Table of Contents
Introduction – Quick-Start Guide: How to Pick Your First Goats
Buying goats for the first time is exciting. Don’t let big mistakes turn your excitement into a nightmare.
We made a lot of mistakes when we bought our first goats. Hopefully, this guide will save you from doing the same.
This Quick Start Guide is a summarized checklist of the critical actions you need to take to make sure you select the “right” goats at the start. Not all goats are the same, and picking the “wrong” goats, depending on your purpose for them, can lead to lots of wasted time, money and headaches later.
In this guide we will cover the following 8 “Quick Start” steps to help you pick the “right” goats:
- Make sure you are legally allowed to keep goats where you live;
- Decide what your goals will be for your new goat “herd”;
- Choose the right breed and type of goats, based on your goals (dairy; showing; meat; other)
- Do some goat comparison shopping before buying your goats;
- Set an appropriate price range in advance for the purchase of your new goats;
- Look closely at the Seller and don’t hesitate to walk away if something doesn’t seem right;
- Look closely at each goat, and be prepared to walk away if it has undesirable characteristics (no matter how cute it may be);
- Buy more than one goat to get started (NEVER buy just one).
Once you complete those 8 steps and you have your new goats selected, you will also need to get the following ready for your new goats BEFORE you bring them home for the first time:
- Living space (yard, pasture, etc.);
- Equipment (feeders, specialty tools, milking equipment, etc.)Supplies (for cleaning, healthcare, etc.);
- Food (browse, grain, hay, minerals, etc.);
- Healthcare (medicines, syringes, instruments, etc.);
- Veterinarian availability (not just any vet; must be one that knows goats);
- Procedures and records (paperwork, notes, checklists, records);
- Training (continuing education to grow your knowledge about how to manage your goat herd).
You can learn more about those things later by checking out GoatFarmers.com.
In the meantime, let’s get started on the 8 Quick-Start steps.
QUICK-START STEP 1
Make sure you are legally allowed to keep goats where you live.
There are two kinds of legal requirements you need to check into relating to goats:
(1) deed restrictions, and
(2) local laws.
Read any “deed restrictions” or “restrictive covenants” that apply to your property. Such documents, if they exist for your property, often have restrictions on the type and number of animals you are allowed to keep.
You should have received a copy of these documents when you bought your home. If not, you should be able to contact your local HOA (if you have one) to get a copy. You may have to pay a small fee to get it.
As a last resort, you can ask your neighbors if they have a copy (but you might get a few questions about why you need to see the deed restrictions). If you live in a rural area, you may not have deed restrictions.
Check your local city and county “ordinances” (aka “statutes” or “laws”), which can sometimes contain restrictions on which types of animals you can keep, how many, what size, etc. At our previous neighborhood the local laws allowed us to keep miniature goats, but not standard-sized goats, and the number of goats was limited by law.
Be sure to check the restrictions and laws carefully before getting goats. We know of at least one small family farm that was forced to get rid of all of their animals, after they had spent lots of time and money, because they checked the local laws but they didn’t know they needed to check the deed restrictions. Unfortunately, one of their neighbors, who was irritated by the farm animals, pursued an action that forced this family to get rid of their animals.
Don’t get caught off-guard after spending a lot of time and money, and getting your family attached to your animals. Check your deed restrictions and local laws before you get started.
QUICK-START STEP 2
Decide now what your goals will be for your new goat “herd”.
You need to decide up front what your goals are for your goats because this will determine the breed and type of goats you should buy.
Will you focus on dairy goats? To decide, you can start by learning whether you’re interested in breeding goats, birthing new kids, milking the does, processing milk and making products like homemade cheeses, yogurt, kefir, fudge and caramel, as well as soap, lotion and other dairy products. You might even feel passionate enough to start your own Grade A dairy or creamery which allows you to sell dairy products for consumption by the general public, although this requires licensing, inspection and a significant investment in your building and equipment, not to mention a lot of work.
Maybe you’ll decide your goal is to raise meat goats instead. Not sure? Try looking into information from experienced meat goat breeders, and learning about raising meat goats, selling at auction, demand for goat meat and how to build a business around that.
If you merely want goats as pets, and you’re not concerned with dairy or meat, your decisions are simpler, and you probably want to focus on one of the smaller breeds that are easier to handle, especially for children.
You might decide to focus on raising goats to produce expensive clothing fibers for sale, such as Mohair and Cashmere. To explore this, focus on learning how fiber is gathered from goats and how it is processed, distributed and sold to certain markets, and how much you can make from this.
If you’re limited to a small budget or a small space where you will keep your goats, such as a neighborhood backyard, you may want to focus on one of the smaller breeds that eats less and uses less space.
