Goats are a deceptivily comlplicated animal to raise correctly, and it's taken me a few years to iron out a system that works well for us. Please note, each farm, home, ranch is different, and what works for us may not work for you.
I heavily follow a guideline made by the folks at www.dairygoatinfo.com, if you are looking for an online place to ask questions and get answers from real dairy goat people, that's the place to go. In this page, I reference this site as DGI several times.
Please note, I often link to external sources, these links are noted by a green highlight over the word "here". If a link is not working, please let me know as I try to keep this monster of a page current.
What is the best way to have healthy happy goats?
The first thing I have to say to any and every goat owner is fecal your goats. We are in the heart of worm country down here, and I can't tell you how awful it is to get a call to come help a downed goat, and watch them fade out and die, knowing it was all preventable.
You may not have a problem the first few goats, but eventually, (I promise) you will get more goats, and suddenly one doesn't look as good, has diarrhea, then is laying down and you are calling any and every vet to find out very few are willing to take on your sick goat.
Fecals can be done by any vet, form a good working relationship with a small animal vet. They are usually happy to take your $10-$18 dollars. Better yet, get a microscope and learn to fecal yourself. It's easy, and cuts down the cost even more. More info on how best to do this can be found on DGI.
The next and equally important bit of advice I can give is two fold. Keep your feed Off the ground, and make sure you copper bolus your goats.
Copper kills parasites naturally, and will allow you to have healthier goats with 1/2 the worming. I also notice that some does fertility is increased by the amount of copper given. Here is a great article about how to do it, and some of the benefits.
Our kids start out life with their moms, as we are a CAE free tested herd. (Don't know what CAE is? Here is a good link explaining it) In a quick nut shell, it's bad, you need to test for it, it's a cheap test, and not doing so and breeding dairy goats is just irresponsible in my own opinion.
Goats eat everything, right?
No, goats don't eat everything, but they will thrive on things most animals won't. My herd management focuses on the most natural way of raising goats, while still utilizing the advances we have made in goat medicine for optimum health and wellness of my goats.
To start with, goats are browsers, not grazing animals. What this means is that they want to eat the tops of plants, the tender shoots and leaves, and not mow the grass like a horse or cow would. This is a very basic principle of my management. My goats are not given hay unless they are penned off the 5 acres of woody browse we have here. Instead they are allowed to browse all day, and then are penned at night to keep them from getting into trouble. The goats who do get hay are fed a timothy/alfalfa mix, and that hay is placed in a feeder up Off the ground. (Emphasis on Off of the ground!)
Goats are notorious for wasting hay, but if you refer to my earlier statement, it's only in their nature. Throwing hay on the ground wastes more hay, plus encourages ingestion of the number one goat killer, parasites. Here in South FL, there are 3 big parasites we need to worry about. Coccidia, Barberpole worm, and Lung worm. We do also get several other nasties, but those three will kill your goat. More on those later, but for now, know that keeping goats feet off of their feed is a great preventative for parasite issues.
I also feed my goats grain and concentrates based on a few different factors.
A.) Sex. Goats are one of the few species of animals where sex and castration status will change how you feed them.
B.) Are they currently pregnant, about to be pregnant, or nursing/milking. All of those activities require extra calories and special consideration from the owner.
C.) Are they babies recently weaned and trying to grow? Yearling does still putting on weight and size? Again, these are animals that require some more consideration, as they are in a delicate stage of life.
In the groups I outlined above, I will explain what I feed, and why.
Group A- Girls and boys are different in more then just the normal way in goats. The male goats urethra (tube that runs from his bladder out of the body) is shaped much like a silly straw. It's convoluted, twists, turns, and isn't anything close to a straight shot. The female goat in comparison has a highway running from her bladder to the exit.
This difference in biology means that if a male goat gets out of balance in his minerals and feed, he can make urinary calculi. (Think kidney stones, but deadly) When we wether a male goat, (castrate him) we take away some of his natural hormones that help break up these mineral deposits in their bodies. Bucks (UN-castrated male goats) can also have this happen, so I apply this feeding to all weaned male goats on my property, testicles or none.
