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  • Writer's pictureKatheryn

The Trouble With Goats

My first attempt at raising goats was unsuccessful. Yep, I failed. Not so much that they died or anything, but after three trying years I threw up my hands and swore to myself never to do that again. NEVER! So, if you're here to find out how to be successful at raising goat, you're definitely in the wrong place. But... if you're looking for the definition of crazy and a bit of insight into the multitude of mistakes I made, read on.

Let me share with you why I became interested in goats in the first place. Fiber. Just the thought of beautiful homespun fiber produced from my very own goats would send me off into a dreamland of unlimited yarn. I dreamed of harvesting luscious angora from my beloved goats year after year. Harvesting, dying, spinning, then crocheting. My apartment filled with the dreams of goats and all their fibrous potential.

Fast forward a few years, to the purchase of our first little doelings. They were a pair of adorable LaManchas. No, LaManchas are not a fiber goat and no, this isn't the part where I consider myself crazy...yet. After moving onto our homestead and having kids of the human variety, our need for goats transitioned from fiber to milk. As we adjusted to homesteading life, I no longer found joy in spending hours at the hook. Instead, my joy arose from time spent outdoors, caring for my animals, and gardening. Adding fresh milk to the eggs and vegetables we were already harvesting seemed like the perfect next step in our journey.

Daisy and Bluebell's milk at their peek production

Enter the LaManchas, renowned for their rich milk high in butterfat. My new dreams consisted of raw milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. LaManchas seemed like the perfect goat breed for us. So, in the spring, I found a pair of LaMancha doelings for sale. They were said to be weaned and had the swoon worthy price of just $100 each!

Do you ever have those moments where you commit yourself to doing something? Even if that "something" might be a big mistake, then you firm up your resolve and do it anyways? I can't be the only one. Okay this little quirk may be the "crazy" in me I mentioned earlier, because despite all the warning alarms going off in my head, I brought those doelings home. (This is also why it's important for me to bring my very level headed and logical husband along AND why I secretly hate bringing him, because he talks me out of things more often than not. That fateful day I went alone.)

With that all said, I'll list out the reasons I shouldn't have blatantly ignored the all those alarm bells:

  1. The doelings were 8 weeks old. While this may not seem like a big deal, as many breeders wean kids at 8 weeks, however, I was expecting that they would already be weaned and adjusted to life without milk. When I texted the seller the following day, she told me that it was the first day they were away from their dam. In other words, I was the monster who ripped these sweet little doelings away from their doting mother. A fact they reminded me of all hours of the night with their inconsolable bleating.

  2. They had dried poo down the back of their legs. I didn't completely ignore this issue. After all, every book I had read about goats warned readers against animals with scours. When I asked the seller about it, she brushed it off as feed change. She told me the feed store ran out of her brand of sweet feed so she had to suddenly switch her heard to something unfamiliar to their digestive systems. Which in turn lead to tummy upset. Okay that made sense, right? Even though the only goats that seemed affected were the doelings I was taking home. Wrong! (I'm currently shaking my head at the naivety of my past self.)

  3. They were very "calm" and uninterested in food/treats. I also knew this was a sign something could be wrong, so again, I asked. The sellers response was that they had just eaten and had full bellies. If a goat breeder ever tells you this, don't believe them. I have never since met a healthy goat that was uninterested in food, even if they just had breakfast, second breakfast and elevensies. Goats are very food driven. On top of that, a kid is never "calm" unless they are sleeping. If they're laying down, not sleeping and not chewing cud, there is probably something wrong and you should leave.

  4. The seller wouldn't give me any feed to transition them to a new feed. This one also seemed relatively minor at the time due to the seller having just switched feed herself. The only reason the doelings had scours in the first place, right? She told me to go find any sweet feed and some coastal hay and they'd adjust quickly. Even if you have to pay extra, don't leave without that feed and hay. Your goats will thank you.

  5. The seller had only been raising goats for two years herself. Now, I don't think this is a hard and fast reason not to purchase a goat. But, in retrospect, the seller may not have known enough about goats to identify issues with her own heard, let alone know that she was selling unhealthy kids. After all, she seemed to be doing everything by the book. Her herd was vaccinated, wormed, and the rest of the herd seemed healthy. and happy.

