Beginners Guide to Raising Goats Naturally (with Free Checklist)

Learn how to raise goats with this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats Naturally, complete with a free printable care checklist!

beginners guide to raising goats naturally

Considering raising goats? I’ve naturally managed a healthy herd for several years without issues like parasites, breeding problems, or common diseases.

In this beginner’s guide, I’ll share my practices to help you manage happy and healthy goats. You’ll learn how to set up their living environment, what to feed them, how to manage day-to-day care, and more. Plus, I’ve included a free goat care checklist with all the essentials. Ready to begin? Let’s get started!

Can You Have Goats Where You Live?

goats in backyard in neighborhood

The first thing to do is find out whether you can legally keep goats on your property. This is especially important if you don’t live in a rural area, where keeping livestock is generally more accepted. Here’s how you can find out:

  • Check Local Regulations: Start by checking with your local city or county government to understand the specific laws and ordinances regarding keeping goats. Some areas have restrictions based on the size of your property, the number of animals allowed, or even the type of animals you can keep.
  • Homeowners Association Rules: If you live within a Homeowners Association (HOA), you’ll also need to review their rules. Some HOAs strictly prohibit livestock, while others may have more lenient policies.
  • Neighborhood Considerations: Even if it’s legally permissible to keep goats, consider how having goats will impact your neighbors. Goats can be noisy and require proper fencing to keep them contained. Maintaining good relationships with your neighbors can make your goat-keeping experience much smoother and more enjoyable.

Goat Breeds

Here’s an overview of various kinds of goats, categorized by their primary uses:

Dairy Goats

nigerian dwarf goat kids, beginners guide to raising goats
Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Nigerian Dwarfs: This mini goat produces milk with the highest amount of butterfat, 6% to 10%, even higher than cow’s milk. This makes their milk excellent for creating rich, creamy cheeses and lotions.

Nubian Goats: Recognizable by their long, floppy ears, Nubians produce milk that contains about 4% to 5% butterfat, similar to milk from Jersey cows.

Alpine Goats: Adaptable and hardy; Alpines have high milk production, but their milk is less creamy than Nigerians or Nubiuns, at around 3.5% to 4% butterfat.

Meat Goats

boer goat kid, beginners guide to raising goats
Boer Goat

Boer Goats: Preferred for meat production due to their rapid growth and mild temperament. Their larger size makes them favorites for commercial operations.

Kiko: Renowned for their toughness and low-maintenance needs, Kikos thrive even in challenging conditions, making them another popular choice for meat.

Fiber Goats

angora goat
Angora Goat

Angora Goats: Famous for their beautiful mohair, Angora goats offer a silky fiber coveted in the textile industry.

Cashmere Goats: These goats produce the highly prized cashmere wool, celebrated for its softness and warmth.

Pet Breeds

pygmy goat
Pygmy Goat

Pygmy Goats: These miniature, friendly goats are easy to manage and make excellent pets.

Fainting Goats: Endearing and popular among pet owners. They’re known for their mild temperament and hilarious ‘fainting’ characteristics when startled.

Choosing Your Goats

nigerian dwarf goats grazing on pasture

Selecting the right goats for your homestead involves considering several factors to match your needs and resources. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice:

Purpose

Identify your primary goal (dairy, meat, fiber, or companionship) and choose a breed that excels in that area. I aimed for dairy production, so I focused on dairy breeds.

Size and Manageability

Consider the size of the goats and your ability to handle them. Smaller goats were my priority since I needed a breed I could easily handle alone. Larger goats might not be the best choice if you manage them yourself.

Temperament and Noise

Research the temperament and noise levels of different breeds. Some breeds are more vocal or independent than others.

Space Requirements

Evaluate your available space and plan for rotational grazing if possible. This practice helps keep the land healthy and provides fresh forage for your goats.

For regular-sized goats, you can generally keep 2-4 per acre. For miniature breeds, you can typically have about 6-8 per acre.

