Raising dairy goats for your family's milk supply
The goat is a friendly animal and easy to keep. With proper attention, goats are generally healthy and affordable.
One or two goats can furnish fresh milk for a family on a year-round basis. Surplus milk can be used for butter or cheese or to raise other young animals. Goat's milk is sometimes recommended for infants or elderly persons since it is easily digestible.
If you plan to keep a dairy goat for family milk, you should be certain the animal is tested and is free of disease. A local veterinarian can help you with this.
Some communities have zoning laws or ordinances that prohibit goats or other animals in urban areas. Check the regulations for your area.
There are five main breeds of dairy goats. They are Toggenburg (pictured here), Saanen, Nubian, Alpine, and American La Mancha.
- READ MORE: 12 popular goat breeds
Certain characteristics are stronger in some breeds than others. Toggenburgs are recognized for long lactations, with fat content of milk averaging 3.8 percent. Saanens are larger goats and are recognized for being heavy milkers, with 3.5 percent fat average. The smaller Nubians are noted for higher milk fat than the other breeds. Alpines are recognized as a hardy breed and milk well, producing about 3.5 percent fat milk. A characteristic of the La Mancha breed is no visible external ears. They are large animals and good milkers, with milk at about 4 percent fat. Angora and pygmy goats are not good milk animals.
Consider getting a breed for which you can obtain buck service from a breeder in your community. Check with your county Extension office or local farm publications for breeders in your area.
Buying a goat
Since most people want only to supply family milk, good grade or non-registered goats will serve this purpose. For a variety of reasons you may prefer to buy registered, pedigreed animals, but the cost will be higher. If your goal is milk, your chief concern will be the milking ability of the goat. Total milk production depends on amount of milk daily and how long the doe will produce before going dry.
According to the Oregon State University Extension Service, a good milker will produce an average of 2 1/2 to 3 quarts daily, over a period of 9 to 10 months. Such goats may produce up to 1 1/2 gallons daily during the peak period of lactation and between 1 and 2 quarts later in the lactation. Two goats, bred to freshen 3 to 4 months apart, should assure some milk every day of the year.
Goats are ruminants, like cows and sheep. Thus the principles of feeding are similar. Goats require large amounts of good forages, supplied by hay, browse from brush and shrubbery, and pasture. Like cows, goats need good quality feed to maintain their bodies and to provide nutrients for milk production.
- READ MORE: What to feed goats
In the summer, pasture and browse can supply most of the forage ration, and may reduce the grain needed for a milking animal by up to one-half, depending on the body condition of the animal.
A ration for a milking doe should include 2 or 3 pounds per day of grain or commercial concentrate feed and, when pasture and browse are not available, 3 or more pounds of good clover or alfalfa hay, available free-choice. The grain can be a 16 percent protein dairy grain, available at your local feed store.
If only fair quality grass hay is available, the amount of grain or concentrate mix should be increased about one-fourth. To ensure that each animal gets its share of grain, feed them in separate stalls or tie them individually, with their own ration.
Some goat raisers feed grain at the rate of 1/2 pound grain daily for each quart of milk produced. This practice assumes the goats also get their proper share of hay or other roughage. Dry does in the winter should get about 1/2 pound grain daily plus all the hay they want and plenty of fresh water.
Dry does in summer, with good pasture and browse, can get all their needs from these forage sources. Keep a block of trace mineralized salt available to the goats, along with plenty of fresh, clean drinking water.
- READ MORE: Goats add grazing diversity
The ingredients of most feeds normally furnish adequate nutrients at the suggested feeding levels, so there is no distinct advantage in using special stock tonics. Do not delay calling your veterinarian in situations of illness or infection.
If you want goats to clean up weeds, remember that some plants give milk an off-flavor or may be toxic. Goats generally are "dainty" feeders, so keep their feed clean. Prevent puddles and stagnant pools of water where goats are kept or fed in corrals and pens.
Clean, fresh water must be provided and protected against contamination. To stay healthy and produce well, goats must drink large quantities of water. Water tanks should be constructed so they can be drained and cleaned.
