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What to Expect When Bringing Home Scalawags

So, you’ve decided you want to begin your livestock stewardship journey with Scalawag Farm goat kids. Congratulations! The purpose of this article is to give new or prospective goat owners a solid foundation on what to expect, and what to have prepared, before bringing your new kiddos home. 

First thing’s first: we have three important rules that all folks should be aware of before making any major decisions.

  1. We will not allow anyone to bring a single goat kid home – even if you already have goats at home. Your best chance for success is to bring home a pair or more – that way, the kiddos you bring home will always have familiarity and have done some bonding with another member of the herd, which we strongly believe gives them a considerable advantage over single-goat arrivals. 
  2. We do require a non-refundable 50% deposit. If you express strong interest in a pair (or more) of goats, the only way for us to reserve them for you is by non-refundable deposit. If an individual were to back out of a reservation and we did not require these deposits, we could see some significant financial losses, and then the goats may not be able to be sold subsequently. It also encourages families and individuals to evaluate just how sure they are that they are ready for some new members of their family. 
  3. You must have already reached out to a Veterinarian who has been trained to treat goats (small ruminants) and established a relationship so that they can be on call for you while you raise your goats. 

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about all the things a family or an individual should consider before bringing goats (or any livestock) home. 

Many of these considerations are similar to what an individual or family would go through to bring any domestic pet home. However, even though some people will care for goats as pets, they are truly not as suited to living inside in a house as our domesticated canine and feline friends, and so this article will not treat them as such. That said, in no particular order, here are a number of considerations to be mindful of when thinking about getting goats:

Keep Goats with Goats, and Just Goats:

Goats are best housed with goats and only goats. Certainly, they are very close to sheep in terms of diet and general size, but there is a key difference: goats require significantly more copper in their diet, which is usually acquired by means of a free-choice loose mineral “buffet.” Sheep can actually be poisoned by the amount of copper that is available in goat-formulated minerals. If you were to feed the goats a sheep-centric mineral, they won’t get close to the amount of copper they need for optimal health. For this reason, it is best to not keep sheep and goats together. 

Poultry, particularly chickens and ducks, which are also popular with lots of people starting their own small farms or hobby farms, are also not well suited to living with goats. Most of their commercially produced feeds can be very harmful to the goat digestive system, and their droppings quickly accumulate to levels that would be unsafe in a goat pen. Furthermore, their feed is also a common rodent attractant on most farms, and rodents can carry diseases that will negatively impact a goat herd’s overall health.

While it is safe, and even a good idea, to alternate pastures with cows and goats – between their combined diet choices, and the fact that they do not share any parasites – the vast size differences can create some issues between the two animals. A 1000+ lb cow who is accustomed to little competition at the hay feeder might not take kindly to a 75 lb goat trying to eat the same flake of hay, and a quick flick of her neck or head would easily send even most full-size breeds flying. 

Hay, Water, Minerals

As far as feed requirements that owners must be aware of before bringing home any kiddos, there are three necessities: Hay, Water, and Minerals. As a result of popular depictions of farm animals in general, there is often a belief that goats can and will survive primarily on bagged grain – this could not be further from the truth. Grain should only be provided under close guidance and certain circumstances (does in milk, for instance, or a chronically underweight animal). Instead, goats should always have dry, high-quality hay, fresh, clean water, and a free-choice mineral available 24/7. That said, it is a good idea to train your goats via some kind of “treat.” Goat treats are a thing, in fact, and can be found bagged at most farm-supply stores. At our farm, we do some training with grain while the kids are about 8-12 weeks old, wherein we train them to the sight and sound of a grain bucket, such that we can always just shake a bucket and get everyone’s attention (preferably such that they all come running towards us). 

Water

Fresh water is extremely important towards maintaining your goats’ health. We highly recommend that your water is tested regularly to verify the absence of harmful compounds. If you are careful about the quality and filtration of your own drinking water, you should be equally as careful about the drinking water for your livestock. At our farm, we completely empty all of the water buckets for our whole herd, and refill, daily. We also regularly clean and scrub out the water buckets, and retire any buckets that show signs of damage or significant wear. Water and the vessels used to hold it are prime locations for bacteria to hang out and multiply, which is why keeping them clean is of paramount importance. Multiple times daily should the waters be checked for signs of soilage, and cleaned and replaced immediately upon any signs of filth. 

Hay

I will resist the convention of trying to provide a ratio of bales of hay to goats over a set period of time. It will vary considerably with the seasons and whatever else is in their diet, the nutritional value of their hay, and it’s also hard to say for sure because goats waste hay. 

A lot of hay. 

It’s just unavoidable – and there are plenty of clever designs for feeders that can catch a good percentage of the hay that is getting wasted, but it is nearly impossible to get 100% of a bale into your goat’s stomachs. We certainly recommend people try a variety of feeding options and see what works best for their setup. 

Usually storage of a couple of bales of hay at a time is not a heavy burden, but it should be at least considered. Hay isn’t the easiest item to store – it makes quite a mess every time you move it, and it needs to stay dry and out of the sunlight. It’s also always a good idea to have a couple on hand at all times during the colder months, and you’d be best off keeping it near your goats, but not so near that they can eat your extra bales before they’re meant to! For reference, we have 66 goats and we put up between 1000 and 1500 small square bales of hay each summer/fall. This requires the use of most of the square footage of one of our three barns.

