Our Maremma Sheepdog puppies are born in our Puppy Parlor, where they have a safe, climate controlled environment in which to grow. The Puppy Parlor sits in one of our goat pastures, and is also used for milking the goats, treating any sick or injured goats and even occasionally for kidding if the weather outside is bad. Because of this our puppies are surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of the goats (and other livestock) from birth. But once the puppies reach about three weeks old their eyes and ears are fully open, they are steady on their feet and are climbing out of their whelping box. This is when the Socialization Phase of puppy development starts, and when the real fun begins! The puppies are now able to navigate the dog doors (with a little help) and begin going outside and exploring the wide world of our farm. We have carefully designed our Puppy Parlor and its attached pasture so that the puppies make a safe, smooth transition from tiny little fur balls to Livestock Guardian Dogs. Watch the video below to see the beginning stage of this journey. We’ve added a voiceover to the video to further explain the process. Enjoy!
Starring in the video are dairy goats Honeybee (brown Mini Nubian), Aurora (white and brown Nigerian Dwarf) and Pearl (white Mini Nubian). The dog stars are Benson Ranch Marisa and her litter, sired by Unfinished Acres Sevro. The dogs in the background are Marcella and Gianna. There are other goats far in the background, as well.
Will My Dog's Behavior Improve? What are Critical Learning Periods in Puppies, Why do They Matter, and What Should you do if You've Missed Them?
An 8 week old maremma puppy snuggling with a baby goat. Both animals are right at home and well bonded, as they should be.
I am an admin on Maremma Sheepdog Open Forum, a Facebook group for Maremma owners and enthusiasts. This group is run by me and some other Maremma trainers so we often get questions about training issues. A question popped up recently, which I am quoting below. This is a scenario I hear ALL the time on our group and through my own website and business page, so I decided to write a blog post about the topic.
Here is the question:
"Seeking advice: I am working on a homestead in upstate NY, I arrived here a couple of weeks ago. The owners of the land recently acquired two 10 month old Maremmas (they are sisters as well). They acquired them late due to the original breeder having someone back out last minute, and then struggled to home them. Needless to say, they were not bonded with goats or sheep (they apparently grew up in a pig pen). They are now with 5 kids and 3 adult goats and chasing them CONSTANTLY. They will at times latch onto hind legs, and nip at their sides. Thankfully skin hasn't been broken yet, but unless they are supervised all day, they will spend all their time chasing the goats. So far, we have separated the Maremmas so they don't encourage each other. They share a fence line however so they can see each other and be comforted by each other's presence. We try to keep the herding border collie away for the time being, as it seemed like they were mimicking her herding instincts. We are worried that they were brought into the herd way at a much too late age, and aren't going to improve. Any suggestions are experience with this is very much appreciated!"
Here are my thoughts on the issues raised:
This is a disaster waiting to happen and unfortunately it's a story that I hear all too often. There are so many things going on here that it's going to take a long post to cover it all.
First of all there are two big red flags here and one well-intentioned mistake. First, it's not at all appropriate for 10 month old pups to be unsupervised with baby goats or sheep. Some rare pups mature early but they are the exception, not the rule. Most LGD's aren't considered trustworthy with baby ruminants or poultry until age 2 or later. It's not because they are bad pups. It's because they are pups. So remove the baby goats ASAP. Ten month old puppies shouldn't be guarding baby goats, particularly when little is known about the history, breeding or early socialization of the pups.
Second, a LGD should NEVER, EVER have unsupervised time with the stock in the presence of a herding dog or any non-LGD. It's ok for your LGD to interact with your other dogs, but not with the stock unless you trust your non-LGD and you are physically supervising the interactions and are sure the other dog isn't teaching the LGD's fun new games. The LGD's most certainly can and probably will pick up bad habits from the herding dog. And this is not because your herding dog is bad. It's because he's a herding dog. LGDS's and herding dogs are both purpose bred dogs. Bred for polar opposite purposes. (The OP knows this but I'm stressing it for the sake of those that don't.)
And lastly, these pups need to (temporarily) be separated from the stock but NOT from each other. LGD's need partners and young LGD's need appropriate playmates. A goat, sheep or chicken isn't a suitable playmate. Another puppy is. Usually allowing the puppy to have a partner reduces inappropriate behavior with stock. BUT if the puppies weren't properly socialized to begin with or have picked up bad habits, or if the stock isn't suited to the pups, then peer pressure can kick in and they can sometimes get into trouble together. You may need to separate the puppies from the stock temporarily, until you get things under control. So for now I would put both pups together next to the goats and don't allow either of them unsupervised with the animals until you can assess the situation and come up with a new plan.
Now to address the root of the problem and the question of whether the pups can improve or not.