Breeding young does
You can breed a doe when she is 9 months old or weighs 80 to 95 pounds. Locate a buck of the breed desired well ahead of time. Most breeders will require that a veterinarian certify the health of your doe.
Does show signs of "heat" (estrus), or receptivity to breeding, for 2 or 3 days every 3 weeks (21 days) in the late winter. Visible signs are restlessness, bleating, frequent urinating, swollen and reddened vulva, and a flagging or twitching tail. After breeding, make a record of the service date. Watch for signs of heat again 3 weeks later, and if none are observed, the doe is probably pregnant.
Count 21 weeks ahead on the calendar from the breeding date, and mark as the date due. Does will "kid," or give birth, 145 to 150 days after conception.
Ordinarily, a doe gives birth quickly and often with no one present. For this reason, a few days ahead of the date due, put the doe in a clean, freshly bedded pen. Be sure she has a supply of clean water to drink and a box for feed. Early signs of labor include lying down and standing frequently, bleating, or pawing the floor.
- READ MORE: Kidding pens
If the doe seems to have trouble or labors more than 2 hours, call a veterinarian or someone familiar with goat or sheep births.
As soon as possible after a kid is born, clear its nose of membranes or mucous to prevent suffocation. Disinfect the navel cord with iodine and dry the kid.
Be sure the doe's teats are functional by gently milking a stream from each teat. Clear wet bedding and afterbirth from the pen.
The first milk of a fresh animal is called colostrum. It is valuable and necessary for all newborn animals to have colostrum as their first feed. Do not milk the doe completely for the first 24 hours after kidding, so the newborn kids get this colostrum.
Any colostrum not needed for the kids can be frozen in small containers for future use and for kids that may be weak, sick, or off-feed.
If kids are to be bottle or hand-fed, put them in a bedded box free from drafts. Some goat raisers find it more convenient in raising kids to teach them to drink from a pan rather than a bottle. Teaching a young animal to drink can be frustrating, but be patient. It may be easier if the kid never suckles the doe. Remember that newborn kids must have colostrum milk the first two feedings at least, regardless of the method of milk feeding.
Feed warmed milk (95 to 100 degrees F) to kids 3 times daily for the first 2 weeks, using 1 cup (1/2 pint) milk per feeding. At 2 weeks of age, have some grain or calf meal and some good leafy hay available for the kids to eat. Milk can be discontinued at 3 to 4 months of age, if kids are eating a high-protein concentrate mix and appear to be growing normally.
Allow adequate space for kids to exercise, run, and play. Play becomes part of their growing requirements.
Milking the doe
Does should be fed their grain as they are milked. A milking stand or platform is convenient during milking. Milk your goats regularly every 12 hours. Generally, goats are milked at the right side, but they can be trained to milk from either side.
- READ MORE: Mastitis in goats
After the 4th day following freshening, goat milk may be used for human food. It is just as important to produce clean, high-quality milk for use at home as when producing milk for sale to others.
One minute before milking, wash the udder with warm water, then dry it. This stimulates milk letdown and helps assure clean milk.
The first squirt drawn from each teat should be discarded, but not milked onto the floor. Be sure both sides of the udder are thoroughly milked out. Incomplete milking leaves the higher fat-content milk in the udder. In addition, the doe will adjust to less milk yield and she may go dry earlier than she would otherwise.
Care of the milk
Rapid cooling is necessary for high-quality and good-flavored milk. Protect the milk container from foreign material. Upon completion of the milking, set the container into a large pan of cold water for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to hasten the cooling. Water cooling removes heat from the milk faster than just setting the container of warm milk in the refrigerator for the same length of time. After the milk has been cooled in water, you can put it in the refrigerator.
Stop milking and allow goats to "dry up" 6 to 8 weeks before they again are due to kid. To turn dry, simply reduce the feed and quit milking the doe. The udder may become slightly congested for a few days, but soon the milk will be reabsorbed into the body. If mastitis, or udder infection, has been a problem during lactation, a veterinarian can prescribe an antibiotic treatment that is most effective in the dry period.