How to Care for Your Pet Goat

Pygmy Goat Care

When we got our first goats, I thought they would be kept much like horses or cattle… hay, clean water, annual vaccines, salt lick, regular de-worming, good to go... Then I met Carol Inkster and learned that there is much more to goat care than I knew was possible.

Carol has been raising goats for 38 years and is a wealth of knowledge! I remember seeing her comment, on a few goat-related posts, within Facebook MB Livestock groups and thinking, “Wow, this lady really knows goats.” When I found that she lived just up the road from us (North of Emo) I messaged her, letting her know that we were new to goats, and asked if it would be alright if I contacted her from time to time with goat-related questions. She said yes, and the rest is history!

As we were nearing completion of our Spry Farm website, I asked Carol if she would help me put together a little “goat care” blog post, so we could share with others (not to mention, to keep for my own recollection), and she kindly obliged.


Minerals & Vitamins

Loose Minerals

Goats must have 24-7, free choice, access to salt and minerals. Minerals must be in loose form (not a block; unless it is the soft mineral block that crumbles easily). Goats have very soft tongues and will not stay licking a block long enough to get how much they need.  Salt and minerals should never be mixed; goats will take however much, of each individual mineral, they need.


Cattle Mineral

Goats are not grazers like sheep and cows, but browsers like deer. Consequently a grass based diet cannot provide what they need.  The ideal diet would be on bush, 12 months of the year. This is not possible where we live, therefore we need to see that they have access to these nutrients to maintain optimal health and production.  It is less costly to supply what they need than to fix illness and disease when it happens. Hay or grass and water do not supply enough nutrients for goats who have a very high metabolic rate and large stomach area.  The more productive the goat the more they need.  A doe birthing triplets once a year and producing milk 10 months of the year is going to require a lot more than a pet wether.

Loose Blue Cobalt Salt

This mineral is required for life. When we confine goats, they cannot access natural salt and minerals.

Epsom salts

Epsom salts povide magnesium. This can be especially important when hard water is used; if water is high in calcium and lime, it blocks a goats ability to utilize magnesium. One of the first symptons is nervousness, hyper alert stare and sometimes trembling.


Copper Blue Sulfate

I have not found a feed yet that is high enough in copper for goats. They don’t eat a lot of it, but it is critical to have.  Signs of deficiency include: faded hair color, hair on the tip of the tail begins to part, looing like a fish tail, slow growth in kids, poor milk production, lack of heat/libido, arthritis, etc.

Baking Soda

Grain is not a natural feed for goats but is required to keep up milk production and to supply phosphorous, in a balance with calcium and magnesium. Digesting grain creates acid, in the gut, and in extreme cases acidosis which can be fatal. A goat will eat the amount of baking soda required to balance the PH in it's gut. Many times "off", or poor tasting, milk is caused by acidosis and fixed with the addition of baking soda


Vitamins

Selenium Injection

Why?

There isn’t  a feed that contains enough selenium for goats.  It can be toxic so manufacturers err on the side of caution.  Most soils are deficient in selenium, especially if chemical fertilizer is used. 

What to look for:

Deficiency causes many things.  Weak kids at birth, especially in the rear legs and sucking reflex.  If severe enough it affects the heart muscle and death results. Weak pasterns in adults is one symptom, poor appetite, weak labor, retained placenta are also symptoms.


When to administer:

One month before breeding and one month before kidding (for does) or twice per year for non-breeding animals.  


Where to get it and how to administer:

Available at most feed stores.  It is always sold in conjunction with vitamin E.  Bucks and does that show no signs of deficiency need 1 ½ cc. If showing weak pasterns I give 2 cc.  Kids weak at birth get ½ cc.

Vitamin A Injection

Why?

Vitamin A is gotten through fresh green feed, so a winter of hay and no access to fresh greens, depletes a goat’s store of it. 


What to look for:

Balding on the bridge of the nose and ears in adults, and contracted leg tendons in newborns, are two signs of deficiency.

When to administer:

Twice per year; late fall/early spring


Where to get it and how to administer:

Vitamin A & D are sold at feed stores and are combined in one injection.  Adults should get 3 cc and kids get 1 cc if needed.  It can be combined in the same needle as the E selenium.

Vitamin D Injection

Why? 

Vitamin D is made in conjunction with sunlight, which is lacking over the winter months, which limits a goat’s store of it. 

What to look for:

One sign of deficiency is rickets.


When to administer:

Twice per year; late fall/early spring


Where to get it and how to administer:

It will be with the vitamin A.  It works in conjunction with calcium. 

