Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dairy Goats- you need one

When someone finds something that works and is enjoyable, they tend to evangelize their methods or discovery with the world.  Such is this post where in I tell everyone precisely why they simply must have their own dairy goats.

I'll start with our journey which began in the fall of '07 with 2 Nigerian Dwarf does.  We planned to tether them to trees in the would-be pasture during the day, enclose them in step-in electric fencing at night or when we weren't home and let them clear their own living space.  That didn't work as well as planned... ok, it didn't work at all.  They got repeatedly tangled around trees and brush and didn't eat the palmetto scrub that filled our land.  We ended up keeping them in the front yard for a year while we cleared (with heavy equipment) the back half of our property and fenced it.  Then came fencing... we planned to do barb/electric fencing in a high tensile fashion because that was cheapest.  But we didn't rent a stretcher and didn't know a lick about getting proper insulators for the posts.  And posts at proper 8' intervals would have broke the bank so we actually marked and saved trees and danced our pasture fencing around to use them as posts instead.  Husbandman gave me the fence for Christmas of '08... and the first goat we put inside immediately turned and walked out, straight through our barbwire/electric fence.  And no, we didn't electrify the barb wire, but we had plain wire in between that was supposed to be electrified.  With that disaster behind us, we then saved up and bought enough 3' woven wire fencing to go around the perimeter.  That kept them in.  We started milking Christmas of '07, traded up to full-sized goats in the spring of '10 and have learned a LOT along the way.  On to discussing all that learning:

Fencing- While I don't advise anyone to go quite as redneck as we poor, living-on-love honeymooning parents did, there are some things I do advise to anyone keeping goats. They aren't as hard to contain as people make them out to be.  If you do a fence right, they'll stay in.  Our suggestion is to use sturdy trees and fence posts every 8 feet.  Use cement on corners at least.  4-5' welded wire with 2"x4" openings (or no climb fence) is best.  Using a stretcher is good too, but not imperative.  Also add 1 or 2 strands of barbed wire inside right at goat body height.  This prevents them from using posts as scratchers and pushing your posts over.  3' fencing with 1 or 2 strands of barb wire over it work fine too.

Breeds- There's more variation between the goats and their personalities than between the breeds.  If you want meat, boer is the breed of choice.  Pygmies would be the smaller version.  Milking goats are basically everything else.  Nigerian dwarfs we found to not give enough milk.  We had heard nubians were the hardest to contain.  Our nubian has only once ever gotten out and that was when a storm took down a portion of fencing and everyone got out before we knew what was going on.  The buck has been the hardest to contain... but again, that's been with using unstretched chainlink we found on the side of the road and bendable aluminum posts.  Do a real fence... ya know, like spend at least SOME money on it, and they'll respect it.  We kept our nigerian buck even when we upsized because he's sweet tempered and if he does get ornery (which all bucks do some), he's small enough for me to take down.  We're in it for the milk, not the babies (who we sell anyway) so them being mutts really doesn't matter.  Besides, mini-nubians and mini-manchas are gaining in popularity now anyway.  If you want a dairy goat, its best to get a goat from someone who milks them.  Goat kids drink about a quart a day, but if a full-sized goat only gave that in a day, they'd be considered a rather poor milker.  But keep in mind that the cast-off's from someone who's really serious about milkers may be a great find for a decent price.  Helen came from a lady who had a huge spread.  She gave lots of milk but once turned out on that big spread where she had to forage for herself, she dropped.  Her conformation is terrible (sshhhhh, don't tell her I said that!) and being on her feet that long... well, she'd rather starve.  Our set-up suits her fine.  She can lay down and stick her head in the hay basket and then give her gallon a day.  And another thing when looking for stock, we've learned "bottle babies" are the way to go.  If they're bottle fed at birth, they will always be easy to handle for milking.

