Learning how to raise goats can be a bit overwhelming at the outset. When I first started, I didn't want to mess up, so I bought a lot of things I didn't need – like metal goat pails for instance.
Metal pails are pretty and using them makes you feel like a real dairy operator. But they don't fit in my dishwasher. Instead, I started using BPA-free plastic pitchers for milk collection. The pitchers cost a few dollars each, come with lids, and can be run through the dishwasher as needed. They stack well in my kitchen cabinets and can be used for serving beverages at parties, too.
Starting with simple, tried and true goat care methods can help ensure success. But don't be afraid to look for simple, low-cost alternatives for expensive equipment or time-consuming processes to make goat keeping easier!
10 Super Simple Goat Care Hacks
Here are a few ideas that made goat keeping easier for me (or that I wish I'd known about sooner).
1. Administering a Copper Bolus
I used to open the copper bolus (a pill capsule full of copper filaments), pour it into a bowl and have my goats lick it with some loose minerals and alfalfa pellets (a favorite treat). This wasn't a bad method.
But it took about 5 minutes per goat to make sure they ate all the filaments. Plus it took a few more minutes to round each goat up and isolate them in the milk room so others wouldn't eat their copper treat. With eight dairy does to treat individually, that could add up to a big ordeal.
Then I heard about other people putting the copper bolus inside large marshmallows or banana chunks. Well, I tried it, and I had six goats dosed with copper in under 5 minutes! They were lining up for their copper bolus! Two goats didn't care for the marshmallows, so I subbed in bananas, and that worked perfectly.
Now, I don't recommend giving your goats bananas or marshmallows regularly. But for dispensing copper boluses, they sure do make it easy!
2. Easy Kid Sweater
With weather being so erratic these days, even when you plan goat babies for mid-spring as I do, cold days happen. Sadly I am not a seamstress or knitter, and I don't have the budget for fancy kid sweaters. However, I did happen to have an old sweatshirt I didn't need anymore.
By cutting the sleeve to the length of your goat kids and then cutting holes on the sides for the arms, you can make a kid sweater with nothing more than a pair of scissors. The elastic band from the wrist area goes around the neck and makes these 2-minute sweaters look like goat turtlenecks. You may also need to cut a slit in the elastic wristband to make it a little looser around your goat's neck.
3. Simple Mineral Feeder
I used to use one of those PVC mineral feeders that attach to the wall. They cost about $20 for parts and mounting hardware. You fill it from the top, and the minerals keep filling up at the bottom. People use these for chicken feeders too.
It was a great idea in theory. Unfortunately, my goats seem to slobber while slurping minerals. So, after a few weeks, the dispenser area would get crusty and clog up. It was a pain to take that thing down and clean it.
So, as an act of desperation, I used some empty sour cream and yogurt containers I keep on hand to store leftovers. I made a mounting bracket using some leftover 2 x 4 pieces. Then I attached the container to the wood using deck screws. Now, that part is a cup holder.
I have a separate stack of same size containers ready to fill with minerals, baking soda, or DE (if you use it). Once I load one up, I put it in the cup holder and let the goats lick it clean. If it gets gunked up, I simply swap the dirty one for a clean one.
4. Sell Goats Faster
I am not in goats to be a professional breeder or showman. I am in it for the milk. So, my goal is to sell goat kids as pets as soon as they are weaned. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen as fast as I'd like.
My last couple kiddings, I experimented with different techniques to attract buyers. I discovered that taking pictures of my baby goats in the pasture, wearing bright colored bandannas around their necks, sped up sales.
The bandanna evokes the idea of farm life. The bright colors – like red, pink, and purple for girls and blue and green for boys – make them seem like pets already.
Note: Don't leave the bandannas on after the photo shoot though. Goats will eat them!
5. Spill and Kick Resistant Milking Procedure
I was reading Brad Kessler's amazing book “The Goat Song.” At a few places, he writes about having a goat foot land in his milk pail or kick it over. I know this is a common experience for many goat keepers. Thankfully though it's one I don't have.
I milk with a measuring cup and pour it into my plastic pitchers. I hold the measuring cup handle in one hand and milk with the other. That way if one of my ladies happens to be having a bad day, and raises her foot or tries to kick, I move my hand to avoid spills.
