You always wanted to keep dairy goats. You wanted your own fresh — and free — goat milk, goat cheese, goat milk yogurt and maybe even goat meat without having to worry about antibiotics and hormones in the milk.
In this blog series, we share with you things we wish we would have known before getting into dairy goats. We hope our experiences will help you, whether you have two or fifty goats. We are not perfect, we are not veterinarians, and we definitely still have a lot to learn, but if we can help you avoid some of the mistakes we made, we have achieved our goal of keeping not just ours, but your dairy goats healthy and happy, as well. There are eight parts to this blog series, and today we will start with Part 1 (please see the end of this post for subsequent parts).
1. Goats in general are very social, curious, gentle, independent and intelligent creatures. They get bored and lonely when alone. It is never a good idea to just have one goat, you need at a minimum two goats. Two does or a doe and a wether (a neutered male goat) or a buck and a doe, if you are ready to start a little herd. They huddle and cuddle, they eat and they sleep together. And no, a human, even though much-loved, cannot substitute as a companion. A lonely goat will climb on cars, get into your garden, and sit on your porch or escape. A lonely goat will be a noisy goat, because they will call for a companion.
2. Baby goats are kids. Males are bucks, females are does. Neutered males are wethers.
3. Goats can climb, jump, crawl and run over or under anything they want to. If they stay in their pasture, it is because they want to be there. You need to have good fencing before you get a goat or two.
4. Goats hate to get wet and will stay out of or jump over any puddles. Goats do not do well in wet, swampy areas. You need to provide them with ample dry shelter and dry paddocks or pasture before you bring goats onto your farm.
5. Each goat has her own distinct personality and some personality traits seem to be more common in one breed than in another. We have found that our Nubian Goats are the divas of the bunch. They are very loving and loyal and incredibly demanding. If a Nubian goat does not want to go on a milking stand, then there is no way of making her, short of picking her up. No small feat at an average of 200 pounds, and she will remember this “humiliation” and get even at some point. Our LaManchas are sweet and hardworking and easy to train. Our Saanens are the clowns of the dairy and always ready for mischief. Do your research before you buy a goat to see which temperament will suit your personality.
6. Dairy goats love routine and get upset when the routine changes. Keep that in mind when you rearrange the milking stands to be more efficient. The goats will not like it. Three weeks later, you will change everything back.
7. Goats browse like deer. They will prefer bushes, trees and hay over grass. Goats are not lawnmowers and they will eat your rose bushes. They are ruminants: They have four stomach compartments and regurgitate. They will eat, chew their cud (the green stuff that comes up regurgitating their food) and repeat that process all day long. A hungry goat will eat things it is not supposed to eat and you will have trouble. By the way, anything the goat eats, will impart a unique flavor on the milk, hence all the regional flavors of cheese in Europe where the dairy goats live on pastures and eat wild vegetation of the region. You may want to ease up on feeding garlic.
8. Goats are very clean eaters. They do not eat tin cans and do not like to eat any food that has been soiled, contaminated or has been on the ground. Goats also eat a lot, so plan for a sufficient budget to feed them before you bring them onto your farm.
9. Goats only have a lower set of teeth in the front of the mouth with which they love to nibble, and a set of razor-sharp teeth both on the top and bottom in the back of the mouth with which they can break tree limbs and your finger if it gets in the way.
10. Goats are curious, they will nibble on everything including your hair and poisonous plants. They will pull and tug and chew on everything that moves, including gate latches. Goats are smarter than dogs. Do not let them watch you open a feed can or open a gate latch. You will regret it, because they will practice it behind your back. They will stick their head through a fence to try or see something on the other side of the fence or just to watch you walk up. This curiosity gets them into trouble almost daily and they do not have nine lives like a cat.
11. Dairy goats, or any goat, for that matter, will not move away from pressure, they move into it. A good fact to keep in mind when you want to move a goat. Goats can be trained to walk on a leash. Show goats do it and we are practicing it right now with some of our goats.
12. Goats have a very distinct herd hierarchy, a pecking order. They pick on lesser goats, especially if they are new to the herd. Goats will ram and head-butt each other. When you introduce a new goat into a herd, if you can, always introduce two together so they have a buddy. Keep goats of the same size together, exception when they are still with their mom, so that the smaller goats don’t get hurt.
13. Goats can hear very well. If they like you and trust you, they will respond to your voice and come when called. They will also call out to you when they see you. But you will have to earn their love and trust.
14. Bucks are stinky and sticky about 6 months out of the year. Keep that in mind before you buy a buck. You cannot pasture them with the milking goats, because their smell will make the milk taste bad.
15. Dairy goats need to be milked at least once a day, seven days a week, rain or shine, cold or hot, until they dry off. You cannot go on vacation and leave them un-milked. They will be in pain and they will develop mastitis. Plan on you staying home or finding a knowledgeable farm sitter before you bring goats onto your farm if you want to continue to have a life off the farm.
16. Goats can get sick very easily and they die very fast. That is the nature of an animal who can breed young (at 3 months of age, although not recommended) and has multiple kids in a birth. Goats need to be watched and treated early and fast if something is amiss. You need to plan on learning what is normal in your goats, what is not normal and have emergency medications on hand. Two hours difference in giving a medication may mean the difference between life and death. Forge a great relationship with your vet. Finance college for his or her kids. Be conscientious and on time with worming and vaccinations.
17. Goats need to be disbudded, especially as dairy goats or if you want to show. This needs to be done at a very young age. This is a very unpleasant task, both for you and the goat. Plan on having a very experienced goat person do this for you (plan for reimbursement of expenses or at least a very good bottle of wine as a thank you). Plan to be trained by your vet, or plan to take the goat to the vet to have this done.
18. If you want to drink your milk and eat your cheese, plan on spending money to buy stainless steel pails, a milking bench, buckets and create as sanitary an environment as you can, be it in your garage or porch or in a milking parlor. You cannot be too careful with dairy products, but they are worth it.
19. Check your zoning regulations if you are not living on a farm out in the country. You may not be allowed to have goats. Better research upfront than lose your heart and have to get rid of the goats later.
20. Prepare to spend A LOT of money.
21. Prepare to lose your heart. We did.
Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four to 10 WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to 58 dairy goats, 16 Black Angus cattle, 278 laying hens, 3 horses, 3 cats, 4 house dogs, 6 livestock guardian dogs, and 6 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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