Following is a list of things we wish we would have known when we started as well as things we learned along the way that can be helpful. Still under construction, so check back often!
Wise is the one who budgets well.
Animals are not cheap! Our five goats cost us at least $2500 as of February 2010 (small steel barn, fencing, hay, feed, minerals, supplies, the goats themselves) - that was in ten months - and we had not even bought milking supplies yet. Figure a budget, then add ten percent to that just to get through the first year and plan on that still not being enough (I figured about $2500 for the first year and we were already at that at ten months in).
Wise is the one who has strong fences and solid walls.
The grass is always greener and better tasting on the other side of the fence...and the other pen always has more comfortable bedding and better tasting hay. Make sure that does can't get to the bucks, and vice versa, and make sure that roosters can only breed the hens you want them to - all chickens are the same species.
Wise is the one who is prepared for every emergency and illness.
Have some basic first aid supplies on hand, even if you are certified organic. Our bucks like to regularly head butt. Sometimes they are too hard on each other and one gets a bloody head (bleeding from near the horn base). In the summer in particular all bloody wounds need to be wrapped in gauze (and probably sterilized with peroxide if you can) to prevent fly strike. No fly strike in cold climates during the winter, but wounds should still be wrapped. Chickens need to be observed regularly - if one or more develops a taste for chicken blood, they will systematically peck, drink blood, and kill the other chickens one by one.
Wise is the one who can keep predators at bay.
Predator control and prevention is key...especially during the leaner winter months. Roosters can help protect hens from airborne attacks but you might lose the rooster in the process. Ground attacks can be minimized with good fencing, or sonar predator deterrents.
Wise is the one who prioritizes and knows both what one truly wants and needs.
If you're like Nathan, you'll want to add lots of animals of different species all at once. Start with one, maybe two species your first year (we did goats and chickens) and add maybe one or two species each year afterward. Just feeding and watering our goats and chickens twice a day plus egg collection takes an hour a day plus at least an extra half-hour each week for other maintenance...plus you need to find someone who can feed animals and check for eggs when you are away. Adding ducks this year will probably add another fifteen-thirty minutes a day.
Wise is the one who finds good animal care for vacations far ahead of time
For vacations when goats are milking...look for someone who can commit to five to ten minutes per goat every twelve hours before you even book your plane tickets or reserve a hotel room.
Adult chickens (at least our heavy breeds) each eat approximately two pounds of grain a week if given no other food (no pasture, etc.) This doesn't sound like a lot, but when you have 25 chickens in a coop during the winter, that's 50 pounds of grain a week. Budget appropriately and always have at least one extra bag on hand for every two dozen chickens you have.
While most chicken breeds will do well on pasture for feeding themselves, it appears that laying hens still need a bit of grain, nuts, or seeds each day to be at top production.
Most large hatcheries do not aim to sell show-winning poultry, although most use show-quality breeding stock. If you want show stock, purchase from a private breeder who breeds to the American standard of perfection for Poultry.
Show quality animals may not be the best producers, and your best producers may never win in a show based solely on physical appearance of your chicken.
Plan on losing ten to fifteen percent of your flock every year to predators and other untimely deaths.
Goats can be very loving and kind animals to humans. Don't encourage bad manners though...some persons don't want a goat to stand on its hind legs with its forelegs placed on the person's chest, begging for a treat. Goats also need to be well-socialized to each other, not just to humans.
Goat bites hurt if they use their back teeth...be careful sticking your finger in their mouths to let them suck, especially with adult goats.
Goats can be rather piggish with grain, and Nigerian does who are dry only "need" about a half-cup twice a day, and only if there is no alfalfa or high-quality pasture in their diet.
Goats, even those in milk, can do well without any grain as long as their hay has alfalfa in it and/or they have a high-quality pasture to browse.
Goats like to test fences...so make sure holes are patched a.s.a.p. and every foot of goat height needs two feet height in fence to keep them contained.