People sometimes acquire puppies or dogs from dubious sources or without knowing much or anything about how those pups were raised. Then they are shocked and dismayed when they find the very dogs they bought to protect the stock have become a danger to them. It's not the new owners' fault. Most people really don't have any idea what's involved in properly socializing and training a LGD. In most cases they trusted the person who sold them the dogs and that person took the money and is long gone, not willing to give advice or point them to truly helpful resources and certainly not willing to take the puppies back. This is really a shame. In my opinion the breeder's responsibility to the puppies they bred continues as long as those dogs live. Meaning they should give lifetime support, encouragement and advice to the owner and be willing to take the dogs back if the owner can no longer keep them for ANY reason. But instead they either ignore the new puppy owner or tell them it must be their fault. It's not that a breeder can fix every problem but they certainly should do their best to help. But since this breeder in question obviously can't or won't support the buyer of her pups I'll do my best to give advice, and to share my own experiences with such dogs. (Yes, unfortunately I've had to learn this lesson the hard way, too. Which is why I feel so strongly about the subject.)
Pups chasing and harassing stock is a very serious issue. Now I am not talking about the occasional case of the "zoomies" many young dogs get. The zoomies is when the puppy is full of energy and feeling good and they suddenly decide that those goats or sheep would make a fun toy. There's a playful energy to it, not an aggressive one. It's still inappropriate but it's different, and usually pretty easy to fix by redirecting or switching out the stock. Nor am I talking about poultry. All pups need to be carefully supervised with poultry and most aren't totally poultry safe until around age 2, though some do mature earlier. But dogs of this age aggressively chasing and biting larger stock like sheep or goats is an entirely different matter. And there are multiple issues at play here.
The first is that the livestock needs to be matched to the developmental stage of the puppies. Baby lambs or goats are not appropriate stock for most 10 month old pups. They can visit the babies under supervision if they are well mannered, but they shouldn't be left alone with them. (I rarely leave any dog under age 2 unsupervised with baby animals or poultry.) Pups this age need to be with ADULT stock and the stock needs to be of the right temperament. You do not want aggressive stock because they could cause the pups to become fearful or even aggressive if they feel threatened and bullied. Regardless of what some people will tell you an animal that continually head butts a puppy for no reason is NOT a good puppy trainer.
On the other hand excessively flighty stock is also bad. A goat or sheep that runs every time the puppies make the slightest move actually excites the puppy and encourages it to chase. Chasing is a self rewarding behavior and once the puppy learns the habit it's very hard to break. So if you have such flighty stock you need to get them away from the puppy immediately. Even my goats, who have all been around Maremmas all their lives, do not all make suitable puppy trainers. Often times I'll notice a puppy chasing and all I need to do is remove one goat who's acting like a silly lunatic and everything is calm again. What you want is stock that looks at the puppy pulling on its ears as if to say "buzz off, kid" and completely ignores them. The puppy gets bored and the chasing stops. They still might try it again, because they are puppies, after all, but they will try it less and less. And when they realize they're not getting the response they want they will eventually quit trying.
Another issue is that most people, when they first get their LGD's, have stock that have never been around a LGD. They think of dogs as predators (because they are!) and they are sure you've lost your mind for bringing one into their midst. So that's why putting the puppy and the stock side by side, until they are acclimated to each other, is important. If you keep them side by side until the stock calmly accepts the puppy then you'll have a lot less chasing when you do put them together. If you bought your puppy from a breeder that properly socializes their pups with stock the pups will seek out the comfort of your stock and will be more likely to behave calmly. But your stock needs to get used to your pup. So give them time.
Polar has lived with these goats her entire life and they with her. Katniss (the doe) is completely comfortable with Polar interacting with her newborn kids. This behavior in both animals is the result of proper socialization as babies.
What if your puppies didn't get the best start?
The other big contributing factor in stock chasing is improper socialization with stock when the pups were small. (Or no socialization at all.) This is a huge problem and more common than it should be. Irresponsible breeders put little to no effort into socializing the puppies and then a scenario like the OP's is the result. If you bought your pups from a breeder that failed to socialize the pups properly to stock then you're probably going to have a really hard time of it and a lot of work ahead of you. Contrary to what some people will tell you it's not all instinct with LGD's. It really does take nature AND nurture to produce a great LGD. You can't buy a puppy from a breeder who raises them in their house or on their patio and then put it out with your stock and expect instincts to just take over. It doesn't work that way. And if that breeder tells you that's an acceptable way to do it they are either lying to you or are ignorant of puppy development. LGD’s need to be socialized to stock almost from birth, in order to maximize the chances of success.
All puppies have a critical socialization period that begins once their ears and eyes open and end at roughly 12-14 weeks. (It varies by breed and dog.) This is when puppies need to be socialized INTENSIVELY with livestock, as well as with humans and to a variety of sights, sounds and experiences. A responsible breeder will have their puppies in close proximity to stock as soon as safely possibly. Definitely BEFORE 6 weeks and honestly by 3-4 weeks (with protected contact at first ) is the minimum I would accept. Once they can see and hear well they should be seeing and hearing the stock they will guard, or similar stock. If all they are seeing is the swimming pool, patio or the couch and TV then you've got a problem. And taking those patio pups for a walk past the chicken coop occasionally or even daily is NOT enough. In order to learn the "language" and "culture" of livestock, puppies need to be immersed in that "culture" 24/7 DURING the critical learning period. Those first 12 weeks are more important than any other time in the dog's entire life. You can certainly still train an older pup who missed this critical learning window, but the dog will never live up to their full potential. And it WILL be more work for you, I'm sorry to say. How do I know that? Because I made the same mistake myself. 🤦🏻♀️ So don't feel bad if you did it, because it's only through my own mistakes that I have learned these hard lessons. But hard lessons often help us grow and learn and do better so let my mistakes help you.
