When buying a goat you need to know what to look for. Here's my handy Goat Buying Guide.
These are things to look for when you are buying any goat, for a pet, meat, breeding, or milking.
The herd: When buying any goat visit the farm the goat comes from. You want to see the goat's herd mates and living conditions before purchasing. Look at the whole herd: is everyone healthy? Does everyone have soft, shiny coats and bright eyes? Are they curious and friendly? Is any member of the herd showing signs of illness or injury, such as shivering, limping, isolating themselves from other animals, or sporting wounds or balding patches? Is the barn clean and free of ammonia odor?
The goat: Determine if you want a horned goat or a goat without horns. Look carefully at the animal you're buying. Is she bright eyed, curious, and friendly? Is her coat soft and shiny? Are her hooves in good shape? Feel her body all over for any swelling, lumps, heat, tenderness, wounds, hair loss, or signs of injury.
The history: Ask for a written medical history before you go to pick up the animal. While you're picking up the goat, ask what the seller normally feeds, how much and how often. Ask what minerals are given. Ask for the last date of vaccination and last date of worming, as well as what wormer was used and why. Get the goat's date of birth. Even if this info was given in the written medical history, confirm it before leaving with the animal.
These are things to look for when you are specifically buying a goat for milking.
Select a Breed: I highly recommend going to different breeders and tasting the milk of different breeds to find out what you like. Each breed has their own unique strengths and taste of the milk should be a significant factor in your decision. This also allows you to meet a variety of goat breeds to determine whose temperament you prefer. Most importantly this allows you to see several different goat keepers' operations so you can compare and contrast, gives you ideas about good practices, and helps you network with other goat keepers so you have someone to call with questions.
Get Testing: Whenever buying a goat I try to buy only from herds who have tested negative for CAE, CL, and Johnes diseases. In some states TB testing might be required as well. Always ask to see the testing paperwork and confirm that it is current within the last year. Regardless of whether or not a goat comes from a clean, tested herd you will still want to do your own testing, but getting the herd test results gives you some assurance of the herd's health.
Registered or Not? Decide if registration is important to you. At this point I am only interested in buying registered animals, but when I first started out I purchased unregistered animals. A few unregistered goats make a great starting point for the new goat keeper. They are less expensive and usually more readily available. Papers don't milk - just because a goat is not registered does not mean she won't be a great milk goat for your family. Registered animals cost more but the benefits include selling kids for more, genetic database tools that help you track traits, and performance programs. I prefer to buy goats from herds that participate in performance programs such as showing, milk testing, and linear appraisal. These programs help me judge the quality of the animal in reference to others of the same breed.
Decide if you want a Kid, a Doe in Milk, or a dry Adult Doe.
Kid: Determine if you want bottle fed kids or dam nursed kids. When you go to pick up your kid(s), pay special attention to their mom. If allowed, milk mom or at least inspect her udder. You want a soft, smooth udder with no sores, redness, heat, swelling, extra teats (goats only have 2), or injuries. Teats should be evenly spaces and should hang plumb downward. First time moms will have smaller sized teats, but any doe beyond her second freshening should have large, long teats that are easy to grasp and easy to milk. Ask about milk records on mom, how much and how long she produces. If the breeder doesn't keep written records take whatever they say with a grain of salt - folks tend to overestimate production in their minds. Make sure you inspect the kid herself, particularly her teats (no extras or deformities) and her mouth (no overbites or cleft palette). A note on bottle kids - make sure they are taking the bottle well, not still nursing from mom. Confirm with the seller that the bottle kid received adequate colostrum.
Doe in Milk: If you are buying a doe in milk insist upon milking her. When I sell does in milk I prefer buyers to come and milk her twice to make sure they are comfortable. Does she get on the stand readily or have to be caught and dragged to the milk stand? Does she stand politely, or does she kick and thrash? Is her udder free of sores, redness, heat, swelling, extra teats, or injuries? Are her teats of good size and easy for you to milk, or is she a first freshener? Is the milk free of clumps, blood, and off flavors? (Definitely taste the milk!) If the doe has freshened before ask about her milking history - how long did she milk before and how much did she produce?
Dry Doe: Inspect her as you would a kid. Ask about her milking history if she has freshened before - how long did she milk before and how much did she produce? If she has kidded in the past did she have any trouble?
Pregnant Doe: I do not buy or sell bred does because the stress of moving can be in invitation for disaster. If you do buy a pregnant doe, get one that is no further than 2 months into gestation. Moving a doe 3 months and later in gestation can induce an abortion. Make sure you get a due date/breeding date for the doe and a full health record. If she has kidded before ask about previous kidding problems. If the doe is registered make sure you get the appropriate service memo to register the kids.