I probably should have cut my loses that day and continued my search for healthy kids. Of course, that's not what I did. I didn't drive an hour just to go pet a couple of goats and go home. Especially not when the goats were LaMancha doelings for the unbeatable price of $200 total (and the seller seemed so nice!) I was bringing them home, even if I could already picture the look of exasperation on my husbands face. So, I payed the lady, loaded up the kids in the back of my SUV and buckled in my giddy two year old son.

Our giddiness wore off after about 5 minutes of driving with goats. The smell of diarrhea permeated the small space of the SUV. On top of the smell, the goats bleated inconsolably which led to my son crying the entire hour home. Eventually we made it home, exhausted but picked out their names as a new wave of excitement washed over the misery of the ride. We named them Daisy and Bluebell (the names of a few favorite dairy products which doubled as some of my favorite flowers).

LaMancha buckling, doe, goat
First kid born on the homestead

The first few weeks with Daisy and Bluebell were touch and go. They were uninterested in their feed, only nibbled at their hay, and had scours that wouldn't stop. The weren't gaining weight and I was worried. My texts to the seller were no longer being returned after the first day, and I had no guide but the books, blogs, and forums.

I bought goat specific electrolytes and a pelleted goat wormer and prayed for some sign of improvement. After two weeks of little to no improvement I called every vet within an hour radius of me, only to find none of them would take on caprines. Feeling frustrated, I called my local ag extension office who was finally able to give me a few numbers of vets that treated livestock in the area. Even then, Only one of those vets worked with caprines and would only give me advise over the phone. She wasn't going to come to my property unless I had a whole herd of goats. I imagine this was probably to save me the expense of a pricey visit. At this point, I would take any advise I could get.

Her treatment plan was simple. Throw away the pelleted wormer and never buy the stuff again. Instead purchase some Corid and Ivermectin. Corid would take care of the coccidia she was 99% sure was causing the scours and the Ivermectin would take care of any other parasites they would be vulnerable to with such a weakened immune system.

Two days later their scours cleared up, they began to eat. The solution was simple and I was beyond relieved. They started to gain weight not long after and I felt like we were finally on the path to success with our goats. They were still a bit skittish but now that they were interested in treats they warmed up to us quickly. Bluebell and Daisy never really bonded with us (if you turned your back on Daisy, she would likely try to head butt you and knock you over) but they tolerated us because we brought food and treats.

Bluebell checking for treats

All was going well, six months later bluebell and Daisy had gained weight and filled out nicely. their coats had a luster to them that wasn't there before and so, I started to think about breeding. I delved into the forums and blogs again to find out when the best time to breed LaManchas was. I found Two schools of thought: Breed as soon as they're sexually mature in their first season OR Wait until they are fully grown, then breed them in their second season.

I won't go into each school of thought here but I'll tell you I decided to breed them that fall when they were nine months old. My greed for fresh dairy products and my impatience are what really lead me to this decision. I got sucked into the idea that in nature, a buck won't wait until a doe is two, he'll breed as many sexually mature does he can. Whether they are 6 months or 6 years old, as long as does are in heat it doesn't really matter to a buck.

This was another HUGE mistake! All the progress Daisy had made catching up from her first few rocky weeks of life were lost. Luckily Bluebell did not end up pregnant also. Bluebell's heath surpassed her sisters (bluebell was always the smaller and more docile of the two) while Daisy deteriorated. Bluebell's coat became sleek and glossy while Daisy's had become lack luster and frayed. Daisy put ALL her energy into growing her kid, becoming anemic and thin, even on additional grain rations. Bluebell put all that energy into herself and outgrew her sister.

Of course looking back, it makes sense that would happen, and maybe you're having one of those "Oh honey" moments just reading this. But to reiterate, I was impatient for milk and incredibly short sighted.

Lamancha goat. goat kidding
Notice how wiry and dull Daisy's coat looks.

Four months of watching Daisy and praying she would come through her first kidding, she finally gave birth to a healthy little buckling. Daisy produced enough milk to support her buckling, but not much beyond that. I didn't milk her until she weaned her kid and dried her up one moth later, deciding the stress lactation was putting on her body wasn't worth it.

