Mention to anyone that you are thinking about buying a goat and you are guaranteed to hear a lot of crazy stories and opinions about how crazy/mean/stinky/loud/ugly goats are. But what is true and what are tall-tales? Read on, so the next time your cousin, Trevor, tells you a story about how her best friend's brother's dog knew a goat that was possessed by Satan himself, you can set him straight.
Have you heard of a crazy myth or story I should talk about? I would love to hear it!
GENERAL FAQs and MYTHS
Question: Can I have just one goat?
Answer: No, it is not recommended. Goats are extremely social herd animals and need at least one other goat in order to be healthy, sane, and happy. But what if you want to keep it with your pet horse/sheep/dog/pig/chinchilla won't they keep each other company? Yes and no. Goats and other hooved animals (especially horses) have been known to become great friends but it is not the same as having another goat and it is not healthy for the goat to be a single goat. Goats live, socialize, and communicate differently than other species. They like to play, rough-house, and establish dominance differently. They butt heads, jump, climb, ram each other, and other things that will probably not be appreciated by other animals. They also prefer to cuddle with another goat during cold weather and stick together in times of stress. If you want to buy a goat, please plan on keeping at least 2, your life (and theirs) will be much easier, trust me.
Myth: Goats will eat anything!
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, goats will not eat anything (definitely not tin cans, as I've heard)! In fact, they are very picky eaters! My goats will not eat hay that has touched the ground, been stepped on, is too stemmy, too crunchy, too dry, or too wet. They do, however, love nibbling on your clothes to say "Hello!" I think this myth has stemmed from a misconception that goats are eating something when in fact they are feeling it with their lips. Goat's lips are incredibly sensitive and they use their lips to explore unfamiliar objects, play, communicate, and show affection.
Goats actually need a carefully balanced diet in order to keep their rumen (a goat's fermentation organ for digesting forage) operating well and for their overall health. Goats without a lot of room to browse especially need free choice supplemental goat mineral and high-quality hay.
Question: I don't have a fenced area, can't I stake a goat out on a to eat weeds and roam?
Answer: I get this question a lot, and it is a two partner. Please don't stake a goat out for long periods of time. It's just not nice and your goat will not respond well. Goats are quite fun and have cute personalities that like to run, jump, climb, and play just as much as they like to fill their stomachs. Occasional staking out WHILE SUPERVISED in an unfenced area can be great fun and your goat will love the new scenery but because of their curiosity, there have been many times where unsupervised goats have been strangled or severely injured while being staked out alone. Constant staking out can lead to loneliness and mental and physical damage. Now for the second part of that question . . .
Myth: Goats are great weed eaters and used to mow my grass.
Fact: Goats are foragers and not browsers (like sheep) which means they don't like eating plants that grow on the ground (grass, weeds, etc.) and would much prefer to eat trees and bushes. That's not to say that WON'T eat grass and weeds, they just are not the voracious weed eaters everyone thinks they are. If you want a goat solely to eat weeds or grass, you will most likely be disappointed and your goat will be unhappy.
Myth: Goats are mean.
Fact: This one is a bit complex. Of course not all goats are mean, but are there sometimes mean goats? Sure. Do I keep and breed mean goats? NEVER. Most likely the goats you've heard horror stories about were mistreated by people who didn't understand goats and probably believed all the myths we have already talked about. Goats are very smart and quite sensitive so a mistreated goat will often turn mean because they feel like they need to protect themselves or their herd. Bucks are most often accused of being mean. I'll address this more in-depth in the buck category.
Question: I want milk but I don't think I want to breed, can my doe give me milk without being bred or having babies?
Answer: No. Does must be bred and give birth in order to produce milk.
Question: OK, can I breed her once and keep getting milk as long as I want?
Answer: I wish! A doe must be bred (or "freshened") once a year in order to start producing milk well again. Some very "milky" does will keep producing milk for longer but production quantity will go down no matter what. Might as well use freshening as an excuse to play with adorable baby goats!
Myth: Billy goats (bucks) are mean and will chase you down and try to head-butt you!
Fact: If you read the above myths, you know that this can be true, but please don't believe that all bucks are mean! There are so many bucks who are sweet as can be and love attention and being pet and cuddled just as much does do. Bucks in rut (in heat, ready to breed) get a surge of hormones in the fall which often makes them more aggressive and high strung. How aggressive they become really depends on the buck. Some are perfect gentlemen and never become aggressive toward people or does! I had a buck that I bottle fed and was sweet as could be until his first rut and he became aggressive. After a lot of attempts of training, he never calmed down enough for me to feel like I wanted to continue breeding him. He was sold. This can happen occasionally but usually when a buck is very aggressive, it is due to poor care or people not being educated on how goats communicate with each other and humans and their behavior is misunderstood. Because I breed for temperament as much as milk production, I am extremely selective and strict on which goats are kept and are bred. Only well tempered and calm goats are allowed to stay on my farm. My current buck is a mellow fellow, just like I like!
Question: Do bucks stink?
Answer: Yes, usually they do. How much and how often depends on the buck. Bucks have scent glands located behind their horns (or where their horns would be) which put off very strong smells during rut (heat, breeding season). During rut, they also like to "perfume" themselves by peeing all over their legs and faces. You may even see a buck drinking their own urine and loving every second of it! Again, how strong the smell is and how long it lasts really depends on the buck. If you want to get a good idea of what your buck will smell like visit his father in the fall and decide if it is something you can work with.
I once heard someone ask a group of goat breeders what a buck in rut smelled like. My favorite reply was, "money." Lol!
Question: Do I have to have a separate pen for a buck or can I keep him with the does all the time?
Answer: Building a separate pen and house for a buck may seem overwhelming at first. But save yourself the time and stress of doing it later after you realize it is needed and do it before you buy a buck. Bucks are able to run with your does for a majority of the year but it will be well worth your sanity to separate in times of kidding and when you don't want them breeding (having a doe kid in the middle of the winter is dangerous and just not fun). I also suggest no (or carefully supervised) contact only between a buck and newborn/young kids. Bucks may also put undue stress on does who are heavily bred or getting ready to kid.
Question: Will keeping a stinky buck next to my milking does make the milk stink or taste bad?
Answer: This question is the center of a lot of debate in goat circles. Some breeders swear that keeping a buck anywhere near does makes milk unpalatable. The argument is that the oils and stench from the buck get on the doe's air and udder and taint the milk. The opposing argument is that the taste of milk is less effected by a buck and more by clean handling, rapid, chilling, and the right storage containers. I tend to agree with the 2nd argument. My buck(s) share a fence line with my does and my milk has never ever tasted or smelled "bucky" or "goaty." However, I've never kept horribly stinky bucks (I am able to smell my neighbor's buck more than my own).
Keep in mind, the flavor of a goat's milk is also impacted by breed. Some goat breeds (such as Saanens) are known to have a more "earthy" or "goaty" flavor and smell. Some does just make goaty milk. A big reason I chose to breed Mini-Nubians is for their exceptionally sweet and creamy milk.