In case you have been sleeping for the past 10 years...
Hobby Farming has become more than just a passing fad.
People are more interested now than ever before in educating themselves about where their food comes from and the 'Grow Your Own' movement has been gaining speed at a rapid pace. People who visit our farm are always interested in our plans for hosting 'How To' seminars where they can learn to do things for themselves. One of the many things people want to try is raising the smaller farm animals like sheep and goats. Goats are a good start for the inexperienced hobby farmer for several reasons.
|Bucky at 6 months|
First, goats are easier to raise than cattle or horses. They generally have a tougher system and that means your mistakes are less likely to mean a problem or even the death of an animal. They also tend to eat a wider variety of greens, and they are notorious for eating almost anything without getting sick, including weeds, shrubs and laundry. Like all farm animals, they can get bloat if they get into a green field too early and overindulge, but for the most part, they will do just fine on grass hay or mixed alfalfa hay. Just remember that goats do not like their hay on the ground.
Second, goats are small. With a nice four foot fence, you can keep a few goats on pasture that one horse or cow would completely demolish. And since I mentioned fencing, a good fence you will need since goats have a great reputation for getting loose. They also will bend, rub and walk up the wire fence you construct so make sure to use heavy gauge wire that can stand up to them.
|Twins are common after first freshening|
Third, goats will reproduce quicker than cattle or horses. Goats reproduce with about 6 months of gestation and very often will start giving birth to twins after their first freshening. Their first freshening is often a single kid, but after that twins and even triplets can be the norm. Building up a herd can be done in a relatively short time, unless of course the twins are both bucks or combinations of does and bucks. The bucks you won't want to keep too long since you only need one buck for the entire herd. If you are raising meat goats, you won't mind the bucks since they are sold by weight but if you are looking to increase a dairy herd you will only want to keep the does.
|Goat Milking Stand|
Last, goats are productive. The milk from the dairy goats is high in butterfat and good for drinking. Many people who are allergic to cows mild have no trouble at all with goats milk. Goat's milk is also good for making butter, yogurt, sour cream and most important...cheese. I made a goat cheddar one Christmas that was supposed to age for three months, but after one month we decided to try a sample to see how it was doing. After several samples over several days the cheese was gone and never reached it's three month birthday. It was that delicious. Some people have also developed a soap that contains goat milk that sells at farmers markets. Dairy goats usually need a grain supplement to keep production levels high while they are milking which is available at a feed store or you can make your own. Organic milk is easy to obtain from your own goat by simply controlling what goes into your goat. If your goat is nursing kids don't expect to milk her since all her available energy is going into feeding them. Any weight gained during her pregnancy will soon disappear as the kids place a heavy demand on her. If you are going to milk your goat, you may want to build a simple goat milking stand like the one pictured. It gets the goat into a good position to milk, since they are low to the ground, and locks their head in while they feed so they won't pull away. After a couple days they get right into the routine, especially if you have a pail of grain in front of them.
Some of the top dairy breeds as recognized in North America by the American Goat Association are the Alpines (aka Swiss, French, British and American Alpine), Toggenburgs, Nubians, Saanens, Oberhasli and La Mancha.
Some of the top meat goat breeds are the Spanish, Boer, Kiko, and Tennessee breeds.
Other breeds of goats also exist, such as the angora, that is valued more for its long angora hair than for meat. Fainting goats are also valued more for their novelty than for their meat since they put on quite a show when startled, getting stiff as aboard and falling over in a 'faint'.
Dairy goats will give you ample opportunity to experiment with hand milking and processing your milk into other edible products that you can eat and share with others. No matter the breed, you are sure to have a lot of fun with injections of pure frustration mixed in at times, especially if your goats ever get out.