Since I know all you guys are just dying to own some goats…
…and since I know all your husbands/boyfriends/fiances/girlfriends/wives are, like, totally begging you to please move to a farm so you can milk goats every morning… I’ve decided to compile a simple guide to raising and milking goats.
When I first was interested in getting a goat or two, I had NO IDEA how it all worked. Hopefully I can assist some readers out there in their research and maybe I’ll even convince you naysayers to get a goat yourself! Then you can be a weird goat person like me! And just think, next year you can send out Christmas card photos of you and your goat. (Don’t worry, you won’t look weird AT ALL).
Female goats are called DOES or DOELINGS as babies. Male goats are called BUCKS or BUCKLINGS as babies. If a male goat has been castrated (neutered with simple rubber banding) they are known as a WETHER.
The ONLY way to get milk from a goat is to get a female doe pregnant so she can have babies first. Each time a goat has babies, this kick starts her milk production and is known as a FRESHENING. It’s very similar to humans. At first the mother has a lot of milk, but then gradually over the course of about a year, the amount of milk reduces. Typically, goats have their babies in the spring, then at 8 weeks you can sell the babies and enjoy milk for almost an entire year. You’ll want to breed your goat again in the fall if you want to freshen her milk again in the spring. Don’t worry, you can still milk a doe while she is pregnant, but you’ll have to let her dry up 2 months before she is due so she can build up some nutritional reserves for her offspring.
Here’s a pic of a fabulous Nigerian Dwarf goat who looks like she really needs to be milked. Ouch.
Debunking some Myths:
Goats will not eat your lawn mower, your outdoor furniture, your trampoline, or your kid’s toys. They may chew on the bark of a tree and will eat the fruit that falls off (although my goats don’t like citrus), but that’s about it.
Female goats (or DOES) are not mean and won’t try to head butt you or bite. Male goats that are castrated (WETHERS) are nice too. Male goats that are intact (BUCKS) can be aggressive and bite/head butt. But I’m sure there are some nice ones out there, too. 🙂
Purchasing your very first Goat:
First thing you need to know is that there are many different breeds of goats.
- There are dairy breeds: Nubian, La Mancha, Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Saanen, Sable, and Nigerian Dwarf goats.
- There are meat breeds: Spanish, Tennessee, Boer, and Kiko goats.
- There are some fancy–pantsy breeds that produce fibers for fabric: Angora and Cashmere goats.
- And then there are the fun pet breeds: Pygmy and Fainting goats.
I’m sure I forgot a couple breeds here, but you get the idea that there are special jobs for certain breeds. Since I don’t know very much about any other breeds than milking breeds, that’s what I’m going to talk about today. (Although it would be pretty fun to have a couple fainting goats, am I right?)
When I started looking at the different dairy breeds, all I cared about was the flavor of their milk. I tried a couple different breeds’ milk and there were some that had that all too familiar musky/goaty flavor. Yup, not gonna drink that!
When I tried the Nigerian Dwarf’s milk, it was amazing! Very smooth and fresh, and a bit sweet without any sort of aftertaste. I learned that Nigerians were bred for this purpose, to have milk that tastes similar to cow’s milk. So I would personally recommend Nigerians for the best tasting milk. Nigerians are also smaller and eat less hay, so that’s a bonus. Full grown, Nigerians are only about 75 lbs.
UPDATE: I have tried various Nubian milk and some has been delicious. Some was not so delicious. Good milk handling practices are important.
When starting out, you should purchase TWO does or doelings. Goats are herd animals and they will be super sad (and LOUD) if left alone. Ask me how I know.
Yep, we bought just one goat at first and that dang thing was always bleating and calling out for a friend. So you’ll definitely want to find that goat a friend. A dog or some chickens won’t cut it. Any other hoofed animal would though. A cow, a sheep, a horse—they find friends in these creatures too. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a buck or buckling yet, unless there are not many already close by to breed with in the future. Bucks can stink a lot when they are older, and are pretty disgusting and aggressive. If they are kept in close quarters with a doe, the flavor of your milk can actually taste really bad! They give off strong pheromones that change the female doe’s hormones too. In the end, unless you want to really start a herd of goats, you can just borrow a buck once a year for breeding time (or take your female does over for a visit to Mr. Buck’s house) and be done with it.
The cost of a goat:
OPTION #1 – Buy a baby goat doeling.