Do you plan to focus on using your goat herd for brush clearing? (eating away underbrush to help clear out overgrown property). You may want to read-up on how you can rent goats to other people for this purpose, as a money-making business. A particular breed won’t be required for this, but you will want
larger goat breeds that can cover a lot of ground fast and eat a lot of browse quickly.
Do you plan to breed goats to show them in competitive goat shows? If so, you will need to focus strictly on “Registered” goats, and for dairy show goats they are required to be “Dis-budded” (de-horned) or “Polled” (naturally hornless). Also, make sure your goats don’t have any of the physical defects which would disqualify them from showing. In addition, your goats will need to have body characteristics that show good “conformation” to specific breed standards set by the official show judging organizations.
Hopefully this gives you a rough idea of the various goals you need to choose from before picking your goat breed. You will want to focus-in and decide on which goal will be your niche before you go any further in your goat-buying decision, because this will determine the breed and type of goats you need to buy.
QUICK-START STEP 3
Choose the right breed and type of goats, based on your goal (dairy; showing; meat; other).
Dairy Goat Breeds
If you decide to focus on dairy goats after completing Step 2 above, you will need to plan on buying dairy goat breeds like Alpine, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable and Toggenburg, or some cross between those breeds.
Meat Goat Breeds
If you choose to raise meat goats instead, you will need to focus on breeds like Boer, Kiko or Spanish goats.
Pet Goat Breeds
When you merely want goats as pets, and you’re not concerned with dairy or meat, Pygmy goats are a good choice. Some people like Myotonic (“Fainting”) goats as pets, but you’ll have to put up with them falling over all the time when they appear to “faint”.
Fiber Goat Breeds
If you choose to focus on fiber goats, the breeds you will want to get started with are either Cashmere goats (which is not just one breed but a grouping of breeds which all can produce Cashmere fiber), or Angora goats which produce Mohair fiber (or a cross-breed of Angora, like Pygora, which is Pygmy crossed with Angora, or Nigora, a cross between Nigerian Dwarf and Angora).
Miniature Goat Breeds
If you have a small budget or small space, focus on one of the smaller “Miniature” breeds, such as Nigerian Dwarf, Pygmy, or a cross between a standard sized breed with a dwarf or pygmy goat.
Brush Goat Breeds
For brush clearing, choose one of the larger breeds like Spanish goats (some argue it’s not really a breed, but is a category of goats) or large cross-breeds which are sometimes referred to simply as “Brush Goats”.
Show Goat Breeds
If you aim at competitive goat shows, you can find show-quality registered goats in multiple different breeds, including dairy goats, meat goats and Pygmy goats. Choosing the exact breed is mainly a matter of personal preference and deciding which breed you like to work with.
Just make sure the goats you choosed are “registered” goats (that have paperwork proving their official pedigree) or you may not be allowed to enter them into many official goat shows.
At this point, you should begin to get an idea of the goal you want for your herd, and you should understand which specific breeds you need to be aiming for. So, now it’s time to learn how to start shopping for your goats.
QUICK-START STEP 4
Do some goat comparison shopping before buying.
Now that you’ve zeroed-in on the breed you want, it’s time to take action. Reading and watching videos about goats can only teach you so much. At this point, you need to get out and start seeing goats for yourself. Only then can you get a feel for which is best.
One great way to start is to attend a few goat shows. A good place for this is at a state or county fair where they often have farm animal exhibits, including goats. You can also attend any locally-organized private goat shows in your area. Look for notices of these online.
We show our goats at both state fairs as well as private goat shows, and it’s very common for many people to come simply as spectators or visitors because it’s fun to watch.
We don’t mind at all when someone comes by during a show and asks us a lot of questions because they are thinking about buying their first goats. Breeders like us are always happy to answer questions and share about our experience with visitors at a show. We even hand out business cards there for anyone interested in buying some new kids to get started.
After you visit some shows to get a feel for which goats you are interested in, you can start looking for farms who have specific goats for sale which you may want to buy. Feel free to call a farm or two and inquire about specific goats that might be a good fit for you.
If you’re interested in a certain goat, make an appointment to go by and visit. Most breeders know that you have to be careful making a decision, and it’s not unusual for someone to come see a goat and think about it for a little while before making a final purchase decision.
At these visits, it’s another great opportunity to ask questions and learn more. Again, most breeders are happy to help out, because they also know what it was like when they first got started.
QUICK-START STEP 5
Set an appropriate purchase price range in advance for your new goats.
After you’ve done some “shopping around” at fairs, shows and farms, you should have a rough idea of the sales prices you’re seeing for goats that fit what you need (breed, type, etc.). So your next step is to figure out the price range you’re willing to pay for your new goats.
