{Raising Dairy Goats} From someone who's never owned them....

First of all, let me just say, I did not take the photo below.

However, isn't it the most ADORABLE thing you have ever seen!?

http://www.olyfarmstead.org/

A couple of months ago my neighbor brought me some fresh goats milk, and I have been hooked ever since. I could not believe the richness and flavor that was GOOD. I had witnessed people drinking goat's milk before -- you know, that nasty odor-full sour milk. But this was nothing like that. I would soon find out that it was due to good husbandry skills and a clean environment.

And so began my want....or...need....to have dairy goats.

Husband did not understand this need, hence, why we do not have them yet!

Men....pffft....

Anyhow....

http://www.woolydogdown.com/

    Husband agreed to consider it if I could gather all of the information together about dairy goats and present it to him. He wanted to know three specific things....


    • How much was it going to cost him?
    • How often do they need to be milked by me?
    • Where on earth are we going to put them?


    See what I did there?....

    So needless to say, he gave me a week to figure this all out. Husband underestimate's my ability to research things, so I only needed 6 hours. Call me an overachiever...I dare you...

    Here are the things that I discovered:

    http://www.silveroaksranch.com/

    What are the basics?

    First of all, you'll need to know how to refer to your goats, no matter what breed. 

    Goat babies are called "kids".
    A female juvenile goat is called a doeling. 
    A male juvenile goat is called a buckling, or if he is "fixed", he is called a whether. 
    An adult female goat is called a doe, and an adult male goat is called a buck (or whether).  

    You should know that you will need to have 2 or more goats at one time. Because goats are companion animals, you cannot (or should not) only have one goat. They will be very sad, and who wants a sad goat? Besides, they will drive you crazy with their cries for a companion all day long.

    You can purchase goats as kids, or you can purchase them as adults. In many cases, it is better to purchase them as kids because they become used to you and are easier for milking when they are older. However, sometimes that's just not what you want, you want to get started right away. In which case, you can purchase does and bucks, and breed them  yourself, or you can purchase does that are already bred. Prepare yourself to spend between $75 to $500 for a goat. Quality milking goats are much more expensive, but well worth the money.

    There are many things that you'll need to look for when choosing to buy a goat. Make sure they come from milking lines. Many times people purchase goats that are just a particular breed that they want, but as with anything, if they are not bred for quality, then you're stuck with a goat that isn't a good milker for multiple reasons. Adult does will need to have large enough udders/teets for milking. If they are too small, they are useless because you will not be able to milk efficiently. 

    You should also make sure that the environment that they were born in is clean and disease free. Goat's can get diseases quickly and die, just like any other animal. It helps tremendously if you purchase a goat from a breeder that has tested negative for diseases and has a closed herd. Again, you truly do get what you pay for. My motto has always been, "if you're going to do something, do it right and offer the best." If I cannot offer the best to my family or customers, it's not worth my time, and every single one of them knows that!

    What kind of goats?

    Because of their small body type, I decided that Nigerian Dwarf goats would be the best option for us. They also have a very high fat content in their milk, which makes it extra creamy and perfect for making cheese and butter -- however, you may consider buying a cream separator for goat's milk, as it is naturally homogenized (see product list below). Homogenized means that the cream and milk are naturally combined, so there is no cream that quickly rises to the top, as it does in cow milk etc. However, a separator isn't necessary -- you can read more here when that time comes. 

    There are, of course, many other dairy goat options, such as the Nubian (gorgeous goats!), LaMancha, Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Saanen, and Sable. The most popular are the Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, and LaMancha. The bigger the goat, the more milk they produce, of course.


    What about the milk?

    Goats must be bred yearly in order to have a milk supply. Each doe can have 2-4 kids (yep, that's what they're called!) at a time. You can then sell or retain the kids. But if you're like us, you'd want to sell them. Goat kids can sell between $75 and $250 each here in Virginia, depending on the breed and quality. This will help offset your yearly feed cost. 

    Once your doe has kidded, the babies will need to nurse for about 2 weeks before you start milking. The amazing thing about goats is that they hold back milk for their babies, so you can get your milk, and babies still have enough for them as well! Does that are already milking but are preparing to kid should be dried out 2 months before kidding, so you'll need to stagger your pregnancies if you want milk all year long.