Considering these factors, I chose Nigerian Dwarf goats. They met my needs for dairy production, are easy to handle, are less vocal than other breeds, and are a miniature breed, so I can have more per acre on my 5-acre homestead.

Buying Your First Goats

nigerian dwarf goat kids

When you’re ready to purchase your first goats, here are some tips to follow:

Do Your Research First: The biggest mistake I see is people getting goats on a whim without learning basic things about them. If you get goats with little to no knowledge about them, you will end up with sick or dead goats.

I researched for about a year before bringing my first goats home. I read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and watched countless YouTube videos.

Prepare Beforehand: Have all the necessary arrangements before your goats arrive. This includes proper fencing, a suitable shelter, and all required feeding and care supplies.

Find a Reputable Breeder: Source your goats from a breeder with a strong reputation for raising healthy animals. Check online reviews or get recommendations from other goat owners. If they’re new to breeding, remember that any reputable breeder will be transparent and welcoming, inviting you to visit their farm or homestead.

Inspect the Goats: Before making a purchase, closely examine the goats. They should be alert, with shiny coats and bright eyes. Avoid goats that seem sluggish or display signs of illness, such as runny noses or weepy eyes.

Ask About Health Care Management: Talk to the breeder about the goats’ health history. Knowing their medical background is key to managing their care properly.

Purchase in Pairs: Goats are social creatures and need companionship. You need to buy at least two goats so they can keep each other company. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a goat that constantly bleats and tries to escape to find another goat.

Feeding Your Goats

goats browsing on shrubs

Proper nutrition is key to keeping goats healthy and happy. A balanced goat diet includes hay, fresh browse, good quality, goat-specific, loose minerals, and other nutritional supplements. Here’s how I manage my goats’ diet to meet their dietary needs:

Hay: I have breeding does, so they mainly eat an alfalfa/grass hay mix. If you have wethers (a neutered male goat), kids, dry does, or bucks, basic grass hay (like Timothy, Brome, etc.) is sufficient for them. Keep their hay off the ground to reduce the risk of contact with parasites. I mainly use the mesh 2×2” hay bags for now.

Daily Browse: Goats are natural browsers and need to eat a variety of shrubs and tree leaves to get essential nutrients not always available in hay. My goats forage 1-2 times daily for about 30 minutes to 1 hour each time, depending on the season and weather.

goat kids browsing on shrubs

Rotational grazing: Rotational grazing prevents overgrazing and reduces parasite buildup by interrupting their life cycle. Goats should be moved once the grass gets below 6″. We planted a goat forage mix on an acre of our back pasture specifically for the goats. Once it’s grown high enough, we’ll begin rotating them around this area in a portable pen.

Supplemental Feed: Since I have dairy goats, I give them supplemental 16% protein non-gmo grain and organic alfalfa pellets when pregnant and nursing. But, wethers and bucks shouldn’t eat alfalfa or grain. It’s too high in calcium and can cause urinary calculi.

Treats: They occasionally get Mannapro Apple and Licorice Goat Treats, raw dates, and sunflower seeds. I like to use sunflower seeds at bedtime to get them excited to go into their pens at night. A little handful is all they need.

Minerals and Supplements

goat feeders and supplements

Minerals: Many health issues stem from goats not getting the proper amount of minerals, so it’s really important to give them the right ones. I give my goats Sweetlix Meat Maker minerals or Purina as a backup. They’re the only brands I know of that have enough copper (at least 1600 ppm) and selenium (at least 50 ppm) for goats.

Kelp with Herbamins: Kelp is great for goats because it provides essential vitamins and minerals. The Herbamins mix from Land of Havilah, which includes Alfalfa, Barley Grass, Wheat Grass, Dandelion, and other beneficial ingredients, serves as a comprehensive supplement. It enhances the availability of copper and selenium and supports liver health.

