There are many options and opinions in the goat world about what is the best feed for goats. For this section I will focus on what is best for wethers (castrated male goats). As feed is the most important, aspect of goat husbandry, I will spend more time on this subject and provide more information then other areas.
When choosing whats best to feed your pack goat wether, there are many things to consider. The most important is how that feed plays into the standard 2:1 diet ratio. The 2:1 ratio meaning, calcium vs phosphorus. The undisputed ideal 2:1 ratio, should be followed as close as possible. It is widely thought that the higher the imbalance of this ratio, the greater the likely hood a wethered goat will develop URINARY CALCULI (urinary stones or UC for short). Below is a generalized analysis of some of the different kinds of hays and grains one can feed their pack goat.
::::::: FEED ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::CALCIUM (%) ::::::::::::::::::::::: PHOSPHORUS (%)
Alfalfa hay, (midbloom)_________ 1.24 _______________________ 0.22
Bermuda hay, 29-42 days________0,30 _______________________ 0.19
Oat Hay_____________________0.29 _______________________ 0.23
Orchardgrass hay, early_________ 0.24 _______________________ 0.30
Timothy hay, midbloom_________ 0.43 _______________________ 0.20
Barley grain__________________0.05 _______________________ 0.34
Beet pulp, dehydrated___________ 0.62 _______________________ 0.09
Corn grain___________________0.05 _______________________ 0.27
Oat grain____________________0.05 _______________________ 0.34
Riuce bran___________________0.09 _______________________ 1.5
Keep in mind, this is a general analysis and should only be used as a guideline. Each farms different soil analysis can change ratios. But as you can see, its nearly impossible to find a hay that falls into the ideal ratio. Grass hays come closer, which is to be expected. But grass hays are lower in protein, vitamins and minerals then Alfalfa. Of all the feed choices listed, Alfalfa is by far the best in terms of nutritional value with average protein levels between 16% and 24%. Alfalfa also has the highest calcium level. Two very important factors when growing young pack goats or maintaining the condition of hard working goats. The main problem with alfalfa is the ratio imbalance. And with the higher protein and nutrients, its quite easy to over feed and make your goat fat. There is also a difference in the amount you feed grass hay vs. alfalfa hay. Grass hay can be fed free choice. Meaning, its in front of them all the time and they can eat as much as they want. Alfalfa should be limited to one good sized flake per adult goat per day (depending upon quality and protein %). Possibly less if they have free choice access to a good quality browse. Regardless of what hay you decide to feed your goats, it is important that it be a high quality hay. I cant stress this enough. If you settle for crap hay, expect a crap goat.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
The majority of a goats growth is done between birth and 3 years of age. From the time a baby can start eating hay (around the 3-4 week mark) I believe they should have a good quality alfalfa in front of them. (NOTE: It is suggested that instead of presenting kids with hay at first you should use grain instead as it easier on their system. Its also easier to digest and conditions their rumin better). You will maximize your goats growth and condition with alfalfa. The higher calcium will benefit in bone growth. The higher protein, nutrients, minerals and vitamins will all aid in all areas of development. I believe alfalfa should be feed until the kid is around one year old. At this point I would switch over to a 50/50 grass/alfalfa mix. I would feed this grass/alfalfa mix for the next two years. Then at the age of three I would evaluate their growth and condition, how hard and how often they are working (packing). With most of their growth done, its at this time I would possibly change over to a straight grass hay. Feeding the 50/50 mix during the winter months to help maintain condition. Many pack goat owners would disagree with this and suggest grass hay either from the start or much sooner because of the imbalance in the 2:1 ratio and the fear of UC. Personally I believe that UC is more related to a to high phosphorous level then calcium level. I have heard many many stories of wethers being feed grain and getting UC. I have never heard of a wether getting UC from alfalfa. But without knowing for a fact, I counter the imbalance with supplements and the use of AMMONIUM CHLORIDE. Both of which will be covered below.