Milking- The process of milking is really quite simple.  Squeeze the teats in different ways until you get something out, then repeat what you just did.  Refine as you go.  We don't have a fancy stanchion.  We have 1/2" plywood on four 4"x4"s about 12" high.  We built it low to make it easy for dwarf goats to get on.  Build it higher for bigger goats.  We built a hobo bucket holder (call it an after market addition) because they kept knocking the feed bucket off.  We have an eye screw in just before the bucket holder with a chain and clip which we use to keep them on the table. (Right by the milk jug... which is just another redneck remedy for something else). It does hold them if they really want down (these goats are big enough to simply knock the table over and drag it with them), but it deters them enough from moving to milk them out.  We also have an eye hook by each back foot.  I cut up an old dog leash and re-sewed it to be a loop of fabric with a clip on it.  We wrap the loop around an ankle, slip the clip end through and lock to the eye hook.  They hate it, but it keeps their feet still while they're learning to be milked or while shaving udders and such.  We don't do that for each milking because they're just calmer without it once they know the drill.  You can see Husbandman teaching a friend the milking procedure.  Milk into a small stainless steel bowl (we set it on another bucket to get it close to the udder making aiming much easier) then frequently dump into a bigger container (which is a stainless steel pot with a lid just barely visible under the table.  The white and green thing was our old small bucket holder and still serves an occasional purpose.)  This means that if they kick the bowl or junk falls in, you only loose a little and not your whole milking.  After milking, we use a dairy filter that fits in a special strainer that flows into a mason jar.  We put a plastic lid on the jar and label it for the day and morning or evening.

  Why not cows?-  We don't know why everyone is so cow happy.  Goats are family sized.  Lets look at the economy of scale for a cow:  The heifer calf if born.  2 years later its bred.  9 months later it "freshens" or gives birth.  You milk an insane amount of milk for7-9 months where you may not be able to use it all.  The time to make all that cheese, butter and yogurt doesn't increase with the quantity.  The cow can still get testy, only its 1200-1800 lbs of testy.  To breed her you need a bull... those aren't fun.  So you either bring on an expensive artificial inseminater or you buy a bull or you haul your cow to the nearest bull in town.  And you better have a LOT of land if you're going to keep 2 cows so you have 1 giving milk while the other is dry.  So basically after 3 years and a bunch of money, you have more milk than you can use followed by a long stretch with nothing.

Now let's look at a goat.  You buy a young kid, raise it 18 months and get it bred.  If you don't want a buck, you put it in a dog crate, toss her in the truck and bring her to a buck.  5 months later you get a gallon a day.  A usable but abundant amount of milk.  For the space of a cow you can keep 3-4 goats meaning you can easily always have 1 or 2 in milk.  If a goat gets testy, its 100-150 pounds of testy.  They don't want to stand to be milked, you're strong enough to force them.  If its a cow... well have fun.  And goats have personality.  And no, I'm not saying that as a nice way to say they're quirky.  They really are fun creatures.  But the biggest difference is just the safety of smaller size.  I don't worry about my kids being around them.  The worst that could happen is they get knocked down.  With a cow, they could get knocked down and stepped on resulting in major bone breakage and worse.  Big scale production means big scale problems. 

So there's my 2 cents worth.  Now go find yourself a goat!


  1. I definitely want 2 goats. Hoping to be able to purchase 1 already in milk and 1 a bit younger. I loved the Nubians I met this weekend, but my research tells me that they are the unhealthiest of all the breeds. What about LaManchas?


  2. Weeelllllll, I hadn't heard that they are the unhealthiest, but that's certainly the case in our heard. Poor Helen is just shaped all wrong. I don't know if that's something they're more prone to or not. Our lamancha is great. She gives a little less milk than Helen, but is more consistent with it. I would like another nubian because they can be bred any time of year. I want milk all year, not just spring to early winter.

  3. I love goats. Sadly, my husband's only response is, "You don't know how much I really don't want goats." The guys he works with aren't helping, telling him what a pain there's were before they gave them up.

  4. Agreed! But Saanens are so wonderful! My breed of choice!

  5. So sad Dana! Especially because goats all have personalities. His coworker just had some bad personalities.

    Danielle, I'd be fine with Saanens except the seasonality. We have 1 goat that's seasonal (only bred in fall) and that's really all we can do and keep milk flowing all year. :-(