After our experience starting out, I feel its important to share the cost of raising goats-- so that buyers can be a bit more informed, and make better purchasing choices for the animals they want to include on their farm. This is part 1 of a blog series, and is an Introduction to help you get the most out of your herd.....
Cost of Purchasing your First Goats:
Seems just as good a place as any to get started right?? Well, this is one of the harder topics to tackle-- because where/who you purchase from is going to set the pace of your homestead success (or failure). Another obstacle-- What are YOUR expectations??
Having few expectations can seem like a good start.. but when it comes to animals IT IS NOT. If you don't set your bar high, you are going to find out (quickly) that it would have paid to be more selective....
PRICE does not determine goat health... It doesn't mean you are getting a "Good Deal" either. So, when it comes to price you need to match the QUALITY of the animal with the purposed value... Quality is determined by a lot of factors.... for a good Farmsteading goat, you need at the very least a physically healthy, strong, well-bred animal to supply your family with meat and milk.
Buying the skinny goat on the end of a rope eating out of a garbage can for $50 is NOT quality. That is NOT a Farmstead animal... the animals you purchase are going to form the literal foundation of your farm; Do you really want to drink the milk of a goat eating off of its own feces on the ground, eating the trash blowing into its pen, and being fed black spotted-moldy hay???? You shouldn't! What goes into your animals is WHAT will come out. Garbage in--Garbage out... Poor husbandry (animal care) in == Poor health/quality animal out... its that simple.
I many parts of the world, families save 2-3 years worth (or more) of their wages to purchase a good (not excellent) quality goat for their families. Unlike in the disposable society of the US, these people VALUE their goats, and feel it is worth saving up to 3 years worth of their wages to invest in their families health-- would you?? People through the 1960's did! The average expected cost of a dairy goat in the US was about $1,000--now people looking to buy a goat for the first time only expect to pay $80. Feed cost per year for a small herd in the 1960s was about $800-- cost today? Oh, only around $4,000/yr.. 5x more what it cost only 50 years ago.....
Remember, if you really are looking to add goats to support your family, they need to be treated like your family; this is where your food is coming from! Do you want meat filled with pussy sores? Do you want to milk a goat with cheesy-stringy mastitis laden milk??? NO!
No more than you want to purchase a dairy goat with a saggy udder, blown out teats, sway back, twisted hooves, or in general an un-healthy appearance. And you certainly don't want to waste your money on a 'meat goat' that is skinner than a dairy goat either! Remember-- your animals are where YOUR FOOD is coming from. Don't go for the cheap goat-- go for the goat that fits the IDEAL homesteading animal profile!
PROFILE OF A FARMSTEAD GOAT:
1) Proof of Milk Production-- if you want milk why are you wasting money on a Boer-cross? They may be cheap--but they are not going to provide enough milk for a family of 5..you would be lucky if they made enough for 1-2 people. Don't just trust that if someone says their goat makes a gallon a day that it does.. I have only seen a handful of Nigerians produce a gallon a day (luckily we had the privilege to own one), they are the EXCEPTION for the breed--not the RULE.
2) Sturdy-- Being physically healthy has a standard! Did you know pure bred goat standards IDENTIFY health issues too? Crooked legs, twisted toes, narrow hips, sloped rumps, parrot mouth, etc.. are all SERIOUS faults. Why? Deformed goats are not worthy to be used for breeding--spreading these faults on to healthy goats. They will not live as long, and ultimately will only produce un-healthy offspring. WHICH will effect the homestead; unless you are selling to people who flat out don't care (most people DO CARE about what they are spending money on!). Secondly, the standards pure bred goats are bred to were designed around the features that a goat must posses in order to provide ample milk (not just for you, but for their kids too!) ...
3) Healthy-- Many people are attracted to the idea of not having to de-worm their goats.. but in order to develop parasite resistance.. you NEED to be monitoring the parasite load to begin with! Never buy an animal with diarrhea, rough coat, cough, pale eye membranes, or if you are looking at getting goats from a herd boasting parasite resistance--that 'never have to be wormed'; don't buy if your animal doesn't have a CURRENT (within 30 days) bio-load count from a fecal!