Goats require more supplements then just about any other livestock animal. Their metabolisms are much higher so they burn through vitamins and minerals at an equally higher rate. They are also natural browsers as apposed to grazers. Although not wild in thousands of years, its still part of their genetic code. Their bodies have evolved to need this better variety of feed. Feed alone can not adequately cover all their needs. Yes you can grow and maintain a goat without supplementing but the likely hood of experiencing health issues and deficiencies at some point is nearly assured. It costs far more to deal with the problems of not supplementing as apposed to the cost of supplementing.
The most important supplement by far is a loose mineral mix. Do not use salt/mineral blocks. Goats can not get enough out of them quick enough and are very likely to wear their teeth down to the gums trying. Loose mineral mixes are the only way to ensure your goat has access to the vitamin and minerals they require. There are dozens of mineral mixes available to choose from but there are curtain minerals you want to look for. The four most important minerals for goats are SELENIUM, COPPER, MAGNESIUM and ZINC. Magnesium doesnt play as important a roll in a wethers system as it would in a Does. If possible stay away from oxide and sulfate based mineral mixes. Both of these forms of minerals are very hard for the body to absorb and use. Even at super high levels, most of these kind of based minerals just pass through the goats system unused.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
Below I have put together the analysis for the perfect goat mineral mix for low selenium areas. I will provide a link to a selenium map so you can check your area. The closer match you can find a mineral mix to this analysis the better off you will be. Loose mineral mixes are to be fed free choice all the time. Typically a "Lip Pan" is used but any mineral feeder will work. Just make sure its in a place that it cant get wet (they wont eat it when it gets nasty) and they cant jump into it with their feet. The cleaner it remains, the more likely they will to use it and to save you money from not having to throw it out.
Its important to try and stay away from OXIDE and SULFATE based minerals. They do not have the carrier molecule that aids in the bodies ability to absorb minerals. They are the cheapest form so most mineral mixes have them. If possible look for a carbonate or amino acid complex based mineral. Its impossible to find the perfect mix but with some hard work you should be able to find one that works.
Calcium 12%-16% (would prefer 16%)
Phosphorus 6%-8% (would prefer 8%)
Salt (naCl) 20%-25%
Zinc 5000-7000 ppm
Copper 3000 ppm
Iodine 500-800 ppm
Selenium 90-100 ppm
Cobalt 80 ppm
Vit A 500,000 IU/lb
Vit D3 250,000 IU/lb
Vit E 1000-2000 IU/lb
This mix would be able to be feed to any goat breed, sex or wether. The 2:1 balance and the lower magnesium with wethers in mind. With this mix there should be no reason to copper bolus or bo-se boosters other then maybe pre breeding season (as long as consumed as expected) There is also an injectable mineral supplement called Multimin 90 that can be purchased with a vets prescription or directly from a vet. Though watch out for price hiking. Using the injectable is a sure way to make sure that they are getting what they need but you will still need to keep a mineral mix available for them so they have access to the other lesser minerals and vitamins they need. Here is a link (Payback 18-6 Goat mineral Plus) (Payback Dealer locator) to the mineral mix we recently changed over to. UPDATE: After using this mineral mix and talking with our vet about it. This is a GREAT mineral mix. The amino acid complex base of the minerals makes it a very effective mineral mix. Multimin90 will not be needed with this mix but Bo-Se will.
This supplement is a pack goat owners white knight. It is used to treat and or prevent URINARY CALCULI (UC). I bring this up now even though its not really a supplement but more of a medical treatment. AC can be added to your loose mineral mix to be used as a preventative. The ratio of AC vs. mineral mix is 3 lbs of AC to 50 lbs of loose mineral which is the typical weight of a bag of mix. You can purchase AC on many livestock sites on the internet.
