Goat Protection


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 summary:

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 consciousness.

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 treated.

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 completely healthy).

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 goat cost?

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 goat.

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 friendly.

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 self-grown bamboo.

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 Caribbean:

  Tree legumes Herbaceous legumes (Multipurpose) Grasses
(60 inches +)
Calliandra                    Banana                                         Elephant grass
  Glyricida                     Etlingera                           Guinea grass
  Leucaena                     Heliconia                          Para grass
  Sesbania                      Pigeon Pea Rhodes grass
(30 inches +)
Same as above Banana Arachis species
  Same as above Desmanthus Green panic grass
  Same as above Katuk Para grass
  Same as above Sweet Potato Phalaris grass
(15 inches +)
Leucaena                     Banana Bambatsi panic
  Moringa oleifera Cassia Buffel grass
  Sesbania sesban Pigeon Pea Phalaris grass

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 health.
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.
My own approach in this regard is a combination of measures:

  1. Make sure the feed is of high quality, well-balanced and clean
  2. Make sure the shed and surrounding area is as clean as possible
  3. Do not expose the goats to stress
  4. Make sure the goats get sufficient exercise
  5. 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.

Domesticated goats should be observed on a daily basis. If they are affected by a disease or problem in general, it shows quickly, and the earlier you detect a problem, the easier it is to solve.
7) Conclusion
I hope these few guidelines were helpful to you in case you live in the tropics and were thinking of keeping goats.

There is much literature out there about goats – but for those who live in the tropics, I suggest literature that deals with the subject from a tropical perspective. One good manual that can be downloaded for free from the internet is called Farmers Dairy Goat Production Handbook. It’s a practical introductory manual for beginners. Out of all the books and manuals I've read so far, the best-written was probably Improving Goat Production in the Tropics by Christie Peacock. This book is for advanced readers and contains many technical details. Although it is quite conventional, it contains a wealth of knowledge and experience, primarily from in-depth research in Africa.

You are free to contact me (sadhu@coqui.net) at any time in case you have any questions about the topics presented or just want to share your experiences of tropical goat keeping.

© Sadhu Govardhan, 2010


The following Goat Services are available at Govardhan Gardens:

Caprinasa - Eco-Organic
Goat Manure Compost

Goat Sales

Disbudding Goat Kids

Trimming Hooves

Goat Workshops

Free Catalogs

If you want me to help you find goats in general, let me know.  I am in touch with many goat farmers around the island.  If you would like to learn about goat raising, making goat cheese or kefir, etc. contact me.  I give very affordable ($25) basic training courses or workshops on a regular basis, for one person at a time or small groups.  Just one course alone saves you much time and money by avoiding common mistakes.  Online questions (write to sadhu@coqui.net) are answered for free.

Sadhu Govardhan is an independent thinker, eco-organic farmer, tropical rare fruit connoisseur and researcher. Extensive journeys for over twenty years have allowed him to study indigenous cultures and different life styles throughout the world.

His first publications on philosophical and spiritual topics were published in Europe and translated into several languages. He now lives in Puerto Rico and has dedicated himself to researching and growing tropical food crops and promoting alternative farming methods. He is currently involved with consultant work and inspiring and developing educational organic role model projects in the Caribbean.

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