A guide for the new or prospective dairy goat owner
Written by:
Don V. Zahniser
Joan C. Zahniser
1787 E. Kent Rd.
Kent NY 14477

The choice of a goat is a highly personal one with many, many, variables.
It is important to decide what you want from the goat, and what you can
invest in time and money towards keeping goats.  Do your research and
preparation BEFORE you buy.  Most publications about goats have
descriptions as to what constitutes good conformation.  Do not be taken in
by pretty colors alone.  To get the best possible animal for your
investment, buy from a reputable breeder, not a livestock auction (You
don't know the history, breeding, diseases, etc associated with an animal
from an auction).  The breeder will probably have a selection of animals
available at varying costs, depending on his or her opinion of their worth.
Discuss with the breeder the reasons the animal is being sold.  Look at all
the animals in the barn, to compare the health and quality of the goats in
the herd.  Ask to see milk records, if they are available.  Beware the shy,
listless doe, as goats are normally outgoing and friendly.  Don't buy any
goat with open sores, abscesses, or conspicuous lumps.
Most breeders keep pedigrees for their animals.  A pedigree is used to
document the ancestry of the animal.  A great deal of information can be
obtained from a well annotated pedigree. Many breeders will list milking
records, show wins, classification scores, or other important information
that indicates the quality of the animals in the pedigree.  Several symbols
appear in records kept on individual goats which convey further
information.  Definitions of these symbols and terms are available from
ADGA, and also appear in the 'Dairy Goat Journal', Vol. 61, #4, page 319.

Goat shows are a good means to become familiar with desirable characteristics in an open setting. By watching the animals in the ring and listening carefully to the judge's comments, you can learn a lot about caprine anatomy and pick out good and bad points. The one caution is that the judge is making a comparison of the animals being shown; this does not necessarily mean that a first place animal is the greatest thing since sliced bread. All it means is that, in the judge's opinion, it is better overall than the second or lower place animal for the reasons the judge states during placement. When deciding which goat to buy, keep in mind YOUR criteria for buying a goat. A culled animal from a high quality herd may make an ideal homestead milker, even though it won't win best in show. GRADE, AMERICAN AND PUREBRED GOATS A goat whose ancestry cannot be proven to be of pure descent from purebred stock of a particular breed is called a grade. This term is also used for animals who, through some genetic fluke, do not meet standards of conformation, color, or other criteria that are called "breed standards". Another term to cover this case and those where breeds are crossed in breeding, is "experimental". Although purebred stock is generally assumed to be superior to grade stock, this is not always true. Some of the most physically sound and highest producing goats are grades. Many, many dairy operations use grade stock for the simple reason of being able to obtain respectable milk production at reasonable prices. This does not mean that all grades are "acceptable" in conformation and milk production. A fair statement might be that, although there are good grade goats to be found, it is generally more of a risk to buy a grade because of unpredictability in the genetics behind the goat. Purebred stock is, at least in theory, more predictable in quality from generation to generation. If, in a breeding program, you breed the descendants of your grade stock to only purebred bucks of a particular breed, and the offspring meet the breed standards, the result is an "American". A Recorded Grade may also be referred to as "Native on Appearance". If you breed her to a purebred buck, the result is 1/2 pure. The next generation bred to a purebred is 3/4 pure. When you get to the next generation, which is 7/8 pure, the does are considered "Purebred American". For a buck to be considered "Purebred American", he must be at least 15/16 pure, or one generation more than is required for the doe. DAIRY GOAT MANAGEMENT In order to properly care for and enjoy your goat, some basic requirements for feeding, housing, and maintaining the health of animal must be met. The following are guidelines which will help you to understand these requirements and to anticipate expenses. It should be remembered that these are guidelines only, that will probably need to be modified to meet the needs of the individual animal, family, and budget. Most families first acquire a goat to provide milk, which can be affected in flavor, amount, and storage quality by a host of seemingly unrelated causes. Most of these can be improved upon, within reason, with appropriate care. RECOMMENDED STARTING EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES 1) MILK BUCKET: Stainless Steel is preferred; glass is okay, but will break. Plastic will transfer flavors, odors, and possibly bacteria. Try a 2 quart stainless steel sauce pan. 2) STRAINER: Stainless Steel is preferred; for small quantities a milk filter and funnel work fine. (Try the 'Busy Liz' funnel). 