Hey everyone! We're starting a new business and it's keeping us more than busy, so sorry I haven't posted this past week. But I just have to tell you about my goats! I'm really sticking my neck out here, but yes, the picture is of me. Me and Sally. I was about 12.
We had a milking cow named Buttermilk - we called her Bossy for short - but Dad decided to try goats since they are so much cheaper to keep and easier for us kids to work with when we were little. It usually took 2 of us, taking turns, to milk the cow, and I was always a little scared of that big hoof hitting me or knocking over the pail. I was about 8 or 9 when we bought our first goats. I had a milking doe named Sweetpea; a beautiful Alpine with markings like Sally's but she was brown with white and black trim. Sally is her daughter. I usually sold the kids in the summer but Sally was one that I kept and she turned out to be a very big, strong, milking doe.
Goats are really a lot of fun. I raised about every kind of farm animal there was to raise, and I'd have to say that goats are definitely the most intelligent and have the most personality. They were my favorite "pets" and are easy to work with and pretty inexpensive to keep. They got a couple of cups of good Purina Goat Chow at milking time. The rest of the day they needed a clean water supply, a salt mineral block, good grazing in the summer, and some good hay in the winter. They do NOT eat garbage! They are actually the most finicky eaters of any farm animal I know. Even when they got 100% alfalfa, they would nibble out all the little dried leaves and leave the big stalks, which we would throw to the cows. When too many bugs landed in the water bucket, "the girls" would beller for me until I came down and refilled the bucket with fresh water.
They are very curious, though, and like to explore things by nibbling on them. I think that's where they got the bad reputation. They chewed a few holes in pieces of clothing left outside, and occasionally shredded and chewed up boxes or other paper items. However, when a cardboard box was once left in the meadow, the cows ate it in its entirety!
Sometimes in the summer, I would cut a patch of tall grass with a hand cythe. Each day I'd turn it with a pitchfork until it was dry in the sun. When it was ready, Dad and I would load it into the pickup and haul it to the barn where we would fill a stall with grass for the winter. Dad scattered a little salt through it as we piled it in the barn. That keeps it dry, prevents mold and cuts down on fire danger. It also provides them with some salt in their diets. This picture is of Dad and I hauling the hay to the barn. Oh, those were the days!
Goats are like people, in that their disposition often reflects the way they have been "raised". Sweetpea had a nice set of horns (and a beard). We bought her when she was a year old and the family who had her, had children who would grab her by the horns and pull her around. She hated that. In the 14 years I had her, she would never let anyone touch her horns, except me. She liked it when I scratched her head between them. Sorry to say, she tossed more than one unsuspecting child who came to our house to visit and unknowingly reached towards her head. She treed my cousin once and wouldn't let him down until I came. She loved Saltine crackers and napping with me under a tree on a hot summer day. She followed me everywhere I went, even in the house (when Mother wasn't home!). If I went in to make a sandwich or get a drink or something else, I'd let her follow me. She would go from room to room and patiently wait. I guess I can safely divulge that info now that it's so far in the past!
Baby goats are the cutest things on hoofs! Within 20 minutes of being born, they are trying to jump and frolic in their new-found world. I cuddled them and held them on my lap. There were 2 drawbacks to that, however. First, they loved to chew on long hair and very often I rescued a strand after it was mixed in with a gooey green glob of cud! Secondly, they never out-grow being a "lap baby". More than once, I had a full-grown goat, bigger than me, try to climb onto my lap and plop down. They love the affection and companionship.
Goats are very social animals and don't like to be alone. You should always have at least 2 and they will be pretty content. The young ones love to climb and are very playful. We made a climbing mountain out of 3 or 4 of those big wooden cable spools that the electric company often discards. We also stood one up on its side and put a 2x10 over it for a Teeter-Totter. The little goats would run up and down that board and play Teeter-Totter with each other, or with us, for hours!
