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Fresh Milk on Tap: Goats for Home Milk Production

There are many uses for milk. Along with drinking, it is a necessary ingredient in many recipes and is required to make cheeses, yogurt, and other foods. Having a self-sustained supply of milk is invaluable on a small homestead, but most family homes cannot justify the expense, the workload, nor the space required for a cow just to produce milk for the family. A single cow is also capable of producing far more milk than the average family would use daily, and, although there are ways to use surplus milk, in most cases it ends up being more time-consuming than it is worth. So what’s a family who wants to be self-sufficient to do? You don’t have to rely on stores or the kindness of others. You can produce your own milk supply with the help of one of nature’s most versatile domestic creatures: the goat.

Goat’s milk is consumed by 65% of the world’s population. In many countries, the same reasons as those faced by small homesteads apply. The cost of maintaining larger animals and the time required for care make goats a much wiser choice. Goat’s milk is also delicious! That plays a huge part in choosing goats over cows as well.

Goat’s milk has a bad reputation in America, but largely the cause of that reputation is a lack of understanding on how to properly care for and use goat’s milk and consumption of store bought goat’s milk. Goat’s milk has one drawback over cow’s milk. It doesn’t store well for long periods. Fresh goat’s milk is delicious, creamy and smooth. It makes wonderful soft cheeses, although it tends to be more difficult to make hard cheeses such as cheddar with goat’s milk.

Once you make the decision to buy a goat, there are several things to consider in order to choose the right animal for your needs.

What Breed is Best

Best is a hard thing to qualify because everybody who has spent time with raising goats has their own favorites, and there are a few reasons that different breeds are better than others. There are several breeds that are real stand-outs when it comes to milk production and taste. Yes, the taste of the milk does vary between breeds, and should be a consideration when making your choice.

The most popular dairy goat breeds are: Alpine, Nubian and Saanen. There are many others, but those three maintain their popularity for several reasons.  When making the choice to see which breed fits your situation best, consider the following information:

Alpines have a very pleasant, easy-going personality. They come in a wide variety of colors and are attractive to look at. They produce about a gallon of milk per day. The milk is mild and creamy but not as sweet as Nubian milk.

Nubians are the comics of the goat world. They are also expressive and intelligent. It has been said by Nubian owners that there isn’t a gate that they can’t open. They are a distinctive looking breed because they are the only goat breed that has long, pendulous ears that hang down the sides of their heads and big Roman noses. They are also a colorful breed, with many coat colors and patterns. They are beautiful to look at and ordinarily very gentle and loving.

On the flip side, Nubians can be very opinionated, stubborn, and extremely noisy. Nubians will vocally tell you how they feel at all times of the day—loudly. That can be wonderfully fun for owners who love to communicate with their animals, but difficult for some small homestead goat owners with less than thrilled neighbors. Nubian milk is the creamiest of all goat milks. They have the highest fat content of all the breeds, and their milk is deliciously sweet and makes excellent cheese. Nubians are on the modest side of the scale when it comes to production, averaging about ½ to ¾ gallon per day, per animal.

Saanens are the Holsteins of the goat world. When it comes to overall production, they are hard to beat. Averaging about 1 ½ gallons per day, per animal, some can even produce up to 2 gallons of milk per day. Saanen goat milk has the lowest fat concentration of all the breeds and the milk is a little thin tasting, but very palatable. If you need a lot of milk and do not intend to make a lot of rich cheeses, the Saanen may be your best bet. They are traditionally white, although there is a variety of Saanen called the “Sable” which is a colored variety of the breed. Saanens are also a very large goat, even bigger than the Nubian. Luckily, in spite of their great size, Saanens are very mellow and good-natured.

Another possibility many homesteaders consider is crossbred goats. Many times you can get the ‘best of both (or more) worlds’ when you buy a goat that is a combination of several breeds. The risk there is you won’t know until you get the animal in production if the right combination exists.  Also, in some cases it is hard to tell what breeds were in the mix, unless one was Nubian. Nubian crosses are almost always easy to spot due to their long, hanging ears, or what is known as “airplane” ears, the result of long hanging ears mixed with small perk ears.

