In the world of the 4-H Dairy Goat Project, there are a lot of interesting things to learn, such as: basics of management, showmanship, trimming and clipping, judging scorecards, body parts of goats, how the digestive system works, proper milking techniques, cooking with goat milk and/or making cheese, planning breeding improvements, filling out registration applications, etc.
Hi, my name is Cameron Stultz. I am 13 years old and have been a member of the Goessel Goal Getters 4-H club for six years. I have also been enrolled in the 4-H Dairy Goat Project for six years and have participated in learning sessions covering all the above topics. Learning all this information has certainly been a benefit for me and my herd of Alpine dairy goats. But, when it comes down to it, only one of those topics makes a real difference when it comes to raising a happy, healthy dairy goat—the basics of management.
Going back to the basics is something every goat owner should do at some point. Sometimes a simple review can reveal the reason why a certain goat doesn’t have a healthy hair coat, or isn’t producing enough milk, or hasn’t been successfully bred. For me, the basics of goat management include: providing proper food and water, adequate shelter, access to minerals and salt, hoof care, being able to know when and how to give proper medical attention, including shots, and dealing with horns and disbudding.
Cameron Stultz, right, learned in his 4-H dairy goat project that paying attention to the basic needs of any dairy goat can lead to success in other areas, like showing, and earning milk production awards.
The number one item a dairy goat needs for survival is food and water. And with our modern, highly productive form of dairy goat, not just any old junk hay and/or pond water will do. The main food for my Alpines is quality alfalfa hay. We raise our own hay on our farm, put it up in square bales, and make sure that each and every goat has access to plenty of clean alfalfa, year ’round. Alfalfa is the best choice because it is a leafy legume that is loaded with protein, calcium and other important nutrients for a production type animal. A good second choice is brome. Not acceptable are straw type hays, cheat grass infested alfalfa, or other low quality “junk” hay.
Hay feeders that keep the goats from getting their feet into or on the hay and soiling it are just as important as the type of hay fed. Goats will waste a lot of hay if given the opportunity. They will not eat hay that is soiled, wet, or otherwise damaged. Feeders that keep rain off and require the goats to reach their heads into, yet prevent them from climbing on, or in, are the best.
Grain is important for does in production or in the last six weeks of gestation. There are many varieties of grain available for dairy goats. Premixed, pre-bagged specialized rations are expensive and we have worked out our own ration, which we buy in bulk from a local feed dealer.
Clean, fresh water is a priority for the healthy goat. Dirty water in mossy buckets is not utilized as well as water from tanks or buckets that are cleaned daily, or at least weekly. A bucket or tank warmer, which prevents water from freezing in the winter, helps keep does drinking, and drinking does are healthy does.
Adequate shelter is also a basic item for the survival and growth of a healthy goat. Fully enclosed sheds are not necessary, except for newborn dairy goats. Goats are relatively hardy, but they must have protection from wind, rain and snow. We house our herd in a variety of three-sided sheds that allow lots of sunlight in, yet keep out the worst drafts and precipitation.
Along with adequate shelter, is proper fencing. Throughout history, dairy goats have long been misunderstood, mostly because owners didn’t provide proper fencing. Cattle panels or properly installed electric wire is all that is needed to goat-proof any fence or yard. Goats are livestock animals and should be treated as such. Proper fencing goes a long ways towards alleviating the image of unmanageable goats.
Third on my “basics” list are minerals and salt. Goats in the wild are able to forage and roam over large areas and have access to many types of plants, leaves, and other browse, which provides them with a variety of naturally occurring minerals. Because we live in a day and age when livestock is penned up and cared for twice a day, instead of ranging under the constant watch of a shepherd, owners must provide extra minerals and salt in order for the nutritional requirements of a healthy goat to be met. There are many types of minerals available, some better than others, but at the very least, every goat should have access to a standard mineral and salt block. I have learned that does in milk need extra salt to reach maximum milk production. I’ve also learned that does with the proper mineral intake are not as prone to breeding problems.
Hoof care is a hassle and trimming hooves is a stinky, difficult job. However, goats with properly trimmed hooves are much healthier and can eat, grow, and produce at a much higher level than those who might have difficulty walking because of poor hoof care. Dairy goat hooves should be trimmed every three months. Some grow faster than others, but keeping on top of hoof growth is much easier than trying to remedy a bad situation later.
The fifth basic management item goat owners should pay extra attention to, is providing adequate medical attention, including shots. Every goat that develops a sniffle or cough doesn’t always need medication, but vaccinations and deworming medication can save the goat owner a lot of trouble down the road. Vaccinations can prevent sudden death from tetanus and overeating disease. Parasites can cause a lot of problems, even for otherwise healthy goats, which a simple worming program can prevent. A goat with a load of internal worms is likely to have a poor hair coat, and other more serious health problems.
Most dairy goats are born with the natural ability to grow horns. However, in most farm situations, horns are a menace to other goats and the horned goat often gets stuck in feeders and fences. To combat this problem I have learned how to disbud my young goats so that they will not grow horns at later date. This prevents a lot of management problems and makes their lives much more enjoyable as well. I use a disbudding iron to burn off the horn buds when my goat kids are two weeks of age. It is not a fun job, but one that is important for the successful goat owner.
Learning how to show dairy goats, judge them, and use their products is part of what makes the 4-H dairy goat project fun for me, but unless basic management principles are learned and applied first, I’ve come to understand that none of this other stuff matters.
Cameron Stultz wrote and presented this article as part of a county club day speaking contest. He is from Hillsboro, KS and a member of the Goessel Goal Getters 4-H club and Goat Group.