Updated Jan. 28, 2016
When North America’s only goat school first opened in Maine, it attracted a total of 12 students. Now, Ken and Janice Spaulding’s school, at Stony Knolls Farm in Saint Albans, Maine, is a two-day affair that often draws more than 100 students.
For those who can’t attend the school but are interested in owning goats as pets, or raising goats for milk and meat, Janice Spaulding has a do-it-yourself manual called Goat School: A Master Class in Caprine Care and Cooking. In it, you’ll find everything you need to know about assisting a pregnant goat in labour to how to whip up a 30-minute mozzarella using goat’s milk and rennet.
“Goats are amazing creatures. They are smart, funny, personable, nosy, and did I say smart?” writes Spaulding. “They can open any latch, sometimes unlock doors, turn light switches on and off, take things apart, and they love to help. They will help you shovel snow or poop, they will untie your shoelaces for you, and they love helping take things out of your pocket.”
New owners need to know that they should buy a goat from a reputable breeder, not a livestock auction. Most important: buy two, not one. “One goat alone will probably die of boredom, loneliness or frustration.”
When you’re ready to buy, go to the farm, look around, and make sure it’s clean. “Look at the animals. Are their eyes clear and bright? Are they nicely filled out, strong and curious? Are they friendly, free from sores, bumps and scabs?” The only thing worse than an unhealthy goat is a headstrong one, writes Spaulding. “There is no room on anyone’s farm for an unruly goat. Aggressive goats need to take a permanent vacation at freezer camp.”
Owners planning to breed goats should learn to recognize when the animals are in heat. “Detecting a doe in heat is usually quite obvious if a buck is around,” writes Spaulding. “She will sometimes moan, yell, flag [tail wag] and make a general nuisance of herself. She will often head-butt the other goats, jump on them like a dog, and be cranky to you, and more often than not, have a very red butt.”
When a buck is in heat, “they love to display their equipment, pee all over themselves, curl their lip and make lots of unique noises. The peeing can cause blisters and sores on their noses, and very red, irritated-looking eyes. Don’t despair. Once your does are all bred, rut will be over and the snow and rain will clean away most of the gross, caked-on, yucky stuff on their faces and legs. If you are really obsessive, you can give your boys a bath. Good luck with that.”
Close to birth time, always have on hand a large canvas bag stuffed with towels and a hair dryer, and a baby monitor that should be set up a few weeks ahead of time “so that you get used to the sounds in the barn.” Spaulding explains that “goats moan and groan during the night and if you set up the monitor only for the last day or two you can plan on running out for many false alarms.”
Kids are born a surprising bright yellow, and need to be kept warm and dry in towels that are bath-size. “This makes me crazy!” writes Spaulding. “I have been to several farms to help deliver kids, and when I ask for a towel, I am handed goodness knows what. Rags and towels so small and thin, you can see through them.”
According to Spaulding, horns are harmless and need not be disbudded. They are a cooling organ, she explains, that help regulate the temperature of the blood supply to the brain. As well, they serve as a convenient handle that enables owners to keep control of the goat’s head when giving medication, or for moving a stubborn goat from point A to point B.
In a section called “Caprine Castration,” Spaulding stresses that only pet goats should be castrated. “Castrating a male goat that will eventually go to freezer camp is NOT a good idea! Castration stops the production of testosterone, which is responsible for muscle growth. Muscle is meat. For a freezer-destined animal, you want more muscle than fat.”