Haggling with a seller can be stressful when you’re face-to-face and it’s hard to think when you’re in the heat of the moment, so be sure to nail down your price range BEFORE you go to see the Seller, and stick to it. This can help you avoid paying too much because of emotional pressures at the time of purchase.
It’s hard to tell you an exact price range for the “right” goat. So much depends on the breed, age and quality of the goat, as well as whether it is registered, dis-budded, healthy, and whether the goat has any award-winning champions among its bloodline ancestors.
However, I can tell you that we see cross-bred, low-quality brush goats for under $100 each. We’ve seen quality pure-breed goats that can sell for anywhere from $100 to $600, depending on quality, sex, age and background.
If a goat has multiple grand champion awards, or it’s ancestors have a string of such awards, the price can go way up into the thousands, or the tens-of-thousands at the upper tiers of the national championship level.
However, none of that should really concern you. It’s more important for you to focus on the specific breed and type of goat that’s right for you, and the prices on such goats that you are seeing when you tour the local fairs, shows and farms in your general area.
Zero-in on a price range that feels right to you, based on your research. Then, you’re ready to go to the next step and see a Seller about buying your first goats.
QUICK-START STEP 6
Look closely at the Seller.
When you know which breed and type of goats you want and how much you want to pay, don’t just buy from the first Seller that seems to meet those requirements. There can be many hidden problems that can be covered-up by an unscrupulous Seller. So, before you buy, look very closely at the Seller first.
Start by looking at their online information and speaking to them by phone. Ask lots of questions. How do they answer? Do you see positive or negative customer reviews online? If something doesn’t seem right, trust your gut.
For example, any good goat breeder knows that it’s critical to have their herd tested for certain diseases each year as a regular procedure. Insist that a Seller give you written proof that their herd has been tested NEGATIVE for diseases like CAE and Johne’s.
If a Seller is selling you a registered goat (which usually requires a higher price) and they try to tell you that they don’t have the registration certificate right now but they will get it to you soon, DO NOT give them any money or take the goat until you have that certificate in-hand or a signed application for registering the goat with all of the blanks filled in appropriately. Lots of people have been cheated this way. It’s like buying a used car from someone without a proper title.
Even a well-meaning Seller can run into problems later trying to get a proper
certificate for you, and without it you won’t be able to register your goat, and the value will be significantly less.
It’s also a good idea to look over the Seller’s farm. Is it relatively clean and do the other animals there appear to be well-kept and healthy? Ask the Seller about the overall health of their goats, and about any problems with illnesses or parasites and what steps do they take on things like that.
Some goat breeders will not allow people into their pastures or pens due to concerns about bio-security. This can absolutely be a legitimate concern as some diseases can be brought in unintentionally from soil on shoes. In such a case, the Seller may have to bring the goat out of the pasture for you to look at. Don’t worry – that’s normal.
If you sense that there are too many warning signs and things that just don’t add-up after meeting a Seller, it may be best to go somewhere else to buy your goats. Any problems in the Seller’s farm and herd there are probably going to be carried over into any goat you may buy from that Seller.
QUICK-START STEP 7
Look closely at any goat you plan to buy.
Don’t hesitate to look over the goat carefully. Any honest, experienced Seller won’t mind this. They know what it’s like when they themselves buy goats from other farms.
Examine the goat for anything that looks unusual or concerning. This is where it’s helpful if you’ve done some studying in advance to learn about goat illness warning signs and symptoms.
Watch as the goat poops while you’re there (most goats do it often). Fecal pellets should be somewhat dry and not stick together. If you see mushy pellets stuck together, or diarrhea, the goat may have a significant parasite problem that needs to be treated.
Pull back the goat’s eyelids and look at the membranes inside the goat’s eyelids. A pale color is not a good sign (possible anemia due to blood loss to worms). Bright red is best.
Watch for grinding teeth (sign of goat in pain), excessive coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, bleeding or rapid breathing. Also, look for broken or missing teeth. It may be helpful to carry a thermometer with you.
If you see signs of illness, check the goat’s temperature, which should not be above about 103.5 F. Be concerned if a goat appears emaciated or lethargic.
If you are buying a show goat, study beforehand so you are a little familiar with physical traits of a successful show goat, such as body characteristics that are deemed to be in “conformation” with established breed standards. Ideally, look for a goat that has some repeated grand champion awards either itself, or among its parents (Sire and Dam) or among other ancestors.
Even better, ask to see pictures of the parents and grand-parents if possible. Their names should appear in the goat’s registration certificate. Make sure ID numbers on the papers match the tatoos which you will find in the goat’s ears, or near their tail.
If you’re buying a dairy goat, look carefully for any defects in the goat’s udder or teats. Defects can disqualify the goat from showing and can interfere with milk production and health. It will also be a concern for any offspring of the goat later which may inherit those same defects. You may not be able to sell them.
