We keep of herd of Oberhasli goats - both purebred and a few that are a mix. We've had Nubians before and like their long ears, Roman noses, and endless color variations (especially the spots), but prefer the gentler and quieter nature of the Oberhasli in our situation. They are one of the more uncommon breeds, but usually not hard to find.
Oberhasli, also know as Swiss Alpine, is descended from a breed in central Switzerland. They are brown bay - red-brown with black trim, which is called chamoisee. There is also a recessive gene for black among the American Oberhaslis. To preserve the breed's traditional color, only black does can be registered. We have had black purebred kids from our gene mix and it's a fun addition.
Oberhaslis can be registered whether they are polled or disbudded, meaning they would grown horns if allowed but the horns are destroyed before they grow. We breed for health, milk production, easy kidding, and good mothering. Some fun variations within those goals include some black and polled goats.
Goats born on our farm are allowed to grow their horns. We do have some genes for polled goats (hornless) in our breeding pool, and five of our first goats were disbudded by their breeders when kids before we acquired them.
Horns are different from antlers in that horns are permanent (antlers fall off and regrow). Antlers often branch, but horns are almost never branched (pronghorn is an exception) and curve, curl, spiral, or have ridges. Horns have living bone and a blood supply under a hardened keratin shell. Horned animals usually use them in mating fights, defensively, and for cooling themselves. The two most common uses I see is first, scratching those hard to reach places like their back or hip. Second, they "fight" with them, which is usually in play. They stand up on their back legs and come down with their heads together - no poking with the horns. The goats do this with or without horns.
Horns grow unique to different breeds and even to individuals. Sometimes I can use them as an identifying feature on ones that are turned just right so I can't see their tags, faces, or collars. On our goats, they grown longer every year, especially on the males that have considerably thicker and longer horns. Nothing is cuter than a little nursing kid with tiny little horns just taller than their fur. We also find them to be handy handles when treating goats (deworming) or moving goats that pull against their collars and semi-strangle themselves.
Some goat owners disbud their kids so they don't grow horns. This is done BEFORE there are horns. A hot metal iron or an acid paste is used to destroy the rings of cells where the horns will start growing. It is very painful, but usually done at a very young age. The argument for no horns is that they are safer. I am not convinced it is needed, but one purpose of horns is defense, so it's a valid argument. When goats are teens with horns that are several inches long, they may poke us with them (usually in the thigh or rear end when you're busy looking away). Other than that, even wild ones haven't hurt us. I suppose if you have your face close (sniffing goats?) and they lift up their head and clip you, it would hurt. It just hasn't been a problem for us. Disbudding is painful and seems unnecessary.
Disbudding males usually burns out scent glands helping make the males less smelly, but the girls love their natural aroma. What most people refer to as a "goaty" smell is really a "bucky" smell, from my experience. It's like heavenly cologne to the does, though. We've had bucks who were disbudded as kids and they all grew scurs, which are deformed little twists of horns. They look terrible. As they play and put their heads in and out of feeders, the scurs can break off. Our experience has been that they bleed and need to be treated to prevent attracting flies in summer and fall. I hear some are thicker and need to be cut off.
One consideration in disbudding is that some breeds of goats cannot be registered if they are allowed to grow their horns. Check with the organization you wish to register with. If you wish to buy a goat from us without horns, please request a polled one as we do not disbud.
Intact males (fertile) are called bucks. We started off with one - Harry. He's a purebred Ober with beautiful big horns and a long black goatee. He loves his girls and will fight anyone or anything to keep his girls safe. He wants to go first at everything, though. He wants best spot for the grain, the highest perch in the pen, and the browse of his choice in the pasture. He's a rather musky boy. The girls like the way he smells, especially when they're ready to breed, but we think he stinks.
Our second buck, Lenny, is naturally polled and 1/16th Saanen, which shows up as a pale undercoat and fringy fur around his hooves. Lenny was best friends with Lenny until his first rut. Now they're old buddies in the "off" season. He's a sweet buy but absolutely girl-crazy.
