What’s a good herd size to start out with?

Goats November 09, 2011|Print

We recommend starting out with a smaller herd than your target size. One reason for this is that goats multiply fast once you get the hang of keeping goat kids alive. Another reason is that starting small gives you experience with goats and often prevent major problems later.

It’s easy and generally economically sound to raise enough doe kids each year to expand your herd. For example, if you wean 1.5 kids per doe per year, you’ll produce on average about three-quarters of your existing doe herd in doe kids each year. Some of these doe kids will replace dead or culled does, but you’ll still have plenty of doe kids to either sell or absorb back into your herd. If you do not have to sell doe kids the first few years, you can put more time into building a sound market for your market kids.

Another reason to start with a smaller herd is that your first kidding season can be quite a learning experience. This includes learning from mistakes. It is depressing and financially devastating to lose a lot of kids all at once. Starting out with a smaller herd gives you a chance to find out without major repercussions whether: 1) your plans for staggering breeding and hence kidding dates really did work; 2) those feed rations you came up with for pregnant does were sufficient or instead led to ketosis or acidosis problems; or 3) those books you read on how to correct a malpresentation at kidding or revive a weak kid were comprehendible. Usually kidding itself is not the problem. You may lose a few kids, but most does on a healthy plane of nutrition kid just fine without intervention. The devastating losses generally occur after kidding when you are testing out how well your facilities and management strategies actually hold up to threats from internal parasites and the various diseases goat kids are susceptible to. It’s better to figure out that you are not allowing enough space per doe or have overestimated the productivity of your pastures or have somehow triggered floppy kid syndrome before you have a large herd.

If at all possible, plan on reaching your target herd size after your learning curve is starting to level out. Even if you have plenty of livestock experience, remember that you are trying out new facilities and/or locations and that some of the management schemes you are implementing may not work out as well as you’ve projected. Coping with a wind chill of –15°F while kidding in a new location may not have been in your plans. If you must start out initially with a large herd (for example, if your bank loan was contingent on getting maximum production from year one, your meat buyers require a certain level of production before they will even deal with you, or you are producing breeding stock whose value or rarity will decrease over time and need to have doe kids to sell as soon as possible), then it is strongly recommended that you gather all the hands-on experience you can before your own does start to kid.

The same principles of starting small apply to a dairy goat operation as well.  If you need a certain number of goats to cash-flow your operation, then you should gain extensive experience with another dairy goat operation before you start your own.