When most people think of starting with goats, they think of the popular myth that goats can live on tins cans and blackberry vines. Actually, although goats are fairly easy to raise, they are quite fussy about what they eat and their keeping requires some careful thought and planning. In some ways, goats are like cats in having at least nine lives; although they do get sick like any other animal, they seem to try very hard to live through just about anything we can inflict on them. They just won't give up. So, if you are looking for something to cut down blackberries, get a brush hog or some Roundup ®.
Goats really thrive on affection. They are very intelligent animals. They can easily be trained to do any number of things. They are usually real quiet. Goats, especially little babies, are the epitome of cuteness. But, most of all, they are just a whole lot of fun: they have that spark that tells you that life really is worth living after all.
You can buy a goat at most local auctions. You can usually find the names of people who raise goats from feed or farm supply stores. The beginner does not need to worry about finding exotic breeds or purebred registered goats. Stick with the old tried and true breeds like Nubian, Alpine, Toggenberg or a cross of the common breeds. Crossbred goats are generally thought of as being hardier than something with pages of pedigree. A bottle-fed baby will be much easier to handle than one which has been reared on its mother.
Checklist for buying
The prospective owner should buy one or more good books on raising and doctoring goats (or farm animals in general). The Merck Veterinary Manual is the best reference and a new edition has just been released. There are also a number of standard books on basic goat raising. Raising Milk Goats the Modern Way, Aids to Goatkeping are among the best. We will try to have a complete page on goat books at a later date. You need to learn as much about veterinary care as you can because one visit by your favorite veterinarian will probably cost more than the goat. If you have several goats, professional veterinary services may be unaffordable. Also, you will want your new friend to have the best care possible.
You can expect to pay from $25 to $50 for a good young "grade" unregistered goat about 6 months old. Younger babies can be found at auctions for anywhere from $5 to $20. A decent milking doe will cost between $50 and $100 at an auction (non-registered, crossbred). Of course, purebred, registered animals cost a lot more and can bring hundreds of dollars. It is best to start with two or more kids, because a single baby tends to get very lonely, sometimes to the point of becoming sick.
They will need some form of shelter. It need not be fancy. A three-sided shed would be just fine in most climates. But it needs to be kept immaculately clean. Messy bedding will cause skin sores, mastitis, foot problems, respiratory ailments and any number of problems. Furthermore, all goats HATE rain and mud. They do not spend a lot of time grazing on regular grass pasture. If there is browse (trees, bushes, etc.), they will spend more time wandering about. Otherwise, they do a lot of standing or lying around chewing their cuds and looking for things to do. The floor can be dirt if kept dry and cleaned daily. Slatted wood floors are great. Cement flooring is controversial unless covered by mats or lots and lots of bedding.