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The basics of goat farming include feeding, veterinary care, milking, and herding. Keeping accurate records is important as well as performing other business activities.
Some sources about goat farming suggest raising goats is a simple endeavor. Goat experts, however, note that raising goats is usually as time- and labor-intensive as raising sheep or cattle. Goats, whether raised for meat, dairy, hair, or show, have to be kept healthy and safe. This requires adequate browsing land, shade, shelter from bad weather, a water source, and regular veterinary care. Dog-proof fencing is also extremely important—goats tend to wander if not enclosed and, because they are small and can only run for short distances, are highly susceptible to dog attacks.
The goat breed chosen in goat farming depends on what the goat is being used for. Boers, originally a South African goat, are raised for meat, while Alpine and Nubian goats are primarily used as dairy animals. Angora goats are farmed for their hair, and Pygmy goats are typically raised as show animals.
The digestive systems of goats are generally able to process plant matter easily, even unpalatable vegetation like nettles and thistles. Goats usually prefer leaves and weeds and eat from the top down like deer. This top-down eating pattern is called browsing, as opposed to the eating pattern of cattle and sheep called grazing. Goats have adopted this browsing behavior in part to avoid ingesting parasitic worms, which are usually in or near the ground. The animal must be inspected regularly for parasites, which can debilitate or kill a goat.
A meat goat can usually browse for sustenance as long as it is moved regularly from field to field. A dairy goat requires a feeding regimen of one pound of goat-specific grain per two quarts of milk produced each day. Dairy goats also need as much green alfalfa hay and water as they will consume. Salt is typically made available at all times. Many dairy goat farmers supplement the grain and hay feed with fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, apples, and carrots.
Caprine Arthritis Encephilitus (CAE) and Caseous Lymphadentitis (CL) are two diseases that negatively affect goat farming. CAE is a virus passed from the mother goat, or doe, to the offspring, or kid, through infected milk. There is no treatment or vaccine. A blood test is required to detect CAE.
Breeders generally provide an inspection certificate to goat purchasers to prove the goat for sale is free of CAE. CL is also a disease without available vaccination. It is highly contagious and can only be prevented by culling the infected animal from the herd. Well-fed and exercised goats are usually hardy and healthy animals.
Goat farming is sometimes carried out for home use only, but is usually intended as a business. Any business requires a working knowledge of bookkeeping, banking, taxes, and inventory control. Record-keeping is especially important when raising goats. Knowing which feed produces the best-tasting or richest milk, which goats produce the hardiest offspring, and which breed of goat is right for the amount and type of land available can assist the goat farmer in being successful.