What Are Goats Good For?? Raising Dairy Goats and the Benefits of Goat Milk...

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Learn about the benefits of goat milk and the value dairy goats provide to the homestead.

Whether your property is one acre or several hundred, sloping or flat, crowded with brush or completely forested, you can still raise dairy goats for milk. Two goats will produce enough quality fresh milk — with each doe averaging 3 quarts a day for 10 months — to feed your family all year. Add a few more goats and you'll have enough milk for making cheese, yogurt and even ice cream.

Goat milk ice cream?  Some of you might be raising your eyebrows right now because you've heard goat milk tastes funny. We could blame the funny-taste fallacy on a conspiracy concocted by those comical Far Side cows. But more likely it is because someone kept the buck among the herd, especially at milking time. A buck can be quite odoriferous, and his strong, musky scent can permeate the milk. The fact is, properly collected goat milk tastes just as good as cow milk. Some people believe it tastes better.

"I have a friend whose brother refused to drink goat milk because he knew he wouldn't like it", says 20-year goat veteran Gail Damerow, editor of Rural Heritage magazine and author of Your Goats and Raising Milk Goats Successfully. Gail's friend bought a carton of cow's milk from the store for her visiting brother. After he emptied the carton, his sister refilled it with fresh goat milk. The scenario continued until a week later, when he noticed the carton looked a bit worn around the edges. She admitted he'd been drinking goat milk all week. He became an instant convert.


More of the world's people consume goat milk than cow milk. Goats are hardy animals: They adapt well to heat and cold, productively forage and graze, require little space, and are inexpensive to keep. Since mature does (females) usually weigh between 120 and 135 pounds (dwarf breeds can weigh between 35 and 85 pounds), they're much easier to handle than hefty cows, which can weigh 1,000 pounds each. Goats may surprise you in other ways, as well. They're highly intelligent, remarkably friendly creatures. And, since they're active, extremely agile and very curious, their antics can amuse you for hours. With all that in mind, it's easy to see why dairy goats can be the ideal addition to today's family farm or homestead.

The Dairy Breeds

There are more than 200 different goat breeds worldwide; six primary breeds dominate the dairy goat arena: Alpines, Oberhaslis, Saanens, Toggenburgs, LaManchas and Nubians. While all breeds generally do well in most of the country, the first four breeds listed are well-suited to cooler climates since their origins can be traced to Swiss mountain regions. LaManchas and Nubians hail from tropical and desert climates where it's warmer, and they tolerate hot summer conditions better than the Swiss breeds.

You can recognize Alpine goats by their upright ears and long necks. This medium-to-large, hardy breed also milks well. Their coats are two-toned, with black and white the most common colors.

Oberhaslis have distinctive coloration, and are usually bay (reddish brown) with black markings or sometimes completely black. A beautiful medium-to-small breed, Oberhaslis don't produce quite as much milk as the other breeds.

Saanens are commonly referred to as the Holstein of the goat world. Noted as heavy milkers, they are often the breed used in commercial dairies. One of the larger breeds, amiable Saanens are usually all white.

Toggenburg coat colors range from fawn to deep chocolate. A medium-size breed known for long lactations, their inquisitive nature can sometimes become quite challenging.

LaManchas are unique from the other breeds in that they have no visible external ears. (The ears are actually just very small.) Another well-known trait is their calm and gentle nature. Also noted as a good milker, this larger breed comes in many colors.

Several characteristics distinguish Nubians from other dairy breeds: They have floppy ears, a convex, Roman nose and an energetic disposition some say is just plain stubborn. Another large breed with myriad coat colors, Nubians are known as the jerseys of the goat world for producing milk with high butterfat content.

Longtime goat breeders Ray and Dene Engeman, of Marcola, Oregon, raise Nubians and LaManchas on six sloping, forested acres. "When we first moved here 36 years ago, it didn't take too long to figure out a milk cow wouldn't be able to manage these slopes," says Dene. "We fell in love with the LaManchas' gentle disposition and calm nature, and chose Nubians for their pendulous ears and variety of colors," she adds. "However, LaManchas remain our personal favorite."

