How to Choose & Keep Goats

How to Choose & Keep Goats

The keeping of any animal no matter how large or small needs careful consideration and planning. This guide outlines the basic requirements and demands of goat keeping and provides recommendations to aid in correct management and husbandry.

Why goats?

Goats may be kept for several reasons but are primarily kept for their produce i.e. meat, fibre and mainly milk which in turn could be made into butter, cheese and yoghurt.

As pure breeds developed goats were kept specifically for pedigree breeding and showing and although not classified as companion animals affections for goats have always been apparent, especially with pygmy goats.

What are my basic requirements?

Available land area per goat would be at least a large garden with bought-in forage of either hay or silage; many goats are "stall-fed" with only a yard for exercise. Advice should be sought if large numbers of goats are intended to be kept.. Suitable housing for shelter and warmth is also necessary, as dairy goats in particular dislike wet conditions. Kids need suitable accommodation with attention being paid to ventilation and hygiene. For milking and dairy work, a clean area and storage suitable for food production is ideal.

Adequate knowledge is one of the most important requirements covering range of subjects including how to milk, a calendar of goat husbandry, breeding and mastitis control.

Adequate, well-maintained fencing is vital and a local slaughter facility is also a must for those with goats being bred for meat.

What breed should I choose?

Goat in a pen

If size is the determining factor of choice the smallest breed is the Pygmy and these make excellent pets.

All body colours are acceptable, the predominant coloration is a grizzled (agouti) pattern produced by the intermingling of light and dark hairs, of any colour.

If dairy goats are required then a range of breeds is available:

The British Alpine, British Toggenburg and British Saanen breeds were developed in Great Britian in the early 1900s by crossing imported goats with native animals and all produce excellent milkers. British Alpines are black, whilst British Togennburgs
are any shade of brown, both with characteristic white "Swiss" markings . British Saanens are pure white, very placid and often the first choice for commercial herds. The Toggenburg and Saanen are Swiss dairy goat breeds credited with being the oldest known dairy goat breeds. Both are medium sized, sturdy, vigorous, and alert in appearance. Slightly smaller than the British breeds, the Toggenburg varies from light fawn to dark chocolate whilst the Saanen is pure white. Both played a major role in the development of their "British" counterparts.

The Anglo Nubian is the "Jersey" of the goat world. Milk yields have improved dramatically over the last 30 years without losing the breed's characteristic high butterfat and protein percentages.

The British and Golden Guernseys are the newest breeds which originated in the Channel Islands. Golden Guernseys are kept for their milk and are recognized as a dairy breed by the British Goat Society. Production levels are lower than the other dairy breeds, but the remarkably placid temperament and moderate yields make the "Golden" an ideal household goat. All the dairy breeds may be horned or polled (naturally hornless) but is is strongly recommended that all "horned" animals are disbudded by a vet soon after birth.

If meat production is the determining factor the Boer goat may be the most suitable breed. The Boer goat is primarily a meat goat with several adaptations to the region in which it was developed. It is a horned breed with lop ears and showing a variety of colour patterns.

If fibre is required the Angora would be recommended. The Angora goat originated in the district of Angora in Asia Minor. The Angora dates back prior to early biblical history. Mention is made of the use of mohair at the time of Moses, which would fix the record of the Angora some time between 1571 and 1451 B.C.

The Bagot goat is one of the oldest breeds of goats in Britain today. It goes back in history to around the 1380s and was reputedly brought back to this country by returning crusader knights. Today there are about 200 animals in the UK and their interests are looked after by the Rare Breed Survival Trust.

Availability from local breeders must also be considered as well as the requirement for pedigree animals to find a suitable male available for visiting females. The need for genetic preservation via rare breeds such as the Bagot and Golden Guernsey may also be an attractive proposition

What about feeding and management?

Availability of roughage is crucial to ensure year round feed supplies. Home grown or bought in hay or silage plus feeding systems such as big bale feeders and mechanised handling are advisable where large bales are used. Small bales of hay and
straw, which is also used for bedding, are easier to handle and store for smaller holdings.

A feeding timetable also needs consideration. Will keeping goats fit in with full or part time employment and who will provide holiday relief? Will milking times be convenient and help at hand seven days a week to do this? The feeding regimes of different
ages of goats and particularly kids are a factor as are seasonal variations.

Recommended equipment includes:

  • ATV
  • Feed and muck handling
  • Hay or silage making
  • Foot trimming shears
  • Feed storage
  • Extra help and relief cover where necessary

Common ailments and conditions to look out for include:

  • Preventative medicine e.g. worming and parasite control through the grazing season
  • Blowfly during the summer months—mainly the fibre breeds
    Vaccination – for clostridial diseases, lungworm, bluetongue and blackleg
  • Notifiable diseases such as foot and mouth, anthrax etc.
  • Deficiencies – milk fever and grass staggers
  • Other conditions such as mastitis and lameness
  • CAE, Scrapie, TB and Johnes status when purchasing stock should be checked and membership of any monitoring schemes ascertained. Access to veterinary care and an animal health plan are recommended.

Legal requirements:

All keepers of goats must register with their local authority and possess a holding number and herd number. Ear tagging and movement licence regulations must also be followed as well as those for notifiable diseases such as bluetongue and foot and mouth. Ear tagging regulations changed on 1st January 2010 and electronic tagging of goats is now optional. Two 2 identifiers must be present for breeding goats or any goats being kept beyond 12 months of age, both with the same identification number. One tag is needed for goats intended for slaughter under 12 months of age with a single slaughter tag which only has the herd number shown.

Transport qualifications are now a must with qualified hauliers being used with adequate vehicles following the stipulated wash up procedures. The sale of produce also requires regulation through farm assurance, food hygiene regulations, local authority registration for farmers market and slaughter requirements. The British Goat Society can provide further information via its website at