Kelp with Parasite Formula: The Parasite Formula, also from Land of Havilah, contains potent herbs such as Black Walnut, Cayenne, Clove, Garlic, Ginger, and Wormwood to help combat various parasites, such as barber pole worms, lungworms, live fluke, coccidia, and more.

Baking Soda: Available to help regulate the pH balance in the goat’s rumen and aid digestion. 

Extra Supplements for Goats

Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar aids digestion and boosts immunity. I add 1 tbsp per gallon of water to their water 1-2x a week.

Raw garlic: Garlic is a natural dewormer that can help prevent parasitic infections in goats. From spring through fall, I give them two cloves of raw garlic 2x a week. I usually hide the cloves in their favorite sweet treat: fresh dates.

Caring for Your Goats

Maintaining a healthy environment for your goats prevents parasites and bacterial infections. Here’s how I manage the care routine for my goats:

Maintain Cleanliness: I regularly clean the goats’ living space and change the bedding weekly or as needed. I also rake up their poop daily under the lean-to and a couple of times a week in their play area to keep their living areas clean and reduce the risk of parasite transmission. I do this more often when I have kids: twice a day under the lean-to and every other day in the play area.

cleaning a goat pen with rakes and shovels and a bucket

Bedding Preparation: To keep the area dry and minimize odors and pests, I sprinkle a mix of lime or Sweet PDZ with Diatomaceous Earth on the ground before adding straw or pine shavings for comfort. This combination helps control parasites and maintains a cleaner living environment.

Hoof Care: I trim their goat hooves when needed (typically every 4-8 weeks) to prevent overgrowth, which can cause pain and lead to infections. Regular checks between trimmings help catch any issues early.

Daily Health Monitoring

woman checking goat body condition
Checking my nursing doe’s body condition

Health Check: Every day, I perform a health check on my goats by focusing on several key areas: body condition, coat condition, poop condition, and FAMANCHA score. Here’s what I look for in each area:

  • Body Condition: I assess their overall physical health by feeling their bodies to determine if they’re maintaining a good weight.
  • Coat Condition: A healthy goat’s coat should be smooth and lustrous, not rough or patchy.
  • Poop Condition: Their poop should be firm, pelleted (like berries), and consistent.
  • FAMANCHA Score: I look at the color of the membranes inside the lower eyelid to check for anemia, which is primarily caused by parasite infections. It should be pink to dark pink/red.

Behavior Check: I also make it a point to watch my goats’ behavior every day to make sure they’re acting normally. Healthy goats should be walking around, eating, drinking water, and regularly chewing their cud.

For instance, there was a time when my doe, Heidi, developed bloat because she overate on new pasture. I noticed her lying in the back of her stall in the middle of the day, not chewing her cud with a bulging belly. I knew immediately she was bloated because she had just been out on the new pasture shortly before – obviously for a little too long. So, I quickly gave her 1/4 cup of olive oil using a syringe, followed by a spoonful of baking soda and molasses. Fortunately, the treatment worked, and she was up and eating within an hour.

So, watch for unusual behaviors such as isolation, limping, or a decrease in appetite. These could be signs of illness and should prompt a more thorough investigation or a consult with a vet or goat mentor.

Securing Your Goats

lean-to goat shelter

A good goat shelter needs adequate space and protection from the elements, as well as access to food and water. It should be well-ventilated to maintain air quality but shielded enough to prevent drafts. The shelter also needs to stay dry to keep the goats comfortable.

Shelter

Space: To prevent overcrowding, give at least 20 square feet per goat or over 25 square feet for goats with kids.

Protection from Elements: Shelters should shield goats from sun, wind, rain, and snow.

Access to Food and Water: Provide enough space for food and water.

Ventilation: Maintain good airflow in the shelter while avoiding drafts.

Dry Environment: Keep the shelter dry to support your goats’ health.

