Before I got the goat itch and became a goat owner, I wish I would’ve known some things beforehand. You know, things that only a true friend and goat owner will tell you. Things you don’t find in an ‘all about goats’ book. But, let me back up a bit before the itch.
My dad had goats when I was a kid. We used to have the most fun with the smelly ole’ buck.. He would chase us all over the pasture and we would make a game of it. The crazy goat even treed me one time. Now, I never let him catch me and I don’t know if he would’ve hurt me or not, but my guess is he thought my sister and I were odd looking does perhaps. The strange thing is, he wasn’t even our goat. We rented him from another farmer for a month or so to breed with our females.
I remember those goats as being pretty hardy. My dad didn’t worm them, didn’t give them much grain, didn’t really do a whole lot with them except milk them and breed them. And I don’t remember them getting sick or requiring much attention.
Let’s fast forward quite a few years when my husband and I were out of the military and bought our first little four acre homestead. It wasn’t long before I got the goat itch. I was a little leery of goats milk. My dad didn’t take the necessary steps to ensure the milk tasted good back in the day. Needless to say, it was horrible. I can clearly remember my sister and I holding our noses to down a glass of that putrid milk.
As much as I read on goats and how to take care of them, nothing really prepared me for these crazy creatures and it really was a learn as you go thing.
So as your friend, your fellow homesteader, let me share with you some things I wish I’d known beforehand. Things that would’ve helped me tremendously.
1. Goats are not like sheep. I grew up with sheep but I never analyzed the difference between the two when I was a kid. But now that I look back, I see that their personalities are very different. When we bought goats, I had forgotten how much personality they have, and by personality I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way! They are smarter, more cantankerous and stubborn, and a heck of a lot more curious than sheep. And when I say smarter and more curious, that usually means more trouble. So, just wrap your head around that one and prepare yourself.
2. I wish I would’ve known that goats aren’t as hardy as they used to be. There are those with opinions as to why this is, but the fact is, they are work. Gone are the days of easy keepers. My dad’s goats were pretty self sufficient. Now, you have to worm them, keep minerals accessible at all times, watch out for bloat, keep a close watch on any signs of mastitis, milk fever and other problems that are the norm in today’s goat world. Although I read about these things beforehand, I did not realize how common they are. So, don’t go into this thinking you can leave them be and they will miraculously give you milk, meat and/or babies without any intervention.
3. Although I wish I’d known what I’d mentioned in number two, I also wish I didn’t read as much about goats as I did beforehand. Sounds crazy I know. But I was so consumed with making sure I did everything by the book(which was impossible), that I got overwhelmed and felt like a failure because I couldn’t follow the books to a T. For example, I read Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby and she talked about nutrition and natural health care. Although her book was very informative, it was also impossible for me to follow exclusively, and therefore I felt like I wasn’t doing things right. For example, her feed suggestions were impossible because no feed store or mill in our area had everything she was suggesting. But, I knew it would be so good for the goats and settling for anything less was driving me bonkers! It’s good to read up on something before diving in. but don’t expect to go 100% by the book, especially with any kind of farm animal.
4. And then there’s the whole ‘rent a buck’ thing my dad did. Forget about that too! I thought I wouldn’t need to buy a stinky buck and just borrow someone else’s. Come to find out that everyone is paranoid about spreading goat diseases like CAE. And for good reason! Again, I knew about all of the goat diseases, but I did not realize how common they are in today’s goat world. I would never rent out my buck or even bring does here to the farm to be bred. It just ain’t like it used to be.
5. Before we were blessed to join the goat owner world, I had read about culling but it just did not sink in. I guess I figured that my herd would never get too big or there would never be a need for that. But, as time went on, I realized that keeping a goat that was more trouble than its worth was just wasting my time and money. It was a hard lesson learned and never an easy decision, But that’s homesteading, right? There are always lessons to be learned and hard decisions to make.
When people tell me they bought their first goats, of course I get excited, but I also tell them that it isn’t quite as simple as they presume. Hey, we gotta be honest, right? Goats are work. And from one homesteading friend to another, we need to share our real life experiences.
The good, the bad and the ugly.