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We’ve decided it’s time to stop putting off adding goats to the farm.  I was surprised on Christmas morning, with an envelope from Mr. Curbstone that  contained copies of the pedigrees, and due dates, of two Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat doe kids.  Unbeknownst to me, he’d reserved them with the breeder a few weeks before the holidays.  The doelings, from two different mothers, are due to be born late-February, and early March at Castle Rock Farm.  So in case you haven’t yet heard…we’re getting goats this spring!

Why Goats?

A few years ago, we used to joke that having goats here would be far more efficient than either one of us at beating back 25 years of rampant weedy growth on the property.

Clearing this area, before we installed the vegetable gardens, might have been easier with goats!

Remember this mess?  Although I have no doubt the goats will enjoy our ever-multiplying blackberry vines, brush clearing is not really why we’ve decided to bring goats to the farm.

It’s the milk of course…and the cheese…not to mention the sheer joy of having goats bouncing around the farm!

If you can look into a face like this, and not say 'awww', you might need help...

We’ve both been coveting the goats of others for some time.  We have even, not actually owning goats, been spied covertly visiting dairy goat shows.  A few people may have thought we were crazy, but it’s actually a great place to learn more about goats, goat breeds, conformation, dairy character, and judging, and also a good place to meet with, and talk to, goat breeders too.

Nigerian Dwarf being shown at a local goat show

As fun as we knew adding goats to the farm would be, we clearly weren’t rushing into it.  I have some previous experience with goats, and I can say that although they’re not difficult to keep per se, they do require significantly more knowledge, TIME, resources, and commitment, than say our chickens, or turkeys.  In fact, the goats will demand more attention than our dogs, and our dogs get a LOT of attention…

These two have no clue what's coming to the farm...

…although I admit they’re rather spoiled.

Goatland Security

Like our poultry though, our greatest initial concern on the goat-front is ‘goatland security’.   No joke.  We live in the middle of the woods, with a constant stream of predators, of various shapes and sizes, traipsing through the farm.  As browsers, goats love woodland areas, but so do coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.

Coyotes and goats don't mix

If you follow this blog, you know we’ve had various encounters with bobcats, and coyotes.  Although we personally haven’t sighted a lion since moving here, neighbors have assured us they’ve been seen on the property in past years, and reports of livestock losses to lions in this area do happen [1,2,3,4].  It’s a very real, and serious threat, and sadly, all too often, the reason for such losses is due to a lack of adequate, secure enclosures.  That said though, domestic dogs that are allowed to run loose are probably an even more likely threat here than the lions [5].

We see Bobcats regularly, and although we don't see them, mountain lions are in the area

At first we wondered if we could even have goats here, but we’ve spoken to others who do successfully keep goats in this area, and then did some homework, studying enclosure recommendations through the Mountain Lion Foundation.

We’re also seriously looking into bringing in a livestock guardian dog, but even livestock guardians are no guarantee against predators, especially big cats, and certainly no substitute for secure enclosures, and it takes time to raise the puppy to become an effective guardian.

We accept that by bringing goats here, we’re inviting apex predators to the farm.  As such, it is our responsibility to keep our goats safe, and by keeping the goats safe, and not allowing them to become easy fodder for predators, we are also protecting the wildlife that lives here. If we lose a goat to a predator, it’s our fault, not the predator’s fault.  That said, we have no intention of feeding our predator population.

The two main steps we need to take to secure our goats are to construct both a predator-proof barn, and a secure daytime enclosure for when we can’t be outside with them.  I’ll get more into the enclosure outside the barn in a future post.

This week though, we’re focusing on the barn itself.  Well, “barn” might be a little ambitious.  These are dwarf goats, so it’s probably more accurate to call it a shed, but I seem to find myself calling it a barn anyway, as functionally that’s how it will be used.  Albeit a very small barn, for very small goats.

The first challenge was deciding where to put the goat shed

Barn Design

When designing our mini-barn, we had a few factors to consider.

1) Terrain

We can’t change that there’s not much flat land here, so even though we could design an elaborate barn, ultimately, we have to build what will fit.

2) Goats HATE rain

In a wet year, like last year, it can rain from October to June.  Being on the coastal side of the mountain, some years that amounts to a tremendous amount of rainfall! Did I mention that goats hate the rain? A dry goat, is a happy goat.  First and foremost, the barn MUST be dry.

3) Milking in the rain, is NOT an option.  Even if the goats didn’t mind the rain, I certainly do!

Both the goats, and this farm wife, will be much MUCH happier if twice-daily milking is conducted in a nice dry cozy corner of the barn, out of drafts, without sitting in puddles, or having cold water running down the back of our necks.  Not to mention, milking in the rain simply isn’t sanitary.

4) Good ventilation is critical to healthy goats

Goats, like most farm-stock, are very sensitive to poor air quality.  The barn area needs to be dry, free of drafts, but more importantly, well ventilated.  Dust, mold spores, ammonia odors, and excessive humidity, all can impact a goat’s (and a farmer’s) respiratory health, negatively.  Although the barn should be dry, it shouldn’t be airtight by any means. I might be happier in an R-40 insulated structure, with triple glazed windows, but the goats are not.