These 4 week old pups are at the beginning of the Socialization period. They are fearless and curious about the world. Look how they interact with the goats! Experiences they do and don't have during this time will shape them into the dogs they will become. LGD puppies need to be interacting with livestock NOW, not living in a house or on a patio. A breeder who raises their puppies in a home setting instead of a barn setting for the first 8-16 weeks is socializing them to be companion dogs, not LGD's. If you need a LGD buy a puppy that has been raised as one.
Three Kinds of Breeders
I have acquired Maremmas from eight different breeders and I have bred and raised several dogs of my own, as well as kept in contact with multiple clients who've bought my pups over the years. I am not here to criticize other breeders, as we all have our own preferences and need to do what works for us. Raising puppies is hard work. Raising puppies and keeping them healthy and safe while also socializing them properly to livestock is REALLY hard work. Not everyone wants to sleep in the barn with their pregnant dogs (what I did before I built my puppy parlor) or trek back and forth to the barn to take care of those puppies for weeks on end. Personally I think if you want to raise puppies in your house or on your patio you should breed companion dogs instead of working LGD's but that's not my choice to make. It IS my choice to not ever buy puppies from such a breeder again and I won't. I have learned my lesson, several times. (Apparently once was not enough for me.) I won't make that mistake again. I promise.
The way I see it there are three ways breeders raise LGD puppies. First there are the "puppy mill" breeders. They are truly just lazy and greedy and are churning out pups without any real effort and with the least expense in order to maximize profits. The puppies could very well be "raised in a barn" but they still may not be getting any interaction with stock or any training. These are pups such as the OP's pups who were "raised in a pig pen". Often these pups are of questionable parentage and health. Unvaccinated, fed cheap dog food. These are the Craigslist dogs. Breed them, house them for 8 weeks (or less) and sell them quick and cheap. Repeat, repeat, repeat... These are the people that give breeders a bad name and they should be stopped. They should be arrested.
Then there are the "estate guardian" breeders. They are usually well to do and live in beautiful, high dollar homes with acreage. They may have a few token sheep, horses or chickens but they aren't serious farmers or homesteaders. They just like having a "cool" or "rare" breed to lay around looking pretty and keeping coyotes from pooping on their fancy lawns. They usually have beautiful, well bred, healthy dogs, which are registered and health tested. They may have even imported dogs or acquired them from great breeding programs. Their dogs truly are beautiful but most often they aren't really LGD's. They are pool and patio guardians. These breeders put little to no effort into socializing their pups to livestock. Since that's not how they use their own dogs they don't understand the importance. They feel that keeping their puppies on their patio or in their house for the first weeks or months is perfectly acceptable. Maybe they just don't understand puppy development or maybe they do but they feel the compromise is worth it. They believe that it's reasonable for them to raise the pups on their patio or in the comfort of their own home for 2, 3 or 4 months and then the new owners can take the puppies home and do the rest. And this works great if the new owners need their pool or patio guarded. Not so much if they need their goats, sheep or chickens guarded. Remember the "critical learning periods"? This method wastes the best time of the puppies' lives. In my opinion these breeders are almost as bad as the puppy mill breeders. Sure they might be taking good care of their puppies but what about the stock those puppies are going to harass and maybe even kill, all because they didn't want to train their puppies? Breeding dogs that will be responsible for the safety and very lives of other creatures is a very serious responsibility and shouldn't be taken lightly.
Last are the truly "good breeders". These people are real farmers, livestock breeders and homesteaders. They depend on their dogs to keep their livestock safe, so they understand what it takes to produce a great LGD. They breed the kind of dogs they themselves need; true working LGD's. Their dogs might be registered or they might not, but the difference is in the effort, time and work the breeders put into their pups to ensure they are breeding true LGD's and not pool guardians, nor puppies that look like they came out of a rescue. These pups are born in a barn or a building near the stock, like my puppy parlor, or a dairy goat milking parlor or some similar set up designed to keep the pups safe and healthy without compromising the socialization of the pups with stock. These breeders put a lot of time and work into their pups. The pups and their parents are healthy, well fed and receive proper veterinary care. And they are well loved, too. Hopefully the parents are health tested but not all are. But the puppies get the safe, gentle, intensive early socialization with livestock as well as with humans and various experiences that will ensure they are set up for success in their new homes. This is how I raise my pups and the only kind of breeder I will buy pups from, now that I've truly seen the difference.
Six week old Maremma puppies learning the language of goats and chickens.
We all Make Mistakes
Luckily I have never made the mistake of buying puppies from a puppy mill breeder. I have acquired puppies from both the "estate guardian" breeder and the "good" breeder. The difference in these pups when I brought them home was striking. The difference is still apparent as juvenile or adult dogs. Now I didn't purposely set out to acquire "estate guardian" dogs. It just never occurred to me until AFTER I had several of these dogs in my possession that not everyone raises puppies the way I do, and the way the breeders I respect do. And I didn't realize the impact the puppies' early socialization would have on them, and me. I thought, like so many people do, that once I got these puppies home and put them out with my goats and other livestock that everything would go great. Boy was I wrong.