Do not buy animals with Arthritis, swollen joints, 'goiters', lumps along the neck, groin, armpits/belly, or udder. Do not bring an animal home with open sores/wounds, who is skinny, or has tremors. ALL these things listed are symptoms of serious contagious diseases that can destroy your farmstead dream... and once on the property will stay dormant in the soil for 10+ YEARS!
4) If you are buying for milk-- look for non-saggy (looks like a flour sack) udders. No teat deformities like extra teats (spurs), handle-bar teats (teats that point outward and into the legs), or Blown-out POTATO sized teats. In addition to the other three points above.
Also, understand what you are buying... a baby goat, yearling goat, or First Freshener (FF) have NO milking experience. What looked like a good breeding plan on paper sometimes doesn't pan out! It is more risky to purchase a younger goat than a proven goat for homestead dairy, since you are 'hoping' the baby will produce like its parents... also, most first timers only produce 1/4 the amount of a 3rd or 4th freshener (a doe that has been in milk 3-4x). Which is NORMAL.
It is not normal for a goat to not be capable of producing the MINIMUM required for the breed, and at the age of your doe.. For Example: IF a 2 year old Nubian is expected to produce at a minimum 800 gallons of milk in 360 days... it is not normal for a 2 year old Nubian to only produce 100 gallons of milk in 360 days.... both of these animals are going to require the same amount of feed... so if you buy or own the animal producing less milk, you are essentially wasting money. It is costing you more in feed, and you are getting less milk than the other animal.. that means the more you have to spend in feed-- less milk, cheese, etc. for your family. Not a good investment period!
So be selective on who you buy from! I prefer to buy from people that only have 1-2 goat breeds. If they have the full spectrum with mixes in between--watch out! Those people are not focusing on developing meat or dairy... they are only looking to produce goats to sell to people looking for specific breeds (not milk)... I.e. looking to capitalize on a fad/ trend.. raising Nubians because they are popular is a fad. Raising un-registered minis that don't meet breed standards is taking advantage of people-- SORRY your minis just don't measure up!
People with 1-2 breeds are pretty focused on the animals they raise, and usually know who is the best producer in the herd, and where to buy a buck from to help increase production more... If you are looking for dairy, and your conversation is on moonspots, blue eyes, etc.. AND not on dairy production that's your sign. Buying a goat here == wasted investment period. Blue eyes/moonspots don't fill a pail, and wont feed your kids. Milk will.
What should you expect to pay?
That is really going to depend on who you buy from, and where/what state you are in.. a well bred goat, bred by someone focusing on Dairy or Meat in their herd is going to run any where from $300-$1,000
A backyard breeder/ pet goat owner most likely can only tell you at most where they purchased their goat from, or that some how their un-registered goat came from a registered parent, but they wont be able to expand beyond that in general. Why? Because they are not focused on breeding high-production Meat or Dairy lines to produce offspring better than what they have. They just have goats for milk, meat, or as a hobby for PERSONAL use; not for people to get started Farmsteading with.
Farmsteading isn't a hobby-- its a lifestyle, and cutting corners on your livestock is going to cost you more in the end. If you want dairy, research. Learn ho to make improvements in your herd, so that you will be able to produce replacements for your senior herd members that are hopefully better than your foundation stock. This will ensure that you will have ample dairy on your farm for years to come.
If that is not your concern, and you just want a pet for a homestead, a pet quality (or breeder's cull) goat can cost anywhere from $0-$150.. not usually over $250 (even for a doe in milk).
Nutrition is the make-it-or-break-it aspect of livestock ownership... and this is where you will be spending 90% of your finances.
For a dairy (or meat) animal.. nutrition and management will either make your experience positive or negative. Remember... what you put in to your animal, will come out! If you feed good quality minerals, high quality forage, feed concentrates, and provide medical care/ parasite management your goats will perform well.
BUT if you cut corners, feed poor quality minerals (or do not provide minerals at all), feed moldy forage, feed low-quality concentrates, and neglect parasite management/ medical treatment your goats will not be thrifty, will not produce much milk, and barely provide meat... because every ounce of their nutrition will be going toward maintaining their body condition, and very little nutrition will be available to provide milk....
