The Natural Home Dairy
Can you milk a goat if it was not bottle-fed? Do you have any trouble selling kids if you don't bottle-feed? Can you show a goat if it was dam-raised?
These are just a few of the questions I've been asked over the years by people who want to have dairy goats but don't want to take them away from their mother to bottle feed them. Like me, they think that milk straight from mom is the healthiest way to raise kids. But they’ve been led to believe that they have to take the babies away from their mother. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there.
There seem to be a few reasons for the bias against dam raising kids. First, people see commercial dairies bottle-raising their kids, so they assume that’s the way it has to be done. Second, some people think that all dam-raised kids are wild. And third, if a goat has a disease such as caprine arthritic encephalitis (CAE), it can be transmitted through the mother’s milk and infect the kid.
I always tell people that humans have been milking animals for thousands of years, and bottles were only invented about a hundred years ago, so obviously people have been able to share milk with babies for a very long time. And those animals grew up to become milkers themselves. Any animal that does not get attention will be wild, so it is important to spend time with your baby goats so that they know people are their friends. When I go into the pasture, all of my goats run up to me, and no one can tell which ones were raised on a bottle or their mother.
If you want to dam-raise your kids, it is important to buy breeding stock from a farm that has a history of testing negative for CAE, as well as Johnes and caseous lymphoma (CL). Ideally, they also have a closed herd. If they are continually bringing in new animals from other herds, they could bring in a diseased animal since their last negative herd test, and that animal could infect other animals. Because it can take months for an animal to seroconvert and test positive, it is possible to have a negative test from a positive animal. If a farm has had all negative tests on every animal in their herd for five years or longer, however, odds are good that their animals are truly negative if they have a closed herd.
We have been dam raising our kids since we started ten years ago, and I’m excited to be talking at the Mother Earth News Fair about how you can produce your own dairy products with goats or other dairy animals while letting the mothers raise their own babies. In the long run, I feel it is easier to have a healthy herd when the babies are receiving all of those great antibodies and nutrients in their mother’s milk. With a little knowledge, proper management, and the right equipment, you can produce all of your own dairy products just as we do.
Deborah Niemann will present workshops at the Puyallup, Wash. 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.