Minerals

There has been plenty of scientific research put into the mineral requirements for all livestock. As such, it is now more common knowledge that a lot of the soil, and thereby grass and hay, throughout Maine is deficient in a handful of minerals which are important to the goat’s health. The best way to counteract the lack of minerals in the soil is to provide a loose mineral for your herd, 24/7. We stress the importance of providing a mineral that is specifically formulated for goats, as opposed to a multi-species formulation. In the event you start to see whole-herd unthriftiness (particularly when it comes to coat health), you might want to test a handful of your animals to see if they are deficient in anything in particular, and adjust your practices thereafter.

There is also the option (which we encourage) of providing your goats with what is called a copper bolus. This is a small capsule that can be given to the animal to provide a slow-release of copper as a means of ensuring optimal mineral levels in the animals’ blood. Administering the capsules can be tricky, but there are some options in that regard which we would be happy to discuss with any goat owner. 

Shelter

Goats do love to be outside. However, their affinity for different aspects of the outside is going to vary goat-by-goat. We have some who don’t mind a steady rain as long as it is warm out, and we have plenty that will stand in the snow to get a good dose of sunshine, as long as it’s not windy or extremely cold. Because of this, and because of Maine’s notoriously unpredictable weather, it is important that goats always have access to shelter.

Shelter is one of those subjects where there aren’t a lot of hard-and-fast truths, and this allows for a lot of creativity, especially for the enthusiastic DIYer armed with the internet. Three sides with a slanted roof is the bare minimum for warm weather, and this will get most adolescent to adult goats safely through an average spring-summer-early-fall here in central Maine. For winter/cold/wet resistant shelters, you’ll want to have four sides with a door or other closeable small/goat-sized opening so that your goats can always get fully out of the elements – draughts through a barn are no good, even if everyone is dry. You’ll probably want a higher ceiling, so you can allow the bedding to build up – formally known as a Deep Bedding System or Deep Litter Method – and help insulate shelter. Also, don’t forget to take your own comfort into account – you’ll always want to have enough room to get in and out yourself, and might want to account for how you plan on cleaning out the shelter with how you design it.  

Beyond the basics, it is true that goats are curious and love to explore. Anything you can add to your shelter to make it more interesting – shelves, steps, anything to climb up and safely jump from – will enrich your goats’ lives considerably, especially during our long winters when outdoor access is limited. 

Speaking of which, efforts should always be made to allow for outdoor access as long as the weather is permitting. Sunlight contributes to a variety of health benefits for your goats, and will contribute to a more even temperament. No one likes to be cooped up, and especially not in the dark, for any longer than the length of a bad storm. That said, there are definitely stretches of time for us when it is simply not feasible to provide significant outdoor space to our goats, but we have ensured that we can always let in fresh air and sunlight, and that they have ample space indoors to move around, eat, sleep, and play. 

Veterinary Relationship

It is true that for most farmers of livestock, we all have to work as our own veterinarian at some point. However, at least here at our farm, neither of us are trained as vets, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for the hard work and education that vets have engaged in to become experts. As such, it is of the utmost importance that every raiser of livestock have a good relationship with a veterinarian who has particular expertise with the animals you are raising. If your canine or feline vet expresses interest in helping out with your goats because it allows them to brush up on training they did in the past – you should opt to skip that, and instead seek out a small ruminant vet. We are happy to provide recommendations or options if you are interested. 

In the goat-raising community, there is a word that gets used with some regularity that refers to testing that is best done by the farmers and their vets: “biosecurity testing.”

 This testing involves various diagnostic techniques aimed at detecting the presence of pathogens or disease-causing agents, such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites, in animals or their environment. The goal of biosecurity testing is to identify potential disease threats early, allowing for prompt intervention to control and prevent outbreaks. Common methods of biosecurity testing in livestock include laboratory analysis of blood samples, fecal samples, nasal or oral swabs, and environmental samples from barns or pastures. These tests can help you maintain your herd’s health, as well as to help identify any issues that may not be easy to recognize just by visual inspection. Typically, when we say “biosecurity testing,” we are referring to testing for three diseases: CL, CAE, and Johne’s. 

CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis) is a contagious bacterial infection clinically presenting in the form of purulent abscesses of the lymph nodes or organs. Left untreated, these abscesses can lead to a number of comorbidities that can ultimately cause death. 

CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis) is a viral disease that can cause encephalitis (swelling of the brains), arthritis, mastitis, and pneumonia, all of which can cause death in a small ruminant. 

Johne’s Disease (Paratuberculosis) is a chronic bacterial infection that can cause a variety of symptoms which ultimately lead to the death of the animal. 

Whenever possible, it is important to have any new animals screened for biosecurity, and recommend annual tests of the whole herd for biosecurity.

CD&T

CDT testing and vaccination are crucial components of goat health management because they help prevent and control several deadly diseases, particularly Clostridium perfringens types C and D (which cause enterotoxemia or “overeating disease”) and Clostridium tetani (which causes tetanus). If you are taking home any goats from Scalawag Farm, rest assured that they have been vaccinated for CD&T, but they will need a booster shot at 3 to 4 weeks after their initial dose. It will fall on the owner and/or their veterinarian to provide annual vaccinations thereafter. 

While the internet is a great source of information for goat owners, there is simply no substitute for the expert knowledge and ability to provide care from a veterinarian. That said, there are a variety of communities of people across the country and world where we gather to share experiences and tricks that have worked (or have failed spectacularly!) for the benefit of one another, and we encourage new owners to seek out and participate in those groups.

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