These dogs were all between 8 weeks and 4 months old when I brought them home. All had various issues. Some dogs simply didn't bond well to my livestock (not wanting to be near them), some of them harassed and chased my goats constantly and aggressively, some not only killed chickens but ate them. (I didn't let them with the chickens but my chickens trust white dogs and sadly they trusted the wrong dogs and sometimes wandered where they shouldn't have.) I had strangers driving by stop and knock on my door to tell me the dogs were harassing the goats. The most problematic of all the dogs actually broke a goat's leg. (She had seemed to be doing well but then she regressed.)
This is Cedar, with Benson Ranch Celeste. Celeste was bred by Cindy Benson and has guarded my goats since she was 9 months old. She is an excellent LGD, gentle and sweet. Cedar's leg was broken by a different dog. Despite the fact that another dog hurt her Cedar still completely trusts Celeste. The difference is how the dogs act around the goats. Celeste never chases or harasses the goats. She was raised with sheep since she was a tiny puppy, taking advantage of her critical learning period. (Her puppyhood is documented on the Benson Ranch Training Blog - Follow Blush's Litter series.) This allowed her to come to my farm and immediately go in with my goats. They trust her completely, as do I. Cindy does a better job than anyone I know of in socializing and training her pups and I am blessed to have four of her dogs in my breeding program.
Nature or Nurture?
Now you might think this is bad genetics and for a while I worried that it was, too. But some of these dogs are completely unrelated to each other and some of them are related to dogs without temperament problems that were bred by me or by other breeders. The one difference is the early socialization of the puppies. If they were raised similarly to how I raise my pups they acclimated to my herd immediately and had few, if any, issues with inappropriate behavior with stock. If they were not raised in this manner they were hell on wheels. I have owned and trained a lot of Maremmas and I have NEVER been so challenged as I have been by these dogs. Unfortunately once I had them I couldn't do much but try to manage them. I certainly couldn't sell them to someone as LGD's. That would be disastrous and I'm not going to do that to the person or the dog. I would either end up getting the dogs back with more problems than before, or they would get dumped. And they might harm or even kill someone's stock. Definitely not an option. They are friendly with humans and I considered placing some of them in pet homes but the right home never came along. So here they stayed. And I won't lie, it's been ROUGH. But we are finely, after months and months, seeing progress. The older the dogs get the more they have settled.
But I had to be VERY careful about livestock selection with all of them, as well as choosing partners for them. I'm very committed to having my dogs be with livestock as well as to always have a working partner. All of these dogs are dominant with other dogs so finding a dog they get along with was tricky. (I couldn't put them all together because they would fight with each other. Each one needed a very mellow dog partner, which meant that my easier dogs were often required to be put on babysitting duty with these difficult dogs, which is somewhat of a waste of their talent.) Finding stock they could be safe with was even trickier. Some absolutely couldn't be trusted with poultry, though one is better with poultry than with goats. Some chase horses, which would normally be a good choice for "biker chick" dogs. Some of them were too rough for my dairy goat does but did ok with my Mini Nubian bucks, who are big and stinky and not easily intimidated. I experimented until I found stock each dog seemed to do well with as well as a partner they got along with. Then I kept watching for signs of either problems or improvement. Over time they all made progress, though it was very slow progress. Most of them have progressed from bucks, to larger Nubian and Mini Nubian does, to Nigerian Dwarf does. (One of them is still only with the larger does but I will try her with Nigerians soon.) One of them is now guarding chickens and ducks and behaving perfectly. Another that used to chase horses is much better with them. I haven't tried them with baby goats yet but I think eventually they will be ok with them. Maybe not newborns but older kids.
How did I achieve these results? Well I didn't shock the dogs or use dangle sticks or any aversive, that's for sure. What training I did was only positive because that's the only way I train. But mostly I just matched the dogs with stock they could be safe with and dogs they got along with and waited for them to mature. Sometimes I made mistakes, such as when Cedar's leg was broken. Then it was back to the buck pasture for that dog. For most of them they were around 1.5-2 years old before I saw any real improvement. But luckily once I did things moved pretty quickly. For some it was almost like a switch went off. They just matured and got tired of their games. Mostly. They grew up.
But what's very telling is that I see the same level of maturity out of 6-10 month old pups that were bred and raised by me or breeders who use similar methods as I do out of these 18-24 month old dogs that were raised the opposite way. So yeah, these dogs can improve, but boy is it a lot of work. And I for one do not want to work that hard or wait that long for a puppy to mature and stop harassing stock. I would rather spend the first few months working hard to do everything I can to ensure those pups get a good start so I can relax later. But that's what works for me. Work smarter, not harder. Which is why I now ask to see PROOF (photos) of how a breeder socializes their pups before I'll consider buying a puppy from them. I don't care how beautiful your dog is or how good its hip scores are, if those puppies haven't gotten a proper start with livestock I am not interested.
These goats and this pup were born and raised together and are well bonded.
Will My Dog's Behavior Improve?
