May 5, 2010

The Scoop on Our Getting Goats

A number of you have asked what kind of goats we plan to get, and my answer has always been, "It depends on what's available when it's finally time to buy them." But also, as we've been working on the fence, I've been doing my homework.

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 


Michelle said...

I've had Saanens (as pets, not milkers) and a pygmy. Much prefer the dairy goats. Intrigued by the Nigerian Dwarf breed; seems to combine the best of both the breeds I had. Of course the extra bucks of any breed can be butchered, so I don't see a real advantage to a "meat only" breed.


How totally cool, I've never been up close and personally near goats only at petting zoos, etc.. that's sounds like your really trotting along with your plans. Can't wait to see what you get, it must be so exciting.

Benita said...

I like the fact that you are doing your homework, asking those who know and thinking this over before buying. You're more apt to be happy with the results.

Good luck!

Laura said...

Boer goats also give cashmere... If I were getting brush clearers, and they weren't currently milking, there wouldn't be much problem with udders, I don't think, so I'd go with Nubians or Saanens and breed the doe(s) to a Boer/Kiko buck for meat kids. That way, you have the best of both worlds. If you got young does, to be bred in the fall, the udder consideration wouldn't be a problem at all, since they wouldn't have one yet!

Good luck - I'd like to have goats, but my fencing is so substandard that I can't keep them in (I tried). I would love to make cheese, but will have to buy my goat milk for now!

maggie said...

"Pet quality" also often translates to "not up to snuff." I see it used in reference to not being a breeder. Say, a poor bag or something along those lines.

Have you hooked up with the goat people in your area? I find that they are a wealth of information, and often can tell you exactly where to find what you are looking for. How exciting! I can't wait to see what you bring home. :D

Sharon said...

My parents always had Nubians because they wanted milk. They were social and affectionate and I loved them. However, it's left me with the inability to eat goat to this day. I don't feel that way about eating lamb, but my 4H lambs were just plain dumb. I should have raised sheep in 4H, looking back.

Leigh said...

Michelle, I tend to agree with you. I'm not sure why DH is interested in meat goats, except that he's a real meat eater.

Deep End, I can't believe we've finally gotten to this point! Some days it seemed like we never would, and you're right, it is exciting.

Benita, I'm curious about what's locally available, but also what questions to ask potential sellers. This is a new experience for me.

Laura, I didn't know that about Boers. Good point about breeding dairy does to meat bucks. That's a good possibility.

Maggie, I hadn't thought about that in regards to "pet quality." Some of these aren't from breeders, just individuals. But that's a good point and something more to consider.

I haven't contacted anyone here who has goats. I'm just finding out who those folks are actually. Not sure if they are organized in any way, even unofficially. They would be my best resource though.

Sharon, funny how those childhood experiences make a difference in our adult lives. At least you had the experience! All we had were cats, dogs, and parakeets.

Robin said...

Well, I don't know very much about goats but I am excited for you! I always look at my sister-on-laws goats when we are out at her place. They are pretty but a handful. She loves her milking goats.

Nina said...

We had a pygmy goat who I swear could fly! That little girl bounced around the barn like she had wings! Our dairy goats were fun, but just pets. I think now if I had the space to get goats, I'd look at pygora goats with A type coats. They'd eat the brambles and give fibre. No milk though but then I can't drink milk anyway. :)
Pet quality can also just mean that confirmation wise, they aren't suitable for showing. Also, as with sheep, it costs $ to register animals, so if they aren't using them for breeding, they are "pet" quality. Might be nothing wrong with them at all.

Renee Nefe said...

I don't know much about goats either. A friend of mine got some goats with the intent of having dairy but she didn't do her homework. In the end she found that she really didn't have the time for them and traded them for donkeys. We were kinda bummed as we were looking forward to fresh goat cheese. oh well.

Woolly Bits said...

no goat advice, sorry - but if you're not quite sure yet and not ready to do the milking etc. - are there no donkeys in your area that you might "loan" to clear your scrub area? people around here usually do this to clear fields - and even though you won't get much in return (apart from dung:)) at least you'd end up with cleaner fields?

Callie Brady said...

We had an alpine dairy herd that my daughter showed in 4H shows. Loved the alpines! They were like big dogs. The buck kids were sold for meat or wethered (castrated) and sold for pets or companions to horses (or other farm animals) or left with their horns and sold to clear fields. They need their horns out in a field to fight off dogs, predators... otherwise they are helpless if attacked.

We had other breeds of goats, but the only one I couldn't stand were the Nubians because of how noisy they were. Very noisy! Couldn't stand the "yelling." Maybe you could find a quiet one.

You might check with your local animal shelters, 4H Extension office, feed stores, or veterinarians. Sometimes they know of goats that need rehoming.

Oh, yes... I should mention you need excellent fencing. Goats are like monkeys and can jump and climb where you wouldn't believe.

You could find out from the 4H extension office if there are any goat shows you could go to and meet and greet goats and owners. Fun!

Good luck!

Leigh said...

Robin, goats definitely have minds of their own. I think that's what makes them so endearing however. Of course, they do give some owners a run for their money. :)

Nina, another good point about "pet quality." It seems it depends upon the source, but still, I won't discredit that altogether. Pygoras would be nice, but I do want that milk. I can't drink milk either, but we do eat a lot of yogurt and cheese.

Renee, the hard lessons of not doing one's homework! Of course, I do have some experience, not only with my Toggenburgs, but I used to baby sit a friend's Nubians when they would go out of town. The girls all behave, but the boys! Oh my.

Bettina, I didn't realize donkeys could eat brush. I figured they were grazing animals. We don't know anyone who has one we could borrow however. I do see them for sale on occasion, but they are pretty expensive around here.

Callie, we do have Alpines locally on occasion. Nubians too, but as you say, they are noisy and emotional. Hopefully we've got our fence secure, though I've heard stories about the goats that could never be kept in! My neighbor has already volunteered to help chase them down in that event. :)

Anonymous said...

No goat advice, but some organizational. Looks like you want, on the one hand, something to clean the field, and, on the other, something that will allow for meat and/or milk or both. Suggestions for the first: rent one or more browse goats, donkeys, or whatever; or rent/loan out the field to a local who needs free browse for his goat(s); or buy one or two meat goats to first browse and then turn into meat. Suggestion for the second: this is easy, buy the milk goats you want, or a combo of meat/milk. So the advice is in two steps: first, clear the field, then focus on the end result wanted. --Sue in MA

Leigh said...

Sue, yes, brush clearing is the first order of business. That and manure for the compost. I'm not sure I'd want to take responsibility for someone else's goats at this point. I can't say I've ever seen goats or donkeys for rent, actually. Much depends on what's on offer and what price we're willing to pay. Goats seem to have gotten more expensive just over the past several months. I'd like at least one dairy doe to breed in the fall. Possibly two or three does of a meat breed, or wethers if possible, which could be butchered in the fall. The does could be bred so we can raise our own meat. That's important to DH. He's the main meat eater in the family.