The Benefits of Dairy Goats

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Use these tips to get the most use out of your dairy goats on your homestead.
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“Goat School,” by Janice Spaulding, is a must-have guide for anyone who has, is about to get, or dreams of one day owning goats.

Looking to add some goats to your homestead? Goat School (Down East, 2011), by Janice Spaulding, is part manual, part cookbook, and is perfect for homesteaders looking to own goats for fun or for more self-sustainability. This excerpt, which provides helpful tips for raising dairy goats and producing quality milk from them, is from the section “Making a Living with Goats.”

Buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Goat School.

The Benefits of Owning and Raising Dairy Goats

Dairy goats are very unique! Some are smart, some are crafty, some are opportunists, and some are lovey. Goat milk can be used in several ways to turn your product into a small-scale business! Goat-milk soap is wonderful, goat milk is highly sought after, and goat cheese is an extraordinarily good seller. Check with your state department of agriculture to find what rules and regulations apply in your state. Some states are “right to farm” states, which means you can sell products on your farm without licensing, other require a rigorous licensing application, inspection, and testing.

Your Milk Is What Your Goats Eat: Feed, hay, and water will also affect the taste. If the goats are allowed to eat browse, this may also change the palatability. Flavor needs to be consistent if you are planning on selling it. When we purchase goat milk, it is frozen for the first three days for soap making, and then tasted again. Browse such as wild garlic, skunk cabbage, and plant life like that can really turn milk nasty in flavor!

Testing Out Teats: If the goat is lactating when you buy her, make sure her teats are not only working, BUT also are comfortable for you to milk! Short teats are great for a milking machine, but can be extremely hard on someone with large hands! And, of course, the opposite, large teats and small hands will cause some uncomfortable problems also.

Milking Machines: We mean a literal one. Do you really want or need one? They are expensive, and can be a lot of work to clean. Some goats don’t appreciate the noise they make. And, of course, hand milking makes for a close relationship with your goat.

Feeding Dairy Goats

Dairy goats eat a lot. Plain and simple, they eat more than any other types of goats. They should consume one pound of grain for maintenance plus one pound for each three pounds of milk they produce. A gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds, so a goat producing a gallon a day should eat approximately four pounds of grain a day.

There is much written on the percentage of protein.

Most goats are neat eaters and will consume all of the feed in the pan while they are being milked. That being said, let me tell you about the “Alpine thing.” Alpines are notorious slobs. They pick up huge mouthfuls of food, look around, and spill a good part of it all over the place. We solved the mess problem, somewhat, by placing a large bakery tray under the milking-stand head piece to catch the excess, which is then put back in the grain bin. It stays clean and off the floor, so this is a great way of alleviating waste.

Taking Good Care of Dairy Kids

We take our dairy kids away immediately at birth. We bottle-feed them and eventually, if we so choose, they could use a lamb bar. If you have never heard of a lamb bar before, it is a large pail with several nipples attached that can feed several kids at once. We prefer to bottle-feed them individually to keep them really sociable, and have had terrific luck with this procedure. Babies eat about every four hours during the day. Most of them are terrific at sleeping through the night, or at least from about 10 p.m. to around 6 a.m.

For the first day or so they will consume approximately 2 to 4 ounces per feeding. By the second day they are eating more! Day 3 finds them up to around 8 ounces at a feeding. You will be amazed at how much these little pigs can take in!

We use normal baby bottles and nipples. Cutting the hole in the nipple just a little larger does the trick. I insert a small pair of scissors and just make a little snip. Works great.

Colostrum, the first milk, MUST be heated in a water bath. Putting colostrum in the microwave will yield a large, solid, yucky, yellow lump. Put some water in a pan and stick the bottle in it. Heat to around 101 degrees. Once the colostrum is out of the milk (usually by the second or third day), you can start heating the bottles in the microwave. I heat one bottle 1 minute 15 seconds. 2 bottles 1 minute 45 second, 3 bottles 2 minutes 30 seconds, and 4 bottles 3 minutes.

Milking Stands and Fitting Stands

A milking stand should be used for the sole purpose of milking and eating. The goats are happy to jump up on them because they know it’s a safe place, they will get food, and they will get the pressure in their udders relieved.

