ACQUIRING AND RAISING
GOATS IN THE TROPICS
by Sadhu Govardhan
It is natural for farmers or small land holders to include animals
in their projects. Today, we can even find an increasing number of
alternative urban gardeners who keep an array of farm animals,
including goats. As most goat keepers know, goats are very special
creatures: They are strong yet highly sensitive; born troublemakers
but very charming; all over the place but very loyal. In short, they
are lovable friends who deserve the best possible treatment.
Although goats are relatively easy to keep, there are many mistakes
made in goat keeping which results in very saddening statistics
regarding their life span: instead of living a happy life for 12-18
years, the average lifespan of domesticated goats in the U.S. is
estimated to be barely over 3 years.
In order to help prospective goat care takers in the tropics
(or more specifically, in the Caribbean) make the right choices and
decisions when acquiring goats, I wrote up the following brief
1) Why get goats?
There are many possible reasons why someone would want to keep
goats: some become instantly attracted to them just by seeing a small
goat without knowing anything about them or expecting anything in
particular except their company. Others would like to integrate them
into their agricultural projects in order to have weeders around or to
get milk, cheese or manure. And then there’s a third category: people
who have no heart and simply see goats as a means to make money (by
breeding and selling them) or slaughtering them.
My recommendations are only for the first two categories of
potential goat keepers. For those who are just interested in profits
and killing, I can only recommend to find help to cure their diseased
Goats, either as pets or for milk production, are a major
commitment. Once domesticated, they are very sociable animals who love
human attention and require a certain level of protection.
Goats are not lawn mowers as many people wrongly assume; instead they
are browsers who prefer to eat leaves off tree branches or shrubs. So,
if you want them to weed out different types of grass at your farm,
you will be very disappointed with them. They will eat some of your
weeds, especially brush, but they will also eat your valuable food
crops if they are not fenced in. So if you want natural lawn mowers,
consider sheep or cows instead.
The most natural and ethical reasons to keep goats is to protect
them by giving them adequate shelter and space to live and in turn
accept their access high quality milk (which can be turned into
easy-to-digest and healthy yogurt, kefir, cheese, and butter) and
their manure – which is an easy-to-use natural fertilizer for your
plants. If you want them just for company, you may want to go with
smaller breeds like pygmies or dwarf types. Goats have an almost
mystical ability to make people happy, and once you get to know them
better, it is very easy to keep them, simply because you love them.
2) Which goats to get? How many? What do I
have to know about them?
When I look at animal culture in the Caribbean, I see the same
pattern as in agriculture in general: just as many of the crops grown
here are the wrong ones and the selection is very limited, there are
mostly the wrong types of breeds and very limited genetic diversity of
goats available in this region.
So, choosing a breed of goat is not as easy an issue as it may
sound at first. Goats originate in Europe, Asia and Africa. Most of
the goats in the Caribbean are of European origin and came to the
Caribbean via the U.S. The actual types of goats that should have been
brought to the Caribbean, however, would be tropical breeds. There are
over 200 mainstream breeds of goats, many of which come from tropical
regions in Africa and Asia, but only a very small percentage of them
can be found here. Ideally, anyone living in the tropics would want to
get a tropical breed. Since this is very difficult, it would be good
to ask your representatives of the various departments of agriculture
why we have hardly any of them. It would also be helpful to ask
agricultural educators why they don’t primarily teach about tropical
livestock and instead still promote temperate climate livestock.