Vitamin B 12 Deficiency

When does this happen/What causes it/
What can I do to prevent this?

Goats manufacture their own B vitamins. It is not so much a deficiency as a management problem.  Any digestive upset, bloat, moldy hay, worm overload, administration of antibiotic, etc can prevent a goat from making its’ own.  When vitamin B1, thiamin, is involved it causes polioencephalytis and death results. Lack of B12 stops the absorption of cobalt which causes a deficiency in that nutrient. Thiamin should be in every first aid kit.  If a goat is down, head bent back and legs paddling, an injection of 3cc can save them, even at this stage.  Vitamin B complex should always be on hand as well and always administered if an antibiotic is used.  Also a 3 cc injection of complex given to a goat who is just “off” some, cause unknown, will often improve appetite etc.  If thiamin is not available, massive dose of the complex, 12 cc, given in 3 or 4 different spots. Will usually work.  Overdose is not an issue as they will pee out any excess


De-worming

When to De-Worm

I prefer to worm as needed, rather than by a schedule. A fecal exam is the best way to determine what type of worms are there and what type of wormer will be effective.  I check my goats once a month or so (or if someone is dropping weight or production).

What to Look For

Pull down the lower eye lid, lift up the lip, and check the color. It should be bright pink to red, and the gum color should also be very pink. If a bit pale, time to deworm. If white, it is a dangerous overload. Tiny thread-like worms, under the tail, require Ivomec. Small bits, in the manure, that look like rice (tapeworm) require Valbazen or one of the white wormers. Ivomec must always be given at twice the label dose for goats. I have read lately that valbazen should be as well, although I don’t. I use one wormer and if I don’t see results, within a week, I will try another. I do all kids at 3 months with Valbazen (for tapeworms), as I have found it is necessary at my place. As they mature they become more resistant to tapeworms and it is rarely a problem in adult goats, who are in good health. If they get ill, from something else, then tapewroms can again be an issue.

Coccidiosis

Another parasite problem with goat kids, that is fairly common, is coccidiosis. It is most common in kids up to 3 months, when they start to build resistance.  Sometimes the first symptom is a dead kid. Other times they will scour. The manure has a very distinctive odor. Quick treatment is essential. I use sodium sulphamethazine (cheap and readily available at the feed store).  Give 3 cc the first day, then half of that for each of the next 3 days.


Hay & Feed

Hay

Grass Hay vs. Alfalfa


A good grass/wild hay, produced without chemical fertilizer, is best. Alfalfa hay gives a nice coat and good milk production but is too high in calcium and causes magnesium deficiency.  A goat on alfalfa will look good but not live longer than 4 to 6 years. In bucks and wethers it causes urinary calculi.


We feed grass hay year-round. During the summer months, depending on the state of our pastures, they graze more and eat less hay. During the winter, we just keep the hay feeders filled.

Goat Feed

Always take a week or two to change a feed, decreasing the amount of the usual feed as you increase the new feed. Goats don’t have the right bacteria to digest new feed easily and it takes a bit of time for that bacteria to develop. Death (by bloat) is a possibility if a quick feed change is made; death by bloat is very painful. Always keep 3 barriers between a goat and access to the grain bin; they are very clever at figuring out how to open gates and are also very greedy.  Moldy feed is dangerous to goats and can result in death as well. Keep all feed up off the ground, in feeders. If they can walk on it, and contaminate it with feces, they will either be thin (because they won’t eat it) or have parasite problems from ingesting the eggs.


Water

Goats should always have access to clean water. In the winter, snow is not an alternative to watering your goats.

During the winter months, we haul a 5 gallon jug of water (from our house), twice per day and fill up the heated water bucket, as needed. Only our two larger goats, and two mini horses, can reach the heated water bucket so we also fill up two dog-dish-sized rubber bowls each time, for the pigs and smaller goats to drink from. They need water that has not been frozen already, in order to drink enough to keep hydrated; super cold water they will ony sip at.


Shelter & Fencing

Shelter

Do some research on goat breeds, that you are planning to raise, taking into account climate/environmental factors. Some breeds summer/winter better than others, but generally so long as your goat has shelter from the elements, they are farily hardy.

Our goats have an 8 x 16 insulted shed, that they share with our two pigs, and everyone is content, even at -35 F. We bed the shelter down with straw, during the winter months, and pine shavings spring through fall.

Fencing

We have 4' goat & sheep fencing, purchased at our local feed store. We have had no issues with our goats getting out. That being said, our pasture areas are spacious, partially wooded, and they are all quite content with the space, foliage, etc.