AMMONIUM CHLORIDE can also be used as a treatment. 1 1/2 table spoons per goat per day for a week. You can mix it in to just about anything that you can get them to eat. It kinda resembles citric acid so whatever you decide to mix it in, make sure its diluted enough not to burn their mouths.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
Because I feed alfalfa and alfalfa/grass mixes and my 2:1 balance is off a bit, I like to be assured that my boys are getting enough AC to be effective. Just because they have access to free choice loose minerals doesnt mean they are consuming enough of them. So I also do a single dose treatment of AC once every 2-4 weeks. I like to use wet cob as its moist but as the bag dries out I do have to sprinkle water on it to get the AC to stick to the cob and not drop to the bottom of the pan. I will sprinkle 1 1/2 table spoons of AC on a pound or two of the wet cob and mix around. If I notice they are eating the loose mineral mix well I may increase the time between treatments. OR if they are not eating the mix well, I may increase it to once a week.
Grains should be avoided were pack goat / wethers are concerned at all costs. They are highly imbalanced (even if the analysis says other wise) and are a leading cause of urinary calculi. There are many fillers in pelleted grains and the grains they do use are of the lowest quality. Whole grains are a better choice but still unbalance. There are some people who will give a little bit of grain to achieve a better 2:1 balance when feeding alfalfa. If a quality hay is not available to you, there is the option of feeding alfalfa pellets. Keep in mind that neither alfalfa pellets (16% protein) nor whole grains are nearly as good for your goat as a good quality hay. The fresher the hay is the better it is. You will also need to store it correctly to keep it dry and free from molds.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
Aside from the administration of ammonium chloride and a tool used in training or maybe a small weekly treat to balance out alflfa, Id highly suggest not using pelleted grains of any kind. If you refer back up to the hay/grain ratio analysis, you will see that even whole grains are not balanced. And quite frankly, unless your hay is of very low quality, they are going to get more outta their hay then out of any grain and its going to save you money to buy a quality hay over bags of grain. Grains can be used to put weight on an animal but its a fat weight.
There are not a lot of vaccines, booster or medication you will need to worry about as goats are fairly hardy animals. In this section Ill go over a few ailments and and what are some good things to keep on hand.
About the only vaccine you need to worry about is the CD/T vaccination. Clostridial diseases are fatal diseases that strike ruminant livestock suddenly, often causing death before any clinical signs are seen. Clostridia (bacteria) are widespread in the environment. They are normally found in the soil and feces. They are also present in the digestive tract and tissues of healthy animals. For these reasons, vaccination is the best way to prevent disease outbreaks. There are a few different choices of vaccines. CD/T being the simplest and a 8 way (Covexin®-8. CDT) that also help fight off a few other related ailments. The 8 way will of course be more expensive. Check with your vet for more details on it. There is also a vaccine for the viral form of pneumonia. I personally dont use it but know of people who do. And thats about all there is need of for vaccines with goats.
Boosters are typically given to female goats but male or wethered goats may need them as well if the supplements they are ingesting are inadequate. The most common boosters would be selenium (Bo-Se) and copper boluses. The need for these boosters can be eliminated with a high selenium and copper mineral mix. A mineral mix with 90 ppm of selenium and 3000 ppm of copper should be enough of both for there to be no need of added boosters. As long as they are consuming enough of the mineral mix.
We already covered Ammonium Chloride in the supplement section. Here Ill focus more on common ailments and the medications to have on hand to combat them.
Bloat: Bloat happens when a goat eats something usually very high in protein or moldy and in large quantities. Tiny bubbles form in the stomach in massive numbers and continue until stopped or expelled. This is called frothy bloat. 99% of the time a goat can expel these bubble by burping and maintaining a working gut. Rarely though the bubble are so small and so packed together, they cant be popped nor expelled by the goat. In these cases you will need to administer a medication to help. You can use a product off the shelf of a feed store called therabloat OR you can use a squirt of liquid dawn dish soap into a 20 ounce bottle of warm water. Baking soda can also help to prevent this from happening. A box added to 10 lbs of mineral mix is good to help maintain a goats rumin. You can also sprinkle some into their lip pan as you are filling it with your mineral mix.