If you've already bought dogs that didn't get the start they should have, don't despair, there is hope. With time and patience those instincts most likely will kick in and overcome the lack of socialization and you will probably end up with a good, if not great, LGD. It's not the dog's fault they weren't set up for success by their breeder. I had to remind myself of that fact over and over when I would get frustrated with those dogs. They were behaving exactly as they were socialized to do. Even blaming the breeder was pointless. I should have done my research. I should have paid more attention. What mattered was accepting the dogs I now had and working to bring out the best I could in them. It was my job to be patient with them and teach them how I wanted them to behave. So try to be patient with your pups and eventually you'll be rewarded.
But if you haven't bought your pups yet, do yourself a favor. Do a lot of research before you choose a breeder. Don't just ask to see pedigrees and health test results. Ask for PROOF that those puppies are getting the proper socialization with stock. (Spend a little time on my website and social media and you'll find hundreds of photo of my dogs and puppies with stock.) Because that's exactly what I didn't notice when I made my mistake. I didn't notice what was missing in those cute puppy photos. Livestock. That's what was missing. There were no photos of the puppies with stock because they weren't with it. They were on the patio, by the pool, by the jacuzzi, in the house. Anywhere but with livestock.) So if the breeder can't show you lots of photos of both their parent dogs AND the puppies with livestock do yourself a huge favor. Find one that can. Because we all have cameras in our pockets, everywhere we go. It's called a cell phone. If the breeder isn't taking photos of their pups (or adult dogs, for that matter) with livestock it's because they aren't with stock. And you can never redo the critical learning period.
On the way home from the Training for Professionals: Across Species course at The KPA Ranch I got to visit Benson Ranch. This was a dream come true and equally as exciting as the course. I met each and every one of Cindy's 27 Maremmas, as well as her other dogs, her donkeys, goats, cattle, horses and mules. It was a great day!
Doing a little grooming table training with dried chicken. The dogs love this game!
There's so much to see on the ranch, and so many wonderful dogs and other animals to meet!
If you’re purchasing goats from us this article is to help you prepare for your new arrival before you pick them up. If you live in another area of the country and are getting your goats elsewhere this article may still be beneficial to you but keep in mind that some things mentioned here are regional, like types of hay commonly available or shelter appropriate to the weather of the area, and some things are dependent on the types of goats being discussed. We raise Mini Nubian and Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats on our farm in Central California, where winters are mild but summers are brutal and where alfalfa hay is the most economical and readily available thing to feed livestock of any kind but grass and browse are almost unheard of. The info we are providing here is based on what we do with our herd, based on our geographic area and their needs. If you don’t live in this area then adapt it to what works for you, but if you do live here and especially if you are buying a goat from us this article should help you be better prepared to start this fun new adventure!Things You'll Need Before Bringing Your Goats Home:A Goat Buddy
Goats are herd animals so the first thing your new goat needs is another goat buddy! A dog is not an appropriate substitute for another goat because a dog is not a herd animal, like a goat is. A horse or pony is better than nothing but really, goats need to be with others of their own kind, that think, play and act similarly. Your goat won’t be as happy and healthy by itself as it will be with another goat. It may be stressed and stress leads to illness and sometimes death in goats. It will be overly dependent on you, often yelling for attention all the time. And you will miss out on the joy of seeing the goats playing together. So do your goat and yourself a favor and make sure you have at least two! Or 3, or 10! ☺️
Goats can handle cold weather but they can’t handle excessive heat or too much rain, so appropriate shelter is a must. (They are susceptible to both heat stroke and pneumonia. And they HATE rain!) This can be as elaborate as an enclosed barn or a run in shed or as simple as a large dog house or a calf hutch. Our bucks live outdoors with large calf hutches and Dog Igloos for cold and rainy weather and a tall open horse shelter for shade in summer. Our does and kids live inside a large horse barn or in paddocks with large calf hutch shelters. We use both Polytec and Calftel hutches and love them because they are easy to move around, especially the Polytec ones because you can just roll them! In winter time they also have large dog houses and small calf hutches inside the barn for extra warmth. We provide Premier 1 Heat Lamps in the calf hutches during kidding season in the coldest months. Since our barn is a very open and tall horse barn we also use Shade Sails around the barn and paddocks in summer to keep out the heat and tarps in the winter to keep out rain and wind. We deep bed the stalls during winter and kidding season with hay, straw or pine shavings but we keep the floors bare in summer and rake daily.
Protection from Predators
Goats are at high risk from predators and even horned goats can’t protect themselves adequately from such attacks. I highly recommend you have a Livestock Guardian Dog in place the minute you bring home your goats. Even if you don’t have coyotes, mountain lions and bears you may have stray dogs as well as human predators who would hurt or steal your goats. The first line of defense is a properly locked up and secure pasture or barn. The second defense is a LGD. If you don’t have a LGD then lock your goats up tight inside a completely enclosed barn at night and pray. Seriously. You need a LGD! You can’t undo a dead, injured or stolen goat. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” something will happen to them if you don’t have a LGD. We use and breed Maremma Sheepdogs and we have two kinds of people who buy our puppies. The ones who are planning ahead and get a LGD before they have a predator problem. And the ones who get one after they’ve lost stock to predators or theft. You don’t want to be the second kind. 😢
And a LGD is NOT a collie, German Shepherd or any other herding breed or non-LGD breed. It is one of several breeds of dogs bred specifically for thousands of years to bond closely with and protect livestock. We use Maremma Sheepdogs and highly recommend them but at least make sure you get a dog that’s ONLY a LGD breed, not a non-LGD breed or worst of all, a mix of LGD and non-LGD. THAT is a disaster waiting to happen!