Fortunately, goats are relatively adaptable to numerous
microclimates and situations, and they can thrive almost anywhere,
provided they are well-kept. Although tropical breeds would be most
suitable here, almost any breed will be fine as long as it is well
Each goat will take out some of your time, money and energy. Since
they are sociable and you will most likely not be able to spend many
hours a day with them, it is best to keep at least two. A small
male/female pair is probably the first thought of most prospective new
goat keepers. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Male goats make the
equation of goat keeping instantly more complicated. Why? Male goats
mostly have one thing on their minds: mating females. This mentality,
along with some physical aspects (like having the habit of peeing on
themselves or you or becoming increasingly smelly and
aggressive), make it quite challenging for a new goat keeper. It is
therefore generally advised by seasoned goat farmers to start small
and only with females or whethers (neutered males, who make wonderful
pets). When breeding time comes, one can still decide to get a male or
just rent one for breeding purpose (which has its own risks and is
only recommendable if both male and females are certain to be
In general, a single person or a small family can reasonably take
care of two to five goats. The most important requirement, besides
knowing one’s motives for keeping goats and being realistic with one’s
capacity, is to gain as much knowledge about proper goat keeping as
possible. The more I looked at the issue, the more I realized that
there is an enormous amount of knowledge required to make the right
choices and decisions. Once I knew that I wanted to have goats at my
farm, I made a serious attempt to visit as many goat farmers as
possible (you will learn something positive or negative from each of
them) and study as much as possible. Knowledge, understanding and love
are the keys to successful goat keeping.
In summary, do not underestimate how much you have to learn before
getting a goat!
3) Where to buy a goat? How much does a
You have prepared yourself in theory. Now the time has come that
you want to get out and get one or more goats. Don’t start your search
yet. Read #4 of my recommendations first. Once you have read it, you
will be in a good position to make a good choice of where to buy your
There are several legitimate motivations behind buying an animal in
general, or a goat in specific. Some of us may want to give an animal
a better life while some of us want to be more food self-sufficient.
If you primarily want to improve a goat’s life, then you don’t have to
think much about breeds or their external beauty (or lack thereof) –
you can get any from anywhere. But be prepared for a potentially long
battle of improving its health! Goats are very susceptible to
parasites and most animals sold at farmer’s markets or by people who
don’t even know what the term “ethical animal care” means, will have
problems; they may be related to their physical condition in general,
or various diseases caused by improper feed or lack of feed,
contaminated environments or other forms of mistreatment.
If your goal is to have good milking goats, then it is important to
study the various milking breeds and look for specific positive
features. The main breeds available in the Caribbean are more or less
the exact same ones as in the U.S. As explained above, most of those
are not ideal for the tropics, but they will do fine if treated well.
If you want to find your goat(s), just visit people who have goats and
who breed them. Look at their environment, look at the care they are
given, and look at their general health – which is reflected in their
behavior and appearance. Healthy goats are very lively, curious and
Goats are also offered online, with or without pictures. There's
nothing wrong with this, as long as you take your time and have a good
look at their current home and find out as much about them as
possible. The best way to buy is to know an ethical goat keeper with
high standards for an extended period of time and buy from him – this
way you will know exactly what you get.
As far as price goes, a goat kid (the minimum age should be 10
weeks – any kid younger than that should still be with its
mother) can be anywhere from around one to several hundred dollars.
High quality breeding bucks are significantly more than that. Some
goats come with documents (issued by vets), some just look
exceptionally beautiful and/or had high quality food and shelter from
birth: these are all factors that make a goat more valuable. Cheap
goats often means lots of future expense for various required health
treatments. Male kids for future breeding purpose are generally more
expensive than female kids. Once you will see “your” goat(s), money
will not matter that much.
4) What set up is required to keep goats?
Goats need a well-built shelter (resistant to strong winds and
rains as well as scorching heat) and some additional fenced in area to
move around freely. There is no point of trying to save money at the
expense of the goats' health's and lives.
There are many materials and countless models that can be used for
a shed but all of them have to fulfill the above requirements:
protection from the elements. One of the most important features of a
good shed is the floor. In order to keep a shed at a high level of
hygiene, it is important that the floor is slatted, with a distance of
approximately 2/3 of an inch – just enough that the goat pellets can
go through. The lower walls of the shed should be mostly solid so that
there is sufficient protection from drafts. The roof should be as
strong as possible in order to protect from falling branches. The
location should have sufficient aeration and be as dry as possible.