3) MILKING STAND: You will need this when your doe gets to milking age. The milk stand controls the goat and gives you something to sit upon while milking. It also helps when trimming hooves, giving shots, vet care, etc.. 4) SCALE: For weighing daily milk production. Milk records will help you to manage your doe. Milk production can decrease suddenly because of illness, heats during breeding season, or bad feed. 5) DEHORNER: For dehorning newborn kids; horns are hazardous to your health and that of other goats in the barn! 6) ANTISEPTIC UDDER WASH: Used to sanitize the udder before milking. The most common type is an iodine based solution, which works fine as long as it is stored at room temperature. 7) HOOF TRIMMER OR UTILITY KNIFE: Either may be used for hoof trimming. The hoof trimmers are safer for you and the goat. ADDITIONAL (OPTIONAL) EQUIPMENT 8) CREAM SEPARATOR: For making butter, cream cheese, ice cream, etc. 9) BUTTER CHURN: Can be replaced by some mixers or food processors. 10) ICE CREAM MAKER: Goat's milk ice cream is heavenly! 11) YOGURT MAKER 12) PASTEURIZER: May be needed for best results from yogurt or cheese. It may also be advisable to pasteurize milk for your family or for feeding to your (goat) kids. Many breeders feed only pasteurized milk to kids to combat a viral disease called Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (a.k.a. CAE). 13) ELECTRIC CLIPPERS: For parasite (lice) control and summer comfort. Clipping is normally done as part of show preparation. HEALTH CARE Hopefully, your animals will be healthy. Certain steps are necessary to make sure that the goat remains healthy, and that your are prepared for any problems that might occur. There is no substitute for proper care and feeding. Some routine practices to maintain herd health include: 1) ENTEROTOXEMIA (Clostridium Perfringens C&D): Vaccination; first shot at 4-6 weeks old, second shot 2 weeks later. Give a yearly booster 15-30 days prior to kidding. 2) BO-SE: Vitamin E and selenium supplement. This is needed in some parts of the country, depending on the level of selenium in the soil. Consult your veterinarian for requirements in your area. 3) TETANUS TOXOID: Follow the same schedule as with enterotoxemia. 4) WORMING: Since wormers are, after all, poisons, use only on the advice of your vet. Different worm infestations require different treatments, and it is a good idea to change the type of wormer you use. 5) VITAMIN A&D: Depends on housing and feeding situations. Most often given in the last two months of pregnancy. 6) VITAMIN B COMPLEX: Used when the animal is put under unusual stress. Typical situations include shows, difficult kiddings, shipping, illness, or abrupt changes in feed or housing. It is a good idea to keep Vitamin B Complex on hand; moldy hay or feed can cause an acute vitamin B deficiency that can kill a goat in only a couple of days. 7) PARASITE CONTROL: Lice and fleas are handled by clipping the animal to identify problems and to eliminate shelter for these parasites. Use flea and lice powder as needed. NOTE: Some of these are not recommended for use on pregnant or milking animals. A Pyrethrin-based dairy fly spray can be effective against lice. Again, consult your vet. 8) HOOF TRIMMING: It is essential to keep the goat's feet in good condition. Bottoms of hooves should be trimmed flat and as parallel as possible to the top of the hoof where it meets the foot. Trim at least every 4-6 weeks, depending on the goat and the housing conditions. If you have newborn kids, their hooves make an ideal example of what a mature animal's hooves should look like. 9) COCCIDIOSIS CONTROL: This is especially important for kids. This disease is manifested in diarrhea, poor appetite, and/or stunted growth. Isolating kids from adults at an early age, and the use of specific medications will usually control problems. It is especially important to provided open, airy, dry pens for kids, and to avoid over-crowding. 10) EPINEPHRINE: This is like Adrenaline. It is an essential medicine to have on hand whenever you give shots. One possible effect of shots is a problem called anaphylactic shock. The animal will suddenly go into shock after an injection, and can die within a matter of minutes. Keep a fresh bottle of Epinephrine and a clean syringe handy when giving shots just for this problem. Better to have it on hand and not use it than to lose a doe in the time it takes to get a vet, or even to get into the house and back with a filled syringe. 11) CAE: This is a particularly troublesome disease in goats. It is incurable, and passed from dam to kid through the milk, so many breeders will raise their kids on pasteurized milk. There are tests that indicate if a goat has been exposed to CAE; However, a positive test does not necessarily mean a goat will develop any symptoms, and may lead a long and productive life. Symptoms include enlarged knees, neurological disorders, walking on the front knees, and a form of mastitis. Note that any one of these symptoms alone does not mean a goat has CAE, nor does a lack of symptoms mean that the animal is free of the disease. 12) KIDDING SUPPLIES: You should keep a strong iodine solution on hand for dipping kids' navels and for general sanitation in the event that you must help the doe. If you must assist a doe by going inside her to move kids around or to help pull them out, you must be as sterile as possible and have a lubricant (Such as K-Y Jelly) on hand. It is a good idea to keep a hemostat (Closes like a scissors, latches in the clamped position. A good substitute is available from Radio Shack) and dental floss handy for clamping bleeding umbilical cords, then tying them off. A WORD ABOUT MEDICATIONS While many experienced goatherds select medications and give injections themselves. there is no substitute for a competent, experienced veterinarian. The whole animal must be considered in the prevention and treatment of health concerns. The vet has access to information on the newest medicines and a wealth of experience that is not available to the goatherd. A close working relationship with your vet is a must!! HOUSING Goats thrive in a remarkable variety of environments (garages, barns, sheds, etc.). Some basic conditions are necessary for good health, however, including: 1) A dry, draft-free stall or pen. 2) A manger that keeps hay off the ground. 