Considering dairy goats? What you should know…
If you are considering dairy goats for your homestead, you should really think about it carefully. Goats are wonderful animals to have around the homestead. They are intelligent, curious, affectionate and can contribute much to your homestead and your life. Goats can have endearing personalities and many will follow you around like a puppy dog and love to be petted and scratched.
But because of their intelligence and curiosity, if you are not prepared and don’t have a proper setup, goats can also be the biggest pain in the butt you have ever encountered in your life and make you curse the day you, and they were born.
When considering dairy goats, you owe it to yourself and to the goats to make sure you know what you are getting into and are prepared.
Why dairy goats?
Other than that goats can make great pets and really cool pasture decorations for the homestead; there are some other useful benefits goats can bring to the table (literally in some cases!).
Dairy goats are frequently found on the homestead, and for a good reason. The milk that they contribute can be used for drinking or making other products such as cheese, yogurt, kefir, and ice cream.
Raw Milk – Kefir and Yougurt
I won’t even try to cover all of the benefits of raw goats milk here, but I promise to in the near future. Suffice it to say, that raw milk from your farm or homestead is a living, whole raw food. It’s a superfood that’s full of minerals, vitamins, is high in calcium and low in cholesterol. It’s highly digestible and has many beneficial probiotics and enzymes. This is in contrast to the highly processed (pasteurized and homogenized) milk you buy in the grocery store, which is a dead product, that does your body more harm than good.
Big dairy companies and their money are behind all the raw milk slander and warnings you will hear from the government. Claims by the FDA and the CDC that raw milk is dangerous have been extensively researched and have been found to be intentionally misleading by twisting facts and manipulating numbers. If you want to know the real story, I recommend the book “The Raw Truth About Milk” by Dr. William Campbell Douglas II. Another good book, which is also an audiobook, is, “The Raw Milk Answer Book,” by David E Gumpert.
Many people have found goats milk to help with or even eliminate allergies, eczema, and asthma. I have heard more than one account of stomach cancer being eliminated by drinking raw goats milk.
Yogurt and kefir can be easily made from raw goats milk. Flavor these homestead creations with some fruit or honey and, Yum! As good as yogurt is for your gut, kefir is like yogurt on steroids!
Goats milk sometimes gets a bad rap for having an off, or “Goaty” taste. If the milk is properly cared for and from a healthy, well-fed goat, it will almost surely be wonderfully creamy, and great tasting, with no “goaty” flavor at all. Don’t even think of comparing it to the nasty, processed, “Goat’s Milk” in the paper carton in your grocery store.
It is true that there are a few goats that genetically have off-flavored milk. I imagine it is the same with cows. I have milked and drank the milk from many goats and have only ever had one doe who had an “off” flavor. She was bred for the show ring though, and not for milk quality.
I have also tasted raw goats milk that has come from large (150 plus goats) goat dairies, which consistently had a slightly “goaty” flavor. When you have the milk from that many goats getting all mixed together, even a few goats with off-flavored milk will affect the taste to some extent. When you are a homesteader or a small producer, you can know if an individual goat is giving you off-flavor milk. You can then check her health, adjust her feed or on rare occasions replace the doe if need be.
Anytime I have anyone taste my goat’s milk, the typical reaction is, “Wow!, this is really good, tastes just like milk! Can I get some from you?”
Grinding up their bones?!
A year or so after getting our first goats, my brother Jason came to visit. He lives in Denver, and I’m not sure he’d ever seen a real goat up close before. Jason was fascinated by the strange horned creatures but wasn’t really sure what the point was in our keeping them. I explained, “Well, we drink the milk, make cheese and also make soap!” Milk and cheese made sense to him, but the soap had him a might confused. “Soap? How do you make soap from them? Do you grind up their bones or something?” He was dead serious.
I set Jason straight and assured him that we didn’t butcher our dairy goats and bleach their bones in the sun so we could grind them up and scrub our bodies in the shower with cakes of powdered goat bones. By the way, if you are not sure, goat milk is the product we use in our soap.
Benefits of goat milk soap
Goat milk is increasingly becoming the liquid of choice for many homestead and artisan soap makers. I’ve read that Cleopatra’s beauty secret was bathing in goats milk.
Goats milk contains alpha-hydroxy acids that help remove dead skin cells and leave your skin looking younger. Goats milk soap also contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals and will moisturize your skin. It won’t dry skin out as many other soaps do. When I use my homemade goat’s milk soap, it heals the cracks and rough skin on my hands without having to use moisturizers or hand cream.
If a pack goat could pack, how much could a pack goat pack?….
Wethers (castrated male goats) can also be super friendly and make excellent pack animals that can carry up to fifty pounds or more, or be trained to pull a cart.
I do keep a few wethers as pets and pack goats. I love backpacking, but the older I get, the more I dread the part about carrying the heavy pack. Pack goats to the rescue! Pack goats require very minimal training, will normally follow you without the need for a lead, and can go where no horse possibly could. A few pack goats or even a whole string of them can be very helpful to a hunter when packing in a camp or packing out meat. Pack goats are becoming very popular with a lot of hunters in the Pacific Northwest.
