Frequently Asked Questions

When most people start thinking about adding goats to their homestead, they have a lot of questions! In addition to reading books on goat care, I also recommend that you buy your goats from a breeder who has the experience, knowledge, and willingness to spend time with you to answer your questions and teach you to do whatever you need to learn, such as trimming hooves or milking. I bought my first three goats in 2002 from a woman who had been raising goats for 25 years, and she was always willing to answer my questions via email or phone. Although I didn't think I'd have any questions, I called her and emailed her for two or three years after I bought those first three goats.

When some people see the difference in the cost of a goat from the sale barn versus the cost of a goat from an established breeder, they decide to go with the cheaper goat from the sale barn. If you just want a pasture ornament, this might work out for you. However, if you want a goat as a family milker, there are many reasons to stay away from the sale barn. The most obvious reason is the unknown health history of sale barn goats. Goats with CAE are often dumped at the sale barn. They seldom have outward symptoms of the disease and may even remain symptom-free for years while infecting all of your goats. The only way to know the CAE status of a goat is by blood testing, which can't be done at a sale barn. Goats could also have Johnnes, CL, and a host of other diseases.

If you are planning to milk your goat, it is a good idea to buy from a breeder who milks and has production records, so you will have an idea of what kind of production you can expect from a goat. Although genetics is a crap shoot, you have a much better idea of how much a goat will produce if you know how much her mother and grandmother produced.

And finally, the main reason to buy from an experienced breeder is because they have a wealth of information that can't be found in any book. You will undoubtedly have questions after you take home your goats, and it's good to know that you have someone to call. Most vets have never raised goats and are unequipped to answer even the most simple questions. When my first goat had kids, I had a question about her behavior -- my vet said to give her antibiotics! My goat mentor said that she was exhibiting perfectly normal behavior for a first-time mom. My mentor was right.

Although I am always happy to answer questions from people who buy goats from us, I don't have the time to respond to emails from people all over the country who have brought home a problem or two from the sale barn or some backyard breeder who's just trying to make a few bucks. I'm sure people think they're emailing with the simplest questions, but when it comes to goats, there is always a series of questions and answers that need to be explored before anyone can understand the problem. My favorite email came from a woman who wrote, "We bought a goat a couple days ago and are trying to milk her, but so far no luck. Do you have any suggestions?" I couldn't even begin to answer a question like that via email. I have a lot of questions about exactly what they're doing, what the goat is doing, what does "no luck" mean? Does it mean that they can't get any milk, or does it mean that the goat lays down on the milk stand? What about the goat's history? Has she ever had kids? Were the kids sold several days before you bought the doe, and has she been milked during that time? Helping this person would require many emails back and forth.

Listed below are the answers to some of the most common questions I receive. Keep in mind that the answer to your particular situation could vary depending on any number of factors.

How do I make my goat make milk?
Can I drink goat milk if I'm allergic to cow's milk or am lactose intolerant?
How much space do Nigerian dwarves require?
What type of fencing do Nigerian dwarves require?
What type of housing do Nigerian dwarves require?
What do I need to feed my Nigerian dwarf?

In case you're wondering what a normal goat birth is like, here is ARMCH Carmen giving birth to twin doelings:

If you don't find the answer to your question here, you might consider joining the online network I created for just this purpose. You can ask questions, create a blog, post pictures and videos, and meet new friends who also love the littlest dairy goats.


Visit Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats

How do I make my goat make milk?

The first time I had this question, I didn't understand what the person was asking. I have since answered this question many times! Like all mammals (cows, dogs, mice, humans, etc.), goats will only make milk if they get pregnant. Their bodies will not produce milk, unless there is a baby (or babies) who needs it. No, there is not a special feed or drug you can give them to force them to make milk. The milk you buy in the store comes from cows that are bred yearly, and most are also given drugs to increase their production even more. But drugs can only increase production. They cannot be used to start production.

If you want a fresh supply of goat milk year-round, you can breed two does six months apart every year, so that as one's supply is decreasing, the other is just getting started. For example, breed one doe to kid in February and one to kid in October. Some people don't realize this also means you must have plans for those babies!


Can I drink goat milk if I'm allergic to cow's milk or am lactose intolerant?

It depends on which one it is. If you are lactose intolerant, it means you cannot digest lactose, and all mammals' milk (human, cow, goat, mouse, dolphin, etc.) contains lactose, so you might respond to goat milk the same way you respond to cow milk. Some people, however, respond differently to raw milk than to pasteurized milk, so you might be able to drink raw goat milk.

If you are allergic to cow milk, chances are very good that you may be able to drink goat milk. The protein in cow milk is very hard to disgest, because calves go hours between nursing. Baby goats, on the other hand, nurse every 20 minutes or so, because goat milk is very quickly digested. This is why many humans are able to drink goat milk, even if cow milk does not agree with them.

There is a third category that most people are unaware of ... those who are allergic to the drugs and hormones in commercial cow milk. If you are one of those people who can "sometimes" drink cow milk without trouble, it could be because you are actually reacting to the drugs or hormones in some milk. I first heard about this from a Canadian dairy farmer. She said her son was allergic to penicillin, and although they could sell milk from cows who had been given penicillin after a few days, her son would break out in hives if he drank milk from one of those cows any sooner than two weeks after her last dose of penicillin. This explained to us why one of our daughters has intestinal upsets if she consumes commercial cow milk, but is fine if she drinks organic cow milk or our goat milk. Indeed, one of the many advantages of having your own milk goat is knowing exactly what is in your milk.