The cheapest way is to buy a young doeling, as young as 8 weeks old (that’s the time when they can be weaned from their mother). Goat breeders usually have a lot of babies around the same time and are willing to offer package deals for two or more goats. The only con with this is you’ll have to wait AT LEAST a year to a year and a half before you can breed, then you’ll have to wait 5 months until they have babies and start giving milk. For Nigerian Dwarfs, you can find a young doeling for $150-$300 depending on their parents background, milking star awards, and colorings. Goats with blue eyes usually cost more.
TIP: The most important thing is FRIENDLINESS of the baby goat. You don’t want one that runs away and is afraid of everything. Although this can be sometimes hard to tell because baby goats like to RUN, haha. As long as they will eat from your hand, you’re okay.
OPTION #2 – Buy a junior doeling.
Sometimes you can get lucky and find an older doeling (6 months to 1 year old) and skip ahead a bit. Female does that are older, but haven’t been bred their first time yet are called JUNIOR DOES. Sometimes you can get lucky and have them bred BEFORE you purchase them. This way, you only have to wait 5 months until you have fresh milk. The only con with this is it gets more expensive as they get older, and then you have to tack on a breeding fee. I bought a Nigerian Dwarf goat this way for $400 total. Five months later, she had babies and it was perfect. Although we did pay top dollar at first.
TIP: You’ll want one that is friendly and NOT SKITTISH, and you’ll want to look at HER MOTHER’S TEAT SIZE and production. Don’t even worry about the junior doeling’s teats, they are always small before they have babies, but just be sure to check the mother.
OPTION #3 – Buy a senior doe in milk.
The final way to purchase is to look for a FEMALE DOE ALREADY IN MILK. This is what I tried to do at first. I “thought” this was the easy way, but in the end I just kept getting does that nobody wanted and had problems. Sometimes you can find one that is a good producer and no problems, but more often than not, the breeder is downsizing the herd, and the doe your about to purchase is at the bottom of the list. You’ll find these does are cheaper, like $150-$200.
TIP: If you still want to pursue this option, look for traits that will be worth having. You want a goat that ISN’T SKITTISH, that is producing the correct amount of milk for the season (see below), and that has a good teat length (1 1/2 inch or longer). You’ll also want to make sure she doesn’t have any visible signs of infection or skin disorders.
The Cost to Keep a Goat:
Nigerians eat 2 lb. of feed a day, which is 4 c. of the alfalfa/bermuda blend pellets. We have figured that it costs us about $12 a month in hay/pellets to feed one Nigerian Dwarf goat. If they are giving 7-15 gallons a month of milk, then it comes out to an average of $1.50/gallon of milk. This is assuming your only costs are the basics though. You need to add on the costs for minerals, herbs, wipes, filters, and the occasional Ultrasound ($20) or blood test ($5-$25).
How much milk does a goat produce?
When a Nigerian Dwarf FRESHENS, or has babies, her udder is operating a full capacity. You will start to milk your goat when the babies are two weeks old. You will separate the babies from mom at night and then let her udder fill up all night. In the morning she will have a large udder full of milk, and you can milk as much out as you can before letting her back in with her babies for the rest of the day.
But what about milk for the babies? This is the awesome thing about goats. They have a reflex that will literally “hold back” milk for their babies. So, in the morning, when you are milking, you can simply milk until she wants you to stop. You will know because you will squeeze and squeeze and barely get anything. Pretty cool, huh? I think so!
Once the babies can be weaned (8 weeks old) you will be able to milk your goat morning and night. This is when your goat will be at her PEAK PRODUCTION. At this time our Nigerian Dwarfs are making about a quart or more at MORNING and again at NIGHT. Total milk per day is 1/2 gallon or 15 gallons a month.
Very gradually, your goat’s milk production will start to go down. At about 5-6 months after freshening, a Nigerian Dwarf will give about 3 cups at MORNING and again at NIGHT. Total milk per day is 1 1/2 quarts, or 11 gallons a month.
At about 8-9 months after freshening, she’ll be at 2 cups at MORNING and again at NIGHT. Total milk per day is one quart or 7 gallons a month.
If your doe is pregnant, then her milk will continue to dry up and at 10 months you should stop milking. If your doe is not pregnant, she may continue to produce milk for up to 2 years. It really just depends on the individual goat.
Raising baby goats:
A baby goat must drink from its mother for at least 8 weeks before it can be weaned to complete hay or pasture. Some goat owners will take the babies away from the mother right away and bottle feed. They will keep them in separate places, milk the mother, and then pour the milk into a bottle and feed the baby. Seems like a lot of work, huh? Well, some goat owners believe this is beneficial and makes very tame and friendly goats. In an extreme case where the goat momma dies or abandons her kid, you’ll be stuck with this task whether you want it or not.