When out on the trail, goats will feed themselves on available browse, therefore eliminating the need to bring along any feed for them. A pack goat can carry 25% to 30% of its body weight, and dairy goat wethers typically weigh 175 and up. Full-size dairy breed wethers routinely reach 200 lbs. Some very large goats can be over 300 pounds. So depending on the size and conditioning of your pack goat, he can lighten your load anywhere from 45 to 75 pounds and be an enjoyable wilderness companion.
Goats for meat
Having never raised goats for meat, I am not really knowledgeable about it. I do know that goat breeds such as Boers and Kikos are widely used for table meat. In fact, goat meat is reported to be the most common meat eaten in the world. I tend to get rather attached to many of my goats, so butchering them, to me, would be akin to butchering the family dog. So, therefore, I don’t do meat goats. Not faulting those who do, but I like my dairy goats. At least most of them. Occasionally I will have one whose personality I am not so fond of, and they find themselves being re-homed via Craigslist.
Why I think keeping dairy goats is better than keeping a cow…
Compared to cows, dairy goats are cheaper to buy. It’s true that a single dairy cow can give you more milk than a single goat. Plan on six or seven gallons a day for the cow and typically one to two gallons a day for a doe. The cow, however, can eat between thirty and fifty pounds of feed or more per day. A goat in milk will eat about five to seven pounds of dry feed per day. Cows will also drink 30- 50 gallons of water per day, more if it’s really hot. This might be significant if you’re on a slow producing well or if you haul water.
Milk considerations, cow vs. goat
Goats milk is more digestible than cows milk and is lower in lactose. Many people who cannot drink cows milk have no issues drinking goats milk. Goats milk is higher in calcium and medium chain fatty acids and is lower in cholesterol than moo milk.
Goats are cleaner in the backside than are cows, which is of significance if you are milking. Cow manure is generally wet and can splatter all over the cow’s backside, including its udder and teats. On the other hand, goat manure comes out in uniformly compact and relatively dry pellets, which fall to the ground.
Speaking of manure, goat manure is not hot like cow manure and won’t attract insects as cow manure does. You can place goat manure onto the vegetable garden, herb garden, flower garden or orchard. No need to compost it first. Don’t try that with cow manure.
Cows, Great White Sharks and Goats
Goats are also smaller, and therefore much easier to handle than a 1500 pound cow. Did you know that every year cows kill more people than sharks do? Sharks account for an average of five deaths per year, while on the average, cows send twenty-two people per year to meet their maker! It seems more appropriate that the Discovery Channel should have, “Cow Week,” rather than, “Shark Week.”
I have never heard of a goat killing anyone, other than a hiker in Washington who was gored to death by a wild mountain goat. That doesn’t really count.
Are you really up for the task?
Before you make the leap into keeping dairy goats, there are several other things to consider. First, for nine or ten months out of the year, does will have to be milked daily. Milking twice a day is best for maximum production. You can work your goat down to a once a day milking. You could also keep the kids around to drink the milk and relieve the does udders when you’re not around to do so. More often, kids who are not going to be kept on the homestead are weaned at about three months and sold. A substitute milker will be necessary if you ever want to go out of town. You will find out real fast who your good friends are. Friends or family who feed and water animals for you are one thing, those who will milk your goats are a rare gem indeed!
A few requirements to consider…
Goats require a constant supply of clean, fresh water, daily feedings of quality hay and/or pasture. You should supplement hay and pasture with grain or other concentrated feed such as alfalfa pellets. Minerals are also essential for goat health. You may need to give vaccines, wormers, and medications. There will be hoofs you will need to trim. Goats do not need an extravagant shelter. They will need at least a three-sided structure that will provide shade and shelter from the wind, rain, and snow. Caprines detest being wet.
Goats don’t require a whole lot of room. An area the size of a typical backyard could easily work for half a dozen full-size goats. They do enjoy something to climb and keep themselves entertained with.
Goats are on the menu of quite a few toothy critters. If you have any predators larger than fox (although a fox could potentially kill a young goat kid), you must think about protecting your goats. Roaming dogs will also sometimes kill goats for sport. I have friends who have lost full-size goats to dogs, bears, and lions. Coyotes will kill or maim a goat given a chance. Locking your goats inside a barn at night, high fencing and using livestock guardian dogs are all measures that can be taken to protect your animals.
Proper fencing is also a must. When we first got goats, we were renting a house on 65 acres. I thought that I’d confine the goats at night in the barn. In the daytime, I let them free range on the property. It turned out that goats really love playing king of the mountain on top of your new Land Cruiser. Who knew? Leave the door open to your house for a few seconds, and they are in your living room relieving themselves on top of your leather couch (true story). So yes, good fencing is mandatory. Barbed wire won’t contain a goat, and will shred the udders of your does. Heavy woven wire type fence is good and electric fencing will work if it is strong enough. The earlier in a goats life it gets a good high voltage fence shock, the better.
Also keep in mind…
There are also a variety of parasites and diseases to contend with. Warm, damp climates will increase the severity of these pests. Colder and drier areas of the country seem to have significantly fewer worms and parasites.
Does will need to be bred and produce offspring to give you milk. Keeping a buck or finding a good one to breed your does every year is also part of the equation. So is kidding and finding homes for all those kids.
Don’t forget, goats are herd animals; you can’t have just one goat by herself.
Lots to think about
If after considering all of the above, you decide you are up to the challenge the commitment, congratulations! I commend you and will try my best to help you succeed!
In the next post, I will review different breeds of dairy goats