They also loved bouncing on the inner tubes, which I mentioned in The Ultimate Kid's Toy (Oct. 21, 09). One day when Grampa came down to our house in his pickup, my frolicky little kids seized the opportunity to explore the new playground. When he came out of the house and saw them butting heads and jumping around all over the hood and roof - well, let's just say he was NOT happy!
Goat milk is close to human milk in molecular structure - much more so than cow's milk - which is why babies and other people with milk intolerances can often drink goat's milk. It is naturally homogenized, so very little cream separates and it is a rich milk. I sold a lot of milk around our valley, mainly for babies, but for a lot of others also with various health problems, or they just wanted a good healthy milk to drink. When the kids were born, I let the mother's lick them off and bond with them, but I'd milk her and put the milk in a bottle with a goat nipple on it. When they looked for milk, I'd steer them away from Mom and bottle feed them. We kept them separated most of the time for a week or two until they stopped looking to Mom for milk. When they were safely weaned, I put them back together. I milked in a bucket and took filters to the barn with me. With a filter in the funnel, I'd fill the bottles and feed 2 babies at a time - warm, fresh milk right out of the mother. The rest I took to the house, filtered, and put in the fridge in glass gallon jars. A healthy milking doe can give anywhere from 1 to 5 quarts of milk at each milking. On her peak years, Sweetpea gave 5 quarts of milk, twice a day!
With either cows or goats, you can sometimes detect a taste in the milk if they ate something strong, like pine boughs. The goat milk is probably even a little more sensitive than cow's milk. We could sometimes tell if she had nibbled some pine tips or had tried some strong weeds down by the spring. But normally, no one could tell the difference. We liked to pour some of the milk into a regular milk carton for visitors who refused to drink "that goat milk" that they insisted they wouldn't like. They would think they were getting the stuff from the store and be satisfied and we would chuckle about it when they left!
If you keep a buck for breeding, he needs to be kept separate from the milking does. The bucks urinate on themselves to attract the females. They can be pretty stinky and that strong odor can sometimes be faintly detected in the milk. We didn't keep any bucks. We took our does to someone with a buck when they were in heet, and had them bred. You can milk them where ever you want, but we had a little barn that Dad built 3 milking stanchions in. The picture on the left is Dad milking before we finished the barn. I don't have a picture of our stanchions, but the one on the right is a basic stanchion and gives you the idea.
At milking time, they would run to the barn - they looked forward to the grain and being milked - and each doe would jump up on her own stanchion. They each know their own name also. If 8 goats were up on the hillside, I could call one of their names, and she would be the only one to look up and answer me. They are very intelligent animals.
The goats need a little shed or "goat house" with fresh straw to sleep in. We used an old pickup topper and put boards across the inside to keep them off the dirt. Unfortunately, they don't go outside to do their business, so the straw has to be cleaned out and refreshed periodically. They also need a pen that will keep them in and dogs and other potential predators out. We put them in the pen at night after milking because we lived in the woods where there were coyotes, wolves, cougars and an occassional bear. If you have enough land that they can safely graze in the summer, they will stay pretty close to the house and people.
Their hay should be put in a hay feeder of some kind, not on the ground. Putting it on the ground results in a lot of waste and the goats can get mold and bacterias that will make them sick. Our milking does ate about 10 bales of good alfalfa each, during a winter. Because they pick around the larger stalks, there is always some waste. There are a lot of different types of feeding systems you can set up, but we just had a wooden trough, raised up off the ground, and covered to keep it dry. As they nibbled through the hay, they pulled very little out onto the ground. We had a small wooden platform around the feeder also, though, that was under the tin roof, so what little they pulled out, we could easily pick up and put back in. Here are a few ideas of hay feeders:
Many people also raise goats for meat. If you castrate the little buck, he is known as a Wether. With their personality and cuteness, I could never eat any of my goats! So I can't tell you anything about the meat. But if you are working towards greater self-reliance, goats can provide milk, cheese, and even meat, for very little cost. Add into that; companionship and entertainment, and I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want a couple of little goats!