(In other words, the more humid your area, the more challenging it
will be to give the goats their required terrain to move about). The
surrounding area should be well-draining and if possible contain a
rocky terrain or at least some boulders. A good fence would be a
cyclone fence; no matter what the material or fence type, it has to be
strong – goats are escape artists and will go under or over if the
fence is not well-built.
If you don’t grow your own wood or bamboo for the shed, the total
cost of a shed can be anywhere from $800 (simple set up for one or two
goats) to $10,000 (“fancy” set up for 8-12 goats). I spent about
$1,800 on materials for a role model shed that holds five to six
goats. A friend and volunteers helped and we finished it in a little
over one week. In the future, I will try to build everything with
5) What is the best feed for goats?
The first thing I noticed when visiting local farmers were two feed
extremes: one group just buys grains (some of them are of relatively
good quality, some are barely acceptable as feed), the other group
just feeds grasses and commercial hay. Neither of them is ideal. Goat
feed should be well-balanced and of high quality. The topic is very
complex (in the same way it is complex for humans) but after studying
all the pros and cons of various feeds, here are my conclusions.
First, there are many factors to consider like microclimate, type
of goat, and accessible feeds in the surrounding area. It is generally
advisable to grow as much of your goats’ feeds and medicines as
possible. Since many plants take a considerable amount of time, it is
best to start with this project first.
Here a few options for the most common micro climates in the
Herbaceous legumes (Multipurpose)
(60 inches +)
(30 inches +)
Same as above
Same as above
Green panic grass
Same as above
Same as above
(15 inches +)
These crops can either be provided for free browsing or in a
cut-and-carry arrangement; if the latter method is used, it is
important to plant an adequate amount and to grow it as close by the
shed as possible. Some herbaceous legumes and grasses can be
established within a few months, others require at least a year or
even more. My main point here is to prepare as early and well as you
can, and fill in whatever is missing in the due course of time.
It is relatively easy to make one’s own organic hay with mixed
grass types: let your grasses grow as tall as possible during the dry
season, cut and dry them well, and finally store them in a
well-aerated and waterproof area.
Goat feed serves various purposes: growth, maintenance, lactation,
reproduction. A well-balanced diet always includes dry, fibrous matter
(grasses, leaves), energy feed (grains) and protein (oil cakes,
leguminous trees), and of course a constant supply of fresh water as
well as additional minerals.
The amount of feed depends on the breed and age of the goat or
whether a goat is pregnant or not, but it can easily be over five
pounds a day. Be prepared!
6) How susceptible to diseases are goats?
What are the best medicines?
Pick up any book on goat keeping, and you will find that almost
half the book just covers various horrifying-sounding diseases. When
you analyze each disease more closely, you will find that most are
caused by improper care. While conventional vets and scientists
propose their usual array of chemical warfare to combat these
diseases, a more conscious person would spend more energy on
preventing the diseases in the first place and treating them naturally
once they occur.
While conventional parasitologists are frustrated that practically
all parasites become drug-resistant, they still keep promoting
dangerous pharmaceutical products. Their understanding is not only
one-dimensional, it ignores some of the most simple truths about
The tropics are generally known as a fertile
breeding ground for parasites. Although this may be true to some
extent, the same tropics also provide many natural solutions.
own approach in this regard is a combination of measures:
- Make sure the feed is of high quality,
well-balanced and clean
- Make sure the shed and surrounding area
is as clean as possible
- Do not expose the goats to stress
- Make sure the goats get sufficient
- Whenever required, add natural anthelmintics to their feed.
Here some examples:
Neem (works wonders internally and externally;
however, neem is also a natural contraceptive, so if you want to
breed your goats, they should not eat it regularly over extended
periods of time).
One of my favorite “miracle remedies” is one I
took myself when living in India: grapefruit seed extract; it
kills germs on contact, and only a few drops a day are needed.
Last not least, there are many herbal combinations including
homeopathic products that are very successfully used by more
conscious goat keepers around the world.