Goats make excellent pets. If you want goats for pets only, you should get a pair of wethers. Wethers are castrated male goats. With wethers, you do not have to worry about the goat going into heat, kidding, milking, exc. Wethers will not get the buck odor. Wethers do NOT need ANY grain, and it in fact can be very detrimental to their health - not only because of weight issues but because most do not know enough about nutrition to supply wethers with the essential 2:1 ratio of calcium and phosphorous to prevent urinary calculi (bladder stones) that are often deadly to male goats. Male goats are susceptible if fed grain, and since their urethras are long and very narrow, they cannot pass bladder stones. The death is very painful and it is very had to treat. They must be supplied with quality grass hay, unless your pastures are in good shape year round. Ideally, you'd offer rotational pastures and free choice grass hay. Does make good pets as well, and are an excellent option if you do not know if you will be breeding in the future. They also can be trained to do many different things. Pet does do not need grain, but if they are breeding they should have some.
Goats are known for brush control. Goats are very good area clearers, and after their job is done, you can either sell them or eat them. There are a few rules for area clearing, however.
1. Know of a good goat vet that you can contact in an emergency, and have a means of dispatching goats that are injured or ill. I understand a person using goats to clear land will want to spend hundreds on veterinary care to save a wether, but this is not an excuse for inhumane treatment. Prevent problems as best you can through good management, and have a plan to either do cheap/effective home treatment (with veterinary advice) or to euthanize an animal.
2. Fence in the area very well with sturdy fencing and provide adequate housing.
3. Allow free water access.
4. Do not tie out the goats. It is just not an efficient clearing method, not to mention very dangerous to the goat.
5. Follow a strict fecal sampling and vaccination schedule. Though regular fecal samples are important, only worm AS NECESSARY!
6. Over-stress the land you want to clear. Over stressing is putting more goats than normal per acre. This will clear the land quickly. The limit of goats per acre is about 5 (7 or so for miniature breeds), but this is so the land can support the animals. You want it so that the land cannot support the animals so they clear it out fast. Put as many goats as you can get your hands on and still provide wormer, water and housing for them. Be prepared to slaughter, move to new pasture, or sale the extra goats FAST once the land is cleared to your desire - you cannot just let them starve once the pasture is clear. Overstressing the land will also lead to overgrazing and thus higher worm counts, so be diligent.
7. Remember that goats will always eat their favorite browse first. It will take some time for the animals to clear the land. They will only be able to clear it in the summer. If you try to clear land in the wintertime, you will also need to provide hay, as they will not get enough from the pasture. They WILL eat any green or soft/woody things in pasture including bark, evergreen trees, sometimes briar canes.
8. Look up the deadly shrubs and trees, make sure none are present in your area you want to clear. One of the common toxic plants is the wild cherry tree. The wilted leaves are the worst, but you must worry about the dried and the live leaves as well. If there is a cherry tree in your pasture you should consider cutting it down and removing it in the off season, as well as any other poisonous plants. (Cherry wood makes very desirable firewood, and some tree felling companies will buy certain size/shape trees for furniture making at great prices!) or Keep some charcoal suspension on hand for toxic poisoning.
9. If you EVER want to raise goats for profit (or keep cows, horses, rabbits, goats, sheep etc as well, some diseases are transferable between these species), make SURE any 'weed eaters' you get are NOT diseased. Auction houses are a breeding ground for disease, because many people will simply take their sick animals to auction. It is VERY easy to find inexpensive bucklings/wethers from larger dairy goat farms that test their stock for diseases. Ask them about getting some bottle wethers. Yes, you will have to bottle raise them but at least they are inexpensive and this will also make them easy to handle/friendly to work with when you need to do routine work. They will also be very friendly but still work great for land clearing, meat - and you won't bring in diseases to your property, some of which are communicable to people and other livestock. (IE, CL and Johne's)
Goats have been used since thier domestication for draft uses. Draft means to pull a load. There are goat harnesses, halters, bridles and wagons, carts and sleighs. They are very expensive, but everything can be built or made for alot cheaper. Regular wagons can be modified to hitch a goat to. We made shafts using heavy PVC pipe. We did buy our harness because I believe it is best to at least see a harness and use one that is well made, before attempting to make one.
The larger the goat the more weight it will be able to pull. Goats will be able to pull roughly twice thier weight when properly conditioned. Conditioned means that they are in shape enough to pull. Wethers are generally able to pull more than a doe, and bucks just aren't used. They stink so no body wants to pet them and after they are harnessed your hands stink! Does also usually aren't used because if they are nursing or in milk they could potentially hurt their udder. This is usually only a worry with the milking breeds, but if your doe is milking or nursing, be careful around her udder while carting.
