Milk Production versus Sustainability
When one begins a dairy operation, generally there is lots of enthusiasm and energy. That’s actually quite necessary. Equally vital is the stamina and perseverance to maintain a certain energy level and even rhythm to the production cycles. Whether or not the dairy endeavor continues depends to a large degree upon how the operation is set up. Some examples to analyze would be how many times a day you are going to milk, how many goats you are going to milk, whether you are going to milk by hand or machine, how long you intend to milk for each season, your goal for production, where your markets are going to be, and how the transportation is going to function. I would like to take a few moments to go more in depth on a few of these examples.
How many times a day to milk. Many dairies are based on the premise of milking twice a day. Obviously, it appears at first blush that this is a no-brainer: more milk. Some subtle factors here are: who is going to raise the babies and with what to feed them, the amount of energy and whether you are a morning or evening person. What I have found out over the decades I’ve been milking is that, cute as bottle babies are, mama goats are the best critters to rear their own babies. The babies are healthier and learn how to be goats. They aren’t quite as tame, but can be trained to be fine milkers. And, there are always a few naturally friendly goats. There is a diminished production, but I find that the nannies are happier when they have their babies around. My routine includes milking in the am, then putting the nannies together during the day with their kids until evening, when I separate them and feed dinner in their respective pens. I’ve discovered that I am a morning person and don’t relish the idea of an evening milking, whereas I can easily manage dinnertime for everyone – myself included, with the time and energy from not dealing with a pm milking. Many dairies sell the kids as soon as possible. While I sell kids at about 3 months of age, I also keep an eye on how the kids are growing and always save the most vigorous doelings for replacements or for people who want a good 4-H goat. Over the years, this method has been quite doable and I have now been milking for decades and been a licensed dairy for 8 years. Five years is generally the tipping point of evaluating if the method or business is feasible.
How many goats to milk. This question is inherently tied to how much milk you want to produce or cheese you want to make. That, in turn, is tied to where your markets are and how much product you are planning on selling. Fortunately, the systems generally co-evolve together. That is, beginning with a few goats and a bit of milk/cheese and growing both the number of milkers and the amount of product sold together. I have certainly found that to be true in my area. I have actually done a lot of education about both goat cheese and farmstead, artisan cheese that has eventually grown my market and contacts.
Whether to milk by hand or machine. From my experience, I’d say that about 10 goats is the dividing line when I began to peruse the catalogs for milking machines. Presently, I do a combination of double belly-pan milking machine and milking by hand. I milk 4 goats at a time in groups and then can do as many groups of 4 as I have good milkers. I bought my milking machine from Hoegger some 8 years ago and it has served me well, appearing to be continuing in its service. Recently, I’ve been milking some 16-20 nannies during the season, with a peak at some 30+ as I bring the gals through to evaluate their udder health, behavior, teat aperture, and production to see if they stay in the milking lineup or simply rear their babies.
For my next blog, I will explore how long to milk, which involves manipulating breeding cycles. And that’s a whole ‘nother topic.
Thanks for reading, and, as usual, feel free to email me at email@example.com with any comments or questions.
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