You may have noticed our recent family addition. A few weeks ago we welcomed Babette and Miss Patty to Crooked Chimney Farm! After more than a year of planning and months of waiting, we brought home two LaMancha doelings. And so starts our herd. If you are also interested in getting into goats but don’t know where to start, I’ve put together this guide to buying your first goat, to help answer some of the big questions.
First things first: You can’t have just one goat. Goats are herd animals, and they can get depressed without a companion. You need to have at least two.
Choosing a breed
Choosing the right breed for you will depend on what your goals are for your goats. There are a few main categories to consider.
Dairy breeds: (Saanen, Alpine, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Toggenburg)
These breeds are most commonly utilized for their production of milk.
Meat breeds, (Kiko, Boer, Spanish, Savanna, Myotonic goats)
Raising meat goats may be a profitable way to bring income to your homestead.
Fiber breeds. (Angoria, chashmere)
Raising goats for fiber is more labor intensive.
Breeds ideal for land clearing (Alpine, Boer, Meat/Dairy Crosses)
These goats are extremely efficient at clearing overgrown land.
Dwarf and pygmy breeds: (Nigerian dwarf, pygmy, various mini crosses)
These may be worth considering if you have limited space. Smaller goats can mean lower cost for feed, shelter, fencing. However, it also means having a goat with smaller teats which can be more difficult for milking. They will also produce less milk thank a full size goat.
Mixed breeds: Mixed breeds can be a good options if you don’t plan to register your goat (see below). You may find them to be more affordable and available as well.
Choosing a gender:
You actually have a few choices here (kind of): does, bucks, and wethers.
Does are the obvious choice if you plan on milking your goat. If you would like to milk immediately, opt for a doe that’s already in milk. You can also purchase a doe that has already been bred if you are up for delivering kids. If you purchase a doe that isn’t in milk and hasn’t been bred, you will need to determine a plan for breeding. If you decide to get doeling kids, you will need to wait for them to reach maturity before breeding. You can still purchase a doe even if milking is not your goal. Does make great pets and you can choose not to breed and milk them.
Bucks may not be the ideal choice for your first goat. They tend to be more aggressive and difficult to handle. They also urinate on themselves and spray their urine on their own faces and front legs when they go into rut. Additionally, they emit a very strong unpleasant odor to attract does. If you have does, you will need to provide your buck with separate housing to prevent unwanted breeding. If you are planning on breeding, it may be easier to pay to use someone else’s buck rather than buying your own.
A wether is a male goat that has been neutered. This is typically done at a very young age, around 8-12 weeks. Wethers are a great choice if you are looking for goat to be a pet, for land clearing, for use in programs like 4-H or petting zoos. Wethers do not have the undesirable habits and characteristics that bucks come with. They can be very sweet and loving. They are able to live among does and do not require separate housing.
Registered vs Unregistered:
Another thing to consider when first getting started with goats is whether or not to register your herd. The most popular organizations with which a goat can be registered are the ADGA (American Dairy Goat Association), the IDGR (international dairy goat registry), the AGS (American Goat Society), and the NDGA (Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association).
Buying a registered goat guarantees their pedigree which is more important if you plan on showing your goats. As a result, you can typically price kids higher if they come from registered stock. On the flip side, purchasing a registered goat may cost you more and limit your options. If the purpose of your goat is for milk or a pet, it may not be worth it.
Horns vs. Disbudded
All goats have horns unless they are polled (bred to not have horns). When you find a goat for sale, it may or may not be disbudded. Disbudding is when a hot iron is used to burn the buds in order to prevent the growth of horns. This is done very early on, when the kid is about 4 days old. Goats with horns can pose a risk of physically harming other goats, pets, people or property. However, it is optional. If you choose not to disbud your kid or if you purchase a goat that has not been disbudded, make sure this is consistent among all goats in your herd so that none have an unfair advantage.
Health of the Herd
There are a lot of very cute goats for sale online, but make sure you go visit the farm to see how they are raised. Do they have plenty of space and clean living conditions? Make sure you ask about the health of the herd. Have there been any known health issues within the herd? What vaccinations do they get? What diseases are they tested for and what are the results? Look the goat over for any signs of illness. Lastly, ask about their feeding program. Any reliable breeder will have no problem providing you with this information.
Last but certainly not least, the personality of the goat should be part of the decision making process. Each goat will be different, but there are some general common personality traits across breeds. Bottle fed babies tend to be more friendly and less skittish around humans than dam raised kids. If you're buying an older goat, interact with them first to make sure they are approachable before you buy.
Once you've considered all of these options, check out my post on creating a goat first aid kit so that you're ready to bring your new herd member(s) home!