Training of the draft goat is relitively easy. It does take patience and time. You must repeat each step repeatedly and often, though only for short periods of time. Bottle fed babies are easier to train.
Goats can carry weight on their backs. Many people utilize this during trips into mountainous areas where horses, donkeys or mules could not go. They cannot carry nearly as much as a horse, but they can carry 1/4-1/3 of their own body weight. They can also be used to carry your lunch on summer picnics, or to carry some of your things on family outings.
Goat meat is extremely lean, healthy, and tasty. Home butchering is fairly easy. Supplies required are some sharp, good knives, a .22 gun to instantly and humanely kill the goat, bins/buckets for the waste, and a clean area to process the carcass. You get a couple roasts, quite a bit of steak meat, and all the rest can be made into burger or sausage.
Of course, some breeds are better suited for meat, but all goats are edible. Dam raised, well managed dairy wethers grow extraordinarily fast if dam raising some kids is an option for you. If you bottle raise all dairy kids, perhaps raising out dairy wethers is not a good option for you as it increases the amount of milk you're feeding back to bottle kids. A high quality milk replacer may work well, along with early weaning (8 weeks) and early transition on to quality diets for good growth. Some opt to cross dairy breeds to boer sires to result in 50% boer kids that also exhibit hybrid vigour and benefit from the high milk production of the dams - usually these are also dam raised. This allows you to milk the dams and have improved slaughter kids. Decide what works for you - keeping your dairy herd pure may mean better sales of purebred doelings, but in some areas boer crosses may be in high demand. Deciding wether or not to dam raise can be a big decision as well if you also wish to maintain a dairy herd for milk. For our herd, dam raising is not possible as we MUST have tame doelings to sell and keep, plus we enjoy earlier sales and lower cost of raising with bottle raised kids. (Tame dam raised goats can be had, but with our herd, it is not feasible to tame dam raised kids). Dam raising makes it more difficult to maintain milk records (if that is a concern to you) and also means you must separate kids for 12 hrs (usually overnight) so you can milk the doe 1x per day and then let the kids nurse the rest of the time. It is nice to be able to just skip milking by leaving kids with the does all the time though!
Raising purebred boers on a small scale can be a profitable venture as well as providing you with meat. While boers are often considered unthrifty or parasite-ridden, I have not found that to be the case. It will mostly depend on what lines you start with and how heavily they were culled for those traits in the past - but this is no different than starting with any other animal. Initially you may have to cull hard for the traits you desire. Purebred or high percentage quality doelings can be sold easily most places, and the extra wethers sold or butchered.
Large commercial herds usually consist of hybrid does of a medium body size bred to a terminal sire - usually boer and occasionally a Kiko. I dream of having a commercial herd someday! In my mind an ideal doe would be a kiko/myotonic/dairy hybrid, and the terminal sires would be boer. The medium size does don't take up a ton of barn space and don't cost as much to maintain from a feed standpoint. Being hybrids, you capitalize on hybrid vigour of the dams (milk production, prolificacy, disease/parasite resistance improvements) as well as in the terminal cross which also allows for hybrid vigour in the kid crop as well. You also need to be unafraid of culling hard for the traits you want.
Worldwide, goats far surpass cows in milk production animals. Different breeds have different amounts of butter fat content to their milk, varying the sweetness of the milk. Goats milk does not taste any different than cow's milk, in my opinion. If you've ever tasted nasty goat's milk, it was probably because of inept handling of the milk or the goat that caused this. While normal pasteurization can help improve milk flavor and allow it to last longer in storage, 'ultra pasteurization' that storebought liquid goat milk undergoes causes a scorched burnt flavor. If a goat eats a strong tasting plant, it can also cause off-flavor milk. Goat's milk should NOT be bad tasting if properly handled. Try visiting someone with good milking habits and procedures and try the fresh raw milk again. Or, better yet, get your own dairy doe and try it yourself. If you do it right, I'm sure you'll be pleased with all the yummy goat's milk you'll ever want. Below is a list of the different breeds of goats and what I've learned, experienced, read, or heard about them as milking animals. Enjoy!