Pneumonia is very dangerous for goats. I suggest doing some research on pneumonia in goats so you can become familiar with the symptoms. LA 200 OR Nuflor are fast acting antibiotics that are a must have for battling this and other sever ailments. Normal penicillin is also a great thing to keep handy for things like pink eye, small issues and infections.
There is a pasteurella / pneumonia vaccine (Thanks Jill / Goathiker from TGS forums) that can be given to your goats. The pneumonia vaccine should be given over the ribs in the middle of the body away from any legs. It has a side effect of causing lameness for about 36 hours after injection. Keeping the serum away from the legs helps to prevent this.
Because goats have 4 stomachs its not a surprise they can have issues with them. Here are some good general medications to keep on hand to help combat these and other issues.
Probios: (like baking soda), is a rumin buffer and helps the rumin in the stomach
Activated Charcoal: Always good not just at home but in your pack saddle as well. This will help if your goat eats something poisonous.
Red Cell: is a red blood cell booster and is full of a lot of great things to help pick up a goat that is feeling under the weather.
Vitamin B complex: with thiamine: Also a great booster for an ill feeling goat. Thiamine is also the medicine use to battle polio and listeria.
There are as many different kinds of shelter and fencing options as there are different kinds of goats. But there are important things about each that should be followed.
A goat shelter regardless of what kind should offer a goat two main things. Protection of wind and protection from rain/snow. By offering your goat a shelter with both of these you greatly reduce the risk of your goat catching pneumonia. The tricky part is to offer a draft free shelter that has enough ventilation to prevent the build up of ammonia fumes. During the winter time its best not to clean their bedding to often. But instead to add to it. The decomposition process causes heat that can aid in keeping your goats more comfortable during those sub freezing months. Venting at the top of the shelter can provide enough air flow but still keep your goats outta the draft of the cold wind. Just as important as protection from the wind is protection from the wet. Goats hate to be wet. So giving them an area to get 100% outta the rain and snow is a must.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
Over the years having built a number of different shelters my only suggestion is that the shelter either needs to be small enough to move so you can muck OR that it be tall enough that you can stand up inside of it. Its a pain in the back trying to muck out a 4 or 5 foot tall shelter.
Again, there are many different fencing options. The most common being field fencing and electric fencing. There are 3 major concerns about fencing. The first being keeping dogs and predators out. The next being keeping goats in. And finally choosing a fence that works best with your horned or non horned goats.
Electric Fencing: I cant speak on this as we have never used electric fencing but I do know that you want at least 5 strands of hot wire. This will allow you to run the bottom one close enough to the ground to keep dogs out and tall enough to keep goats from jumping over the top. A good charger and grounding system is a must.
Field Fencing: This is what we use around the perimeter of our property. Being in such a dry area, the goats dont see a need to eat the grass on the other side of the fence cause well there is non. So we have no issues with the goats standing or breaking down the fence. This would not be the case if there was something tasty on the other side. Many people use field fencing and then run a strand or two of hot wire to keep the goats off the fence. Concerns with field fencing are keeping the goats off of it and keeping younger horned goats from getting their heads stuck in it. Much like a fish hook, a smaller goats head will easily go through the squares in a fence but can be impossible to get back out without cutting the fence.
Combo and Cattle Panels: We use these around all our pens. Its strong enough that the goats can stand on them and not beat them up to much. They are also moveable and easy to use. They are rigid so no stretching involved like with field fencing. Great for keeping animals in and predators out. The only draw back with this kind of fencing is that big powerful bucks and or pack goats with horns can destroy these panels in as little as a year if they are so inclined to. Again, there is a concern of a younger horned goat getting its head stuck in the squares of this kind of fencing. The "combo" panels are gradruated and help reduce this risk greatly.
Power River Panels: At an average of $80 per 12 foot panel, its not likely you would be able to afford to many of these. We use them in the main area of the buck/pack goat pens. They are solid tubular metal so will hold up very well against even the biggest of male goats. But the gaps between the rails are large enough to let just about any predator in. Here we actually use both the power river panels and then line them with cattle panels. They do make shorter cattle panels called hog panels that would also work great if they didnt cost almost the same as the taller ones.
