In 2018, I brought home two Nigerian Dwarf Goat doelings that I named Cora and Alice, after the female characters in Last of the Mohicans. At the time, I was dealing with allergies to wheat, legumes, nuts, and soy, all of which are common nonmeat protein sources. Additionally, I later discovered that I’m allergic to eggs and the biogenic amines found in hard cheeses. As someone who believes in taking responsibility for the food we consume, I decided that the most ethical course of action was to establish my own herd of goats and personally take responsibility for any kids born in the production of milk for my protein source. Thankfully, my goats only need to be bred every three years or so to continue producing milk. This means very few kids are produced. As usual, none of our animals are eaten, but either stay with us for life or go onto pet only homes and homesteads.
The goats not only contribute to our food production, but they each possess their own unique personality, temperament, and approach to life. Initially, Cora was anything but friendly towards me during the first two years. However, after assisting her through a difficult labor, she became my friend, seeking pets and kisses. Winning her trust and friendship was a lengthy process. Alice is cautious and observant, promptly alerting me if anything seems amiss with the other animals. Her daughters, Claire, and Jodie, also exhibit their distinct characteristics. Claire is cautious like her mother but much friendlier, while Jodie retains a certain degree of kiddishness and can be a bit of a drama queen. Tess, Cora’s daughter, is lively and playful, often displaying her exuberance. She firmly believes her purpose in life is to be my personal pet, just like her daughter Stevie. Their brother, Nick, resides with Bucky, and both are incredibly sweet and gentle boys. If I remain seated for too long, Nick will climb into my lap for a cuddle despite now weighing around seventy pounds. He remains a cherished member of our family. Bucky, on the other hand, possesses a gentle and serene disposition. These goats are as personable as cats or dogs, bringing immense joy, albeit occasionally driving one to the brink of madness.
Over the years, I have gained valuable knowledge about goat keeping. Today, I will focus on discussing the major advantages and disadvantages of raising standard-sized dairy goats, as they are the most productive option for families.
As more people return to sustainability and self-sufficiency, small-scale homesteads and farmsteads are witnessing a resurgence. For those considering livestock, dairy goats are an excellent choice. These small, versatile animals provide a myriad of benefits, but they also come with certain challenges. This article explores the pros and cons of keeping dairy goats on a small homestead or farmstead.
Understanding Dairy Goats:
Dairy goats are a diverse group of goat breeds specifically bred for milk production. When considering dairy goats for your farmstead, it’s important to understand the different breeds and how they adapt to various climates. Let’s dive into some of the most popular standard size dairy breeds in the United States.
Alpine goats are known for their adaptability and hardiness, making them suitable for a wide range of climates. They originated in the Alpine regions of Europe and have proven to be resilient in both hot and cold environments. Alpines have a dense, medium-length coat that helps them withstand cold weather, while their excellent heat tolerance allows them to thrive in warmer regions as well.
LaMancha goats are renowned for their milk production and calm demeanor. They were developed in the United States and have adapted well to a variety of climates. LaManchas possess a short, slick coat that provides good heat tolerance, making them well-suited for hot and arid regions. However, they may require additional protection or shelter during colder winters.
Nubian goats, with their distinct long ears and gentle disposition, are popular dairy breeds known for their milk’s high butterfat content. Originally from Africa, they are better suited for warmer climates due to their heat tolerance. Nubians have a short, fine coat that offers some protection in colder weather, but they may require additional shelter and care during harsh winters.
Saanen goats are one of the most widely recognized and popular dairy breeds. Originating in Switzerland, they are known for their exceptional milk production and calm temperament. Saanens have white to cream-colored coat and lack the undercoat found in other breeds. This characteristic makes them more sensitive to cold climates, as they are less equipped to handle harsh winter conditions. Saanens thrive in moderate to cooler climates and require shelter or additional care in colder regions.
Toggenburg goats, another Swiss breed, are recognized for their milk production and adaptability. They have a medium-sized frame and a short to medium-length coat that provides good protection against the elements. Toggenburgs are well-suited for cooler climates and can tolerate cold winters, making them an excellent choice for regions with colder temperatures.
It’s important to note that while certain breeds are more adaptable to specific climates, individual goat management and proper housing are crucial for their well-being in any environment. Providing suitable shelter, proper nutrition, and access to fresh water are essential regardless of breed or climate.
When selecting dairy goats for your farmstead or homestead, consider the climate of your region and choose breeds that have proven adaptability and resilience to the prevailing weather conditions. Consulting with local dairy goat breeders or agricultural extension services can provide valuable insights into breed suitability for specific climates in your area.
By matching the right dairy goat breed to your climate, you can ensure the health and productivity of your herd while maximizing their performance in your homestead environment.
