Is this the 4-H project for me? — Goats
There are several factors to consider when choosing goats as a 4-H animal science project.
Goats are not only cute and friendly, they are also a large part of American agriculture. It is estimated there are over two million goats in the United States. Goats are raised for meat, milk, fiber and fun. Goats make a great 4-H project because of the vast opportunities—can you say goat yoga?
Here are some of the basic things to consider if you think goats are a good project for you and your family. First, be sure your local zoning will allow you and your family to keep goats. They are farm animals and many areas have zoning that pertain to keeping livestock.
Goats need to have a shelter that provides shade and a dry place to lay down out of the wind but is still well ventilated. Goats have a natural hair coat that keeps them warm in the cold winter months; providing shelter that can keep them cool in the summer is also necessary. Each goat requires about 20-25 square feet of barn in addition to pasture or exercise lot space.
Goats need to have access to clean, fresh water at all times. This can be done by installing an automatic waterer, which can be costly, or by having larger livestock water tanks or buckets—make sure the water doesn’t freeze during winter. The number of goats you choose to have will determine the size and scope of your housing.
Goats are a ruminant animal and therefore will need a considerable amount of roughage, or hay. Hay prices can fluctuate depending on the weather and the amount available in your area. If the summer months are dry, hay will likely increase in price. If there is an adequate amount of rainfall, which allows hay makers to get into the fields three times in the summer, hay will be more readily available. With the drought this summer in Michigan in 2017, hay prices are relatively high at $3 to $5 per square bale.
The price of hay is also dependent on what type of hay you are purchasing; grass hay will be on the less expensive end and alfalfa will be more on the expensive side. Goats can thrive on good quality grass hay, depending on their stage of production. There are many sources to obtain hay—local farmers and livestock sale barns are the most common places to source hay.
Goats also need to be fed a grain ration to maintain their body weight and grow. Pre-made grain can be purchased from your local feed store at price points ranging from $13 to $25 for a 50-pound bag. Special goat feed rations can also be made to your specifications at your local feed elevator. One of the most important things to remember, especially if keeping wethers (castrated males), is that your feed ration will need a 2:1 calcium:posphorus ratio. You can work with a nutritionist, create your own ration and purchase it in bulk.
Just like any other livestock animal, goats need to be fed and watered every day. Daily observation is essential in ensuring your goats are healthy. Milking breeds will also need to be milked twice per day if they have freshened.
The goats’ housing will be need to be cleaned regularly, meaning the manure and dirty bedding will need to be removed and replaced with clean, fresh bedding. It is important to have a plan in place to properly dispose of manure.
The Michigan 4-H goat project allows youth to connect with knowledgeable volunteers who can teach youth about various goat breeds and their uses, various uses for goat products such as fiber, meat and milk, and valuable life skills such as record keeping and leadership.
There are many factors to consider when choosing an animal science project. This series of Michigan State University Extension articles is geared to help families determine if a certain project area is a good fit for you and your family. For more information on other 4-H animal science projects, see the articles below or visit the Michigan 4-H Animal Science webpage.