Milk and MEAT is a by-product of good management. When the animals needs are met for their nutritional requirements the excess gets converted into milk... the same goes for meat. The more protein, fats, and minerals are available to support extra muscle tissue growth, the more meat an animal can put on. If the animal is being robbed of nutrition by sickness, stress, or parasites-- you are not going to have a productive herd... even if they came from the absolute BEST dairy lines in the US-- you can ruin a good goat by not providing what they need to supply you with what YOU need.
..Not feeding your goats well is like "robbing Peter to pay Paul"... You might be saving money, but you are ruining your goat, and ultimately not getting the most out of the animal.
Here in Arizona-- hay prices range from $10-$16/ 100# bale. For a herd of 5 Nigerian sized goats, you may use 1 bale a week. $40-$64/month JUST in good quality browse/forage (Hay).
Minerals are about $20-$30/ 10-15lb Bag.. for the same sized little herd above.. you will use a bag every 3 months (roughly).
Concentrate feeds for the milk stand, or to help maintain body condition of the doe in milk will run about $16-$25/ 50# bag. and depending on the ration you use, and number of does in milk, you may use a bag every two weeks for your does in milk...
In general you can expect to pay roughly $130-300/ month on a small herd of dairy goats in feed/minerals alone.
Time is valuable! Especially if you have ever had to get out of bed at four in the morning to milk your goats while there is a blizzard going on outside!
When you own a dairy goat-- you are literally Married to the goat while it is in milk. Or, like a mother with a new-born, you will never get sleep or rest. It doesn't matter what the weather is doing... what vacation you want to go on... your goats need to be the priority. Once in milk, the doe needs to be relieved at regular intervals.. not to exceed 8 hours at a time!
Goats rumens are sensitive to sudden changes, or even to late feedings-- they don't just get acid reflux like we do.. they can literally die if the PH in their stomach changes too drastically! So, if they are used to eating good food, and you feed moldy cow hay.. you risk killing your goat with a disease called 'Bloat' which is actually a form of tetanus.. once your goat has bloat, they can die within a few hours if the condition is not addressed (even if they have been vaccinated!)..
Feet need to be kept trimmed. Fences need to be maintained. Water supplies need to be kept clean. Shelters need to be built. Housing for babies needs to be provided. And a strict schedule for feeding/milking needs to be kept religiously!
Goats are not the 'Great Depression' Mickey mouse cartoon animal. They are delicate enough to require a great amount of time being spent with them... people are called shepherds over sheep and goats for a reason. Goats are like overly curious toddlers with stomach problems that need to be watched! They cannot be allowed to eat trash, or be expected to thrive off of poor feed if you want any more out of them other than the vet-bill that comes with the cost of their companionship!
""Self-Contained"" Homesteading vs. Sustainable Homesteading
Believe it or not, there is a difference between being 'Sustainable' and 'Self-Contained.' One of the few things we often don't consider when first starting out on our own self-reliance adventures is how we will operate. The desire to be independent is often the sole focus of our desire, and we fail to look beyond the target goal to see the bigger picture... which is ultimately is going to have the strongest effect on our decisions later on down the road. The ability to explore the entire picture before setting a goal will ultimately define our successes and failures... this is called 'Counting the Cost.'
Counting the cost is at its core-- risk assessment. Our ability to accurately weigh the risks associated with a potential reward/ benefit guides our decision making process. Awareness of risks-- allows the homesteader to prepare for potential pit-falls. Where as focusing solely on a benefit has the tendency to trap us in unexpected (un-rewarding) financial circumstances.
So, before we begin adding animals to our farmstead/homesteads we really ought to focus more on risk assessment. What are the 'financial' drawbacks vs. rewards of including livestock-- not just focusing on our desire to have a cow for milk, a sheep for wool, or a chicken for eggs. Each of these animals is going to have an initial investment cost associated. Then there are going to be costs associated to housing, vetting, feeding, and the list goes on and on... animals are not cheap, and require CONSTANT re-investment. This can be quite costly!
Which will lead us to our first 'cross-road.' Are we looking to be SUSTAINABLE or Self-Contained. And what is the difference between these two forms of homesteads? Lets take a look:
Making the choice:
Making a decision on which road you want to take is step 1), because that is really going to define your operation costs from this point on...
