Benefits of Raising Goats

Learn how raising goats is an excellent source of milk and cheese as well as tips on buying, housing and fencing, feeding, birthing and milking.


| April/May 1998



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Goats can be used for food, landscaping, transporting supplies and even profit.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

The goat is undoubtedly the most versatile livestock a homesteader can own. The homestead hog will eat your garbage and can produce lots of piglets for meat or sale, but you're not going to milk one or make any money selling cheese from a pig. Sheep, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, and the traditional milk cow all have their respective uses, but none will provide all of the following — milk, cheese, meat, brush control — within a handy one to two-hundred pound package that will also pack your gear on a hiking trip. The goat is the only animal named that you could honestly describe as personable. A homestead goat that's raised right is as loyal, charming, and companionable as the family dog, and in most cases a lot more useful.

Goats come in a great variety of breeds and strains. They are perhaps best defined by their three main commercial uses. Thus we have hair goats (that produce mohair and cashmere), meat goats (the Spanish goat and the Boer goat dominate the current market), and milk or dairy goats (common breeds include the Toggenberg, Nubian, Saanen, La Mancha, Oberhasli, and Alpine). The hair goat and meat goat industries are most prevalent in the American Southwest. Although hair goats and meat goats can be milked, butchered, or used for packing (my own homegrown goats have a lot of Spanish blood), most small-farm or homestead goats are dairy goats.

Choosing a Goat to Purchase

Since we're assuming that you are just starting out with the joys of homestead goats, the best goat to start with is a female (called a doe) that is pregnant. A pregnant doe will soon give you the priceless experience of birthing and raising baby goats (called kids), and shortly after that will provide the family with better milk and cheese than money can buy, often with some left over for sale. The breed, in my opinion, is not important. Goat fanciers, like dog and horse fanciers, like to brag about their breed, and they will argue the merits of their breed over those of any other breed. But the fact is that all the dairy goat breeds mentioned above produce good, hardy, milk-goats that will yield about a gallon of milk per day and be a pleasure to have around. Various hybrids and crosses of those breeds can be just as good. Note, however, that all the breeds mentioned can produce some real lemons, too, that may be unhealthy, poor milkers, and hard to handle. Jesse — bless her heart — is a case in point.

My wife and I acquired Jesse because we had an infant son who, we figured, should have better milk than money could buy. Once breast milk was no longer an option, we wanted goat's milk. Goat's milk has smaller, finer fat globules than cow's milk, making it easier for humans to digest. Straight from the doe, it will run, on average, about four percent butter fat, compared to a little over three percent for store-bought cow's milk. Any milk-drinker will benefit from goat's milk, but a baby will benefit most. In the store, however, goat's milk will run two to three times the price of cow's milk, so we could see the economy in having our own goat. We scanned the local "shopper" for goats for sale, and one afternoon went to see Jesse.

Our soon-to-be homestead goat was an Alpine/Nubian cross, bred to a good Alpine male (called a buck), and her mother, the owner said, produced better than one gallon per day every time she freshened. This was all good news and the price for Jesse, who was due to kid any day, was a mere hundred dollars. This was because "Jesse's a little bit shy."

We went into Jesse's pen and it was clear even to a city slicker that Jesse was wild as a March hare. If it hadn't been a small pen we never would have caught her. Jesse's horns were long and dangerous, but with three people working hard, we were able to carry her out to the pickup without anyone getting gored and we tied her down so she wouldn't destroy the camper shell on the ride home.

myra
9/8/2011 9:34:14 AM

I can see several issues with this article that are not quite accurate. 1. In almost all states, you CANNOT sell cheese or milk from your goat, it is illegal. 2. You can't just start with one pregnant doe, goats are herd animals are are very unhappy alone. You MUST have at least two, even if the second one is just a wether or something. 3. Eight weeks is too young to wean, 12 weeks is the youngest you should ever completely wean your kids. Any earlier and the kid's growth will be stunted permanently and it will be more susceptible to disease, etc. all it's life. The article was very good, I just feel that this is very important info for a new goat owner, it sure made a big difference to me when I was starting out with goats.






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