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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!

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The Big Decision To Raise Cattle On Your Small Farm

The need to know where your food comes from is one of the most common reasons many people decide to farm. Most folks get started with a garden and maybe a flock of laying hens and a few goats. But, eventually, you may want to consider raising some larger livestock to improve your self-sufficiency, such as cows for meat or milk.

Obviously, adding large livestock gives you more control over where your food comes from and how it’s raised and processed. There are also other reasons to raise cattle on the homestead that are less common, such as using them as a work animal or for producing your own leather. They also provide large amounts of fantastic garden fertilizer in the form of manure.

Choosing to add a cow, or cattle, to your homestead is a big decision. Plan on doing a lot of research before you make a decision. You want to be sure that you have the proper education, infrastructure, and finances to take the best possible care of your new investment. Here are some of the basic things you’ll need to consider before adding cattle to your homestead.

Dairy Cow Basics:

Just one dairy cow can keep a family in milk and dairy products for most of the year. To produce milk, your cow will need to be bred either by a bull or through artificial insemination. Breeding is usually required once a year, but some cows will produce milk longer without being bred. Dairy cows can often get by on pasture for most of the year. Hay and grain are used to supplement during winter, if the grass is scarce, or if the cow is having a hard time maintaining her weight.

Many dairy cows can be milked for as much as ten to fifteen years, but their production will decrease over time, with the first five years being the most productive. Dairy cows require a serious commitment because they generally have to be milked twice a day. There are some tricks to get around this though, such as having the calf do the milking for you some of the time.

Some of the more common dairy cow breeds are:

1. Holstein: Holsteins are quite common and are easily recognized due to their black and white spots. They are known to produce large amounts of milk.

2. Jersey: The Jersey cow is a small cow that comes in all shades of brown. This breed makes an excellent family cow because they produce lots of high-quality milk, and they are sweet and docile in temperament.

3. Brown Swiss: The Brown Swiss is thought to be the oldest breed of dairy cow. Colors can vary from dark brown to silver. Their milk has a high protein to fat ratio that makes it perfect for cheese making.

4. Guernsey: The milk of the Guernsey cow has a golden tone because it contains large amounts of beta-carotene. Guernsey cows come in most shades of fawn and gold, and they often have white legs and markings on their bodies.

Beef Cattle Basics:

Beef cattle are often raised on pasture whenever possible. Grain and hay are also added to the diet when needed to maintain or gain weight, or according to personal preference. They can eat as much as 3% of their body weight in feed each day, so be prepared for a massive feed bill if you plan to overwinter them. Beef cattle are hardy, tough critters that can handle both heat and cold better than most other livestock species.

Just a couple of beef cows will keep a family in beef year-round. Many folks purchase a steer or two when they are young and raise them until they’re ready to be butchered, rather than maintaining their own herd year-round.
Here are some common breeds of beef cattle to consider:

1. Angus: Angus cattle were brought to the U.S. from Scotland in 1873. Most commercial beef growers choose to raise this popular beef breed.

2. Hereford: Originally from Herefordshire, England, the Hereford cow is a prevalent beef breed throughout the United States. It is known to be an efficient, early maturing breed.

3. Limousin: Limousin cattle originated in France and are known for their deep chests and strong hindquarters. They are incredibly hardy, adaptable, and efficient which makes them perfect for meat production.

Pros of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

In summary, the main benefit of keeping dairy or beef cattle is having the ability to produce your own milk and meat. You will be more self-sufficient because you can provide all the milk, dairy products, and meat your family needs. Dairy cattle become part of the family and often bond with their family making them much like a pet.

Your family will be healthier because they are consuming the best quality dairy and meat possible. Grazing cattle on your pasture will improve the quality of your pasture over time. And, you will also have a better garden, thanks to all the fabulous fertilizer your cows provide.

Cons of Raising Cattle on the Farm:

Raising cattle isn’t cheap. Both dairy and beef cattle can be expensive to purchase, and they require a lot of food. High-quality pasture can cut down on the feed bill, but you still need to plan on providing large amounts of hay all winter. If summers are dry, your pasture may not do well, which will mean you must provide a lot of hay all summer, too.

Cattle need a lot of space and high-quality fencing. You should plan on having about 1.5 to 2 acres of decent pasture for each cow and calf. On the other hand, they can usually get by with a basic three-sided shelter in most climates. A proper barn usually isn’t required.

Cattle aren’t suited to every farm and situation, but if you educate yourself properly, you will be able to make the best decision for your homestead. There’s nothing better than farm fresh milk and grass-fed beef raised by your own hands.


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