Another summer came and went and breeding season was once again upon us. Daisy's growth was definitely stunted and I don't believe she would ever reach her genetic potential due to the stress of her first year of life. I decided to breed Daisy and Bluebell, and our buck decided to breed the neighbors goats too. Oops. The pregnancies went as planned (and for our neighbors part, unplanned) and in the spring Daisy and Bluebell kidded within 12 hours of one another, giving birth to a buckling each.

I let Daisy and Bluebell raise their kids and began to milk share 4 weeks in. When the kids were weaned and sold, we began 2x/day milkings. Daisy dried herself up after about 4 or 6 weeks. But considering she was difficult on the milking stand and never produced more than a quart, I wasn't too broken up over it. Bluebell on the other hand was giving 1/2 a gallon a day and milked out twice as fast. I thought this was a great amount of milk, even if I never had enough for cheeses or other dairy products.

At the same time, I was milking another neighbors goat while they were on vacation. She was an Alpine that was giving 1.5 gallons of milk a day in about half the time it took me to milk out bluebell. I was blown away and a bit jealous of the ease and quantity of milk.

LaMancha Milk. Milking out a goat. Hand milking a goat
Morning milking

When Bluebell's milk started teetering off a few weeks after Daisy, I was beyond frustrated with my own goats. I know Alpines are one of the heaviest producers in the dairy goat world and that I shouldn't have compared my goats to theirs, but I was done. The amount of feed, attention, and stress going into my two goats just didn't make raising them worth it for me anymore. I put the girls up on Craigslist and they were gone within the week. I told myself I was done with goats for good. No more goats for me.

Two years and the start of a global pandemic later, I must have completely lost my mind because I found myself browsing the classifieds for Nigerian Dwarf does, specifically bottle babies. I'm not sure what spurred the decision to try again. It could have been the lock-down; maybe the desire to put some energy into something besides homeschooling my 7 and 3 year old, OR (and I can't stress this one enough) it could have been my husband refusing to buy me a dairy cow because "we already have enough cows".

After having reflected on all my beginners mistakes, I figured I couldn't do much worse than the first time around. I could take all those lessons and experiences to make the second time more successful.

bottle feeding nigerian dwarf. Bottle feeding baby goat
Starla gulping down her fist bottle of the day

As I write this blog post, I'm a year into raising two of the sweetest and healthiest little Nigerian Dwarf goats. I have absolutely no regrets this time around, and I feel like I'm on much sturdier ground. I'm not to the point where I feel as though I can write you a comprehensive article on how to raise your own goats, but I can give you a quick list of some of the things we did differently going into the second time around:

  1. We bought bottle babies. This was so important in developing a special bond with our two new girls, Starla and Luna. It also allowed me to determine when and how to wean them.

  2. They were weaned at 12 weeks. The weaning process was also gradual and gentle. No inconsolable bleating throughout the night.

  3. Medicated Feed. To avoid coccidia all together we introduced medicated feed specifically designed to prevent coccidia in young goats and give them a good start.

  4. Purchased from a more experienced breeder. She was able to guide me through bottle feeding and was happy to answer all my questions, even days and weeks in. She also sent us home with enough formula and peanut hay to transition to anything new much easier. (I didn't even have to ask, she had it ready for us when we picked up the girls.)

  5. No breeding until 2 years. I'm not taking any chances with the health of these two goats. They are so special to me and I refuse to put their lives and health in jeopardy.

Starla and Luna bring us so much joy. We never tire of their antics and lovable shinning personalities. I look forward to visiting with them every day when they get their daily rations. I'm looking forward to having a kidding season again, even if it's in the distant future, so I can dote over all the adorableness year after year.

My hope is, that even if you "fail" at homesteading (or anything), you keep learning and building from your experiences. Try again or don't. As long as what you are achieving makes you happy, because homesteading happiness is what makes homesteading successful. Yes, sometimes the lessons can be a hard pill to swallow, but I believe you'll be a better homesteader for them. I know I am.

Until next time, sweet homesteading,

Katheryn Williams

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