Pros of Keeping Dairy Goats:
Fresh Nutritious Milk:
Dairy goats provide a reliable source of fresh, nutritious milk. Goat milk is easier to digest than cow milk, making it an excellent alternative for individuals with lactose intolerance. It is highly nutritious, offering several health benefits. It contains proteins, including easily digestible casein proteins, fats with medium-chain fatty acids, carbohydrates in the form of lactose, and a range of vitamins such as A, B, and C, as well as essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. Goat milk also contains bioactive peptides with potential health benefits and oligosaccharides that support gut health. With its rich nutritional profile, goat milk serves as an excellent alternative to cow milk and provides a valuable source of essential nutrients for a well-rounded diet.
Sustainable and Economical:
Dairy goats are known for their efficient conversion of food into milk. They require less space, feed, and resources compared to cows, making them a sustainable option for small-scale farming. Additionally, goat milk can be used to make various dairy products such as cheese, butter, and yogurt, further enhancing the economic benefits.
Effective Land Management:
Goats are natural browsers, meaning they enjoy grazing on various plants, including weeds and brush. By incorporating dairy goats into a homestead, they can help control unwanted vegetation and improve pasture health. Their grazing habits can reduce the need for manual labor or herbicides when leveraged.
Easy to Handle and Train:
Compared to larger livestock, dairy goats are relatively easy to handle and train. They have friendly personalities and can develop strong bonds with their owners. Goat training is straightforward, and they can be taught to respond to commands and milking routines efficiently. If you do something once, they expect the same thing the next day!
Potential for Additional Income:
Aside from milk and offspring sales, dairy goats offer potential for additional income streams. Goat milk products, such as artisanal cheese or goat milk soap, have gained popularity in recent years. Expanding into value-added products can create niche markets and increase revenue. Dairy Goats are not suitable to rent out for weed control, but their bedding and manure break down into wonderful compost that is easily sold.
Cons of Keeping Dairy Goats:
Time and Commitment:
Keeping dairy goats requires significant investments of time and commitment. Daily chores include feeding, watering, cleaning, and milking. Milking alone can take up to an hour or more, depending on the number of goats. Additionally, goats need regular health checks and attention to ensure their well-being.
Initial Costs and Infrastructure:
Setting up a dairy goat operation entails initial costs. Expenses may include purchasing quality goats, constructing suitable housing and fencing, and acquiring milking equipment. Building proper infrastructure is crucial to ensure the comfort, safety, and productivity of the goats. This needs to be done before acquiring your first goat.
Maintaining a consistent milking routine is essential for dairy goats. They should be milked at the same time every day to avoid discomfort and potential health issues. This can be challenging if the homestead or farmstead owner has a busy schedule or needs to be away from the property. Preferably, they should be milked twice a day.
Health and Veterinary Care:
Dairy goats, like any livestock, require routine veterinary care. Vaccinations, deworming, and periodic health check-ups are necessary to prevent diseases and ensure the well-being of the herd. The cost of veterinary services and potential health issues should be considered when deciding to keep dairy goats. We set aside $50 each month for Veterinary expenses, or $600 per year.
Space and Grazing Requirements:
While dairy goats require less space than cows, they still need adequate grazing areas and shelter. Goats are curious and agile animals that enjoy exploring their surroundings. Fencing must be secure and able to contain the goats while also preventing predators from accessing the herd.
Seasonal challenges can affect dairy goat management. Extreme weather conditions, such as heatwaves or cold spells, can impact milk production and overall goat health. In colder climates, ensuring proper shelter and winterizing facilities becomes crucial. Additionally, availability and quality of forage may fluctuate throughout the year, requiring additional planning and management. To me, this is the most challenging aspect of goat care.
Tips for Successful Dairy Goat Keeping:
– Research and select appropriate dairy goat breed suitable for your climate, goals, and available resources.
– Invest in high-quality goats from reputable breeders to ensure good genetic traits and overall health.
– Construct sturdy and secure housing and fencing that provides shelter, ventilation, and protection from predators.
– Establish a consistent feeding and milking routine to maintain optimal milk production and goat health.
– Provide a well-balanced diet, including forage, grains, minerals, and fresh water.
– Stay informed about goat health and common diseases, and work closely with a veterinarian to establish a preventive care program.
– Join local or online communities of dairy goat owners to exchange knowledge, experiences, and support.
Keeping dairy goats on a small homestead or farmstead offers numerous advantages, including a fresh milk supply, sustainable practices, effective land management, and potential income streams. However, it also requires dedication, time, and financial investment. By carefully considering the pros and cons and implementing proper management practices, you can successfully incorporate dairy goats into your small-scale farming or homesteading operation, reaping the benefits of these versatile and rewarding animals.