Getting Started with Dairy Goats: One Homesteader’s Experience

| 7/10/2015 3:12:00 PM

Tags: goats, milking, livestock, Missouri, Eric Reuter,

Full Herd of Homestead Goat 

Our first goat trotted into our lives on April 14, 2008, accompanied by two kids and a herd of homesteader dreams. Our rugged Central Missouri landscape had limited growing areas, the open ground and good soil concentrated in a narrow belt of creek bottom. On the other hand, the overgrown pastures and brushy hillsides, unfarmed for 30 years or more, begged for an infusion of caprine management.

As cheese lovers on par with Wallace and Gromit, we had visions of self-sufficient dairying and our own meat supply. But when that first goat, Perry, vanished the next day, having crawled under her electric fence on a mission only she understood our life as goat herders really began.

Learning to Be Homestead Goat Herders

Over the following 6-1/2 years, goats became an integral part of our lives. We experimented with shelter designs, pasturing methods, the elimination of grain and chemical de-wormers, fencing styles, and milk management. Composting the manure turned our rugged pastures into solar fertility collectors for our growing fields of vegetables. We learned to make diverse cheeses, got our annual fall kid-butchering down to a routine science, and settled on ways to preserve milk and cheese through the non-milking winter months.

Selling raw milk brought income and was our window into the dangers of bureaucratic barriers to individual freedom. Discovering poisonous white snakeroot in our pastures and fighting disease- and parasite-laden deer greyed our hair and taught us much about integrating agriculture into ecology.

With one early exception, we did all our own slaughtering and butchering on the farm, taking responsibility for death as well as life. Handling the life cycles that shaped the herd brought us joy, satisfaction, and sorrow. Throughout it all, we began to understand goats, both as a species and as individuals.

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