, goat meat is lean, flavorful and surprisingly plentiful for being from a smaller animal.
Start With Two
Goats are social animals, so it’s best to start with at least two. Just two does of the appropriate breed can provide a small family with more than enough dairy, and can be bred to provide additional goats for dairy and meat. If you start with does and want to expand your herd, you will need to procure a buck. Keeping a buck, though, opens up a host of additional concerns. Most of the time he will be docile, lazy and well mannered. Do yourself a favor while he’s behaving and build up your fencing. Fence for Godzilla, not Bambi. You’ll be glad you did, as breeding should be carefully planned and timed, and when a buck has his eye on a suitor, he’ll do everything he can to get to her.
Rather than dealing with the hassles of owning a buck, many goat farmers go the artificial insemination route or lease out a buck from a nearby farm for breeding rights. Note, though, that most farms offering breeding services will require that your goat have health papers to certify that you have a healthy animal. Goats are prolific, and most are prone to twins; some will produce triplets, quadruplets or even quintuplets. Before you know it, you’ll have a growing herd that you’ll need to keep in check by selling off or butchering excess animals, or expanding your holding area.
Do Your Research
In a poll I conducted amongst capriculturalists (goat farmers) on the homesteading social network Earthineer.com, which has groups devoted to goat farming and many other homesteading topics, I learned that opinions vary as to whether crossbreeds or purebreds are hardier, and which are better for starting out. The bottom line is that there is a large variety of goat breeds available. Do your homework and decide which breed best fits your farm’s goals and your family’s needs. Visit goat farms that have varying breeds and get a feel for what kind of goat works best for you. When deciding whether to go the purebred or crossbred route, remember that the core advantage to investing in a purebred-registered goat is that it will give you additional options should you decide to market your herd. There are many websites that will provide you with information on different breeds, as well as online directories of goat farms in your state organized by breed specialty. Once you’ve done your research, start calling around to goat farms that interest you. Be considerate if you don’t hear back right away or are asked to reschedule, as farms are busy places.
Protect Your Herd
There are many factors to consider before making a purchase, but all will be for naught if you haven’t taken into account the high potential for parasites or predators. Parasites are the top killer of goats, and predators are a close second. Some parasites will kill a goat within hours, and others will cause permanent and crippling damage. Build a relationship with some experienced goat owners and keep their phone numbers at hand. As for predators, wild dogs or even your family pet can kill a goat in no time. Consider a livestock guardian dog. Prepare yourself before jumping in, and this small ruminant will provide for your family for years to come.
For more information, visit http://www.twinmeadows-nky.com
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