For this Blog, we are only going to discuss 3 points from the 'Sustained' perspective, because really-- a self-contained system can easily make the switch. That, and operation costs will vary so widely between Self-Contained systems and Sustainable Farmstead operation systems, that I will literally have to write a novel in order to discuss all the ins-and- outs of both types. Which is really NOT what I am looking to do-- I just want to expound on a few topics to help you make one of the most crucial decisions you will be faced with--concerning the livestock you are about to bring onto your farm, (or homestead) and how to make the most out of them.
"To Goat or Not to Goat???"
Do you need goats? If you are exploring getting a goat, I assume you have already decided that you want one. WHY? Reasons between people will vary. More often than not I encounter answers associated with Health, or start-up costs compared to other livestock.
But, just because you need the milk doesn't mean you need the expense of the goat! In many states, farm shares/milk shares are still legal. Other options for acquiring milk can include helping to pay for your friends' goats, or trading a service/product for milk from a goat owner in your community.... in this way, you are helping to support a local producer; without having the added expense of feed, vetting, housing, having to clean pens, having to deal with bucks, or being unable to travel because you can not find someone trust-worthy to care for or milk your goats.
Health is one thing that can not be avoided for many people. And this growing trend is quite alarming! But participating in a milk share, will be by far the best solution to actually having to dedicate your time to the care, maintenance, and expenses associated with goat ownership... which are all precious resources if you are one of those families that may have to care for disabled children as well. The time plus the added expense of goats may not be economical--or rewarding as it might have sounded when you find yourself neglecting to care for your herd because of unexpected emergencies in the household.
As a shepherd-- your animals need to be the ones that get priority. If people need to be the priority, or will be the priority-- make people the priority, and support someone else who has made goats THEIR priority. Neglected/poorly maintained animals will not produce to their fullest capacity! And will ultimately begin to cost more as other bills start pilling up.
If you are drawn to goats because you see Nubians and Nigerians for $50 on Craigslist, compared to the $2500 milk cow, understand that the goats you are paying for may not be the best conditioned animals for your operation either. Breeders will often sell culls for prices comparable to the lowest value goats to get them out of their herd fast. Sure, they produce milk, maybe more milk than the average pet goat, but they may have other issues... with this info in mind-- when people buy up and breed all the 'bargain' animals together the result is going to be a mediocre goat at best.
If you are going to buy cheap-- you should develop an eye for selecting good quality animals. Sagging udders may result in a goat being unable to milk once they are 4-5 years old due to damage from lack of support-- which means a decrease in milk production. Teat position is more important for hand milking-- but 'handle bar teats' will rub on the animals' legs making that goat more prone to infection... hips that slope down too far may result in difficult labors/ being more prone to kids needing to be pulled... and a whole long list of other physical- 'CONFORMATIONAL' issues will quickly end up costing you more in the end if you are not selective!
I have seen the most rugged, crooked goats with awful sagging udders being SOLD-- and purchased by novices for up to $600-- just because the goat was in milk. And/or because the goat was registered with a well known herd name, or worse yet.. for superficial reasons like 'it had moonspots'. Please! If you take anything away from reading this... get this... """ Take-Your-Time""".
Don't just buy something because its cheap. Buy an animal that is sound! I count my blessings that all of our animals were structurally sound, and that I was willing to educate myself on what to look for before I purchased my first goats. Some other folks we know, who went the route of just ' buying with their eyes'-- sadly have had the very unrewarding experience of dealing with goats that have had nothing but complications.
If you want cheap, make sure you are being selective. Papers or NOT! You don't milk papers-- papers are a tool. Even goats with papers can have issues that you shouldn't waste your money on. Be selective on who you are buying from! Look at udders, pictures of udders, look at conformation of the ancestors of the animal for sale-- if the seller doesn't have these things-- don't buy from them. Papers or not-- pictures will tie everything together, and help you to see those unhealthy traits that you don't want that may be hiding in the genetics; because ultimately, if you make bad breeding choices it will shorten your animals' productivity by literally half in the long-run!
