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Raising goats is a great idea for your family because there are many benefits to keeping them. They’re lovable, easy to take care of, are a healthy source of milk and produce low-fat meat. Not to mention, they make manure that works well as fertilizer. If you want to get started right away, here are some basics that you need to know.

Housing for Your Goats

Firstly, you need to forget that you’ll only be keeping one goat, even if you just need one doe to produce milk. You’ll have to keep, at the very least, a doe and a wether (or two does, etc.) because they’ll get lonely. Make your housing arrangements for more than just one goat.

Goats aren’t picky when it comes to the housing so you don’t have to put in too much of an effort. All you need to do is keep them in a dry place that’s free from drafts and they’ll be comfortable. A simple three-sided housing structure will do fine for temperatures that are mild. In case one of your goats gets sick or a doe is pregnant, it’ll help to have a smaller, side stall to isolate her at that time.

For the housing floor, use packed dirt as a good insulator and cover it with a thick layer of wood shavings, waste hay or straw. Replace their bedding as needed to stay dry and clean to avoid accumulation of bacteria that can cause disease.

Now for the hardest part. Although the housing won’t require much effort, the fencing will. Goats are naturally curious and have the habit of wandering off when unsupervised, and especially if you have a garden nearby, chances are that’s why they want out so bad! Set up a good fence to keep them in place,  one that your goats can’t jump or climb over, or knock down. They can easily escape out a hole you might have thought to be too small, and they’re smart enough to unlock a gate latch with their mouths. In other words, if you don’t have time to keep on the watch, then put the most effort into keeping them fenced in.

Feeding Your Goats

The average-sized goat eats about two to four pounds of hay per day, minus what they forage. And if you do want to allow foraging, plenty of space will be needed or a good rotation plan. (Keep this in mind if you plan to raise them in a backyard.)

You can pasture your goats on grass and shrubs. As mentioned, rotating them to different areas is a good thing so they graze evenly. Pasture and/or hay is good for them, but they will also benefit from a diet that includes a bit of grain (fed after grass or hay) and alfalfa for extra protein.

Raising Goats For Milk or For Meat

Goats produce a lot of milk. The average adult doe can produce around 2-3 quarts to 1 gallon of milk per day, depending on the breed and whether she’s given birth. As for meat, goats can produce 40-50 pounds of meat, if raised to market age/weight. Check around and learn about the different breeds for both milk and meat so you’re sure to make the right choice.

Although this basic overview covers a few things you need to know before buying goats, take some time to learn even more, so you will have little to no trouble getting started. Go to a friend or family member that has goats on their farm, ask if you can dive in and help them; it will be a good learning experience for you, helping you to prepare for raising your own goats someday. Happy Farming!

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Preparing For Winter

(See also: Preparing For Winter Part 2: Livestock Care)

For most of us gardeners, big transitions are upon us. With many folks already experiencing their first hard frosts in the North, we know that winter will be here before we know it! Although we might hope for the work to slowly wind down, there is still a bit to prepare before winter makes its debut. Now that the growing season is coming to a halt, these necessary fall preparations can all the difference come next spring.

Soil Prep, Part I

While it may be tempting to simply leave your dying summer crops in your beds, pulling, tilling, or burying your decaying annual crops is an important step in building a rich, healthy soil for the upcoming season. By removing or tilling your crop into your garden beds, you will be eliminating the chance of overwintering pests, such as the infamous earwigs and formidable squash bugs. Plant debris that remains on top of the garden beds provides a warm and dark hiding place for these insects that will return with vengeance come spring. When you till your crops in, you are also adding a rich source of organic matter that will have several months to decompose into dark, nutrient-dense soil that will invite more soil-friendly bacteria and worms. If you choose not to till your beds, be sure compost the removed plant debris for use in the garden next season.

Soil Prep, Part II

Fall is the best time of year to order a soil test. It’s important to research your options to find a soil test that will give you the information you need to make the right decisions in supplementing your soil. Some companies offering soil analysis will even provide feedback on the specific types of amendments you’ll need. Once you’ve tested and reviewed your soil analysis, amend your soil accordingly. Fall is an excellent time to get these necessary salts and minerals into the ground to give them time to break down without shocking any transplants that might otherwise happen in the springtime.

Overwintered Crops & Spring Bulbs

Depending on your USDA hardiness zone, you may be planning to keep growing a selection of crops through the winter. Early fall can be a great time to get your brassicas in the ground, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and all types of kale. Winter greens, like spinach and arugula, can be direct seeded at this time, too. And, don’t forget to get your garlic and scallions in the ground now. You’ll be graciously rewarded with delicious garlic scapes come springtime. Also, now is the time to get spring flower bulbs into the ground, such as tulips, ranunculus, and daffodils, to ensure the earliest spring flower blooms.

Planning for Next Season

This time of year is bittersweet as the hard work of the summer season comes to a close and we begin to retreat for some much needed rest. But, as most gardeners know, the seasons move quickly, and it will be time to begin seedlings for next season before you know it! Using the down time of fall and winter to develop your crop plan for the upcoming year will be time worth spent. This gives you an opportunity to reflect on what went well this season and what needs to be adjusted for next year. Develop and write down a week to week or month to month plan that is easy to follow. Set new goals, and create an action plan or monthly checklist to help you stay motivated through the cold winter months. The work you do now will undoubtedly pay off come next season!

(See also: Preparing For Winter Part 2: Livestock Care)

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