I must admit, I love my goats! They are more like pets than livestock here on our homestead. They love attention and are very affectionate. We do milk our goats, and we love the taste of fresh, raw goat milk. There’s no better feeling than giving your child dairy products that are made from organic, raw milk right in your own kitchen! We regularly make yogurt, cheese, and butter and the taste is out of this world, especially if you are comparing them to factory-farmed, store bought dairy products. If you are considering adding a dairy animal to your farm, goats are great for those just getting started!
Cow vs. Goat: Which One is Better?
There are pros and cons to each, and in the end, it will just come down to personal choice. One thing to consider is cost. Goats are much cheaper to purchase than cows. In my area, you can purchase a dairy goat for anywhere between $100-$350. The price you pay will depend on the age, breed, pedigree and whether or not she’s registered. Goats are also cheaper to feed, require less space, and are less intimidating than a 1200-pound dairy cow.
However, goats produce a lot less milk than a cow, so if you have a large family that’s something to think about. Goats are determined escape artists, and you’re going to need some really good fencing to have any hope of keeping them contained.
What Breed of Goat is Best for Milking?
The most important thing is to start out with friendly, healthy goats. You may have to settle for whatever breeds of goats are available in your area, unless you’re willing to do some traveling to get the breed you want. There are many breeds to choose from, but here are some of my favorite dairy breeds to consider:
Alpine: Alpines originated in the French Alps. They are generally very friendly and easy to raise. They have upright ears and are a medium to large size goat. The average butterfat of their milk is 3.5%.
LaMancha: This is the breed I started out with, and I love them! They are a sweet, medium sized goat with an excellent temperament. They have adorable, tiny little ears and come in a variety of colors. The average butterfat of their milk is 4.2%
Nigerian Dwarf: This is an excellent dairy breed, and this is the breed I am currently milking. They produce a surprising amount of milk for their size, and the butterfat is around 6.1%. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, are very sweet, tough and hardy.
Even a “barnyard mix” goat can make a great milk, so don’t get too hung up on the breed when first starting out, unless you are wanting to start a registered herd. The health and disposition are much more important than the breed.
How Do I Choose a Dairy Goat?
If you want milk right away, you will need to start out with a full-grown doe that is already bred or has just kidded. Be sure she’s healthy and inspect the living conditions and other animals at the farm where you purchase her thoroughly. Never purchase an animal from a farm where the animals look sick or stressed, and I never recommend purchasing animals at livestock auctions. It’s best if the goat you choose is already friendly and tame, especially if you are new to goats.
You could also start with a young doeling, raise her, and then have her bred when she’s old enough. This is probably going to be the cheaper option, and you will form a strong bond with your new baby before it’s time to start milking.
Look for a doe that holds her udder up high and tight to her body, instead of low and saggy. Inspect the udder for any sign of hard lumps or discharge. Don’t purchase a goat with these issues because she may have mastitis or some other infection. If the goat you’re looking at is still a baby, ask to see her momma and look at her udder. Also, if your chosen doe is in milk, ask to milk her before purchasing her.
How Many Goats Should You Start Out With?
Goats are herd animals. Never try to keep just one goat by itself or it will be very unhappy. Start out with 2 does, or get a doe and a wether (neutered male) to keep her company. I would not recommend getting a buck until you have some experience with goats. Also, keep in mind that you will have to breed your doe to get milk, and goats usually have multiple births of twins or more. Your herd will grow fast, so start out small!
How Should I House My Goats?
Goats hate to be wet, so make sure your goats have a safe, dry place to get out of the rain. Their shelter should be one that keeps them warm, dry and out of the wind. I use shavings for bedding in the summer and lots of straw in the winter for warmth. Goats are vulnerable to predators like dogs, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. A sturdy shelter or barn that they can be closed in at night is highly recommended.
Goats are notorious escape artists. Their fencing must be sturdy and well reinforced. Field fencing probably won’t keep them in. We double fence with field fencing and electric fence, and have still had goats figure out how to push through the gate and eat the garden. You really must be diligent with their fencing. A well fed, happy goat is much less likely to try to escape her fencing. Keeping your goats well fed with plenty of space will go a long way toward keeping them inside their designated area.
What Should I Feed My Dairy Goats?
Your goats’ primary food should be grass hay. We give our goats hay twice a day in winter, and once a day in summer, as long as they have access to forage. They will prefer to browse on brush and overgrowth as opposed to grazing on grass like a cow. Goats will love to eat all your vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen, as well as any garden surplus. They should have access to loose minerals that are specifically formulated for goats at all times. Does will need grain daily, but bucks and wethers should only have very small amounts of grain, and only if they need it to keep a good weight. Copper is important for goats, so talk with your vet to find out if they need a copper supplement in your area.
Do I Need to Worm My Goats?
Yes! Goats are very vulnerable to parasites. Certain types of worms, like the barber pole worm, can take a goat down very fast. Take some time to learn about the signs of infestation in goats and how to control them before you bring your goats home. This is probably one of the most important aspects of goat care!
If you are thinking about adding a dairy animal to your homestead, dairy goats are a wonderful option, not just for milk, but also for affection and companionship. Take the time to learn about their care before you bring one home, and you will have great success!