A normal goat should have two teats, which are cylindrical with uniform length and size, each with a single orifice (opening) in it. Watch out for more than 2 teats, or “teat spurs” (aka “fish-tail teats” or “antler teats”) or multiple orifices.
Some defects are hard to see, and can be hidden by the goat’s abdomen hair. You will want to run your hands across the goat’s udder, and flip the goat over to look at the udder closely.
It is not uncommon to sometimes notice certain small deformities, such as one or two extra teats, which may be tiny and hard to notice. A seller may not even be aware of a deformity until you catch it. Males also should only have two normal teats, which are found just in front of the scrotum.
With a little study beforehand, and careful observation of the goat, you should be able to detect obvious signs of any significant problems. If you have significant concerns at your visit, it’s best to pass the goat by and look elsewhere.
You don’t want to bring any problems or the risk of health issues into the new herd you are about to start. There are plenty of quality goats available. Don’t be in a hurry. You will be glad you waited.
QUICK-START STEP 8
Buy more than one goat at the beginning.
When you identify a goat you want, and confirm everything is in good order, one last step that is CRITICAL is that you MUST buy more than one goat. NEVER keep one goat alone. This is not a good idea; it is a critical requirement.
Goats are “herd animals”. They are naturally built to live in a herd with other goats, not by themselves. Some people try to keep one goat alone and they learn this the hard way. A lonely goat will become seriously anxious and aggressive and will do just about anything to get back with other goats and people, including breaking things, tearing down or over fences and breaking into houses and garages.
When you buy a goat, get at least two or more.
When you do this, it could be a problem if you keep a buck and a doe together at first. You won’t be able to stop them from breeding if they are kept together, and you could be over-run with too many babies (kids) being born at unexpected times. Worse yet, you could have a young doe getting pregnant when she’s too small to safely deliver a kid (it happens).
A good solution is to possibly buy a doe and a wether (castrated buck), or maybe two does, to get started. Two bucks may not be ideal because they tend to be aggressive and competitive, and are harder for you to deal with especially during breeding season when their hormones are escalating.
If you are not buying for breeding purposes, two wethered bucklings are excellent choices for pets as they are usually quite friendly and playful if socialized with people from a young age.
We breed our goats in a controlled breeding program, but we have several bucks and several does, so we can keep the bucks and does separated without any of them getting lonely.
You made it through all 8 Quick-Start steps!
What to Do Next:
At this point, after completing the 8 Quick Start steps above, you should be able to confidently decide what the goals are for your new herd, identify the breed you will aim for, and be able to accurately assess a Seller, evaluate a goat and determine a fair sales price range, before finally purchasing your new goats and bringing them home. But…
…you’re not quite done yet.
When you leave this Quick Start guide, be sure to take additional steps to start educating yourself so you can properly house, feed and care for your new goats.
The areas we mentioned before, that you will need to master, include the following….
Areas You Need to Master for Proper Goat Care:
- Living space (yard, pasture, etc.);
- Equipment (feeders, specialty tools, milking equipment);
- Supplies (cleaning, healthcare);
- Food (browse, grain, hay, minerals, clean water);
- Healthcare (medicines, syringes, instruments, reference material);
- Veterinarian availability (choose one with goat experience if at all possible);
- Procedures and records (paperwork, notes, checklists, records);
- Training (continuing education to grow your knowledge about how to manage your goat herd).
Those things are extremely important, and cannot wait. Even so, those are subjects beyond this Quick Start guide.
If you would like to explore those subjects more thoroughly, you can learn more at GoatFarmers.com.
If you’re ready to take action, then here’s what you can do.
Take Action Now:
When you buy your first goats, following the steps in this Quick Start Guide will avoid a lot of wasted time, money and stress.
Start with step #1 above and follow each step in order. After you have your first goats, you will have confidence knowing that you’ve selected the “right” goats for your needs. But the people who are most successful with their goats are those who take action to keep learning and improving.
Here are some simple actions you can take right now.
1. Answers to Your Questions:
Go to our Facebook page @GoatFarmersLive and post one question or problem you need answered, and we will reply to help you.
If you found this guide helpful, please take a moment now to let us know, by leaving your positive feedback on our Facebook page @GoatFarmersLive, under the “Reviews” tab. You will be helping others who may need this information who haven’t seen this guide yet. In fact, take a moment now to share this guide with someone you know who might need this; and…
3. Keep Learning.
I also encourage you to check out the additional resources at GoatFarmers.com including the following articles…
Congratulations on completing this Quick Start Guide.
Best of luck with your new goat herd!
Rebecca & Steve Newlin
CapriNew Farm, Gilbert, SC
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