I hope everything is going well as we are now in the middle of our summer heat. I hope you still have adequate grass and are well on your way to having the hay you need put away for the winter feeding time just around the corner. While I usually take this article as a way to discuss nutrition and timely events for your consideration, I am going to use this month’s article to discuss another production agriculture business continuing to grow at a fast pace.
We are gaining more and more goat producers in the state and I continue to get calls from others who are equally interested in this business. The reason a lot of producers are considering the goat business is because of the land requirements to have goats, the ability to handle and manage a smaller animal, the lower requirement for hay and feed along with the profitability of goat production at this time. I want to give you some general information on goat production that will hopefully answer questions you might have if you’re new in the goat business or are considering this endeavor.
Goats are highly efficient milk and meat producers. Goats don’t require a lot of space and basic goat care should include nutrition, disease and parasite control, hoof care, housing and good recordkeeping. If you can manage these areas, goat production can be enjoyable as well as profitable for small farmers.
To get the most production from your goat, you must have a good understanding of its nutritional needs. Goats do not thrive under the same conditions as other farm animals, as they are browsers rather than grazers. Goats like good pasture, but their diet must also contain ample roughage, some concentrates and a supply of bushes, weeds or rough scrub. The amount and type of feed will depend on how much and the quality of forage available to the goats and their stage of production. Pregnant and lactating goats have far different nutritional requirements than maintenance goats. Also providing a good mineral supplement along with a fresh, cool water source is essential. Your greatest daily cost will be nutrition and I suggest you do some research on feed requirements so you can make the very best decision for your operation.
Goat care also requires an understanding of their basic physiological and biological norms. Know the normal body temperature for goats as well as their gestation and heat cycle. Have a general knowledge of their lifespan and growth and maturity rates. This basic understanding will allow you to be a better manager. You also need to be aware of parasitic problems closely associated to goat production and these are worms, flies and coccidian.
Coccidia and intestinal worms take the greatest toll on economic goat production and therefore are central to any goat care regimen. The key to keeping these under control is good animal husbandry, close monitoring and fecal sampling as needed. This will help to optimize your program for maximum efficiency. By deworming on a schedule, not over or under-dosing the goat, the parasites have less chance of building a resistance to the active ingredient in the product used. I would also encourage you to dip navel cords to prevent navel infections that could cause severe sickness and death in young goats.
Another area you need to manage is hoof care and trimming. How often you will need to trim hoofs will be based on the type ground you have. Goats living on rocky, hilly property will need less foot trimming than goats on softer ground. You will need a good pair of hoof shears and a small wood rasp for hoof trimming and feet care. It is a good idea to start trimming feet at an early age so the goats get accustomed to it and you do not have to do major hoof trimming jobs later down the road. I would encourage you to initially work with your local veterinarian or farrier until you are comfortable in doing the job yourself.
Housing and predator control is another issue more closely related to goat production. Goats do not take damp, cold, airy conditions very well. A waterproof top along with wind-proof walls will help prevent sickness. Good housing also will make it easier to keep closer watch on your goats. This will allow you to more easily recognize heat cycles, mating, pregnancy and kidding. Disease symptoms can also be observed earlier and proper housing will allow you to give each animal individual attention. In general, goats are housed in groups as a way to reduce housing costs. Place the house in a way to prevent too much sun from heating up the facility rapidly. Goats radiate heat when digesting feed and, if the building is too hot or not properly ventilated, the goats will eat less thus be less productive. The walls need to have openings for ventilation to allow heat to move out of the housing. The floor must be kept dry and be easy to keep clean. Damp and dirty floors stimulate the development of all kinds of germs and worms allowing the goats to be more susceptible to disease and poor production. Another consideration for good housing is the ability to keep predators out of the area when the goats are housed. Dogs and other predators can do a lot of damage and can kill or severely injure a large number of animals in a short period of time if they are able to get into an area where goats are being housed.
A final general consideration for successful goat production is proper recordkeeping. Good recordkeeping is essential to monitoring the production of your business. Proper record-keeping will also enable you to properly select goats and thus improve your stock. The first requirement is to be able to identify your animals. I would recommend you install ear tags as well as writing a description of each goat since tags are sometimes lost. The producer should keep track of reproductive performance including kidding dates and number of kids born to your does. Also write down any issues with sickness or kid deaths as this will help you to eliminate problem goats from your herd. You will rapidly find the better recordkeeping system you utilize, the easier it is to make the management decisions needed to be most efficient.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.