[This article is part of a series. Begin with part 1.]
Before you bring your first goats home, there are a few things you’ll want to prepare…
First of all, you’ll need to decide where you’re going to keep your goats. Along the same lines, you’ll need to decide where you do not want to keep your goats. Preferably the goats should not be with trees; they will eat the bark and kill the trees. If you have a garden now, know that you won’t have a garden if your goats can get to it.
You’ll probably need to put in fences. For full-size dairy goats you’ll need fencing that is at least 4 feet tall, with spaces that are no bigger than 4 inches square.
We usually buy fencing from a hardware store, but it is also available from country stores. Choose something sturdy. Goats are strong, and they test fences. Also, some goats jump. We have one goat that will jump our 4 foot fencing at a place where the metal fencing does not have a wooden fence supporting it across the top. None of our other goats have jumped fences.
Have a 3-sided shelter or barn. It does not need to be very large. Put straw in the bottom. (This will need to be cleaned on a periodic basis.)
Purchase a trimmer for goat hooves.
You’ll also want collars for the goats, so that you can lead them easily. You may choose to buy these after you have your goats, and that’s all right too, but the collar should be large anyway, so the actual size of the goat’s neck doesn’t matter as much as you think it will.
Purchase alfalfa hay. Dairy goats typically free-feed on hay and receive grain as a supplement while they are being milked. I think the most common grain to supplement with is a mix called “cob.” If you will only be keeping does (no bucks), you can choose to buy sweetened or unsweetened cob. If you will have a buck around, you may want to stick to unsweetened cob because sweetened cob can cause infection in bucks.
Have a way to give your goats water. We originally just used a bucket that hangs on the side of the fence; that works all right if you only have a few goats. Now that we have more goats, we put a small pond in the goat area and they drink from that. You could also use a stock tank or a waterer, or anything that sounds like it would work.
It’s a good idea to also offer the goats a mineral block (SweetLix “Meat maker” block is an ideal choice) and baking soda in a dish, free choice. These supplements help the goats to maintain good health—they have shinier coats, they birth easier, etc.
To prepare to milk your goats, you’ll need a milk stand. You can buy one of these, or you can make one. If you search online you’ll find free plans for various types of milk stands. When you’re choosing a milk stand, there are some certain things to think about: it’s nice if there’s enough space for you to sit on the edge of the milk stand while you milk; the space for the goat’s head can accommodate full size goats, dwarfs, or both; you’ll want to clean the main surface that the goat stands on, so anything that makes it easier to clean is good.
For milking you will also want certain other supplies: something to clean the goats’ teats (iodine and a dipper or spray bottle, or udder wipes); you may want a “hobble” if you’re buying goats that have not already been milked; you’ll want a way to filter the milk (we use a metal filter with disposable milk filter papers); you’ll want somewhere to put all that milk you’re collecting (we use mason jars with plastic lids).
If you’re planning to keep a buck you may want to consider making some extra arrangements. Bucks urinate on themselves to attract the does, and their stench is known to contaminate the milk, so it’s not a good idea to run your buck with your does. Instead, you’ll probably want to have separate areas for does and the buck.
Whether you’re planning to keep your own buck, or rent a buck, or something else, you’ll probably be breeding your does, because that will keep them producing milk (and kids). If you’re planning to breed purebred goats, you’ll probably want to join the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA).
If you’ll be having kids, you’ll most likely want a disbudding iron to get rid of their horns, and if you’re breeding papered animals, you’ll need a tattoo outfit so that you can permanently identify the individual goats that your does produce. Unless you’re buying a pregnant doe, you can choose to purchase these supplies later.
That’s about it! Next time we’ll look at how to select dairy goats for your first herd.