It’s really quite a sweet thing to see a momma goat patiently feed her hungry babies, call out when they call for her, and endure the endless jumping and tugging on her body. As a mom, I totally understand what she goes through. And by the time they are 8 weeks old, they are naughty teenagers ready to explore on their own!
What do goats eat?
Contrary to popular belief, goats don’t eat everything. In fact, they are picky little stinkers! Goats are browsers, not grazers. This means they do not like to graze like a horse or cow or deer. They like to forage for their food and tend to love weeds more than grass.
In my area, we have alfalfa hay bales, bermuda hay bales, and a bermuda/alfalfa blend. We also have alfalfa pellets, bermuda pellets, and bermuda/alfalfa pellets. Goats can eat different things like rye, clover, fescue, and orchardgrass. Since I live in the desert, we pretty much stick to alfalfa and bermuda with some occasional clover.
Here are the PROS and CONS with buying goat food in HAY vs. PELLETS:
HAY (alfalfa, bermuda, or blend)
PRO: Hay is in the best for a goat’s stomach. The long stems aid in digestion and bacteria processing done in their rumen. Anything in its most natural form is going to be the healthiest.
CON: It’s usually a couple dollars more expensive. It’s messy. And since goats are foragers, they will sift through it, eat the best parts, and leave a lot of waste. Don’t think that if you stop feeding them, they’ll eat the waste eventually, because they won’t. They are stubborn and will starve before they eat it. Okay maybe not starve, but they’ll get pretty malnourished. If you can’t buy organic, there may be a lot of pesticide residue on the hay since they don’t wash before harvest. Check this with your local farmer before buying.
PELLETS (alfalfa, bermuda, or blend)
PRO: It’s a couple dollars cheaper than hay. It’s clean and easy to transport and carry. There’s no waste. The alfalfa/bermuda is washed with water before processing. This is especially beneficial if you aren’t able to purchase organic varieties. Hopefully during the washing, some of the pesticides can be removed.
CON: They tend to bloat more with it. Goats do need those long stems and you’ll want to try to supplement a bit with a real hay or grass substitute if possible.
How we feed our goats:
At first, we bought pellets and fed them that year round. Occasionally we’d buy alfalfa as a treat, or cut down some branches from our trees to supplement. Suddenly I realized it was pretty silly of me to have a whole acre of bermuda grass and yet, I was buying an alfalfa/bermuda blend. I started to research online what other goat owners across the country did, and I realized a lot of people were setting their goats out to pasture on bermuda ALONE! Wait, this would make goats grazers, wouldn’t it? Won’t they hate it? I decided to see for myself.
Here in Arizona, bermuda grass grows like crazy from about May until October. In my backyard I had organic, bermuda and I wasn’t even letting my goats eat it. I decided to force them to be grazers for the summer. In reality, I wasn’t really forcing them to be grazers at all because bermuda grass is actually a weed, and I also noticed my yard had a mix of crabgrass, clover and weeds too.
My goats at first didn’t know what was up. They LOVED being able to wander around and get some exercise, but they were confused. Soon, they remembered they had a natural ability to forage for themselves and spent the whole summer and fall enjoying the grass/weeds. I still gave them treats of alfalfa and grain occasionally, but for the most part they lived off bermuda and they continued to have high amounts of milk throughout. We fed a grain mixture only at the stand when milking.
If you look over at Fiasco Farms, they have a lot of different nutritional advice for goats. You’ll see our feeding method is a bit simpler than Fiasco Farms. I love Fiasco Farms information, but I don’t think our goats need any more supplementation that what we already give.
Breeding a goat:
If you don’t own a male goat (also known as a BUCK), then you’ll need to find one if you want milk. The cost of a stud fee can vary greatly depending on the quality of the buck. I would say it’s anywhere between $50-$100 for a breeding. We’ve brought our female does to the buck’s house, and brought the buck to us. Both ways work, so it’s up to you on which you prefer.
But it’s not very fun to transport a buck, let me tell you! If you are paying for a stud fee, the buck owner should take responsibility of checking frequently to notice if your doe has been bred. Sometimes it can be easy to miss, but they should be making an effort. A good sign that your doe has been bred is that you’ll see a milky white discharge coming from her. Sounds gross, I know. But it’s really hard to tell if a doe is pregnant until they’re about to deliver (they have such big stomachs anyway), so be very grateful if you see that fluid after a breeding!!
Caring for a pregnant doe:
A goat pregnancy lasts 150 days, or 5 months. You can milk a pregnant doe until 2 months before delivery. They naturally start to dry up at this exact same time anyway, but it’s important to encourage it to happen. To dry up a goat, you simply milk less. You can go from every other day, to every few days, and by then you won’t want to drink the milk. By this time the mineral buildup is too high and the milk will taste salty.
