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Just like dogs, cats and other pets, goats need regular veterinary examinations and vaccinations throughout their lifetimes, which can last for 15 to 18 years. They also should be de-wormed twice a year and have their hooves trimmed approximately every 6 weeks. Goats are also born with horns, which should be removed (a process called disbudding) by a veterinarian when they are only a few days old to minimize the trauma of the procedure. Their horns need to be removed so that they don’t injure themselves, a person or another animal. Additionally, if you do not intend to breed a baby male goat, he will need to be castrated. This is also best performed by your veterinarian when the kid is very young. Most veterinarians who treat farm animals are able to perform these procedures, so if you live in an urban area, be prepared to look farther afield for a goat savvy veterinarian or ask your small animal veterinarian if he or she refers to a colleague who treats backyard goats. Regional goat enthusiast clubs or breed registries are also good sources of referrals.
Contrary to what most people think, goats won’t eat everything. They don’t like to eat food if it has fallen on the floor or been soiled so all food must be fed off the ground in a manger. Goats are mostly browsers, but most people don’t have enough foliage in their backyards to feed a goat its entire diet and must supplement with hay, grains, greens — and plenty of fresh water. Goats will eat most plants in your yard — grass, weeds, shrubs, trees, flowers — but they eat in patches, so they won’t keep your grass neatly mowed or your hedges cleanly manicured if that’s what you’re hoping. Be sure, if you are going to house goats on your property, to keep them separate from your prize roses and be aware that many ornamental shrubs, such as azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel and ferns, are toxic to goats. Keep your goats away from these plants if you have them and be sure to talk to your veterinarian to find out what other plants you need to be concerned about in your yard or area.
A lonely goat is an unhappy goat. They are herd animals that are generally most happy when in the company of other goats, so it’s best to have more than one. Generally, does can be housed together as long as one isn’t overly aggressive. Does can also be housed with wethers. These entertaining animals also often recognize and bond with their owners. When raised around people, they tend to enjoy being petted, love to hang out with human companions and can easily learn to eat from humans’ hands. Goats are curious, very social, love to nuzzle and may occasionally nibble on clothes. They may also get jealous when their owners favor one goat over another.
Goats are generally very trainable and clever and can be taught to walk on a lead, carry a pack or even pull a small cart around the yard. All that smarts, though, means that when they see an escape route, especially if it leads to food, they will take it. So goat owners must be sure to stay one step ahead of their goats at all times and keep them safely enclosed.
One thing goats are never short of is poop, and goat poop is a great fertilizer. So if you want to fertilize your plants, get some goats and you’ll be set! Goats also make great milk. But if you want goats’ milk, keep in mind that you will need to keep mating a female goat every year and finding homes for the offspring. So unless you have plenty of room, a milk goat may not be for you.
The final and most important thing to know about goats is that while they are very cute and can be lots of fun, they require a lot of thought and care to be kept properly. All goats require fresh hay and grain and eat a huge volume of food daily, so be prepared to haul heavy hay bales and bags of pellets to the goat yard often. All goats require extra, higher-protein grain and require supplemental minerals, especially copper, provided as a loose powder or as a compressed brick salt lick. Consult with a goat-savvy veterinarian on what and how much to feed them and what supplements are required. Don’t assume feeds or supplements labeled for sheep, horses, etc., are safe for goats. Copper, for example, is toxic to sheep so products for sheep will be copper-deficient. Goats, on the other hand, need some copper, but too much is toxic for them as well. And all that eating leads to lots of manure production, so manure must be shoveled daily to keep things tidy and to keep flies, rodents and other pests away. Lime or enzymatic products can be used to control urine odors.
Goats are great pets if you are willing to work to keep them. They are a long commitment, but with proper care, you’ll see that if you get your goat, you’ll get a lot!
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