I've been keeping my eye on craigslist and the IWANNA, our weekly area sales paper. I've gleaned several bits of information from regularly purusing these: most widely available are various dwarf types followed by Boer meat goats; there is an occasional Tennessee Fainting goat (Myotonic, also a meat breed) offered or more rarely LaManchas, Nubians, or Alpine crosses (all dairy breeds, but usually bucks); nearly everyone has a "billy" or buckling they'd like you to buy; there is an occasional "nanny" for sale, usually with her buck kid, prices range from $35 to $200 each for mixed breed or unregistered animals; there are a good number of these are "pet quality only" goats for sale; on rare occasion wethers are offered; and that there are even a few Boer "steers" to be had.
Well, bucks are out. I can tell you that right off the bat. I had a milking Toggenburg doe and her rapidly growing buck kid quite a number years ago. From that experience I learned that unless we are set up for breeding (which isn't even on the radar yet), I will under no circumstances get a buck. Since we'll probably only have one milking doe at a time, we can get buck services elsewhere. Except for wanting that milk for yogurt and cheese, I can't say I'm actually interested in becoming a breeder, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of someday raising and selling meat goats if that's what Dan wants. Or maybe keeping and raising a heritage breed of goat someday. Someday.
I have a certain sense of caution about those "pet quality" goats. I suspect this is often means that the owners don't want to sell them to butcher, which to be honest, I can't completely promise. If they have been raised as pets, like dogs, more than likely they've been spoiled and allowed to develop bad habits. Those cute antics may seem charmingly mischievous when they're young, but that same behavior becomes downright annoying not to mention destructive when they're full grown. In addition, a goat that is used to being around humans isn't going to want to stay in the field.
Admittedly, Dan and I have different leanings when it comes to getting goats. As you've probably already gathered, he tends to think "meat," I tend to think "milk." Both of these are reasons we want goats, but initially, the job to be done is getting back our badly overgrown field.
One book suggests that dairy breeds are not the best choice for brush clearing, mainly due to the potential to injure their udders. This is a little disappointing as I found some Alpine/Sanaan cross does for sale ($175 each), though I confess I'm not quite ready for dairy chores yet.
Meat breeds would be suitable for brush clearing, but it is some sources recommended supplementary feeding to get the best weight on them. Of course, scrub or Spanish goats would be best for the job, but I've never seen one for sale around here. One recommendation I read, was to get a combination of standard and dwarf size goats, because they focus on different levels of brush clearing.
Shetland sheep. Another possibility, as you Shetland folk have pointed out, especially since Shetlands are one of the few sheep breeds who love browse. I did some research on this and found that Shetlands can gobble down kudzu and poison ivy along with the best of the scrub goats. Then I had a chance to talk with a gal in my weavers guild who raises Shetlands. Her caution was that if the area needing clearing has a lot of thorny, briary plants, then I'd be continually "rescuing" them when their fleece got caught in thorns and bramble. Unfortunately, that field is loaded with wild roses, a few saw briars, and a lot of sprawling, viney-type blackberry brambles. Because of that, I think I'd be wiser to wait on the Shetlands. Ditto for fiber goats like Angoras.
In searching the Internet for local goat breeders, I've found that I can get purebred Nigerian dwarfs, Toggenburgs, Boars, or Kikos (another meat breed) with or without papers. For our homestead needs, purity of breed isn't a requirement. Plus they are pricier, around $350 for a registered animal in our neck of the woods. Still, there are advantages from buying from a reputable breeder: being able to purchase animals from someone with experience, who can provide documented health and vaccination records, and whose reputation depends upon the quality of their animals and customer satisfaction.
So, one possibility is to go with a few meat goats as long as I can have one dairy doe. For that one, breed is still under consideration. Dan has opinions about this, as he doesn't care for the look of either LaManchas (earless), or Nubians (droopy ears and Roman noses, though Boers have these characteristics too, hmm). He does like the look of Alpines. Initially I leaned toward Toggenburgs, because that's what I used to have, or Nubians, prized for their richer milk. However, I'm not particularly attached to either of these, and of the Nubians, I understand these to be a very active, emotional breed anyway, so perhaps not the best choice for us.
Toggenburgs run on the smaller side of standard sized dairy goats. They have a long milking season and produce a lower fat milk. The only downside to this, is that evidently low fat milk doesn't make the best cheese, according to one author. Evidently that lower milkfat is one reason why some folks don't think goat milk tastes good. I thought Toggenburg milk tasted just fine though.
How many? Minimum for goats is always two, because they are herd animals and miserable alone. Four would probably be a good number for us, if we can find that many reasonably priced. Our overgrown field could probably handle more initially, but I think we'd have our hands full with four.
We bought feed, mineral/salt block, buckets, and tubs last week. We finished the hay feeder this morning, making it from a cattle panel. About all that's left is to get straw and hay! So hopefully I should have goats to show you well before the end of the month!
The Scoop on Our Getting Goats copyright May 2010