3) A supply of fresh, clean, water. 4) Free access to an outdoor pasture or paddock is highly desirable. 5) Since most goats are notorious escape artists, stall walls and fences should be at least four feet high. Electric fencing can simplify things immensely. Care should be taken to avoid holes or gaps where legs or heads can get caught, and nails or other sharp objects which cause cuts. 6) Where possible, dirt floors with deep litter are preferred; concrete deep littered floors are easier to clean, but promote dampness. Wood floors are usually not practical, since they will rot. FEEDING 1) GRAIN: A 16-18% dairy mix without urea is desirable. You can purchase specially formulated goat rations from Blue Seal or Purina; local feed mills will sometimes mix custom rations if in sufficient quantities. Prices in our area range between $11-13 per hundredweight. Dry animals will thrive on 1 to 1.5 pounds of feed per day. An average feeding rate for milking does is about 3 pounds per day. These amounts can vary widely depending on the size, milk production, and condition of the animal. Many owners feed dietary supplements as top dressing in the grain dish. These can include such things as barley, Calf Manna and its equivalents, or vitamin and mineral mixes. 2) HAY: Second cutting alfalfa, clover, or trefoil is preferred for milking animals - Give them all they'll eat on a routine basis (but don't suddenly give them huge quantities of a very rich hay that they haven't been eating). Dry, pregnant, or immature animals can be, and at times should be, fed high quality first cutting. Hay should be leafy with no evidence of mold and with minimal dust. Figure roughly 4 to 5 bales per goat per month. NOTE: Goats love weeds that other animals won't touch - you may be able to get good first cutting "goat hay" for lower prices because of high weed content. Just make sure that it is not moldy. Mold in feed can cause an acute vitamin B deficiency called polio encephalamacia, which causes blindness and other nervous system problems, and often death. Injections of vitamin B will help the goat through, if given immediately that symptoms are observed. 3) TRACE MINERALS: Quite often the selection of feed and pasture or hay does not provide an adequate or balanced trace mineral content. You may want to feed trace mineral salt "free choice". That is, leave a salt block or pan of granulated trace mineral salt where the goats can get to it, but where it won't get dirty. Keep in mind that goats may not be able to get enough minerals from a block; their tongues are not as rough as those of cows and horses. Baking Soda is sometimes given to increase butterfat content in the milk. The aim in feeding is to keep the goat milking to its maximum capacity, and looking fit, trim, and happy. Excess weight, once gained, is very difficult to control. MILK MILK HANDLING: Every precaution should be taken to keep any foreign substances such as dirt or bacteria out of the milk. Wash the goat's udder and your hands with a sanitizing solution (available at most feed stores). Dry the udder and discard the first few squirts from each teat. When finished milking, some goat breeders recommend using a teat dip to seal the teat orifice. The milk should then be strained through disposable milk filters (again, check the feed store). Store in glass containers (plastic retains flavor, odors, and bacteria in its pores). Rapidly chill the filled containers in the freezer or a milk cooler for 1 to 1.5 hours to retard bacterial growth before placing in the refrigerator. If you prefer, pasteurize the milk. MILK USES: If you are fortunate enough to have a goat giving over 8 pounds of milk a day after her kids are weaned, you will probably have surplus milk. The following are some uses for milk, and estimated amounts required for each: VEAL CALVES: Up to 16 pounds a day; work very gradually up to this level to avoid scours (diarrhea). KIDS: Up to 24 ounces twice daily. We prefer to feed 16 ounces three times a day (Opinions on amount and treatment of milk for kids can vary widely. You may need to seek advice from an experienced breeder or your vet). PIGS, TURKEYS, CHICKENS, etc: As much as they'll drink as a supplement to normal feed and water. BUTTER: About 18 quarts per pound of product. CHEESE: About 4 quarts per pound of product. OTHER FOODS: By recipe - check goat clubs in your area. BREEDING The usual heat season for goats in the autumn. The gestation period is 150 days, which means that the vast majority of kids are born in the spring. Goats have 21 day heat cycles; Heats can be detected by wagging tails, mucus discharge from the vagina, a tendency to be extra 'mouthy', and/or a sudden change in milk production (Or none of the above - there is such a thing as a silent heat!). A goat can be in standing heat (willing to be bred) for an hour or three days depending on the animal and the time of year. Prior arrangements with a breeder offering stud service are essential as a matter of courtesy and to ensure proper timing. Be aware: Most breeders offering stud services have barn rules governing whether an animal will be accepted for service. These rules are for the protection of the breeder's own stock, and should be respected even if you disagree with the grounds used for the rejection. Choice of breeder and breeding stock is a purely personal matter. Breeders will sometimes recommend a particular stud to complement your doe's strengths or weaknesses. Remember that genetics is a matter of chance; even well educated opinions do not guarantee results. KIDDING KIDDING SUPPLIES: 1) TINCTURE OF IODINE(7%): For dipping navels. 