When they want to breed, the bucks make us laugh but know how to woo the girls. They may give a little snort to get the does' attention, then he sticks his tongue out at her. He'll pee on his goatee, which also ends up on the back of his front legs, just to make sure he's nice and smelly. Yes, this is gross, but apparently it's goat cologne. The does that are in heat will stand and stare, mesmerized by his buckiness. He makes his move by kissing her. Goat kisses involve the buck sticking his tongue out a little and blowing on her side to make farting noises. If she likes him, she stays and they breed, if not she runs away and he usually chases her. There is a lot of chasing and the bucks expend a lot of energy during rut (breeding season).
Most of the boys are castrated with a tight little band around their testicles when they are two days old. At this age, the discomfort we notice lasts for less than 20 minutes, and they soothe themselves with nursing or sleeping. This is important to us because we don't have to worry about unauthorized breeding, so they can stay with the weanling girls in a little herd of their friends. If raised for meat, they have a milder flavor.
Boys should not be fed a diet high in alfalfa. They are prone to bladder stones that can plug all outflow of urine and lead to an unpleasant death. Mine do get some alfalfa, especially when they are little with their mothers and eat what she eats. After that, they are mostly fed grass and other browse.
Does tend to be much gentler than the bucks, but are protective of their babies. Ours average twins, and they love their kids. Good mothers bring their kids out and supervise them closely as they first explore their area. The babies sleep together in a big heap of kids or with their mothers. They remember family groups and maintain a bond with their mothers their entire lives. I have kids that lie down with their mothers and grandmothers. Grandmothers do prefer their own kids (especially little ones) over grandkids.
There is a definite hierarchy in the herd. Older females tend to be most senior and will fight to determine who it top among them. By fight, it is nothing like the males do. They push each other around with some head-butting, but nothing to injure each other. It seems to be more of a way to measure strength and determination in each other. Once they work out their pecking order, they seem comfortable living within it.
We don't try to disrupt the hierarchy. For example, when we milk, the "higher" does want to go first (milking is a desirable to them). If we take a less senior doe out of order, the older one may head-butt her to re-establish her position of seniority. When we allow them to come in the natural order, they are all more comfortable and happy.
Goat kids are the most enjoyable animal on the farm to sit and watch. They are born fully furred and are quite nimble and athletic when just a few days old. They run around and climb, climb, climb! King of the hill is a favorite game and involves getting to the highest spot and then leaping off while striking all different poses. Sticking the landing seems optional and they frequently wipe out. When they do, they hop back up and act like nothing happened. They also play fight, which is funny when they are on a little plank or bridge and push each other off.
Goats have a unique way of fighting, whether serious or playful. They stand up on their back legs, turn the top of their bodies or their heads about 30-degrees, and come down hitting each other. If they don't have horns, they hit heads and their skulls are very thick. If they have horns, they hit horns. Bucks also hook things with their horns and bite when fighting (they don't usually fight).
Goats can be difficult to contain and will damage property because of their nature - they are curious and climbers. They challenge fences, some more than others, and will climb all over things. We had a trailer where we kept hay. Having fed it all, we let the goats out to clean up the spilled but very desirable alfalfa leaves. They ate what they were supposed to, but also climbed all over it, the tractor, and pulled tail light wires out of the tail lights, keys out of the tractor, and covers off the hydraulic connections, and pretty much undid whatever they could. Field fence, woven wire, and electrified wire fencing seems to work, though. They will squeeze under small spaces, too, so watch out for chicken coop doors if they have access ... especially if they think there are goodies inside.
We have learned that when goats don't like something they make a noise that is like spitting or sneezing. When they do something we disapprove of, such as pulling my hair when I'm crouched down (those devilish kids make a game of it), making spitting noises at them catches their attention. They often give me this weird look like, "You speak goat?" Then I can do it again and they get the idea. Not that they stop, but they understand. Mom goats also "hum" to their kids and the kids back to the moms. It's a soft closed-mouth goat noise just like they're talking quietly to each other. It's pretty cute.