5) Future Goats.

To make milk, first, you make more goats.

To keep goats in milk, they need to reproduce, so the barn needs to be able to accommodate the occasional baby goat, or three (or more, as Nigerian Dwarfs are prone to multiples).

6) For a small herd one stall is mostly, but not always, enough (see number 5).

Goats enjoy the company of other goats, and generally we expect the goats will all be in the same stall at night together.  As much as we hope to the contrary though, occasionally a goat may become ill, or injured, or a doe may be too pushy around another doe, or kid. As such, having an area to separate a goat to temporarily, if necessary, can be helpful.

The Plan*

Overall, our primary aim is to give the goats as much space as possible, including enough covered areas for when our weather is less than ideal.  The best approach for this small barn seemed to be to keep things as flexible as possible.  An adaptive shed of sorts, that can be changed up as the goat’s needs change.

Bearing all these things in mind, we scribbled numerous ideas on pieces of paper, napkins, business cards etc., and finally narrowed it down to a simple, but what we hope will prove to be a functional, mini-barn for our impending arrivals.

The current floor plan has a cozy area for milking, and a section of the loafing stall that can be divided to create a temporary second pen (click image to enlarge)

Before shed building could commence though, we first had to prepare the foundation.  That started with some brush clearing, which would have been easier with goats, than without, but somehow we managed.

The weeds were cleared, but plants like this Western Sword Fern were relocated to outside the enclosure area

For the foundation itself, we considered dirt floors, and some goat owners prefer them, but with as much as it rains in a wet year here, with our slopes, the shed would likely fill with water.

Wood floors can work, but they tend to hold odors, and moisture, and with the change in grade down our slope, we didn’t feel that was good for a shed in this location either, as we’d still have to build up a foundation for a level floor.  This seemed to rule out most kit sheds, and even some build-on-site custom shed services, as most rely on the use of wood floors, on perfectly level plots.

The shed foundation had to accommodate the grade on the slope

Ultimately we settled on a concrete floor. It’s easy to clean, and with the addition of a waterproofing agent in the concrete mix, the floor will stay dry.

For structural strength, rebar was incorporated into the foundation slab and footings

Concrete can be cold, however, but additional shavings or bedding straw, and potentially even the use of stall mats under the bedding, all can help to mitigate that.

It's not every day we see one of these on the farm!

We’ll also be constructing sleeping benches, so the goats will most likely sleep on those, rather than directly on the floor.

Our freshly poured 'barn' foundation

As mentioned in point 2 above, the “goats hate rain” part, we’ve chosen to design the barn such that we can gate off the milking area during the day when not in use, which will leave the alley to the stall open.

The stall gate does double duty. It closes off the loafing stall to confine the goats, or closes off the milking area when providing free in-and-out access for the goats to the yard

This will allow the goats to come and go outside at will during the day, from the goat yard, up to the deck, and in to the stall.  During periods of extended unpredictable weather, the idea is that the goats can be outside if they chose, with free access the stall when it rains…but gating off the stanchion area will help keep the milking area a little cleaner.

If the goats are spending an extended period indoors, the barn’s dutch door should help to improve ventilation throughout the building during the day.  There will also be two gable end wall vents, in addition to three small windows along the walls that will be INSIDE the fenced, covered enclosure.

In case the kidding stall needs to be used for a pregnant doe, or an ill goat, our plan is to construct a partition gate through part of the loafing area.

This secondary stall gate can be left open most of the time, but will serve to partition off a small pen if needed

The gate will be bolted open against the wall when not in use, but can be closed off to create an extra ‘stall’ when needed.  If that area isn’t in use though, we’ll leave it open to give the goats the use of the extra space.

Rough dollhouse view of the barn layout

So that’s the rough plan, of course, plans are always subject to change*.  Although we have most of the area cleared, and the foundation is complete, we still have a lot to get done before the goats arrive!

The foundation is done!

The forms came off the foundation this afternoon, so this weekend, the concrete will be cured enough to get the walls and roof framed, and if all goes well, we may even get the siding installed.  Things might be a little quiet on the blog during the rest of construction, but we promise, more soon!

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[1] Mountain Lion Kills 4 Baby Goats Near Swanton in ‘Wholesale Slaughter’, Owner Says. Santa Cruz Sentinel. February 27, 2010
[2] Mountain Lion Comes Back for Seconds, Kills Baby Goat. Santa Cruz Sentinel. January 15, 2010.
[3] Livestock Kills Prompt Fears of Big Cat on the Prowl in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz Sentinel. January 3, 2010.
[4] Mountain Lion Sightings Not Uncommon. Scotts Valley Press Banner. January 28, 2010.
[5] Dogs suspected in Pygmy Goat Deaths in Ben Lomond. Santa Cruz Sentinel. February 3, 2011