Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I chose goats for my homestead

Years ago, I had a family cow. She was a lovely milking shorthorn who produced lots of rich, creamy milk, enough for her calf and for us to drink. We even had surplus milk we could feed to pigs and chickens! Her calves came out very beefy looking and were good candidates for butchering.

We usually had her bred to a friend's Santa Gertrudis bull or another friend's Hereford bull, since we were very interested in a butcher calf. Her calves were beautiful and nearly always solid red or mostly solid red.

Well, that was then and this is now. Feed back then only cost about $3.50 for a hundred pounds of sweet feed. Today, it's almost $14 for 50 pounds of sweet feed. That's a huge price increase and it makes it not economical to keep a cow now. At least, not for us. Even with good pasture, the cow needs a bit of grain so she'll stand while being milked, and that can be up to 5 pounds at a time!

So, now, I've opted for goats for the homestead. They are small enough to handle if they get rowdy. They eat grasses, shrubs, bushes, and vines that a cow will turn her nose up at, and today's dairy goats produce quite a lot of milk. Sometimes a few gallons a day.

A dairy or dairy cross doe will eat perhaps 1 pound or less of feed while she's being milked. That's the only time she receives any kind of grain. Her mainstay is what she forages in the field, and that's the way nature designed goats. I like to have a more meaty type buck for breeding just so that we can choose to butcher the bucklings when it's time, or have the option of raising does that will be dual purpose on our homestead. Good looking bucklings and doelings fetch a pretty good price around here, too.

I'm not pointing to specific goat breeds here because choosing a breed is up to the individual. You need to look around in your area to see which breeds thrive the best and which ones will be the type you really want on your own homestead.

It's important, of course, to have a good look at the field where you will be keeping goats. Some plants are toxic to them, such as cherry trees, poke weed, buckeye, and ferns. But, they will happily mow down all the poison ivy, saw brier, wild blackberry, and Virginia creeper you have that is growing wild and in an invasive manner. Because we don't know exactly what minerals are in all the plants in our field, we also mix goat specific supplements into their feed. We also give our goats black oil sunflower seeds to boost their fat and protein intake. We also like to keep, in a sheltered place, a goat specific feed block. They can lick or munch on this as it suits them throughout the day. We buy our feed and supplements at Tractor Supply.

Housing for goats is pretty simple. They hate being rained on, so build or buy a shelter where they can stay dry. We put our shelters facing south or southwest. If the shelter will block the wind on three or three and a half sides, and you have good, warm bedding inside for them, they can stay warm during the winter and dry during the summer. The shelter doesn't have to be much taller than the goats, unless it's one you'll be going into from time to time. In that case, make it tall enough for a person to walk in without bending over. You can build several small goat shelters out of pallets and put tin roofs on them. During the summer, the pallets will help them stay cooler. During the winter, you can put siding on them to block the cold wind.

I've even seen goat shelters made from the ever-popular IBC tanks. Make sure if you use them, that they didn't contain any dangerous chemicals. Find ones that had food ingredients in them. They may cost you $75 to $100 each, but that's really not a bad price for a water-tight, wind-proof goat shelter. All you'll have to do is use a jigsaw or reciprocating saw to cut away the galvanized bars and plastic to create an entrance. They are also pretty lightweight, which means when it comes time to clean them out, you really only have to tip them over and rake the muck out the door, then spread it on your garden or add it to your compost. A quick spray with a water hose finishes the job. I'd suggest also cutting or drilling holes into the floor of the tank so that liquids can pass on through and out to the ground.

We made a cage type carrier that we can put our goats in when we need to haul them somewhere. We used the cage from an IBC tank, cut out a doorway, wrapped 2”X4”X5' welded wire all around it, including the top, and built a gate for it from the welded wire and 1”X4” scrap lumber.

For now, we are just using baling wire to hold the door on. We will put hinges on it a bit later. We're using a short piece of chain and a carabineer to fasten the gate shut on it.

This cage will also hold our pigs, once we get the gate on more securely, but our primary interest is being able to haul goats to the new homestead, or fetch other goats if we buy them. We'll need to build a loading ramp/chute to load pigs in there. Goats will just jump in. If they seem to have any problems getting up to it in the back of the truck, then we'll proceed even sooner on a ramp/chute for all the livestock.

I hope some of this helped you. Please, feel free to add your comments, suggestions, and questions in the comment section! I love feedback!

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