Using a fitting stand for hoof trimming, worming, and trimming is a much better idea because the goat does not get fed on it; you can do what needs to be done without problems. Fitting stands are available online in several different places and are normally made of heavy-duty steel.

Problems with Dairy Goats’ Hair

Some breeds of dairy goats can be quite hairy. Having a lot of hair on the udder and teats can be problematic because the hair gets pulled while milking. Goats don’t really like that and can potentially jump or, worse yet, put a foot in the pail! A pair of inexpensive clippers will take care of the problem.

How to Properly Quit Milking Dairy Goats

Goats that are being milked twice a day will continue to milk until they are manually dried off. Drying off means to stop milking altogether in a way that will not make your goat uncomfortable or put them in danger of getting mastitis.

An often-asked question is “How do I dry my goat off.” This is what we do. About six weeks before the projected “stop milking” date, we stop milking in the evening. Just milk in the morning and give the milking girls a little more grain during the one feeding a day. We do this for about a month, then start milking only every other day for a week or two, then every two days for about a week, then stop completely.

We continue to feed on the milking stand year-round so that the girls never forget their order of milking, which stand they belong on, and are used to being handled. We can also keep track of pregnancies and imminent delivery signs. This has worked wonderfully for us!

Want more from Goat School? Have a look at these other articles:

Kidding: Goat Pregnancy and Labor
Brick Cheese Recipe with Goat Buttermilk

How to Milk a Goat

1. Measure out the proper amount of food for that particular goat.

2. Bring your goat to its milking stand and get it securely in place. Make sure it can reach its food, yet be restrained so it can’t back out of the head gate.

3. Clean the teats and udder well.

4. Place the milking bucket under the udder.

5. Form a ring with both thumbs and forefingers around the top of both teats.

6. Squeeze this ring closed and, using the rest of your fingers, massage the rest of the milk down and out the orifice. DO NOT PULL ON THE TEATS!

7. Continue milking until the teats are totally empty and flabby, the udder is soft and empty looking.

8. Clean the teats again. We use a product called Fight-Bac, which causes the orifice to constrict and totally close. You don’t want bacteria getting up inside that teat!

Build Your Own Milking Stand

You’ll need:

• 2 front legs 53 inches
• 2 back legs 16 inches
• 2 long side pieces 42 inches
• 2 front and back pieces 19-1/2 inches
• 2 head stanchion pieces 40-1/2 inches (centered at 5-3/4 inches and 12-3/4 inches) from the right side as you face it
• feed pan holder 19-1/2 inches install up 1 inch
• 2 pieces for feed pan holder 14 inches
• 1 piece front brace behind feed pan 22-1/2 inches
• top brace front legs 19-1/2 inches
• right side 1X3 28-1/2 inches (angled to fit)
• 1 3-1/2-inch X 1/4-inch carriage bolt
• 1 washer and 2 nuts
• 28-inch small but strong chain
• 1 cup hook
• 1 screw and washer
• 1-inch board or 3/4-inch plywood for decking
• 2-1/2-inch drywall screws
• 29 inches from floor to bottom of feed pan holder

Putting it Together:

1. Assemble the basic frame with two 42-inch long side pieces and two 19-1/2-inch pieces. The 19-1/2-inch pieces fit on the inside of the side pieces. That gives you a finished rectangle of 22 inches X 42 inches.

2. Install back leg pieces flush with the top of the frame. Install the two front legs. Mark off 16 inches from the bottom of the leg and line that mark with the top of the frame with the legs on the inside of the frame.

3. For the feed pan holder, take two 14-inch side pieces and install one 19-1/2-inch piece vertically so that it is 1 inch higher than the side pieces. Measure back 4 inches from the front and install the front brace flat side up.

4. Install holder up 29 inches from floor. At the top of the front legs mount another 19-1/2-inch piece for a brace. Install one 40-1/2-inch head stanchion centered 5-3/4 inches from the right.

5. Install movable stanchion piece centered 12-3/4 inches from the right. This is bolted using one carriage bolt with nut and washer. 1-inch or 3/4-inch boards make the floor and the cup hook and chain form the latch.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Goat School, by Janice Spaulding and published by Down East, 2011.Buy this book from our store: Goat School.