The last time my family had goats was seven years ago. That ended a 10 year span of our children raising and milking Nubian goats, with help and supervision from us, the parents. Thus, when I shop for goats, I have a good idea of what I’m getting into and what sorts of questions to ask. I’m not as tempted to impulsively buy the first cute thing I see, which is good, because they are all cute! And I have to get my set up ready.
This week, I visited the Southside Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats which is a farm conveniently 10 minutes down the road from me in Nampa, Idaho. The goat owner, Gayle Stephens, was so very friendly and willing to share information. She has been specifically raising the Nigerian Dwarf goats for three years, but has prior experience with Nubians and other farm animals. Her 20 plus Nigerian Dwarf goats are thriving in their neatly arranged, but down to earth, pens and pastures. She changed to these goats for many of the same reasons I am considering getting some. Based on talking to Gayle and my reading, Nigerian Dwarf goats are:
- Small size, with the babies averaging three pounds and adult does coming to about knee height.
- Calm and friendly personalities, thus good for pets.
- Fairly quiet.
- Ability to have daily fresh milk, without it being gallons each day. The average is two cups per milking.
- Sturdy, with good tolerance for cold winters.
- Homebodies, in that even when they get out of pens, they aren’t as likely to leave home.
- The bucks are mild tempered and not much larger than the does, also meaning they are not too dangerous for women and children, in general.
Talking with Gayle and getting to see her goat area helped me to review what I need to do for a simple, but healthy environment for goats.
- Keep their hay off the ground to avoid parasites.
- Keep feed in a manager, so that it is not just spilled onto the ground while they eat.
- Have the hay covered in case of rain.
- Have heated water containers for winter.
- Use water containers large enough to supply enough, but small enough to empty and refresh regularly.
- Provide salt licks.
- Set up ramps, tunnels, and platforms for them to play and exercise on.
- Have fences high enough to keep the goats in and predators out.
I contacted Gayle after an internet search for Nigerian Dwarf goats in Nampa, which led me to a list published by the Treasure Valley Dairy Goat Association. Most of the people on this list are involved in both 4-H and competition showing. Gayle said she began going to shows because it was a way to meet other goat owners and learn things. She accidentally won an award for one of her bucks when she went. I only want goats for pets and my own milk supply, but going to a show just to meet people sounds like a good idea.
There seem to be some advantages and disadvantages to actually buying goats from people involved in shows.
- Lots of screening for disease.
- Lots of pretty colors to choose from.
- Care taken to avoid harmful interbreeding.
- Goats often very friendly due to lots of human interaction.
- Helpful community and connections with learning opportunities.
- Potential buyers when your own herd grows.
- Relatively higher cost for registered or “high” pedigree animals.
- Frequent exposure to other animals and potential diseases.
- Quality in showcasing qualities sometimes given preference over utilitarian qualities.
- Possible unnecessary cost and intervention in care due to common practices in show community.
It was good to review some basic considerations while playing with the adorable, friendly goats. Some things are easy to forget while thinking of “just” buying a couple of goats, but will be a regular part of their care, especially if milk is desired:
- A doe has to kid (give birth to baby goats) to produce milk.
- Most of the goats kids need to be sold (or butchered).
- De-budding (to halt horn growth) is often desired by those buying goats and needs to be done, usually with a special hot iron for this purpose, while the goats are quite young.
- Castrating is a necessary procedure for most males, for selling as companion wethers or for meat production.
- Milking needs to be done every day during the milk producing time.
- Hooves will likely need to be trimmed, as it is hard to have enough rocks around for them to be worn down.
- Goats are social animals and it will never do to buy just one.
There are many things about raising goats that can be adjusted to individual preferences, though. For instance, I will let the babies nurse off the mom, referred to as “dam raising,” because it just makes sense to me and to ease my work load. However, I will need to still make it a point to spend lots of time with “my herd.” I found this article that supports my decision that dam raising as a very good choice. Still, some people really like to bottle feed and their goats are doing well by all appearances.
Horns may be considered unsightly, as well as a bit more dangerous, but particularly with these smaller goats, I am wondering if letting them have their horns wouldn’t be nicer all around. For one thing, even though we live right on the edge of town, we have foxes, skunks, and hawks that already make regular attempts to eat my chickens. Little goats have been known to also be targets. Taking away the goats’ horns seems akin to declaring a free lunch zone. This article on why not to dehorn goats made a lot of sense to me.
Milking can be done only once a day, which is how I am leaning. Taking into consideration that, nursing their own young may actually produce more milk because of the unique hormonal stimulation involved, milking once a day could be all I need for my dwindling household. If not, there is always next year. There is even the idea of letting other interested and experienced family members “milk for their share.”
Health care for goats can be as varied as it is for people. I am a minimalist when it comes to medicines and supplements, taking the perspective that a healthy diet and reasonably clean (for a goat, in this case) living conditions go a lot farther towards good health than foreign substances. Still, I was very glad to learn of a veterinarian in the Nampa/Caldwell area who specializes in goats, has a mobile option, and likes to teach his clients how to do things for themselves. Gayle Stephens could not say enough good things about him.
My two year old granddaughter was with me to visit the goats and their responses to her were very encouraging. The young ones were inquisitive and slightly nibbly, but not in a boisterous or jumpy way. None of the goats showed the slightest inclination to jump on her, which was greatly appreciated since she is a tiny two year old. For over an hour, she climbed on all the goat toys and went in their playhouses and was apparently accepted as “one of them.” The goats did jump on me and their owner, so they seemed to be aware of being careful with a little person. The bucks were in separate pens, but when she approached them, they kept lazily chewing their cud or talking to the girls next door. Not that I would ever have a child go into a goat pen without close supervision, but it was so nice that it wasn’t a scary thing either.
I won’t be ready for goats for at least a few more weeks. Gayle recommended a couple other farms to visit in the area, and also mentioned Craig’s List as a place to find Nigerian Dwarf goats for sale. She has acquired a couple through that medium. Even if I don’t buy from her, she is quite willing to teach me how to milk, something I have only tried very briefly once, although I have found some clear YouTube videos on it. I also have hopes of seeing how she makes all her cheeses, and I may even buy some soap from her. It has been a successful goat shopping week.