How much space do Nigerian dwarves require?

Nigerian dwarves only require 1/3 to 1/4 the amount of space and feed as the standard size dairy goats. The number of goats you can keep in an area really depends on how much hay you want to feed and how you feel about dewormers. If we keep four bucks in a 64X64-foot pen, they will eat down all the grass, which isn't a problem if we're willing to feed them a couple flakes of hay every day. (We have since added additional buck pens of the same size, so they can be rotated.) Our does never get hay while outside in the summertime, because they are in a 2-acre pasture, which has so much grass, we have to cut it!

The other issue in a small space is parasites. If goats are in a small area, you could find yourself needing to deworm them monthly, and in a fairly short amount of time, you could find yourself with internal parasites that are resistant to chemical dewormers. If you want milk goats, you will have to consider the fact that most dewormers are not approved for use in milking goats, because the drug will be in the milk. If you have a very small area, it might be best to let the goats kill all the grass completely, because internal parasites need grass to reproduce and be re-ingested by the goats. This means, of course, that you will be feeding 100% hay for the goats' roughage source.


What type of fencing do Nigerian dwarves require?

Although some does will stay in an area with electric fencing, bucks need woven wire or livestock panels. Some breeders have had good luck with electric fencing, and some have not. It really depends on the goats. We have had some who would run through electric, and we have had some who are constantly testing it and know as soon as it isn't working -- they'll be running around, stealing the chickens' grain the minute the fence isn't working! And we have some does that won't go near the electric fence! If you have a doe that does not respect electric, she will teach her kids to go through it, so eventually you could wind up with a whole herd of goats that don't respect electric fencing.

I highly recommend livestock panels for bucks -- the tallest you can find. Even then, some bucks are capable of jumping over four feet. We have learned that bucks will destroy woven wire if there is a doe on the other side. They will mash it down putting their feet on it and stretch it out by sticking their heads through it. We even saw a buck trying to mate a doe through a woven wire fence! He had put his front legs and head through the fence and was very close to success! If there is a pasture between your doe pasture and your buck pen, you might be able to get away with woven wire. Of course, if you can put a line of electric wire inside the woven wire, that will also keep them away from the fence.


What type of housing do Nigerian dwarves require?

Nigerian dwarf goats do not require anything fancy in the way of housing. During the summer months, our goats stay in the pasture with a 3-sided shelter that they can use when it rains. They also go in there to sleep at night. During the winter, the goats are brought into the barn at night. They ONLY stay inside during the worst winter weather, because fresh air is important for healthy goats, and even though our barn is far from air-tight, the fresh air outside is much better for keeping goats healthy. Pneumonia is the second most common cause of death in goat, and it occurs more often in goats that are kept inside all winter. (Parasites is first.) In case you're worried about these goats from Africa freezing in northern U.S. winters, you can be assured that they have adapted beautifully and do grow a thick undercoat of cashmere. Yes, cashmere comes from goats! To help keep them warm you should put a thick layer of straw in their shelter. We've personally learned that wood shavings do not insulate against the cold ground as well as straw does.


What do I need to feed my Nigerian dwarf?

If you asked 20 breeders this question, you would get 20 different answers! This is because everyone has different pastures, and some don't have pasture at all. During the summer, our goats are on pasture, and have free-choice Sweetlix minerals and baking soda. As the grass starts to die in the fall, we begin giving them hay -- grass for bucks and dry does; alfalfa for milkers and pregnant does in the last month of pregnancy. Milkers get alfalfa in the barn every night year-round.

Milking does receive Purina Goat Chow at each milking, and does who are nursing kids also get two cups per day. During the last two weeks of pregnancy, we give our does one cup of grain per day. We switched to Purina in 2007 after a doe died of copper deficiency. We chose Purina after checking the copper content of all the goat feeds available within an hour drive of our home -- Purina has 40 ppm copper compared to most grains, which only have 15 to 20 ppm. Although some people worry about different plants causing their milk to taste funny, we have not had a problem with this. Of course, wild vegetation in your area could vary.

Feeding bucks is probably more controversial than feeding does, and it is an area where we have changed our practices. For the first six years, our bucks did not receive any grain, since it has been linked to urinary stones, which can be fatal. However, our bucks would lose a lot of weight in our cold Illinois winters. After talking to a lot of breeders, including some in Wisconsin and Michigan who do not feed grain to their bucks, we finally decided to start giving our boys grain in the winter to help them stay warm and keep weight on their bodies. In all those discussions with other breeders, I finally came to the conclusion that the quality of their hay is probably better than what we've been able to get around here. So, this is one of those things that you'll have to figure out by trial and error to see what works in your area. Keep in mind that excessive amounts of grain fed to either sex can also lead to thiamine deficiency and goat polio.

While this works very well for us -- and we even have a couple of does who get slightly overweight on this diet -- it may not work for everyone. It's important to understand what type of nutrients are available in your soil. Goats in other areas may need additional supplements.