You should bring a medium sized dog crate to transport your goats home in, as well as a leash and collar, if you think you’ll need to get them out along the way. You may not need the large crate when they are tiny babies but you will eventually so if you don’t already have a smaller crate I would just go for the biggest one you can find now. We transport even our biggest bucks in a large dog crate in our mini van!
*Please note that the the size crates we have and use are these two:
*Transporting more than one goat in the same crate is perfectly fine, so long as it’s big enough, and they’ll probably be happier together.
*The average weight for 9-12 week old Nigerian Dwarf kids is about 15-25 lbs and the same age Mini Nubian kid is roughly 25-40 lbs, so use that as a guide to cage size.
First you’ll need a hay feeder. There are lots of styles to choose from, bought and homemade. Goats need basically free choice hay but they are notorious for wasting hay so I wish I could tell you I have found the perfect feeder but I haven’t. I just try to rescue the wasted hay before they use it for a toilet and feed it to my horses, who eat anything! 😂
You’ll need a good sized water bucket but not so deep that baby goats will fall in and drown. I prefer automatic ones so I don’t have to always fill them but I check them daily to make sure they’re working properly and to clean them if needed.
A mineral feeder of some sort to put the free choice loose minerals in is vital. We use big ones from Caprine Supply that hold about 20-25 lbs at a time, but if you just have a couple of goats a small one will do. Just make sure they can’t knock it over and waste those minerals and try to hang it high enough that they don’t decorate it with goat berries!
If you feed grain you’ll need feed buckets but it’s mainly milking does that need grain, not pets and dry goats. But having a few feed buckets or pans on hand helps when you need to entice the goats into the pen! Simple alfalfa pellets or plain oats will do for this.
Other things you'll need will be listed in another post and will include:Basic Equipment and Supplies
Medications, supplements, etc
3/3/2021 01:11:31 pmI appreciate you mentioning that it is important to use a hay feeder when you are taking care of goats. My wife and I would like to purchase a couple of goats that we can put on our property and use for milk. We will have to make sure that we get a trough that is big enough to handle two or three goats.
We prefer to feed all of our animals as healthfully and naturally as possible. We avoid most commercial feeds because they are usually full of soy, GMO's, by-products, chemicals and other questionable ingredients. We drink the milk from our goats and eat the eggs from our chickens so we don't want this stuff passed on to us. Furthermore we want our animals to live a long and healthy life and we feel that avoiding certain feed stuffs will help them do so.All of our goats get:￼
Good hay should be leafy & green
Goats love trees!Additional food:Grain:
We don't feed much grain since goats are ruminants and get most of what they need from high our quality alfalfa (and grass or forage) hay and free choice loose Crafts-Min minerals. Roughage (hay, trees, etc), not grain, is what makes milk and keeps goats healthy, so that's the foundation of their diet, while the minerals balance everything out. We do give some grain to does on the milk stand. Our bucks don’t get any grain. Grain is not good for male goats as most grains are high in phosphorus and can cause urinary calculi! Please, don’t feed your male goats grain, especially pet wethers. It can lead to a very sad end. (Alfalfa is ok for bucks and wethers as it actually helps prevent UC. Just don’t overfeed it or they can get too fat!) We have not found a need to feed our bucks grain even during breeding season because they get everything they need from alfalfa hay and CraftsMin loose minerals.
We don't like to use commercial feeds because of all the GMO's, soy, etc. We also refuse to use any commercial feed that doesn’t use a fixed formula. Therefore we feed either whole oats or rolled barley (or both) to does on the milk stand, nursing does and kids and as an occasional treat to dry does. Sometimes we add a little BOSS (Black oil sunflower seed) for variety.
When it’s really hot out we give electrolytes to keep the goats hydrated, especially does in milk and young kids. Our brand of choice is Sheep and Goat BlueLite, which we get at Premier 1 Supply.
We use large alfalfa/grass hay pellets or Manna Pro Saddle Snacks horse treats from Tractor Supply as a treat and the goats and horses love them. If you see the goats or horses mugging my pockets they are looking for these treats! 😆 Some of our goats also enjoy things like animal crackers, raisins, apples, mandarin oranges and such. And a few will knock you down for a banana. We feed all our overripe bananas to them, peels and all. ☺️
That’s the basis of a healthy goat diet: sweet and simple, and relatively inexpensive, when you’re only feeding a few goats, at least! 😆 And in exchange for these food we get plenty of sweet, delicious milk, adorable babies and goat kisses! 🐐🐐🐐🐐🐐
Keeping an eye on Lotte and her 5 cuties via the kidding cam! They’ll have a few days to bond in a smaller pen and then go with their buddies.
It’s always exciting when a new kidding season starts and this year is no exception. We did have a few does kid in December, including one litter on Christmas Eve, so it hasn’t been THAT long since babies were born here. And we do have still several fall kids in the barn but still - more baby goats means more fun! The “count” starts over. New year, new tattoo letter!
