Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
A few years ago, we added a couple goats to our homestead farm, including an Alpine milkgoat named Avi. I bought Avi already in milk, so the first year I was able to focus on milking without a kid in the mix. When the second year rolled around, the project added a bit more dimension. First, we needed to learn about animal midwifery, to support Avi in birthing on the farm. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about that birthing experience — Goat Midwifery. And second, we needed to make some decisions about how we would raise our little herd. Would we separate newborn kids from their mothers right away, let them nurse a bit then wean them early, or let the mother goats raise ‘em up?
Most people I knew who were offering up advice about milk goats were folks in the business. They all agreed that people raise milk goats; separating and feeding newborn kids was a job for shepherds, not goats. The reasoning was primarily that separating mothers and babies was the only way to get milk and tame goats. Another loud and clear opinion I received from different sources was that I needed to milk twice a day.
Now, I’m not trying to get out of the work, I really am not. But I’m already taking on more than I should, it’s the nature of the homestead project. I do a little of a lot of things. If it was at all possible to share some of the work with the mother goat, and to milk once a day, I was in. Just take the first step after birthing: bottle-feed newborn kids four times a day and night. I was not excited about bottle feeding four times a day, even for only a couple weeks. And night … mostly not excited about bottle feeding during the night. This sounded like a whole lot of work, and if nature had a way to excuse me from this task, I was listening.
Sharing Milk With Both Human and Goat Kids
So really … couldn’t the mother goat take care of this? Do I need to choose between my goat feeding her own kids or my kids? Is it possible to share?
A lot of good questions came up. After much thought, I realized that a homestead with only a couple newborn kids would have very different needs from a dairy with a little herd of babes. Our farm is not a milking operation. I am only milking a goat or two for my own family. I considered the options and realized that things might be handled differently on a homestead than in a professional dairy.
On our farm, Avi could be a mother. She could take care of the business of feeding her kids. Yes. And likely do a better job of it than I would. I would definitely be happy to delegate this job back to the one who nature set to the task in the first place. But could she share some of the milk with my family? Yes. And how do I work out this arrangement? Do we have to sign something? An agreement to share and go halvsies? More thinking involved.
Welcome Fiasco Farm’s website. A wealth of information about everything goats. This farm has blessed us with their wisdom about sharing milk. They actually run a dairy where goats raise their kids and share milk with the humans. I think that is very unusual in the dairy business. It certainly makes sense for a homestead operation. It was on the Fiasco Farm website that I learned how.
The mother goat stays with her kids for at least two weeks, and I do not milk during that time. This is vital nursing time for the kids, with the essential first couple days of highly nutritious collostrum and the first couple weeks of heavy nursing for strength and weight gain. I feel so good about giving the mother and the kids the nursing relationship and the healthy food source.
Then after a couple weeks, the kids are separated by just a fence or cattle panel just for nighttime. In the morning, momma is milked and then reunited with the kids for the day. They are barely separated at night, just a cattle panel between them, so they have the comfort of company. But they have to wait til morning to nurse. I found this easier to initiate at three or four weeks old--they can easily handle not eating the whole night by then. And they can have some hay and water by then, if they want. It is my observation through two sets of kids in this setup that this is not a stressful situation for the mother goat or the kids, particularly at three weeks old or older.
Advantages of Sharing Goat's Milk
I found there were perks to sharing with the kid. I get to start milking whichever week I like. If I am too busy to start milking after the kids are a couple weeks old, I can delay my start to milking routine until I am ready. The kids will keep her in milk until I am ready to start sharing. And I can skip a morning every so often, by keeping the kids with momma overnight that time. Milking once a day works easily when the kids share the milk—but you can milk on a once a day routine with or without sharing with a kid. Just keep it routine. I found that a lot of people think you have to milk twice a day, that it’s cruel to the mother goat otherwise. I knew from nursing my own children that our bodies adjust to the milking schedule. Going off schedule would cause a disruption in milk production that could cause discomfort. But milking once per day by routine is fine.
I thought it would be hard to separate the babes from momma in the evening. After two days of training, with some scooting of the kids into their penned off area, they got used to it and scooted in there on their own. It’s the frolic of getting kids into the pen with a little feed, and keeping adult goats out of the pen with a little feed. Quickly, they learn where the feed will be and begin to predict it, then everyone is in their place.
Letting goats raise goat babies is natural and easier, for a homestead setting. The greatest pleasure of this setup is witnessing the mother-baby relationship. It is a bond across species, no doubt.
I love watching Avi bond with her kids, patiently nursing them, teaching them the ropes, and keeping them close to her side. As long as we humans also make sure that we cuddle them and tame them with routine contact, I have found two sets of kids to be loving, friendly goats who are tame and appreciate an ear rub whenever offered.
Read part 1 to this story—Goat Midwifery.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News and Blog.HouseInTheWoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to www.HouseInTheWoods.com.