Goats 101

This section is for new goat owners, people thinking about becoming goat owners, and anyone who is curious about caring for these animals. I researched for two years before buying my first goats, and this is some of the basic information that I needed to get started.

Are you sure you want a goat?
Food, Water, Minerals, and Baking Soda. Really? Yes.
What’s a Wether?


Food, Water, Minerals, and Baking Soda. Really? Yes.

Goats require specialized food plus quality hay, fresh clean water, minerals, and baking soda available at all times. They are ruminants, which means that they do not fully digest food themselves; they require the assistance of microbes who live in their stomachs. This is why goats and other ruminants “chew the cud.” Roughage is important not just for nutrients and energy, but to keep the goat’s digestive system functioning properly. Goats need hay that is clean, more leafy than stemmy, and dry. Moldy hay can make goats extremely sick.

These animals are very picky about their water and will not drink it once it is fouled. They will also poop in it, even though that renders it undrinkable. I don’t know why. We hang the water right at mouth level to minimize this problem and give them fresh water twice a day.

Goats also need free choice mineral supplementation to provide trace elements that are not found in sufficient amounts in their other feeds. Loose minerals are best for Nigerian Dwarf goats– they really can’t lick or nibble enough off of a mineral block to give them what they need. When you first put out the minerals, they will often dive in and eat like crazy. This will taper off as they sort out any internal imbalances they may have, and then consumption will go up and down as the animals need the extra, or do not.

Baking soda acts as a preventative for bloat, a painful, gassy rumen condition that can be fatal. You know how, when the Girl Scout cookies come every year, you maybe eat that first box of thin mints a little too fast? Goats do this too– if they break into the grain storage, if they go hog-wild when the first green shoots appear in spring, or if they move to new browsing grounds and have their pick of new foods. They produce more gas than they can burp away, and the result is bloat. Baking soda helps prevent this by altering the rumen pH. Goats know when they need it, and they eat what they need under most circumstances. Put it out there!


There is a lot of very good advice about both housing and fencing available across the Internet. I live in New England, so my facilities are influenced by both the the terrain (Rocks. Glacial deposits of every size and shape, festively mixed under the dirt, so when you hit one while digging a fence post you don’t know if it’s head-size and moveable or Honda-size and you’re out of luck) and the climate (freezing and snowy in the winter, hot and humid in the summer). Goats need a lot of ventilation, but they also need a place to get out of the cold and especially away from the wind– they are very susceptible to pneumonia.

We have a real barn for the girls to live in, with a 10×12 horse stall for them and a tack room for us. We bought ours from Kloter Farm, and although they are pricey I recommend them highly. They did excellent work preparing the site, the construction is solid, and when we had an issue with the stall door three weeks after delivery they came out and fixed it for free, including touching up the paint.

The tack room is a great thing. We started out with two goats in an 8×12 shed, and feed storage was a nightmare. They broke into the hay closet and were obsessed with getting to the grain, to the point where we had to move it back inside the house. With the tack room we can pile up several months’ worth of hay, store food/minerals/baking soda, Stall-Dri, bedding, first-aid kit, grooming tools, milk stands, and some emergency carpentry supplies. It’s saved me a thousand trips back and forth to the house, and we’ve been using it successfully as a milking room since April.

Our buck and his companion live in the back yard, out of sight of the girls, in a 4×6 shelter I made myself. The door faces south, and the wasted hay from the feeder makes a nice bed for them. I make all of my feeders out of no-climb horse fencing, because they’ve destroyed every other kind of wire that we’ve tried. The only downside is that they rub some hair off the tops of their noses digging in for bigger bites. They can be piggy!


With the subterranean rock situation, we had to minimize our use of pressure-treated wooden posts. They are definitely the strongest, but digging 1-4 holes for every one of them until we could get 30 inches down meant we only used them for the corners of the pen. We have t-posts every 5-8 feet (again, rocks– we start at 5 feet and ootch over until we can set the posts at least two feet deep), and over one particularly wide shelf of rock that was 18 inches deep we set a shorter post in concrete to keep it stable. We use 48” no-climb horse fencing, which has 2×4-inch openings. This keeps even the newborns contained but stands up to the abuse of the bigger goats. Around the buck pen we ran electric tape fencing atop the fence posts to keep Charlie in his yard. He was taking running jumps at the gate, and even though he’s built like an ottoman he was getting a little too close to the top for comfort.

We have homemade gates of pressure-treated wood covered by horse fencing. In the bigger pen, one swings out and one swings in– this can be critical if we get a lot of snow or thick ice, because we can shovel out the swing-out gate and walk in. Infinitely better than climbing over the fence with the shovel!

What’s a wether?

A wether is a neutered male goat. Wethers are generally friendly, docile, and do not develop the strong bucky smell of an intact male. They can be trained as pack animals, used as nonaggressive companions for bucks, or left in with the does to help identify when individual does are in heat. They are much more susceptible to urinary calculi than either intact males or does, and should never be given grain to help prevent this painful and frequently fatal condition.