Full-disclosure: I have Nigerian Dwarf goats. That means I only have to dump my measuring cup a couple of times per goat, per milking. For larger goats, I'd go with 4 cup plastic measuring cup.
6. The Goat Litter Box
Not everyone knows that goats can be potty-trained. Well, I mean they can be trained to pee in a goat-sized litter box. They still poop wherever, but you only have to clean up the urine-saturated straw from a single location.
7. The Homemade Hobble
Goat hobbles are used to restrain goat legs for making milking easier. They can help with training. However, it can be expensive to buy official goat hobbles. Plus, if you have mini-goats, it's hard to find a hobble that fits well enough to restrain your goat.
Luckily, it's simple enough to make your own. This year I made my own using cloth-covered cord that I keep around for other projects. Don't let the thin cord fool you, it doesn't hurt the goats, and it makes training goats a lot easier.
All you need to do is take two lengths of cord together, position the center of the cords like a U over the hook on the back of your milk stand (or in my case a rope). Then, fold the four end strands through the U to attach them to the hook.
After that, tie knots at the position where you want your goat's feet to be. Then, use the loose ends on the other side of the cord to tie in your goat. Goats do nibble the cords if left unattended. But that's true for any hobble and these can be made in a minute and only cost about a quarter to make.
8. Goats Can Eat Like a Horse
Goats are not so common where I live. As a result, there have been times when my local feed mill has been out of goat pellets for weeks. I used to get a 16% cattle feed for filler. However, the lack of selenium in cattle feed can lead to pregnancy and kidding complications in selenium-deficient areas.
Recently, a fellow goat keeper shared her secret substitute feed source. She uses the pony or foal feed for her goats. The goats love it. That feed is a bit higher in selenium, which makes it a better choice than cattle feed for goats.
Just double check to make sure the protein content is around 16%. This feed is often less expensive than goat feed too. As long as you also give goats access to high-quality hay, pasture, and free choices goat minerals, pony food can even be a great regular option to control feed costs.
9. Use Lumber Waste to Make a Goat Shed
We had an existing shed on our property when we bought it. I used a couple $30 fence panels, free wood, and some hardware to enlarge it and divided the shed into two rooms (a dairy and a goat living room).
All in, with hardware, it took me about $100 to make my goat shed. I thought it was pretty cheap until I realized my fellow Morning Chores blogger and goat keeper extraordinaire, Jennifer Poindexter, had done it for almost $0. (I am so jealous of her ingenuity!)
She used the end cuts that are stripped off to make trees square, before milling into lumber. If you live near a mill, this stuff is just waste, and you can usually get it for free. You'll want to use 2 x 4s for your structural framing. But, these slabs make for a rustic, log-cabin exterior for your free-sourced goat shed.
10. Homemade Feed Bag Hay Feeder
I use a crib-style hay feeder for my goats. I built it large enough that I can stack several bales inside for storage, then I spread what I want the goats to eat around the edges daily. I used landscape timbers and 2 x 2s, and some scrap wood and screws to assemble it. It cost about $20 to make.
This mostly works great for my herd. However, sometimes my big does crowd the crib and make it hard for kids or timider does to get their share. So, I wanted a cheap way to offer my goats hay in alternative locations.
I looked up hay feeders online. I found hay feeder bags online that cost between $10-$30. They were bags you hang up with holes cut in the lower front so goats can eat from the hole. Seemed like a good idea, so I made my own.
Assuming you get polypropylene feed bags for some of your livestock, all you need to do is cut a hole in the lower side of the bag and apply duct tape around the rim to keep the bag from fraying. Make a duct tape handle and hang in your goat shelter. Then fill the bag with loose hay and viola! You now have a 5-minute hay feeder!
Goat Care Hacks for Happy Goats
I am kind of a cheapskate and a time scrooge. So, learning about, or coming up, with excellent goat care hacks that save me time or money makes me happy. Plus, it makes my goats happy when they get all the loving care they need, and I have more free time to spend hanging out with them.
If you are a new goat keeper, here's my last bit of advice on goat care hacks. Never skimp on care or safety to save money. But, do use good ideas that have worked well in field trials to save you money and time. Now go and play with your goats!