There are lots of websites on the internet over loaded with information on pretty much anything goat related. I am just going to suggest 2 here as they are active goat forums with "trolls" lots of active people to answer questions and to point you in the right direction when the need of knowledge should arise. Both are the premier forums for their type.
Pack Goat Central is an active forum frequented by the whos who of the pack goat world. Members of the North American Pack Goat Assoc. are counted as some of its users.
The Goat Spot is a very active forum covering pretty much all aspects of goat husbandry. With topics ranging anywhere from illnesses to births to barns to legal questions. Pretty much if its goat related, there will be someone posting about it here.
This is a very important topic to pay close attention to as it could save you time and money later on.
Most people who buy goats dont have a real good understanding about their personalities. They can be the most affectionate live stock animal. Rivaling that of a good dog. They love to be in your face, smell your breath and ears. Nibbling on them, fingers and noses. They will lay in your lap, stand by your side, respond to their name, call for you when they see you come out the back door of the house, jump and play and melt your heart. This is the personality that any goat can have and should have. But often this is not the way they turn out and 99% of the time its their owners fault.
Its true, baby goats love to jump and play. But there is a firm line that must be drawn with baby goats. ESPECIALLY if you have chosen to keep the horns on yours. Deeply imbedded within every goat is the sense of rank and hierarchy. Very few are content to just accept their rank without testing the higher ranked animals for dominance. This includes their owners as well. So they will test their pen mates and their people to see just where they stand within the herd hierarchy. Signs of this testing can be as simple as cutting in front of another goat or person or as intense as butting and using their horns to assert their dominance. There are other behaviors like jumping up that can also be a sign but more often then not, this is just a smaller goats attempt to get on eye level with you. They do grow outta the jumping up by around age one or earlier. Typically once they are tall enough not to warrant doing it. You can choose to disciple this action or not. Most do.
Out of any show of aggression, the used of horns on a person MUST BE DEALT WITH IMMEDIATELY!!! Some use spray bottles of water to reprimand most behavior issues but this is a direct challenge to you or another person and is unacceptable. If not dealt with when they are babies, its nearly impossible to stop them when they are adults as they will consider themselves the herd boss by that time and any attempt to correct the behavior then will be seen as a direct challenge to their rank. Again, let me say there is no other aspect of training your goat that is more important then teaching your goat who the boss is. You may not like to have to do it and your goat may even seem to hold a grudge (which it isnt, its simply respecting your herd boss status by staying back for awhile) but if you do not, you will 99% likely end up selling your goat as you will not be able to deal with it.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
I think I have made it clear how important getting the respect of your goat is. Now here are some of my suggestions on how to get it. First off, for things like jumping up, chewing on clothes and other annoyances a squirt bottle actually is quite effective. I personally dont have to carry one around so I use the nose slap method. Goats have a substantial amount of nerves in their nose and lips. These are a goats main tools for everything they do. So a light slap on the end of the nose for minor issues usually gets your point across quickly. Granted if you have more then one goat say jumping upon you at a time, then a slap will quickly be forgotten as they see their buddies getting away with it, they will think they can keep doing it. Best to train them separate and forgo the frustration.
When a goat uses its horn though, a very solid and hard slap on the end of the nose should be used and it should be instant so they associate the bad deed with the punishment. This way they will see you as the herd boss. And when that happens, they will stop trying to test you and you will have earned the respect of your goat. Now, this is not to say they will not at random times try again, but they will be expecting you to react harshly. As well you should. And this goes for ANY show of aggression from your goat. Rearing up, hair on end, presenting their horns even if they dont use them MUST be met with the same slap on the end of the nose as all these are ways a goat will test your authority. The good news is, if you assert yourself from the start, goats are very very smart and will learn quickly. Id say on average, 5-12 slaps at the correct time and force will teach a goat who the boss is and you wont have to much worry about it again. Other things used to punish are squirt guns and air horns.
