Raising Goats: Strategies for Success

A veterinarian shares his experience raising goats, how he took care of them, earned money, and how his strategies have changed.

  • goats
    If you can choose a fine dairy goat, you can sell its milk for years.

  • goats

How often — especially when you're talking about livestock — have you heard the lament, "If I had it to do all over again, here's what I'd do"? I know I've listened to such statements more times than I can count! That's not surprising, though, because I've been in and out of the goat "business" several times. . .given numerous seminars and classes on the beasties (while listening to the comments, complaints, and questions of the goat keeping folks in attendance . . .and — as a veterinarian — shared in the trials and tribulations of many local goat breeders.

Well, now it's my turn. Having been awarded a certified degree in raising goats by the school of hard knocks, I'm ready to stand before MOTHER's readers and recite my own mistakes . . . and how I'd correct them if I were starting with a clean slate. You should understand that in some instances my advice is a far cry from what I used to say a few years ago (my article How to Raise Healthy Goats is a case in point). And naturally, since we caprinekeepers do tend to be a strongly opinionated lot, not all goatherds will agree with all (or possibly any) of my revised counsel.

This piece will contain a collection of random tips on getting started, selecting and buying stock, and providing shelter for the herd. Part II will go into some other facets of taking care of these fascinating-and friendly small livestock. So lend an ear while I list what I'd do now. 

Raising Goats for Beginners

 I used to tell novices to buy one goat (absolutely no more than two). . .but now I think it's a better idea to start with five or six youngsters. Here's why: To my way of thinking, three (or maybe four) goats are a practical number for a person to milk twice a day. If I'm working any fewer than three animals, I've found that the time spent setting up to milk — cleaning utensils, hauling grain and hay, and so forth — really isn't economically used. On the other hand, if I've got five or more goats to milk, I'm plumb tuckered out by the time the task is finished.

With a starter herd of five or six doelings, I can select the three best producers of that first year to keep, and still have a couple of young does to sell. . .ladies that'll bring a premium because they're "in milk" and have their kids at their sides. I'll then keep the very best of my unsold female kids until the next year, to see how she turns out. If she look so as if she'll be a better milk maker than an animal I already own, I'll keep her. If not, I'll sell the doe to someone who is less critical than I am.

However, let me warn you that it's easy to become trapped in what I call the creeping spiral of goat inflation. "Goatflation" occurs, for instance, when an owner starts out with one or two critters, fully intending to limit the herd size to that number. . .but not realizing that the kids — when they come — will be too dad burned cute to ever sell. Well, that kindhearted goatherd just naturally keeps the young'uns. The third year is a replay of the same scenario: The owner soon has eight to ten milking does, all too "valuable" to sell or cull. And so it goes, until the goat fancier has so many animals to take care of that he or she has time for little else!

The key here, then, is to decide how many goats you want to milk, and no matter what, to stick to that maximum number by selling every excess milker. . .especially the ones that don't measure up to your standards.

Earn Money Raising Goats by Selling Milk

Now that I've decided on my perfect herd size and have sworn to keep absolutely no more than four milkers, I need to accomplish one more task before I start off on my buying spree: rounding up some folks who like goat's milk. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't get into the goat biz in the first place unless I had another family (or two or three) who wanted to share the milk with me. The problem with dairy goats, you understand, is that they're prolific producers. Just keeping one nanny will give you a gallon of milk per day . . . enough to leave most families simply awash in goat's milk.

Many goat people have spent a lot of time and effort devising ways to use all that excess liquid. Some owners have even tried selling their dairy products to friends or neighbors. At present, though, there are very few licensed commercial operations in the country that are financially successful at peddling goat's milk or other products . . . a fact that — sad but true — should tell you there's a rather limited future in the sale of goat's milk.

So to my way of thinking, the best way to "market" your milk is to your own household and another family or two. Ideally, these other folks will be more than "customers". . .they'll also be willing to take their turn at getting their farm-fresh milk right from the source. After all, I don't mind milking (for me, it's always been a quiet time for reflection, spent with my head resting against a goat's warm and contented belly). . .but I do get tired of performing the ritual twice a day, every day of the week.

That's why I'd like to swap: My friends would get their milk free in exchange for milking my nannies once or twice a week, which would give me a nice break from my chores.

(I'd keep a pig or two around just in case there's still some extra milk. Even with several families sharing the proceeds, you're likely to have some left over . . . and young, growing hogs will thrive on the surplus.)



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