Unlike his female counter parts, the male goat isn't able to easily pass this mineral accumulation, and often I get the phone call from folks that their little wether seems to be trying to pee...but can't. This is almost always an ominous sign, and it's very avoidable. Don't feed your wethers and bucks a bunch of grain. Give them a well balanced mineral along with plenty of fresh water and good hay and they will be just as happy. If you Must feed them grain as we do currently as they are in a smaller pasture, either add in ammonium chloride, or choose a feed like Purina Noble that has it already in.
Group B- Your dairy goat does are the heart and soul of your program. You owe it to them to take great care of them, and in return, they will give you healthy kids, and lots of wonderful goats milk! For our girls that are about to be bred, or are currently bred, we feed them a mix of 12% protein horse feed, beet pulp, and alfalfa pellets. Most of my girls are penned in pastures that have about 10 girls each, and I feed about 2 cups of this mixture to each goat twice a day. If I am noticing one doe isn't getting a chance to eat as well, I move her to another pasture, or separate her out with a doe that is superior in herd status so that she then has a friend/protector when they get turned back out together.
For nursing moms, I increase that feed mix to about 3 cups twice a day if I am noticing a weight drop. Many of my girls are from very "milky" (read: they produce a great deal of milk) lines, and tend to drop weight during their lactation as they are converting all that body fat into milk. While this is exactly what they Should be doing, it doesn't make an excuse for vertebra showing skinny goats. Some ribs and hips I accept, I do not accept counting a does dorsal spinal processes and no one should. That's not "dairy" character, that's a starving doe.
Group C- Yay, the weanling babies (weanling means they have recently been taken away from mom, or weaned) are foremost the winners of the funniest to watch of the goat groups here at our farm. I mentioned coccidia earlier, and this group as well as the nursing babies, is where you see it strike and kill.
Goat kids are naturally very curious, and will mouth and test taste just about anything. This also means they have a higher fecal to oral ratio then an older doe who isn't interested in tasting the side of the goat hut for the 60th time.
I don't wean my keeper doelings until they are at least 12 weeks, (cough sometimes 6 months) bucklings and wethers get weaned earlier as they don't need to pack on that calcium like the doelings do. Once they are weaned, I feed my girls a similar mixture to the one outlined above, but instead of 12% protein horse grain, I use the Purina Noble Goat Grower 16% with Rumensin. Rumensin is a anti-coccidal agent that can help prevent coccidia from affecting your young stock. More detailed information here.
I also give my growing girls unlimited timothy/alfalfa hay during the weaning process until they can be turned back out with their dams to browse all day.
All three of the above groups of goats have unlimited free access to goat specific minerals (currently I am using Sweetlix 16:8 meat maker minerals) and baking soda. I have to clean out this mineral container at least once every few days, and refill it at the same time. If it rains, the baking soda will most likely have gone bad, and I need to chip it out, and put fresh in.
I am currently considering trying kelp as an addition due to it's excellent health benefits, but have not yet implemented it for my entire herd due to cost of it. Currently it's just going to my does that are due to kid soon and fresh in lactation, as well as my weanlings.
My doe is ready to become/is pregnant, now what?
Congrats! You are almost ready for what can be one of the most wonderful experiences a farmer can have, the birth of their livestock! I follow the protocol on DGI which can be found here.
I also give my does a shot of Bo-Se, (1 cc per 40 lbs) which can be repeated every 21 days in very selenium deficient does. (Signs of deficiency include "fish tail", being down in the pasterns, and poor hair coat. More information can be found at the above green link to DGI.)
I also use this before breeding time to again go over my girls, trim their feet, and typically clip them as well. This lets me handle them, get an idea of what pre-breeding weight looks like, and check for any signs of mineral deficiencies, lice, or skin problems.
Once bred- I don't do Anything to my does for at least 50 days, preferably 100. It can take the eggs at least 14 days to implant in the does uterus, and any disruptions such as dewormers or antibiotics can disrupt that process. I leave them in the same pastures, with the same friends, and on the same schedule. They get fed, and get turned out to browse, then brought back in at night. If they are milking, I keep them on the same milking schedule and start drying them up by day 100.
Nigerian dairy goats typically kid in the 145-155 day range, but can go as early as 140 and as late as 161 days with viable kids.
As we are getting closer to kidding dates, I strip out the kidding stall, clean it with a medical grade cleaner, and start prepping my supplies. It's my personal belief that one cannot be too prepared, and following that belief, keep a well stocked kidding kit for that day.