One up-and-coming dairy breed you might want to consider is the Nigerian Dwarf, a West African native that is turning out to be a surprisingly good milker. Cheryl Smith, editor of Ruminations, Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat Magazine, acquired her first Nigerians about four years ago. The breed's smaller size — mature does weigh between 30 and 50 pounds — friendly personality and variation in coat color make Nigerians very appealing. Despite their small size, Nigerian does kid (give birth) very easily. But the best thing, says Cheryl, is the fact that Nigerian milk has extremely high butterfat and protein content. The higher protein means you get more cheese out of the milk. Toward the end of a lactation, Cheryl says, the butterfat can reach 8 to 10 percent, compared with about 3.5 to 6 percent for other breeds.

Depending on the breed you choose and your location, the expense of purchasing a goat can vary widely. Expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $500, depending on whether or not the goat is registered. Buy registered goats if you want to compete in shows. Above all, try to buy your goats from a breeder who lives nearby. That way the goats are already adapted to your climate, plus you can see the environment where they were raised.

There are many ways to find a goat breeder. Start by visiting goat shows at your county or state fair. Get a referral from your local feed store or county extension office. You can also contact the American Dairy Goat Association or the specific organization that promotes your chosen breed for a list of local breeders. It's best to avoid livestock auctions or sale barns. Most importantly, invest in the best quality goats you can afford: You'll be glad you did.

Goats are a friendly bunch and enjoy being in each other's company, so always start off with at least two goats.

Give your goats plenty of outside space where they can play, exercise and forage to their hearts' content.

Getting Started Raising Dairy Goats

As with any farm animal, certain needs should be provided for before bringing your goats home. For starters, goats need some type of shelter. It doesn't need to be anything elaborate, just a place that's clean, dry and draft-free yet well-ventilated. It can be anything from an old outbuilding to a small shed or barn.

In her book Your Goats, Gail recommends at least 15 square feet of housing per goat. Miniature goats can get by on less, about 10 square feet per goat. Stalls should be equipped with a rack for hay, a trough or box for grain, and a water pail holder. Include extra space for storing feed and other supplies, as well as a stand for milking. Separate the storage and milk areas from the goat quarters with a wall or partition that’s 4 feet high. It's important to keep the goats' bedding clean and dry. Top off the bedding as needed with fresh straw and replace bedding that gets damp or soiled. And remember: Goat manure and bedding are great for the garden.

Give your goats plenty of outside space where they can play, exercise and forage to their hearts’ content. While some experts suggest 200 square feet as the minimum, more space is even better, especially if you want to give your goats access to fresh forage. Of course, goats with room to roam come with a price: good, sturdy fencing. A fence that keeps in cows or even sheep doesn't guarantee goats can't wander beyond its boundaries. They can squeeze through openings, nudge their way through weak areas and hop a fence if a large rock or elevated ground is nearby. A woven-wire or high-tensile electric fence at least 4 feet high is best for property boundaries. Keep the spacing tight on the lower portion of the fence so the younger goats can't get through. An electric fence works just fine for dividing the pasture into plots.

It's best to allow your goats access to pasture and forage. They'll eat whatever is available: Goats are opportunistic feeders and appreciate a varied diet. This characteristic not only saves you time and labor, but helps reduce your feeding costs. Try to keep an eye on what's growing in your pasture, though; some types of plant, such as wild onions, can drastically alter the flavor of the milk. Make sure your goats have some type of roughage year-round, such as twigs, bark, leaves or pasture. Corn and sunflower stalks from the garden are another good source, as well as a fine-stemmed hay, such as alfalfa or clover.

In addition to pasture and/or forage, a milking doe should receive 2 to 3 pounds of commercial feed each day, such as a 16 percent dairy ration, along with 3 or more pounds of hay. The amount will vary depending on other food sources, quality of feed and your goat. Ask your breeder about their feeding program. Provide fresh water at all times.

Goat-proof any areas that might have plants growing that can be toxic to goats, such as oleander, yew and larkspur. You can find information about poisonous plants in your area by checking with your county extension agent, listed in the government pages of the phone book. Reference material on poisonous plants is also available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and your state's agriculture department.

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