For those that don’t know the tattoo letter is the letter you see before each kid’s number on our for sale page. Tattoos or microchips are how registered dairy goats are identified for registration purposes. And they (or official USDA microchips) are used for the legally required Scrapie ID purposes instead of ear tags. Each goat has a herd tattoo and a numberletter combination assigned. The herd tattoo goes in the right ear and the number-letter sequence in the left. Even if goats are microchipped instead of tattooed by the breeder they are assigned a tattoo by the registry. (We much prefer to microchip whenever possible.) And the tattoo numbers make a great way to identify the kids. This year the recommended letter by all goat registries is M so the kid count starts over at M1, M2, etc!
Well apparently our first doe to kid this year wanted to bring the new year in with a bang and use up the first 5 numbers in one fell swoop! On January 10th two year old Nigerian Dwarf doe Lotte (Miracle Kids CC Little Lotte) gave birth to FIVE healthy babies! I knew Lotte had looked huge but she’s a pretty small doe and this is only her second freshening so I was a bit surprised at her having 5 kids! The kids were four bucklings and a doeling ranging from 1.8 lbs to 2.7 lbs. Lotte delivered them all by herself with no complications. The babies are doing really well and Lotte is being a very attentive mom to all five kids.
Lotte about a week before she kidded
A calf hutch & heat lamp keep those babies warm.
People often express shock at a goat having 4 or 5 (or even 3) kids but actually quads and quints are pretty common with Nigerian Dwarfs and (to a lesser extent) Mini Nubians. Even 6 is not unheard of and 7 is the recently set world record. Three is probably the “average” litter size and no big deal. Most does handle birthing and feeding three kids like it’s nothing, unlike humans who would be pulling their hair out at the thought! Here at the farm we usually end up with several litters of 4 or 5 kids per year. It is a lot more work but is very exciting.
Many breeders immediately pull one or two kids from a litter of quads or quints, only allowing the doe to feed 2 or 3 of her kids. They do this for various reasons and each breeder has to decide what works for them and their goats. Here at Prancing Pony Farm we prefer to dam raise kids whenever possible and large litters are no exception. We usually only completely bottle raise a kid if the doe outright rejects it or there’s some other issue. (Last year we had a KID reject his mom. Go figure!) Otherwise we leave the kids with mom as we feel it’s in the best interest of the kids and does, it’s less work for us and we prefer the personalities of dam raised kids over bottle babies, at least on a large scale. (Bottle babies can be VERY pushy and are not necessarily friendlier than dam raised kids.) As we’re fond of saying, we do have a few goats that were bottle babies, and we love them very much, but a barn full of them would drive us bonkers, lol.
We find that some of our does can completely feed 4 kids on their own and they can even do a pretty good job of MOSTLY feeding 5. But you do want to be sure that all the kids are getting enough to eat! Instead of pulling kids what we do is we leave the kids with the doe if she accepts them all. Then we go in once or twice a day starting the first day and offer a bottle to each kid. Some kids are obviously hungry pretty quickly and take to the bottle right away while others fight it tooth and nail. We just keep offering every day for a while and see what happens. Sometimes the kids never take to the bottle and the doe seems to be able to feed them by herself. This is more common with quads. But sometimes, especially with quints, one or two of the kids will decide they like the bottle eventually. Sometimes it’s a tiny one and sometimes it’s a bigger kid who knows a good thing when they see it! Either way by giving a supplemental bottle a couple times a day to one or two kids it ensures that all the kids have enough milk but they all also still get to nurse and be with mom and live a normal baby goat life, which, we feel, is very important.
We use fresh raw goat milk from some of our other does in the bottles. Never goat formula! Many breeders consider that stuff to be very bad for goats and we agree. Baby goats should drink goat milk, if at all possible. We have mixed goat milk with whole cows milk from the store in a pinch and have bought goat milk from a friend when we didn’t have enough on hand. One year we had a lot of large litters and only one extra doe in milk so we were unprepared. It was rough! Now we try to stagger breeding so we always have a few heavy producing does in milk before the next bunch kid and we also stockpile frozen goat milk and colostrum for later use.
Usually we offer the supplemental bottles for 5-6 weeks, until the kids are eating hay really well. Then we wean them off the bottles so they are just nursing from mom and eating hay and minerals. (Babies that are ONLY getting bottles are bottle fed until 9-16 weeks, or longer, but if they are also nursing from their mom we figure they can be weaned off of bottles a bit sooner.) We find this method works really well for us because the kids get enough milk but aren’t totally dependent on us like bottle babies would be. It’s kind of the best of both worlds!
So far Lotte’s kids aren’t showing much interest in the bottles and are happily nursing, but we’ll keep offering. We often find that does have more trouble feeding the kids on their own when they have several bucklings in the litter than when they mostly have doelings. Those boys like their milk! So much that they will often sneak nurse from other does besides their own dams. The biggest danger in a large litter is that the big, strong boys will push away any girls or tiny boys and those kids won’t get enough to eat. If you’re not paying attention they can die from starvation or malnourishment so we watch them very carefully. Lotte has 3 big boys and a tiny girl and boy so it’s the little ones that we pay special attention to when we offer the bottles. Time will tell who, if any, take to the bottles but so far they are all doing great!
Granddaughter Scarlett meeting the quints.
