Raising Milking Goats for Profit

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
If you want to raise goats, the first thing you'll have to do is to pick a breed.

MOTHER’S CHILDREN: A a young farmer makes money raising milking goats for profit and selling goat milk to other homesteaders.

MOTHER knows that many youths undertake interesting, original projects and start their own small businesses. To support these endeavors, we buy and publish well-written articles from children and teenagers concerning their efforts. However, we recommend that all young authors query (that is, send us a letter telling about the story they’d like to do) before writing a full article. Send your queries to MOTHER’s Children, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, NC.

MILK MONEY FROM GOATS

When my family moved to the country eight years ago, the
very first animal we purchased was a grade (or mixed-breed)
goat to provide us with some milk. We’ve come a good way
since then and make money raising milking goats for profit. Now we have a purebred French Alpine buck, and
fourteen does that give us plenty of milk for our family
and some extra to sell. Taking care of the goats is my
responsibility. Selling their surplus milk to our friends
and neighbors helps the animals pay their way and earns me
some extra money.

PICKING A GOAT BREED

If you want to raise goats, the first thing you’ll have to
do is to pick a breed. You’ll probably have to experiment
some until you find the one that is best suited to your
climate and needs. After our original grade doe had come
and gone, we purchased two purebred, registered Nubian does
for $100 each. They were very beautiful and gave rich,
creamy milk. Then a friend sold us our French Alpine buck,
and we got two grade Alpine does. We soon found that
Alpines give more milk than Nubians. Today most of our herd
is Saanen-Alpine mixed and provides plenty of good-quality
milk.

RAISING THE GOATS

I drylot-feed my goats, since I don’t have enough good
pasture to provide all the grass they need for good
production. I feed them a high-protein dairy goat grain
formula (I found the recipe in Jerry Belanger’s Raising
Milk Goats the Modern Way
), which I have mixed up at our
local grain mill. I also feed them a mixed alfalfa hay. I
give each doe one pound of dry matter (usually about evenly
balanced between grain and hay) for each pound of milk
she’s producing.

GOAT BREEDING

The doe will usually come into heat after the first fall
frost, though I’ve had some does be as late as December. If
you keep a buck near the does, they will probably come into
heat sooner. But be sure that he’s in a stall with high
sides–most bucks are good jumpers! (We’ve had bucks in
stalls that we thought were tall enough . . . and ended up
with some unplanned breedings!)

The doe will stay in heat for about three days. It’s best
to breed her on the first day, because then you’re more
likely to get doe kids. If she’s not bred during these
three days, you’ll have to wait another three weeks for her
next heat.

I recently tried an experiment on one of our does: I bred
her once or twice every single day she was in heat. The
result was quadruplets–three does and one buck! I’m going to
repeat that procedure on half my herd, the does randomly
selected, over the next four years to try and find out if
more breeding consistently yields more kids.

GOATS GIVING BIRTH: KIDDING

About 145 to 155 days after the doe’s been bred, she’ll kid
(give birth). I think kidding is the most exciting part of
goat raising. I start checking my does frequently and
carefully about 140 days after they’re bred. If one is
getting ready to kid, she’ll become quite nervous and
appear “hollow” in the flank and on either side of the
tail. She may also discharge a thin mucus several days
before kidding. When a more gelatinous and yellow discharge
appears, she’s really ready to give birth.

In a normal birth, the kid’s forelegs appear first with the
nose between them. But sometimes there are problems. If one
leg is turned back, I usually disinfect my hand with
iodine, reach inside the doe, and try to pull the leg back
into the normal position. Sometimes my sister has to use
her small hands to do this job! Once one of our does had a
breech (bottom first) birth. This kid died after a few days
(it appeared to have a broken back).

Other times a kid is too large to come out. In that case, I
usually call our local veterinarian for help. A LaMancha
doe we owned had this problem two years in a row. The first
time, when the doe had twins, the vet had to hook a small
chain around one kid’s lower jaw and really pull hard. That
broke the doe’s tail and the kid’s jaw. The second kid was
also damaged by its difficult birth and died about a week
later.

The second year, the LaMancha had just one big buck kid. He
died inside the doe, so the vet cut off the kid’s head to
get him out. This horrified our five city visitors who were
observing, but apparently it’s standard veterinary
procedure.

Most times, of course, the kid is born perfectly healthy.
The dam (mother) licks it clean, and it’s up and ready to
nurse within an hour of its birth! I don’t let it nurse,
though, but feed it the dam’s colostrum (first milk) from a
bottle. I do this because we want the doe’s milk. Also, we
want to control how much milk the kid gets, and we don’t
want the kid to get too attached to its mother. I have
tried leaving the kid with the dam for about three days,
but by that time they have bonded emotionally, so it’s very
hard to separate them.