No matter what you are planning to spend-- who you buy from will make a difference in the number of years an animal is productive, their long-term health, and what you are getting in return from milk... in the same way that what you feed will contribute to the productivity of your animal as well--- more on that in another blog...
So, there are two kinds of goat people that a beginning farmsteader, or homesteader will encounter during their goat owning experience; or fall into the category of. I recommend you look for a reputable Type A person-- because they will have the proper tools to help you get started, but ultimately the choice is yours to make:
Type A) Wants to raise goats for X,Y,Z reason, and really wants to have good healthy animals, is focused on producing good quality dairy animals, and takes a vested interest in the animals they raise. In Fact, raising a high quality dairy goat is almost like an art- or science, and Type-A people usually want to operate (or do live-on/from) a sustainable farmstead. They sell products produced on the farm that pays off the feed, and helps support their family. Type A people do not buy from Type B-- they buy from Type A people with similar goals/focus to maintain the quality of the food and produce on their property.
The Cost associated with being a Type A Goat owner:
- Registration of babies/goats ($30-$300+ /year)
-Registry/Association Membership Fees ($20-$80+/ year)
-LA, DHIR, Show Fees-- tools to help prove the quality of the animals you produce ($100-$2,000+/yr)
-Feed Expense... this is where it gets rough... ($2,000-$8,000/year)
-Vetting, health care, emergencies.. ($700+/ year)
Total-- Appx. $3,900+/ year
Type B) Wants to raise goats for X,Y,Z reason, and is always looking for a cheaper priced goat because they just want an animal that can give them any amount or quality of milk. They may not have an interest in animals beyond just having what their household needs.
Type B people are usually 'self-contained' operators, and are/or may be just pet-goat owners, looking to start out in 4-H, or just start a small homestead. In any case they may not have much or any experience raising goats (yet!).. or may have experience raising goats, but don't have a serious vested interest as a Type A person would; they simply have some other goal in mind--and are not always interested in producing a good dairy animal for someone else's use.
Sometimes Type B people may advertise their goats as being from a Type A person's milking lines, have a web page, or advertisement on a sales board; their animals are available unregistered, or registered from stock that may have been purchased from a Type A person. In General, Type B people are usually the ones flooding the sales boards to sell their animals under $100. Quality varies greatly between each individual seller, so be selective!
The Cost associated with being a Type B Goat owner:
- Feed Expense... varies depending on number of goats, and quality of feed.. (appx. $300+/ year)
-Vetting, health, emergencies... (appx. $700+/year)
Total-- Appx. $1.200+/year
As you can see-- no one gets into goats without spending SOMETHING to support their herd. Whether their goats are 'just for fun' or intended to be a meaningful solution to operating as a sustained Farmstead. Another difference between each type of goat owner-- is going to be what you are willing to invest in your first herd; and is quality more important??
Where to Buy your first Goats-- and WHY? :
If you are looking to be sustained by your Farmstead, where you buy from (and who you buy from) can make a HUGE difference in your program, and ability to help off-set operation costs. If you buy from a fellow Type A person, you will get customer support, and a good start on your own operation.
Type A people are OCD about their animals health. They understand that the better managed their animals are, the higher milk/meat production their herd will yield. They focus on buying high quality feeds, they research and use the best minerals, have a regular de-worming program, vaccinate if necessary, routinely test for commonly contracted diseases that have the potential to destroy a herd (like CAE, CL, Johnes, and Brucellosis), and they usually also partake in competitive programs to see how their goats measure up to required standards (using tools like shows, DHI, LA, and on-line evaluations).
Type A people are so focused on producing healthy animals, that they are by far the best people to inquire of first. They will be better able to help you learn what to look for in a good dairy goat, and how to continue to select breeding stock to grow your herd. They will absolutely be able to help you evaluate does they have for sale, by pointing out faults/traits that can be improved on-- and offer suggestions on how to improve on those things; so that your herd will grow and improve as well.
However, Type A people usually cost more to buy from. This is due to the amount of work and effort they put into their herds. And depending on the area you live in-- if feed costs are a premium, or if that person has to drive long-distances to partake in evaluation programs you can expect their animals to cost 3-4x more than goats from a Type B persons' operation.