Scarlett and Penelope discussing names for “their” baby.
Before you bring home your new goats you should be prepared with all the supplies you’ll need to take care of them. Below is a list to get you started!
Milking Our Mini Dairy GoatsThis is how we milk our goats and the products we use. There is no one “right” way to milk but this is what works for us. We’re just sharing it here for those who are new to milking goats. Feel free to adapt it to your needs or to scrap the whole thing and do what works best for you and your does.
Useful Companies and Products
This is an article I published a couple of years ago that I'm moving to a new location!
Last fall I had a buyer in Massachusetts named Leanne who contacted me wanting to buy 6 goats, 3 from the fall season and 3 from the 2020 Spring season. I told her I was more than happy to sell her the goats but that she would have to arrange the transportation since I knew nothing about how to go about that. At first I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole deal, having heard some real horror stories on goat groups - goats getting “ lost” (stolen), not being properly taken care of and even dying. I’ve wanted to buy goats from out of state myself but was just too nervous about the idea to look into it. But this brave woman was up to the challenge so I decided to go for it! She told me she had hired Brian from Blarney Heights Farm Transportation. Finally I checked out their website and FB page and realized that these guys seemed to be very professional and above board, DOT licensed, and to come highly recommended by a lot of people. Later Leanne told me that she had already had some goats shipped by Brian from other breeders and that everything had gone really well. I started to relax a little!
Two of the goats Leanne purchased were Nigerian Dwarf kids so they had wait until they were weaned in early January before they could go. The other was a pregnant Nigerian Dwarf doe. There were tattoos and official USDA 840 microchips for Scrapie ID to be done by me since goats can’t be shipped out of state without them. Boy was I ever glad I had gone to the trouble to register with this mandatory USDA program and get my Flock and Premise ID’s when I started breeding goats! Health certificates were also required and a blood test for brucellosis for the doe. All of that was handled excellently by Dr Schmitt at King’s Veterinary Services in Lemoore and his excellent receptionist, Faye, who made all the calls to the Massachusetts state veterinarian to make sure the goats were in compliance with their laws when they arrived.
Finally the day came and my son and number one goat wrangler, Noah, and I took the three goats to the meeting place at Harris Ranch. Brian was very nice, extremely professional and his rig is amazing! I’ve had horses transported many times but never goats, so I was very impressed with how he had things set up to accommodate smaller animals. They had very secure stalls so that each person’s animals were in their own pen with food, water and fresh bedding. I knew my babies were in good hands! Brian and Leanne kept me informed of how the goats were doing along the way and they arrived safe and sound in Massachusetts about a week or so later. It may have been a bit of culture shock for them, going from California to Massachusetts in January, but they did great! Leanne had goat coats and a nice, warm barn waiting for them, and luckily the weather was unseasonably mild that week.
I couldn’t imagine a better experience. I know the next set of three goats (two Mini Nubians and a Nigerian Dwarf) that will be going to Leanne in a few months will do great. And what’s more, I’m now shopping for breeding stock across the country that Brian can bring to me! That will be a dream come true because there are a lot of nice goats out there that REALLY need to be in my barn, but up until now I didn’t know of anyone I would trust to transport them to me. Now all I have to worry about is finding them!
This event actually happened in March 2020 and I posted it to my FB page and some goat groups, but didn’t think to blog about it, I guess because I was too upset at the time. But I thought I should add it here because this is a part of goat breeding that most people don’t think about or talk about, but I think it’s important to discuss so that we can all learn from these sad events and do better in the future for these animals that are entrusted to our care...
I lost a baby goat today. When you have as many babies born as I do you’re going to lose a few each kidding season and he’s not the first one I’ve lost this year. But he was a really special little guy - a bottle baby, which I rarely have, very sweet and friendly, healthy and strong and beautiful, and the first buckling of my own breeding that I’ve liked enough to want to keep. He was one of my favorite kids of the entire nearly 70 kids born this year.
He seemed perfectly fine earlier in the day when I gave him his bottle, then I heard him yelling and went to check on him. He was in obvious pain. I’m not sure what was wrong with him but possibly Enterotoxemia. I began treating him for that immediately since that’s all I knew to do. It didn’t help. In less than 15 minutes he was dead and I am just heartbroken.
When people ask me why my goats are “so expensive” this is why. Because I work so hard to raise healthy, happy, high quality goats. But sadly you can do everything “right” - give them the best hay, organic minerals, proper medical care and love and still you’re going to get your heart ripped out every so often. You’ll save some from difficult illnesses that most people would have given up on and then tragically lose other babies that you didn’t even know were sick. 😢
And why do I continue in this business despite the heartbreak it can bring? Two reasons. Because I love goats more than any other animal besides dogs. They’re unique and special creatures that bring me joy every day and I’ve adored them since I was a kid. And because I love sharing these wonderful creatures with other families like the lovely family that came earlier in the day to buy two wethers from me. I want to breed healthy, beautiful babies that can bring joy and happiness to others, be it does for milking and making cheese or wethers for pets. They’re all special and seeing how excited the families are when they take their new babies home makes me so happy. But some days it’s really hard to be a goat breeder. This day started out so great, but ended so awfully. I hope tomorrow is a better day all around. 😢
Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.