Note on Registries: Registration of dairy goats has proven a very helpful tool in producing some amazing animals. Registration of a goat can mean nothing or it can mean everything. Remember, you get what you pay for. Expect to pay big bucks for the good stock, and expect to pay little to nothing for those goats that probably shouldn't reproduce and pass it's bad genetics on. Papers do NOT make the animal, despite what some unethical breeders will do by putting a lower price on animals 'without papers'. A goat does not magically become worth more with papers, IMO. Anywho, there are several abbreviations noted below. ADGA is the American Dairy Goat Association. NMGA is the National Miniature Goat Association. MDGA is the Miniature dairy Goat Association. AGS is the American Goat Society.. NPGA is the National Pygmy Goat Association. KGBA is the Kinder Goat Breeders Association. The boers have two registries currently- ABGA (American Boer Goat Association) and the USBGA (United States Boer Goat Association)
Pygmies ~ Pygmies are not generally noted to be dairy or meat animals, though quite a few people milk them and eat them. The milk is noted to be the highest butterfat content of any breed. However they also tend to dry up long before the normal dairy 10 month lactation, the milk is hard to get at because of tiny teats, and the quantity of milk is generally not worth going after. If you're after milk from your goats, I would say to steer clear of pygmies. Not to mention their bad milking ability, they are bred for their odd proportions of large head, keglike body on sticklike legs... Which just screams kidding problems. They are known as meat goats but are generally in it for the 'pet' market. Their registry is the NPGA.
The Miniature Dairy goats ~ The Miniature dairy goats are quite separate from Miniature goats. Miniature dairy goats are the result of a registered Nigerian Dwarf buck being crossed to a ADGA registered full size dairy doe. The next generations are F2's F3's etc. If the mother is a nubian, the resulting offspring are Miniature Nubians. If the mother is an alpine, the offspring are Miniature Alpines, etc. When the F1's (original cross) are bred together, the result are F2's and so on. These goats generally receive the best of both worlds. With good breeding from both sides they can be excellent milk producers but also have the smaller, easier to handle mid-range size. Beware - the nigerians are often ruined by pet breeders producing animals for flashy colors or blue eyes, and disregard dairy characteristics. These animals can be good but they can be ruined by poor breeding. Their registry is the MDGA.
Nigerian Dwarf goats ~ Nigerians are the infamous miniature dairy breed. Good breeders aim for the same proportions as a full size dairy goat, just in a smaller size. This year, 2010, I attended an Linear Appraisal (ADGA sponsored) where the appraiser said a good nigerian would look like an Alpine in structure. Nigerians can be surprisingly good milkers for their size, but you must watch out for small teats and bad udders. They have the highest butterfat of any of the milking breeds. Cross of Nigerian bucks to full size does results in the Miniature Dairy goats. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS. Be VERY VERY picky about your nigerians. Oftentimes, they are overpriced - generally what you pay is not what they're worth. I'm saddened by the number of people talking to me about buying a 350.00 nigerian only to find it's teats are super tiny or the orifices point outward, making milking difficult if not impossible.
Alpines ~ Alpines are a lovely breed that are known for their stately appearance, gracefullness, and milking ability. Their attitudes tend to be aloof and bossy, sometimes not as much of attention hogs as some other breeds. My two alpines are usually the first to greet me, and both seem rather obsessive over me and my wherabouts. :) They are assumed to be the 2nd heaviest in prouction, second to Saanens. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS.
Kinders ~ Kinders are a new breed resulting from the cross between a pygmy buck and a nubian doe. The result is a smaller sized goat that is easy to milk with high butterfat. The extra wethers make excellent meat animals. Does are also known for their proliferation, often having large multiples. They come in all colors. They are registered through the KGBA.
LaManchas ~ LaManchas are fairly recently becoming a popular breed. They are easily distinguished, being the earless variety of goat. They can have no external ear whatsoever, a 'gopher' ear, or an 'elf' ear. They are often tattooed in the tail web, and are occasionally tagged there as well. LaManchas are becoming more and more popular because of their milking ability and because of their docile, quiet, loving personalities. They are generally excellent milkers, producing an abundance of wonderful milk. They come in all colors and patterns. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS.
Nubian ~ The nubian is an ever popular breed of goat. They are extremely common. They are known for their loud, hyper personalities. They have long ears and are the only dairy breed with the distinctive roman nose. They are known for having the highest butterfat of all the standard breeds, but they are not the highest producers. That is not to say that there aren't great milking lines available, and breeders should be commended for bringing up the average milk production up. They come in all different colors including spotted. Nubians are known for being a dual purpose, milk/meat breed. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS.
Oberhalsis ~ Oberhalsis are a rare breed. They preferably only come in the dark bay chamoisee coloration, though solid black does are also accepted. I don't know much about this breed, besides that they need a lot of work as a breed in general. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS.
Saanen/Sables ~ Saanens and Sables, though listed as separate breeds, are actually one in the same. The only difference being that Saanens are required to be solid white or light cream, whereas the Sables can be any color and pattern. Saanens/Sables are also referred to as the 'Holsteins of the goat world' because of their high production with low butterfat content. They are large in size and have a calm, stately dairy disposition. Sables can result from a saanen-saanen breeding, and Saanens can result from a sable-sable breeding. Their registries are the ADGA and the AGS.