Are You Ready for a Dairy Goat?
Well, it’s all decided. You’ve done your research. You’ve come to the conclusion that you and your family are ready for the adventurous commitment of owning a dairy goat. The idea of home produced fresh wholesome milk fills your head with wonderful ideas. Just think of all of the dairy products you wouldn’t have to buy anymore! Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt. The list goes on and on…
Well, hold your horses for a second. There is a little more to this than you might think.
Just as you can choose any breed of dog for a house dog, there are substantial advantages and disadvantages to picking the wrong one based on your wants, needs and expectations. This concept is also VERY true of dairy goats. There are a number of “dairy” breeds to choose from, and since this will be an animal you will be tending and taking care of every day of the year, at least twice a day, you need to take this decision into careful consideration.
Just as you CAN have a Great Dane in the house, or a Chihuahua, there are factors that should influence your decision; do you live in the city in a small apartment, in the suburbs with a nice backyard, or out in the country? Well, when applying this rationalization to dairy goats, how much land do you have? How large is your family? How much milk are you expecting to have each day? Just like most domesticated species, dairy goats come in a variety of sizes, temperaments, and production levels to suit just about any family’s needs.
If it is just you at home, space is limited, or you are just a little too intimidated by the size of the standard breeds of dairy goats, you may want to consider a Nigerian Dwarf. No, they are not pygmy goats. Nigerians are a miniature dairy goat that take up little space, require very little feed when compared to their full size counterparts, and can be easier for small children to handle.
The opposite end of the dairy goat spectrum are Saanens. Originally from Switzerland, Saanens are known for their large size and high milk production. LaMancha are the only breed of dairy goat developed in America and are easily identified by their tiny “gopher” type ears (actually, it doesn’t look like they have ears at all). Speaking about ears, Nubians are the opposite of the LaMancha, being known for long drooping ears. The Nubian is also known for a generally higher butterfat in its milk than other breeds.
From my 20+ years of hands on experience in dairy goats, their care and diet determine their quality of milk. Their genetics determine the volume of production they are capable of. There are also Oberhasli, Alpines, and Toggenburgs. And of course for the family milker, any combination of these breeds may also fit into what you determine to be your goals and expectations of the animal or animals you acquire.
Go to the American Dairy Goat Associations website: www.adga.org
There you can find breeder listings, pages on the history of each dairy breed, and tons of instructional information to help you in your search for what breed best suits your needs and where you can find a reputable breeder. NEVER get your first goat from a sale barn. No matter what the seller is telling you, no matter what the doe looks like. She is there for a reason, and it isn’t a good reason. Set yourself up for success, not frustrating and expensive failure. Don’t even go TO a sale barn. You WILL be far too tempted, and you WILL be convinced that “this one” is different. Take my advice. I WANT you to be a happy and successful dairy goat owner years from now. I do NOT want you to regret getting into this very rewarding industry. Yes it is a lot of work and commitment, but the rewards are immeasurable. Producing top quality dairy products for your family is far more rewarding than you can imagine. Walking to your house from the goat pen with a bucket of the freshest milk you have ever experienced is more of a thrill than you could ever realize until you do it. You cannot do any better for the health of your family than producing your own food supply, where you ARE quality control.
When you’ve located a breeder, are ready to make that purchase, and are wondering how to choose between this animal or that animal, here is my recommendation.
If I could only list one characteristic in a dairy goat/family milker as the MOST important, ESPECIALLY for the first time owner, it would be the goat’s temperament. Is she people oriented? Does she enjoy being handled? How important is this? Well, think about it. You will be handling this animal every day, at least two times a day. Milking her, leading her, washing her udder, trimming her feet, holding her for the vet, the list goes on and on…..
Learning how to care for dairy goats, learning the milking procedures that are going to work for you and your family, and how to keep the dairy goat happy, healthy and safe are all PLENTY to keep you busy without having to fight with an unruly goat who insists on running from you, not being led, or continuously kicking on the milking stand. Take your time. Don’t pick the first goat you see. Keep your options open, and MOST importantly, be patient in making this decision. This will be a family commitment for everyone involved for the next 15+ years.
Throughout your research I hope you have looked into facility and fencing requirements. NEVER bring home an animal before you have everything ready for them. The number ONE killer of domestic goats is dogs. Not feral/wild dogs. Not coyotes. But your neighbor’s pet who was out gallivanting across the neighborhood. Thinking YOUR neighbors are different and THEY are all responsible dog owners is a delusion that will soon get your newly acquired dairy goat killed at worst and severely maimed at best. I’m not saying wild dogs and coyotes are not an issue. They are. BUT, when you are designing your goat enclosure, and we ALL have heard about how persistent and successful goats are at getting OUT of fences, your MAIN concern when building goat fences is not keeping the goats in, but keeping dogs OUT. If the Jack Russell Terrier next door, or the black lab down the way can’t get into your goat pens and pasture, then your goats can’t get out. Now any fence will eventually succumb to a goat’s climbing, pushing, and rubbing on it, but that is why electric fence was invented. To protect the substantial investment of both time and money that you SHOULD have in your fencing.
Structures don’t have to be fancy. A place to get out of the weather that is easy to clean, stays dry in the wet months of the year, and is also secure from predators is all you need. Your climate will determine these needs. Baby goats need more shelter than adults from the wind and cold, but ALL goats require shelter.
Finding Someone to Help
With the “place for the goat” taken care of, you’ll need a veterinarian that is comfortable with goats and their unique needs. Dairy Goats are not large dogs or small cows. They are a species all their own and have a BAD reputation of dying quickly under inexperienced care. Vets are known for not handling goats due to the high failure rate. They are not instructed in depth on goat husbandry and medical needs as a general schooling subject, and unless they have a specific interest in goats they are not generally equipped to have success in treating goats in any type of emergency situation. Couple that with the average “new to goats” owner thinking that “If she’s not better by Monday, we’ll call the vet” and when Monday roles around, if the goat is still alive, the vet basically only has time to humanly euthanize her as she is beyond help at that point. Goats don’t show long, drawn out symptoms of sickness. They die VERY quickly. Don’t blame the vet when you haven’t consulted with them at the onset of sickness (the SAME DAY you noticed it). With time, you will become VERY knowledgeable in what signs to look for and a myriad of treatments you can do yourself to nip most problems in the bud WAY before a vet is needed. But this kind of “dairy goat wisdom” takes patience, careful observation, and most of all time to achieve. I have been in goats for over 25 years and specifically dairy goats for over 20 years and I am still learning things about these intriguing creatures.
If finding a vet seems impossible, as a lot of areas just don’t have large animal veterinarians, the next best thing is a mentor. This may wind up being the person you buy your dairy goat from, or some other individual who has been in dairy goats for an extended period of time. Someone to advise you, give you ideas, and support you through the new owner jitters. You’ll start to feel more confident once you get your goat through the heat of summer, successfully bred in the fall, safely through the winter and pregnancy, and into a successful kidding in early Spring with milk flowing, and baby goats jumping everywhere making you laugh with their silliness. Then it’s time to find someone that you can help as they start their journey.
These few steps should help you on your road to a fulfilling and happy dairy goat ownership. I wish you every success in this next adventure.
Provided by Yvonne Robinson
NYRLE Real Goats Dairy