2) SOFT TOWELS: For drying newborn kids; especially important in colder climates. 3) SCISSORS AND DENTAL FLOSS: To tie off and trim bleeding umbilical cords. A surgical clamp is also good for this. 4) BETADINE SOLUTION: In case you need to assist. As the day for kidding nears, you should be prepared for all eventualities. Assuming the doe was with the buck on one specific day, you will be able to anticipate the kidding date. Normal deliveries occur within a 5-7 day 'window' on either side of this date (see BREEDING). It is a good practice to separate the doe from other livestock before this window opens. She will then go through a progression of activities, which usually includes: restlessness, biting her sides, hollowing or loosening of the tail area, standing on objects with her front end elevated, preliminary contractions to rearrange kids, and a light mucus discharge. As kidding becomes imminent, the mucus will become more yellow and thicker (This is called the cervical plug), the contractions will become more obvious, and she will tend to stretch out and/or thrash around. If the cervical plug is passed, kidding is usually within 24 hours. Heavy contractions accompanied by grunting or yelling usually result in the goat breaking her water; the kid should be only minutes away. At this point, prolonged straining could mean trouble. Goat kids are born in a yellowish/red sack which breaks at or during delivery. The normal presentation of kids for delivery is the nose with two front hooves, or less often, the two rear hooves. Any other presentation is cause for concern. It is strongly recommended that you read up on the steps to be taken in the event of atypical presentations, and have an experienced friend or vet present to assist during your first unusual kidding. WARNING! Things happen awfully fast - keep those phone numbers handy. When the kid is first born, several things should be done in rapid succession. First, wipe the kid's nose to make sure he can breathe; second, dip the navel in iodine tincture. Dry the kid as completely as possible, especially in cold weather to prevent frostbite, and then get ready for the next kid, because twins and triplets are quite common in goats. As soon as the kid seems to want to stand (usually within 15 minutes), give it colostrum, either straight from mama, or pasteurized in a bottle. After the delivery, the doe should pass the afterbirth, or placenta, within 24 hours. If this has not occurred, do not try to pull it out yourself! Call the vet. A very serious condition called metritis can result from retained placental tissue. Even in normal circumstances, most does will try to eat the placenta. Although normal, many breeders try to prevent this, as it will adversely affect her appetite. One very common problem in goats around kidding time is ketosis. If a doe loses her appetite, or her breath loses that distinctive fermented grass odor, immediately tempt her with concentrated sweets such as molasses, raisins, sugar, etc. until you can contact your vet. Ketosis is a problem that can kill or paralyze a goat if not treated AT ONCE! Propylene glycol is the most accepted oral treatment, and it is a good idea to keep at least a pint on hand for emergencies. Giving a goat 2 ounces of propylene glycol from a turkey baster may not be pleasant, but if you suspect that she has ketosis, it may save her life. Time is critical. Dehorning of kids is necessary to prevent accidental injury to you or other goats from horns. This is usually done 3-7 days after birth. Dehorning irons are available from several suppliers. This is not a pleasant task, and you may need help the first couple of times. Do it early; dehorning becomes more expensive and more dangerous to the goat the longer you wait. There are many ways to raise kids, from leaving them on their dams, to feeding only pasteurized milk, to using milk replacer. This is a management decision, but a major rule of thumb for any of them is to start with small amounts (2-4 oz.) 3 to 4 times a day, increasing to 16 to 32 ounces twice daily at 2-3 weeks of age. Kids are usually weaned at about 10 weeks of age. Hand feeding of kids can be done using bottles, 'Lambars', pans, etc. (We don't like pan feeding for sanitation reasons) Kids are tattooed before registering and/or sale. Purebred, American, and Recorded Grade goats are tattooed to provide permanent identification. The tattoos are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. Other dairy goat registries are also available. All breeds are tattooed in the ears except for LaManchas, which are tattooed in the tail webbing. Tradition indicates that the breeder's identification letters assigned by ADGA appear in the right ear or tail web. The left ear or tail web is usually reserved for use with a letter recommended by ADGA to denote the year of birth, and a number to identify the specific animal from the breeder's herd.

More Farm Information

Don V. Zahniser Joan C. Zahniser Iron Tooth Saanens

Back to

Back to