    Goats can produce up to (and sometimes more) a 1/2 gallon to a gallon per goat, per day. It all depends on the breed. This means that if you have two milking does at one time, you could potentially be milking a gallon  to two gallons each day (again, depending on the breed). This was appealing to me, as I have friends and family members that would be interested in milk shares. And it would give me a lot of milk to make butter and cheese with (which my egg customers would love!).

    In the state of Virginia, you are not legally allowed to buy raw milk (of any kind or breed). However, you are allowed to "own" a share in a goat herd, and you pay monthly for the upkeep and care of the goat. Normally, you would pay a $35 or so, one time fee for your "share" of the goat (which you would receive back if you chose to stop your share). Then you would pay a monthly fee, designated by the farmer, for the boarding of the goat. In return, you would receive your milk each week in 1/2 gallon glass jars. It is up to the farm as to how much milk you receive, each farm and homestead is different. Some only give a 1/2 gallon each week as your milk share, other's give a full gallon.

    I had figured up that we could be getting as much as 7 gallons of milk per week. Since we only go through 3 or so ourselves (I'd be making butter and cheese), we may have room for one milk share to begin with. Which would help offset the cost of feed.

    Housing, shelter, and space needed?

    Because I am choosing to go with Nigerian Dwarf goats, they need a lot less space than a full size goat would. They can easily fit on an open 1/4 acre by themselves, and even smaller. However, we prefer that our animals have free roam, and lots of it. 

    Goats don't need an elaborate shelter, but they do need something that gets them out of the elements -- rain, snow, wind, cold and heat. We found a lot of great things on pinterest that showed us how to build shelters out of re-purposed wood and other items. Make sure they have a nice bed of hay, and you're good to go. I, personally, would add a sliding door for those downright frigid winter nights. 

    What do you feed them? How much does it cost?

    This was the kicker for me, and the one thing I could not convince husband to reason with me on. He's a math whiz, and a darn good one. I am no match for his mad arithmetic skills.

    Milking does eat alfalfa bales and grain/feed. Since we raise our animals all naturally, we would need to find a non-gmo feed and alfalfa bales. That's the whole point of raising what we eat, right?

    Non-milking does do not (and probably should not) need to eat alfalfa like milking does do, they can have hay. Hay is a dime a dozen around here, and I could get some from my grandfather or friends (we have lots of actual farmer friends!)

    Two does would go through 1 bale of alfalfa per week. A bale of alfalfa in VA can range from $5 to $10, depending on the quality. We would need 60-80 bales of alfalfa to get us through the year.

    We live on a half acre, where in the heck am I putting 60-80 bales of alfalfa?!

    At $5 a bale, it would cost (for alfalfa alone) $300-$400 a year for the bales.

    Grain/feed is $16-$20 per bag, depending on the brand. We would need 2 bags per month, so $32+ per month, $384 per year.

    The total cost per year for feed would be $600-$700. That's roughly $1.64 per gallon of milk, but only if we milk 7 gallons a week, and that's just not going to happen because the longer a doe milks, the less milk you get from her until she kids again. 

    It comes out to $50-$60 per month to tend to them, which really isn't too bad....as long as nothing goes wrong

    Other costs that you need to consider.....


    Shelter:  are you going to purchase one or make your own?

    http://novitiatehomesteader.blogspot.com/
    Milking stand : again, are you making your own or purchasing one? You can make your own for as low as $20, or as much as $100.


    Half Gallon Mason Jars -- you can purchase them from your local feed store, TSC, or on amazon.


    One or two Milk Pails -- because you're going to need to put that milk into something before bottling it!


    Hoof trimmers: because those hoofs don't trim themselves.


    Mesh Funnel: to trap any hair or debris that got into the milk on the way back to the house.

    There are other things that you can buy to make your life easier, but you'll figure that out as you go along.

    ...after all, I've never even owned goats, but my word, can I research them!!

    In the end, we are in the middle of doing small renovations to our home in hopes of selling this coming Spring (2015). Our goal is to purchase a larger lot of land with a home already on it, or on which we can put our home. This would give us more room for more animals and a more self sufficient lifestyle.

    But as we know, sometimes life has different plans for us -- so if that time never comes, we will be happy and extremely grateful for what we have already....


    I wish you the best of luck in your dairy goat journey, if you decide to take that journey. And one day, when we have more land (prayerfully in the next year!), be fully prepared to be bombarded with goat blogs!!

    happy homesteading,
    amy

    **Linked up over at The Elliott Homestead!!**

    Holistic Health