Shelter Options

goats in their pen with goat pallet shelter
My goats’ first shelter, made with just 5 pallets.
  • 3-Sided Shelters: Simple three-sided structures work well for mild climates, offering adequate protection from wind and rain.
  • Pallet Shelter: A pallet shelter can be a cheap and easy choice for starting with something simple. You could make a pallet shed or keep it simple by securing the pallets with bungee cords and covering them with a tarp for rain protection.
  • Shed and Barn: These provide excellent protection and can be equipped with designated areas for feeding and water, suitable for those looking for a more permanent solution. They should have a door or window open for airflow.
  • Portable Shelters: Ideal for rotational grazing, portable shelters can be moved to provide fresh pasture and continuous shelter.

My Goats’ Shelter Setup

pens in a lean-to goat shelter, beginners guide to raising goats

I initially used a pallet shelter (pictured above) made with just 5 pallets and scrap wood. We added hardware cloth to the door for predator protection and white panels for weather protection. It was super cheap and easy and kept my goats safe and dry.

As our needs and the herd grew, we built a lean-to onto our barn with pens. Now, they have more space protected from the elements. We plan on adding something on the front and sides for more protection in the winter, but we use tarps over the front and stall doors as windbreaks right now.

Fencing

cattle panel fencing for goat pen, beginners guide to raising goats

Adequate fencing is essential for keeping your goats safe and secure. Good goat fencing must prevent escapes, protect against predators, and give the goats enough room to roam and play.

Fencing Requirements:

  • Height and Security: Fences should be 4 feet high to prevent goats from crawling underneath or jumping over.
  • Durability: Materials must withstand the curiosity and physical activity of goats, who may push against or chew on their barriers.
  • Safety: Edges should be smooth to prevent injury, and gaps must be small enough to keep kids and smaller goats contained.
  • Access: Gates should provide secure access without letting goats escape when opened or closed.

Fencing Options:

  • Cattle Panels: These are sturdy and reliable, providing a good balance of visibility and security. I use them for my goat pen, with extra wire at the bottom to keep kids in and animals out. 
  • Welded or Woven Wire Fencing: Offers durable, flexible solutions that conform to various terrain and area sizes.
  • Portable Electric Netting: Electric netting helps keep goats in new grazing areas without permanent fencing for rotational grazing.

Give Your Goats Space to Play

goat kids playing on stumps in playground pen beginners guide to raising goats

It’s important to give goats a fun play area for their physical and mental well-being. Play structures help them exercise, prevent boredom, and support their natural behaviors.

In my goats’ playground, I’ve set up large stumps, logs, old tires, benches, and rocks. They love climbing, jumping, and exploring all over these things.

Top 3 Books to Guide Beginners Raising Goats Naturally

These are the books I rely on to guide me and recommend for beginners interested in raising goats naturally:

  • Raising Goats Naturally” by Deborah Niemann. This book covers everything from goat health to housing and feeding. Deborah Niemann also has a great podcast about raising goats, offering additional insights and tips.
  • Holistic Goat Care” by Gianaclis Caldwell – A comprehensive guide that delves into natural health care practices for goats, including herbal remedies and alternative therapies to keep your herd healthy.
  • Natural Goat Care” by Pat Coleby – Focuses on preventative care and natural treatments, providing valuable information on mineral supplements, diet, and holistic approaches to common goat health issues.

Free Natural Goat Care Checklist Download

This guide is perfect for beginners raising goats. It covers essential daily and weekly care tasks, from feeding to general care, to help you manage your herd naturally. Download now and start your journey towards successful natural goat-keeping today!

Download the Natural Goat Care Checklist with tips from Beginners Guide to Raising Goats Naturally

Conclusion: Beginners Guide to Raising Goats Naturally

The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is particularly true when raising goats. Following the practices detailed in this Beginners Guide to Raising Goats Naturally has allowed me to maintain a herd free from common ailments and complications.

I hope these insights help you as much as they’ve helped me! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

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