Getting a Goat - Expectations
If you're thinking about getting a goat, you'll need to get more than one or a sheep, ideally close in age or mother and kids. They are very uncomfortable alone, but one other sheep or goat will suffice. Choose a companion that is not a bully to them, which is more likely to happen outside of the same breed or with a large age difference. Without a companion, they develop nervous habits (chewing on things), become noisy (calling for their herd), and are generally unsettled. Their companion needs to be an animal they are with all the time, night and day, and does not include dogs, chickens or poultry, and often does not include larger livestock such as cattle or horses.
As ruminants, goats chew their cud. They eat their food once, start a light digestion, and then burp it up to give it a more thorough chewing before digesting it more. Ruminants can have large bellies and produce a fair deal of gas as their stomachs are really fermenting chambers. Give them access to baking soda at all times in case they have too much gas production. They will choose to eat the soda when needed. Their digestive process produces good compost.
Another nice thing is most ruminants don't have upper teeth in the front. This means if you feed them by hand, their bit won't hurt - or not as much - if they accidentally get your finger. Beware, though, that back teeth are not kind to fingers. Kids are the ones who try to molar fingers the most when feeding grain by hand.
Plan on routine care. Their hooves need trimming regularly - every 6-8 weeks. Without it, they develop foot problems, including abscesses and infections, and cannot walk comfortably. They need regular vaccines. I give them an 8-way vaccine that includes tetanus every spring, but a 3-way with tetanus is probably adequate. They also need shelter from rain and snow - a way to get out of bitter winter winds. A little shed or hoop tent with straw is good. More than one animal will sleep together to keep warm. On especially cold nights or in storms, be sure the storm isn't blowing straight through their shelter.
All my goats also need selenium and copper supplementing. I give my goats 4 grams oral copper rods every six months. Symptoms of low copper in adults are lack of pigmentation and coarseness in their hair. Some goats seem to need more copper. I also give selenium (Bo-Se) twice a year to my goats as this part of the country is both selenium and copper deficient. You may be able to give loose minerals with this, but I keep copper out of a lot of things because it is toxic to sheep. Goats will also need regular de-worming. Feeding natural anti-helminth plants can help prevent possible infestation, but may not correct an existing problem.
If you want to milk your goats, you will need to have them bred regularly, usually every year. They may breed more often than this if run with males, which may take a toll on the overall health of your does and give you little babies in the bitter cold winter.
Contrary to what some people think, goats don't eat everything or garbage. They are foragers and eat browse, like deer, not pasture like cows. Their diet is best when there is some variation and broad-leaves. When we first got goats, it was to eat back invasive blackberry plants by a river. They did a wonderful job and hands down preferred thorny blackberry leaves and stems to grass. They also ate stinging nettle and other plants while passing on the soft grass. They favor mixed hay, especially with alfalfa or clover. Grain helps boost milk production and they love it. They are good for eating garden and some kitchen scraps, too: old pea plants, bean plants, strawberries and strawberry plants, lettuce, apple pieces, etc. They also like to eat pine needles (fresh breath - good for keeping parasite counts at bay, but may flavor milk) and fall leaves around some trees (good for minerals - avoid or severely limit red maple and oak). Each goat has individual preferences and dislikes.
Like other ruminants and horses - and unlike cats, dogs, and hogs - goats will poop and pee on hay put out for food. So, if you put out a bale of nice alfalfa on the ground for them to eat, don't be surprised if they eat some, climb on it, sleep on it, poop and pee on it, and then not want to eat it all because it's dirty. Having a feeder they can't climb in helps save feed quality hay. Cheaper straw or hay can be put out for bedding, and they may pick through and eat parts of that, too. Ours love to find all the seed heads and green areas.
Goats are fun livestock to own. They are curious, smarter than most dogs, and friendly if treated well. Not everyone is a "goat" person, but knowing what to expect helps you have a better experience.
Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.