Our First Year Raising Goats & Sheep
Post date: Oct 2, 2012 12:08:58 PM
Posted by Urban Homesteader
In raising goats and sheep for ALMOST a year now (it seems WAY longer), we have learned a few things along the way. And I'm sure we will look back a few years from now and know that we have learned even more!
Of course, everything written in this post is all of our own learning experiences, and NOT those of a professional (a professional would NOT have made as many mistakes as we have!)! I find new and better things to do and try almost every week. So, don't necessarily take our advise on any of these things, but use this as a tool to make some right decisions for YOUR farm.
That being said, summer is a LOVELY time. It is also GREAT when you can pasture your animals! I know not everyone has the space to give their animals lush, green pastures, but if you do- DO IT! It is such a HUGE savings to the feed bill AND is VERY organic! Think about how God created these animals, He created them to live off the land. These animals are MADE to graze. That being said, I know all of our pastures may not have EVERY nutrient that may be beneficial to your goat, sheep, or other animals. So sometimes you have to make sure they get that!
If you DON'T have pasture area for your goats/sheep, try to give them as much exercise as you can. Though I HAVE pasture areas for my animals, I bought my milking goat, Sophie, from a place where she lived her whole 2 years inside a small pen with another goat. She never got to be outside, and never knew what fresh grass tasted like! I don't think she had ever even seen the sky! So, if you can, get them out. Take them for walks. Take them for short rides in your car! Just get them out somewhere where their instincts can kick in, and they can be and do what they were made to be and do!
Our main pasture, and BEST pasture area was as of one year ago, part of our yard! Yards can look pretty, but the grass doesn't do anything but drain our time. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a lawn! We still have LOTS of yard, BUT don't be afraid to give some of that up if it will help with feed costs of a producing animal! Especially if your time is being eaten by a mower instead of something more productive!
Our lawn was never treated with chemicals to make it grow. Heavens! We would have been mowing every other day, if we did that! And we also have signs on the ends of our property along the road that says "Do Not Spray" that the state put up for us (we called the Indiana Department of Transportation- INDOT). So, our yard is just about as organic as you can get!
When we bought our animals, all animals but our milking goat and a little male that we bought from the same lady, were pastured animals. We pasture them at all times. We don't yet have a shelter outside for them, so when it is really bad weather, we bring them into the barn. They know the way too! In the Winter, they stay in there at night to keep dry, and unless it is really nasty out, I let them out during the day. This may change when we get a little 3 sided shelter built for them.
In the summer, the goats and sheep are almost exclusively grass. We do give them treats (as bribes!) to follows us somewhere or about once ever week or so. Their "treats" consist of grain that we get from a local mill. They do not sell organic there, and I can't even find anyone with in a 3 hours drive that sells organic feed around here! From the mill, we get "sweet feed". Goats AND sheep can eat this and they LIKE IT A LOT. I also give then black oil sunflower seeds. I actually feed those to all of our animals. It helps out as a natural wormer. I also throw some cracked or whole corn in there.
Our milking female is a bit more fussy. She is 2 years old, and she has been raised in a barn all of her life. She had never seen the light of day, and had REALLY never saw grass before we brought her to our farm. She was given a mixture of grains and hay at her former home. So already being set in her ways, we have had to continue with this feeding regimen, so we didn't loose any milk production, though as her milk production has started to drop, we have started to change her feed also! From us she gets a "lactator" feed (alfalfa, or a good alfalfa hay works well), black oil sunflower seeds, a little corn, beet pulp, and some sweet feed. After she is dried out, or as she is drying out, I want her to get used to pasture also. We bring her outside every few days, but she doesn't like it, and she has no interest in the grass at all. It is obviously more expensive to feed her! This will change!
As far as areas that we keep the animals in the barn, there isn't much of an area! Our barn is very small and we make the most out of the room with shelves (LOTS) and 3 decent sized pens. There is a large pen, probably about 12x14 that our two female sheep and their babies stayed in last Winter. This was a good sized space for them, though with GROWN babies this year, we will have to figure out something different. This stall, we also bring animals into that may need some special attention. The stall is kind of like our hospital stall! This is also where we delivered our baby Jacobs this Spring!
We have another stall that is currently the home of Sophie, our milking goat. This stall is about an 8 x 12. She has plenty of space. At one point we actually had 2 grown female goats in that stall, and they had room. Sophie (before we got her) was being kept in a stall about 6x8 WITH another female goat. So the space you keep them in is all in how you see fit. I think they don't need a huge stall if you let them out everyday. But if they are mainly in their stall, or always in their stall, it needs to be bigger. Personal opinion...
There is also another stall, it is about 6x12 and it as another "extra" stall that we will put one animal or another in, if they need to be inside.
In Sophie's stall, we have 3 different containers for her to eat from. One is for water (changed daily), one is for grain, and one is for hay. There are also 3 containers in the big stall, for the same purpose. In the Winter, these containers are outside in the pasture also. The water needs to be changed 2 times a day in the Winter, or if you are lucky enough, you will have a container that will keep your water from freezing! We have to feed them hay in the Winter, because there is no grass in Indiana, though they do try to scratch through the snow to reach it. We also give them grain everyday in the Winter, so they have all of the nutrients they need. We also (I almost forgot) have mineral available to the animals at all times, in the stalls or outside. You can get these by the block or in granular form, we use both. There are many different types of vitamins and minerals that you can find for your animals. Check out the labeling and decide which is best for your farm.
Fencing needed for goats... well, it needs to be sturdy! And we also have ours hooked up to electric. That way they stay off the fences. We live by a moderately busy road, and we DON'T want them to get out! Goats like to climb, and they are good jumpers! We have a fence that is MADE for goats and sheep. Sheep are strong, and both will get out of a wire fence, especially of it doesn't have electric on it! (ask me how I know!)
Never get one goat or sheep. Get 2. If you don't, that one will go looking for a friend. They are escape artists! Plus they will be quieter for you if they have a friend!
Overall, with sheep, they are beautiful! Watching them graze in the pastures is so peaceful. They are like what you see in magazines, when you look at farms. Their wool is awesome! I love having my sheep. Goats are fun. Goats are somewhat mischievous, and very curious. If you buy a baby, make sure you pay attention to them! They are just like a dog. They want to be around you! And they will be very loving animals! Watch out- they like to eat your plants, like strawberries! If you get an adult goat, make sure they are used to human interaction!
Before purchasing ANY of these animals, ask questions. Don't know what questions to ask? Ask a friend who knows, and then ask the seller questions. Better yet, take your friend with you. Don't purchase an animal that you have only seen once. Make 2 or 3 trips. If there is anything that makes you feel uncomfortable about the purchase, don't do it! In purchasing my milking goat, I had never had one before. So, I had no clue what questions to ask, or that I needed to have the seller show me the amount that she milks (because people DO lie! Ask me how I know!), or that I needed to have the seller show me records or the mom and dad of the one I was purchasing (because people lie, and they may lie about the breed of your animals or that they are pure breeds! Ask me how I know!), etc, etc... Experience helps, but you hate to gain the knowledge from being lied to!
All in all, owning goats and/or sheep are rewarding! They are about the next step up from chickens. If you already know how to keep chickens alive, then you might also be able to keep goats or sheep alive!