Make sure in the last two months you de-worm them herbally and supplement their diet with some leftover produce scraps from your kitchen. Fruit and vegetables can be fun treats at this time and give a little boost of nutrition. You can also give a little organic grain as a treat, but don’t overdo it. Traditionally, animals ate a leftover grain from the harvest in the fall, but grain is hard to digest and can be acidic to a goats body. Some people believe animals with rumen stomachs shouldn’t eat grain at all, but I think a little now and then is fine. I will also soak the grain or sprout before I give it, to help with digestibility.
A telltale sign that your doe is getting close to delivery is to run your fingers alongside her spine all the way to the tail. Just before you get to the tail, see if you can squeeze the ligament just before her tail. If you do this about 2-3 weeks before delivery, you’ll be able to notice a definite relaxing of that ligament. Once you feel it’s completely gone, you know delivery should be soon, within a couple days.
To spare you all the details of birth, go ahead and visit the Fiasco Farms page about goat deliveries. And be sure to prepare yourself for the occasional problem delivery. We went 4 years with no issues and then we had an issue with this goat delivery here. Read up on possible issues during delivery before it happens! Don’t worry, there aren’t a ton of issues that can happen, but there are a couple things you gotta understand about how baby goaties are born.
Baby goaties are here!
Yes, I know they’re called kids. Over here we like to say baby goaties, ’cause we’re cool like that. When the goaties come out, be sure to wipe them off and sit them right up to Mom so she can lick ’em till they shine 🙂 You don’t want to take them away and clean them or anything, because you want the mom and baby bond to develop! The surge of oxytocin she gets will help her feel that love towards her little goatie. And trust me, you want a momma goat that loves her baby!
It won’t be too long until that baby starts to stand. You’ll want to stay out there with Momma and babies until you are sure all are standing and able to suck. Sometimes you’ll get a weak baby and you’ll have to watch for that. You’ll probably walk out to check on them/play with them in the next couple days anyway, so just take note while you’re out there and make sure each kid is able and strong enough to fight its way to a teat.
The DAM (or momma doe) will have afterbirth/blood/goo for up to 2 weeks. As long as it gets less and less, she is fine. You may take her temperature to monitor her health, but I never do this because I know my goats behavior pretty well and if they are eating and drinking and alert I know they are okay.
How to actually milk a goat:
Once upon a time there was a woman who bought a goat. She was so excited to get FRESH milk every day! She woke up early one morning, and with butterflies in her stomach she put her goat on the milking stand, poured some grain in the feeder, and started to tug. Nothing. “Hmmmm,” the woman thought. She tugged and tugged. After 30 minutes and approximately one teaspoon of milk, the woman started to cry. “Why can’t I milk this freaking goat?!”, she yelled to the sky.
Then the woman got the BEST idea! She raced inside and rummaged through some old boxes. She ran back out to the impatient goat. Using her old breast pump, the woman was able to extract all the milk from the goat.
Aaaaannd THAT is how my first experience with milking a goat went. Yessiree, I used my old breast pump. Worked well, too! Only thing was, I knew I’d eventually have to learn how to milk my goat the right way.
Here’s what you do: You don’t tug at all. Your goal is to trap the milk in the teat. You do this by pinching your thumb and first finger. Then WHILE HOLDING THAT PART PINCHED, you put pressure on the teat with your other fingers.
It’s more difficult than it looks. But this is only because the muscles in your hands aren’t strong yet. At first it’ll take you 30 minutes to milk a goat, but then you’ll get to the point that it literally takes you 5 minutes. Trust me, you’ll get so fast at milking and your brain will memorize the movement that you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.
Watch my daughter teach you how to milk a goat!
How time consuming is it to raise and milk goats? And how do you take vacations?
It would seem from all this information that it must take A LOT of TIME to keep goats. But actually, I probably spend 10-25 minutes a day taking care of them. This includes feeding AND milking. When they go into labor, I spend probably 3-4 hours with them, but that’s only once a year.
When we want to go on vacation we call up a fellow goat friend and do a trade. We probably go on vacation 2-3 times per year so it’s no big deal. I actually enjoy milking my friend’s goats for a week or so because I used the extra milk to make a lot of cheese! The best way to find goaty friends near you is to join the American Goat Society. They have a directory of all the breeders in the U.S., which they will mail to you!
Holy long blog post, Goat Girl! I think I just about covered everything I can think of. Peace out goat lovers!