Understanding Evaluation Programs, Why they are useful, and Should you partake??
Should you partake in an evaluation program, now that you purchased goats from a Type A person? Or isn't their herd name good enough? The answer...
#1) participation in any evaluation program is not required. BUT it will help you to asses the quality of the animals you are working with, and help you make better breeding choices for your farm. Being Sustainable means that the animals should be productive enough to provide products to help offset feed/ herd expenses. By selling off less productive animals, and keeping your higher producing animals-- you will have ultimately better/more desirable breeding stock for your farm--or someone elses'.
Evaluation programs will also reveal areas of your management practice that need to be re-evaluated/ improved on as well. Better managed animals are highly productive-- which is why Type A people utilize "state-of the-art" management practices not currently available to most of the world such as: feed concentrates, legume feeds, effective wormers to keep parasite populations from robbing animals of their precious nutritional resources, high-quality minerals, pasture rotation, clean water, and shelter improvement options.
#2) No one's farm name is good enough to establish that your animals are 'proven.' Proven means that they have competed, they still compete, and perform well in your area. Relying on the work and investment another farm has put into their animals is not sufficient to maintain quality in your herd. You need to be able to pick-up where the other person left off... and in some cases, make improvements over their work. WHAT!? Yup, just because you buy from a nationally recognized herd isn't going to guarantee that the animal you own is 'perfect.' Breeders tend to keep their perfect goats.. but not every goat produced will be a carbon copy of their parents-- that's genetics!
So what are you paying for? You are paying for that breeders time and investment in their herd. And herds that are very successful (have lots of animals placing high in evaluations) are going to command a higher price for the quality of their lines. EVEN IF their lines are seen as slightly inferior compared to another breeder across the country. It may be that there are no other farms in your area/state that have animals of their quality (even though another farm three states away is 'better.'). Local prices are not set on a national level. And it is wrong to assume every one should have set pricing... not everyone pays $23/ 100# bale of alfalfa... but not everyone travels to shows either!
Participation in Evaluation programs means you are investing more than just registrations, feed, and vetting. Now you are active in seeing the real 'raw' data ' of your herd. And programs like DHIR and LA are geared specifically to determining the productivity/ strengths of the goat. This is valuable because unless you are keeping an eye on production-- you don't really know if your goat is producing an acceptable amount according to the standard of her breed. With LA, unless you show or do LA evaluations-- how do you know if your goat is too stocky, to lean, or has weaknesses in their structure that will lead to unhealthy goats in the future????
On a Farmstead we need our animals to perform. They need to supply milk not only for our family, but for the family of the people who buy from us. And, they need to be strong healthy goats, to produce strong healthy kids that can replace their parents on the milk stand; and should be able to withstand being milked for 6-9 years (not just 3-4 like a Type B persons herd).
Type A people look into evaluation programs to measure and asses the Dairiness and strengths of the goats they are using. Will offspring from your goats be good or better than their parents? Have you made improvements over poor udder attachment, weak pasterns, or any other health issue that can cripple your goat as she ages???
How about milk production. Is the kid you kept to be a milker producing better, or just as good as her parents? What is her butterfat percentage if you are making (or selling) cheese? How many kids from your breeding buck are highly productive? How do they compare to the kids from another buck that may actually be better suited for your farm????
Tools For the Farmstead:
All of these types of programs will add to the cost of producing a dairy goat on the homestead. But for people looking for sound animals-- these types of programs are priceless tools to help you make good buying/ selling decisions.
If your herd partakes in DHI, Shows or LA-- pricing of these programs should be included in the cost of the goats you are offering for sale. Including the cost it took to produce, and raise a goat to the age of being milk able (vetting, registration, feed, etc). Which is why most farms only charge $250-$300 for animals out of First Fresheners, or does who otherwise have no production record. But for animals who have shown, who did score high in LA, or perform well on DHI--their price for what they invested can be between $500-$1000 -- which is NORMAL.
It is not normal to see a well-performing goat sell for $300. And honestly, that animal is likely a cull. You don start a herd with culls! Bargain goats are cheap, but will cost you in the long run!!
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