The Basics of Starting a Goat Farm
By Aaron Agnew
In continuing the discussion from last week I thought it would be nice to talk briefly about what it means to raise goats. Not specifically the process of milking, but, instead, some of the provisions that you might want to consider when thinking about becoming a goat farmer. While raising goats can be a fun and rewarding experience it is important to remember that raising any sort of animal takes time and work.
First, you’ll need to be sure that you have enough land for your herd. One of the benefits of goats in comparison to cattle is that they do not require as much land. If your plan is to raise goats for a small time dairy operation, or just for personal milking, as few as 4-5 acres of pasture will be plenty for as many 5 goats, give or take a couple.
Fencing! A fence that is poorly designed, or is of a cheap quality will likely not hold up to goats for long (if at all). It is best to not skimp as constructing a quality fence to start can save you time and money down the road with fewer repairs and replacements needed. Goats have a tendency to rub against fence, or to lean on it, and over time this can cause the fencing to stretch and enable the goats to escape. They are also very intelligent and can figure out how to operate simple gate latches on their own. For a broader look into choosing appropriate fencing you can look here at the NRSC/USDA guidelines.
Once you have your land and fencing plan determined a shelter will need to be considered. Goats, like any other animal, need a place to get out of the elements. If it’s too hot or cold they will need some shelter. Some basic things to consider are size, and protection level relative to weather of your region. Goats are social animals and within a herd they create a hierarchical order. If the shelter you have constructed is too small it is likely that the goats at the bottom of the social order will be kicked out into the elements. Since every region of the USA has its own weather patterns and temperature ranges, it is important to remember that colder (or hotter) climates may require more substantial protection than mild climate regions. Here is a link to Penn State’s guide for constructing a goat shelter.
Ok! Well, let’s talk about the goats! As mentioned above, goats are very social animals and most farmers recommend starting with at least two. Some goats are better for milk production than others, such as Nubian, La Mancha, Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Saanen, Sable, and Nigerian Dwarf goats. Look here for Purdue University’s brief description of each breed.
For milking, like any other dairy animal, the female goats (called Does) must first get pregnant. Gestation typically lasts for 5 months, and after the baby goat (called a kid) has reached 8 weeks you can continue to milk the doe for nearly a year. It is best to give the females a dry period of at least a month prior to allowing them to become pregnant again. This will enable them to build up a nutritional reserve for the new baby goat.