When livestock becomes a part of your self-sufficiency journey, having a dairy animal is usually a part of that plan. Having a reliable dairy producer on your homestead allows for a lot of food freedom. Dairy goats are great way to achieve this.
As goat’s milk becomes more mainstream, more and more homesteaders and farmers are turning to goats as a popular choice for their dairy needs. A good dairy goat is generally easier to house, feed and maintain than a cow. A dairy goat is usually a much more viable option on a small homestead. And goats are chock full of personality. But, getting dairy goats is not something to consider lightly.
All dairy goats are not created equal. When considering what dairy goat is right for you, you need to do some research on the different breeds. Ask yourself a few important questions:
- What kind of yield do you need for your family and all of your dairy requirements? Are you looking for high butterfat for cheese and butter?
- What kind of space do you have for goats? You will need at least two, as goats can’t be alone.
- What is your budget for feed, housing, fencing and general maintenance?
- What breeds are most prevalent in your area and can provide you with a good pool of reputable breeders?
Try to talk to breeders of different types of dairy goats to get first hand feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the breeds you’re considering. The American Dairy Goat Association is also a fantastic resource on all of the recognized dairy goat breeds in the US.
Getting Your Dairy Goats
Once you’ve settled on a breed, the next step is to decide the age of the dairy goat’s you’d like to bring home. Some people choose to bring home kids. For first time goat owners, this can be daunting, as kids are fairly fragile, and will take a lot of care and feeding until they’re ready to be bred and produce milk. The benefit to raising kids is that it gives you the opportunity to develop a deep bond with your goats and learn more about them as they grow.
Another option is to bring home mature does, either ready to be bred, or already in milk. This way you get hardier goats, and they are productive much faster. Some breeders will offer a dam in milk with a kid, which is also a great way to get started. These are great options for people who really want to dive right in to providing milk for their needs.
Whichever way you decide to go, make sure you are fully prepared for bringing home your new goats. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress and heartache if you’re well prepared for your new arrivals.
Babies = Milk
In order to get milk, you need to make babies. Simple equation right? Not always.
Keeping bucks is a great way to ensure you can always breed your dairy goats when and where you want them bred. However, keeping bucks isn’t always feasible for everybody, as they require their own separate housing, and can be smelly and challenging to handle. If you’re not set up to keep bucks, then you’ll need to find a breeder that will assist you. Some breeders allow you to lease a buck, and some will do driveway breeding. The important thing to consider is the quality of the buck and if they are proven to be disease free.
Make sure you educate yourself on kidding. Learn how to care for your new babies, and your doe during pregnancy and after kidding. Be sure you have a plan in place for the kids that will come – how many can/will you keep? How will you sell the kids you can’t keep? Bear in mind that kids will come each year in order to keep a doe in milk, and you can’t keep them all. Make sure your kids are more marketable by breeding from good, registered stock. Become familiar with what the market is in your area.
All the Milk!
Once the babies are weaned, partially weaned or placed on a bottle, you get to reap the benefits of all of that goat’s milk! There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to milking. Hand milk or machine? Once a day or twice a day? Raw or pasteurize?
If it’s your first time milking, make sure you have a good dairy goat mentor who can show you the ropes. There a hundred different ways to milk a dairy goat, and it will take you time to find your rhythm.
Fear of Commitment
The biggest challenge with keeping dairy goats is the commitment. Does in milk require daily milking. Period. Kidding will require time and attention. Daily care, emergency care, it all adds up. Most people who get into dairy goats are out of dairy goats within 3 years. Keeping dairy goats is a lifestyle. Before your jump into it, make sure it’s the lifestyle for you. Do your homework. Talk to people you know that own dairy goats. Make sure you’ll have a good goat mentor in place to get you through the tough times. A good support system is key in making sure you and your dairy goats have a long, lasting, beneficial relationship.