Dairy goats are known as the jesters of the farmyard and they tend to be a very appealing addition to any farm. They delight in eating many invasive plant species that other livestock will not touch. They have a humorous demeaner with which their caretakers enjoy working. And notably, dairy goats produce milk and a great number of milk derived products: cheese, yogurt, kefir, butter, soap, lotion, etc. For their size, dairy goats may be one of the most productive farm animals to exist. Yet contrary to popular opinion, great care must be taken to help them flourish.
Many people who raise goats will proudly show you their lovely farm fresh chèvre, but just what did it take to produce this epicurean delight? All mammals, including the goat, must complete a gestation to produce kids and thus begin a lactation. Articles abound online and in many books about the proper care and maintenance of dairy goats, but it is helpful to keep in mind all the factors that are necessary to become a producer of milk!
Starting with healthy, disease free goats should be the goal of every goat breeder, whether dairy, meat or wool. Health of the goat at the time of purchase will play a large role in the future health and productivity of the dairy goat. General recommendations are goats with clear eyes, a soft coat, trimmed hooves, in good condition (neither fat nor thin) and hopefully with records of disease testing, especially CAE. Any breeder of dairy goats should be able to indicate to you how well the goat or dam of the kid you are looking at produces milk, both in terms of pounds or kilograms per day. Some may even have official records!
So, you have acquired a doe or two, and shelter, hay, feed supplies and mentors and everything you need to care of a dairy goat. Now obviously the doe needs a mate to be bred to have some kids! There are a couple different ways to look at breeding dairy goats. Some goat owners intend to only keep the does they own so as to meet the family’s milk supply. In this case, they often choose any buck they can find to breed their does and consequently use the resulting kids for meat. This can be a very practicable way to maintain a small number of dairy goats and not worry too much about the quality of progeny of the kids born. On the other hand, many goat raisers prefer to use a quality buck to produce quality offspring for sale or for their own herd. Both options still require the use of healthy, disease free dairy goat bucks.
Goats have a gestation period of 5 months and it is especially important that their dietary and environmental needs are met during this period. Generally, all pregnant females are given a small ration of grains towards the last two months of pregnancy, as well as important inoculations approximately one month before they are to “kid” or give birth. Both of these measures ensure that the dairy goat has enough nutrients as well as that she builds the essential immune antibodies for certain goat illnesses that may be transferred to newborn goat kids via colostrum.
Colostrum is the first milk that a dairy goat produces after she kids. It cannot be overstated that colostrum is like yellow gold for goat kids. All kids must receive colostrum within the first few hours of life. Colostrum is rich in energy and is loaded with antibodies necessary to protect newborn goats for at least a month old. If one wants to raise goats correctly, one must always ensure ample colostrum intake by kids as soon after birth as possible. Colostrum does not have an appetizing flavor to humans. However, the dairy goat will start producing pristine, white delicious milk in just a few days post-birth.
There are many ways to raise dairy goat kids but the two basic methods are dam raising or bottle feeding. In the prior, the kids are left with their dam and share the milk with the farmer. After two weeks, they can be separated for 12 hours a day, their dam milked, to share even more. With bottle feeding, dairy goat kids are taken from their dams at birth and fed consistent feedings throughout the day for at least 2 months. In this case, the dairy goat must be milked twice a day every day. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages but both involve daily chores and hopefully lots of milk!
In conclusion, many people take great satisfaction in raising dairy goats and the products that they produce. However, it is helpful to understand that there are many factors and important points to remember when considering the path to dairy goat milk production. Healthy goats, breeding plans, pregnancy care, delivery and newborn care and then daily milking chores make quite the list of responsibilities! Happily, the rewards are worth it!