One year we left two kids with their dam as an experiment.
Now every other year we had taken this doe’s kids away
immediately. So when we left these two kids with her, she
didn’t know what to do! But we were so busy with other
activities that we forgot to keep a good check on how they
were doing.

Three days later, we found the kids nearly dead in the
stall and the dam’s udder extremely full of milk: She
didn’t know how to nurse them, so they were starving. They
died soon afterward. We learned our lesson from that
experience and now always keep a good eye on our animals.
(We later learned that there is a way to revive starving
kids: Put them up to their noses in warm water, stick a
stomach tube down their throats, and feed them warm milk
through that.)

I’ve made other mistakes. One year I lost five valuable doe
kids from enterotoxemia (a major goat disease). Since then,
I have been sure to vaccinate all of my does and kids, to
see that the kids have fresh, clean water, and to keep
their feeding dishes absolutely sterilized. I’ve also had a
few kids die of pneumonia, caused by a damp stall or cold
drafts in the barn.

MILKING GOATS

It is very important to have a regular milking time. The
does count on this! I’ve found that if I don’t milk at
regular intervals, the goats produce less milk. The best
thing to do is to milk your goats morning and evening,
about twelve hours apart.

We use a stanchion (a milking stand). It’s simply a
platform with a ramp, feeding box, and head restraint. (We
got the design from the Rodale book Build It Better
Yourself
.) The doe jumps up to feed, and we lock her head
in place. We used to just tie goats up. They moved around
so much that milking was a backbreaking job.

Before milking, you should wash the udder with warm water
and soap and-when necessary-clip away any excess hair. This
helps keep the milk clean. After the doe has been milked,
dip the tip of each nipple in an iodine disinfectant. This
helps prevent mastitis, a bacterial disease which can ruin
a good milk goat forever. One of my best milkers got
mastitis and never regained her former level of production.
We sold her-now she acts as a “guard dog” for a flock of
sheep!

After you’re done, bring the milk inside right away and
pour it through a milk strainer. Otherwise, it may get a
nasty “goaty” taste. Although goat’s milk can be drunk raw
(I find it much tastier this way), most people pasteurize
it first to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. To do
this, just heat the milk up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, then quickly cool
it down by putting the pan in cold water. Always keep fresh
goat’s milk stored in a refrigerator.

SELLING GOAT MILK

The legal requirements for marketing goat’s milk vary from
state to state. If you’re planning to sell large quantities
of milk, you’ll certainly want to consult your local health
department. Many goat owners make unlicensed sales of milk
to neighbors. Such “bootlegging” is widespread. I do it,
and so does everyone else I know around here who sells
milk. (Kids who have lemonade stands in the suburbs are
also running “bootleg” operations!)

If you sell your goats’ milk, you must make sure it’s clean
and pure. I sterilize my milk pail, strainer, and jars with
a bleach-and-water solution. I make sure my goats are clean
and have clean quarters. And I check every doe regularly
for any signs of illness (I always isolate an ill goat and
discard its milk). And I pasteurize the milk I sell when
the buyer requests it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The FDA is currently
considering outlawing all sales of raw milk because of
possible health hazards.]

The first thing to do when you are planning to sell milk is
to develop a milk route. You can find customers by running
an ad in the local newspaper, by putting a Goat Milk For
Sale sign beside the road, or by using word of mouth (which
is what I do). Tell people that goat’s milk is not just for
sickly people or children who are allergic to cow’s milk.
Instead, it is more digestible than cow’s milk (and
somewhat more nutritious), naturally homogenized, and
delicious! And milk from your homegrown goats won’t contain
any processing additives or pollutants.

I usually sell the milk for $1.00 a quart ($1.25
delivered); many health food stores sell goat’s milk for as
much as $3.00 a quart. It costs me approximately $150 to
drylot-feed one goat for a year and about $50 to cover
miscellaneous expenses such as veterinary bills. A good doe
will give about 200 gallons (800 quarts) of milk a year. So
if I sell half of that milk at $1.00 a quart, I’ll gross
$400, and, after subtracting expenses, have a net profit of
$200. And that’s not even counting the 100 gallons of milk
my family gets to drink for free!

It takes me about an hour a day to care for my herd of 15
goats. Caring for one doe would take hardly any time at
all–maybe 20 minutes a day, once you had her housing and all
established.

If you decide to raise goats, you, too, will find that it’s
a fun and challenging project, and a way to make a little
money, to boot.

Good luck!

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