Horns vs. No Horns:
A goat with horns KNOWS it has horns and will use them as expected. They will fight other goats, brush and trees, fling their hay flakes, bash on walls and fences and in general can be pretty destructive with them. Its never a good idea to pen a goat with horns with one that doesnt. Sure, there are times when this can be dont without issue, but for the most part, its just to dangerous and even kinda cruel to the one without. A goat without horns is much less likely to try and be aggressive with not just other goats but people as well. The liability of horns with children is high. A sudden jerk of the head can and will also result in accidental pokes to you or someone else.
But there are some good reasons to leave the horns on your goat. They act as natural heat exchangers. Cooling the blood thats flowing through them. A goat can be taught to present and protect itself from domesticated dogs on trails. They will be must more confident of their ability to face off vs. a dog with horns. The likely hood they would actually aid in defense vs an actual predator is small. And finally, they look freaking awesome!
There are a few different opinions on this subject. So again, I will give the standard answer and then my opinion.
A saddle designed for a pack goat, like those sold by Northwest Pack Goats is made to start fitting on a goat that is roughly 125 lbs. or larger. This doesnt mean that because the saddle fits, your goat is ready to start packing though. The standard opinion as to when a pack goat can start packing is 3 year old. Its at this point they have reached the bulk of their over all growth.
My Personal Opinion and Thoughts:
Here is how I suggest you proceed with putting packs and then panniers on your pack goat. Ill refer back to how I did mine.
I started putting a dog pack saddle (made of nylon and of almost no weight) on Legion (my pack goat) when we was around 4 months old. I didnt put any weight in it as I just wanted to get him used to feeling the saddle on his back. As expected, this went very easy with no issues. I then attended the 2012 North American Pack Goat Assoc. rendezvous when Legion was almost 5 months old. I returned and had my vet castrate him using the burdizzo method. Once he was better and just under 6 months of age, I again began to use the dog saddle. Now thou, I put a couple of 20 oz. water bottles (one on each side) in the saddle. I did this for 4 months. Adding small things like binoculars, or maybe a couple of sandwiches. Never exceeding 5 lbs. Again, was not trying to condition his yet. Was just getting him used to wearing a saddle. At 10 months of age, Legion weighed 125 lbs. A bit ahead of the normal pack goats growth pattern. I started to put his actual goat pack saddle on him. As it weighed roughly the same amount I had been putting in his dog pack pack, there was no noticeable difference for him other then the fit of of the saddle. The dog pack being nylon with no wood frame, rested over him like a blanket. A normal saddle has a wood or metal frame that puts the pressure and weight in a more condensed area. I would alternate between the different saddles depending upon if I wanted him to care something or just out for a walk/hike.
Legion grew faster then expected and by the time he was 20 months old, he was already 200 lbs. This is about the weight of a 2 1/2 to 3 year old average sized pack goat. And would normally be about the weight you would be able to start using your pack goat. But because Legion was younger and still growing and was no where near the 3 year mark, I still keep his carry weight well under what he could carry. Its important not to over load your goat at anytime but its especially important not to during this growing stage. But its also not good to wait for 3 years and just start loading the weight onto him. A rule of thumb I like to tell people is; If you are out hiking and have weight on your pack goat, when you stop to rest, if your pack goat lays down instead of wandering around browsing on stuff, then he is over loaded and or not conditioned to carry that much weight. You might be able to get away with this on a full grown adult pack goat, but not on a younger one that is still growing. Also keep in mind the kind of terrain you will be hiking in. The more difficult the terrain, the less weight your pack goat should carry.
So my advice is to take it easy for the first 2 years at least. Think of conditioning and tuning your pack goat before using him. Start increasing weight gradually and factor in terrain. When you pack goat is fully grown, conditioned and ready, he will be able to carry up to 25% of his body weight. Thats the same as a 200 lbs man packing 50 lbs. But if that man is more of a couch potato then a athlete, he isnt going to make it very far before he collapses. The same goes for your pack goat. If he is not conditioned to carry that 25%, then he wont be able to.