Size Matters

Size is a consideration for those who want to be self-sufficient but do not have a lot of room. It is important to remember that any breed of goat will produce milk, so, if space is a big consideration, a small breed may be the way to go. Pygmy goats are a popular choice for meat, but are tough to milk, and don’t produce much. However, the Nigerian Dwarf goat is a very small goat breed that has very good dairy tendencies and makes a great choice for small spaces. In general, goats do not need a lot of room; but if you only have a small backyard, a Saanen or Nubian is probably going to be a little cramped.

How Many Goats Do You Need?

Another thing to remember is that you can’t have just one. Well, in reality you can, but it will be difficult for several reasons. Goats are herd animal and do not do as well in single habitation. However, that’s not the main reason you need more than one goat. Milk production occurs because they are lactating for their young. That means you must breed your goat in order to start milk production. And, while regular milking will keep the production going for a little longer than nature would normally have it continue when nursing, production will begin to wane after it peaks. Having two females will allow you to stagger your breeding times so that your milk production remains somewhat consistent throughout the larger portion of the year. There may still be a dry month here and there, but if you are careful to plan out your schedule well, they will be minimal.

The Buck Stops Here

Because you have to breed, a buck (male goat) is an important part of the equation. However, many small homesteaders prefer to use A.I. (artificial insemination) in order to breed their does (females) without the inconvenience and expense of keeping a male around just to cover a few females a year. There is an added benefit to A.I. too—it doesn’t smell. Goats have a reputation for being stinky, but that isn’t true of the does. It is the bucks who smell – they really do!

If you are going to keep your own buck, you will need separate quarters for him. You will also want those quarters as far away from your home, and the girls, as possible. An important reason for keeping the buck so far removed from the does during the times of the year that he isn’t breeding them is that the smell of the buck will rub off onto the does. This will cause them to stink and can also taint the taste of the milk.

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30 comments

  1. I seldom comment but want to say “Thanks for the work you do and sharing it with us.

  2. I once had several goats for a cow-milk allergic child. I learned to LOVE goats. I particularly remember a Saanan and a Nubian (my two main milk goats). We had fifty acres and when the family went for a walk through the pines we allowed the goats to come along. They were like dogs! The Nubian, in particular, was as you say. We had a wood cook stove (in addition to the electric stove) and a chimney for smoke. The house was against a hill and the nubian could get on the roof and she would holler down the chimney at me. Believe it or not, I would call back to here (yes, it was crazy I know). She would talk back. I have no idea what she was saying but we did communicate. Good article! I like your newsletter too!

  3. Beginning in high school we lived out in a rural area in Waukesha County and among other animals, Lucy the Saanen goat was part of our lives. She was the only goat we had, but she did have other animals for company. She was very sweet and always gentle. We got her from a poultry farm that had kept her on a 6 foot chain. At the time we got her, she was finishing up a lactation. Her milk had the “green grass” taste that I understand comes from certain bloodlines. After that first taste, all the rest of her milk went to our dogs, who loved it. We kept her as a pet for 8 years. We even had her in the house! Because of Lucy, I love goats and when I can move out to a rural area, I will again have a goat…actually a whole herd is my goal!

  4. I have a small herd of goats 3 nubians, 1 alpine, 1 saanen, they are all in milk right now I milk twice a day and love the milk. My husband who can’t drink cows milk does not have a problem with the goat milk. You can use it for all things also you can skim the cream not much there but enough and collect enough to make butter. Also raw milk is very good for people who have arthritis and has many very good things in it for our bodies. Milk from the store is like white bread all the good stuff is gone so they must add to it. Every state has different rules if you have excess and want to sell it, in some it is against the law. But the stores have lots of other things they sell that are so very bad for us to consume.

    Thank you for the write up it was well done. One last thing goats must be taken care of as many areas are copper deficient, plus if you want good milk you must have a healthy animal and feed it correctly or you get the bad taste and then process it the right way. It must be cooled off right away or it can have an off taste, my milk will keep up to a week in the fridge.

    There are many web sites out there that are very good for all of us goat people from beginner to old timers.
    Keep up the good work and have a great day.

  5. Thanks for the article, one thing that was not mentioned is goats are very naughty if they get loose. They can very quickly reek havoc on a vegetable, herb and flower bed. Also whatever they eat will go into the milk. We had one that must’ve found some wild onions, although tasty on hamburgers they do not blend well with milk. Sweet feed grain is the best to give although in tough times it will not be so easy to run down to the local grain mill to purchase. They also need or should be on a good high quality hay for higher milk production.

  6. I’ve owned dairy goats for years and this is a VERY good article, obviously written by a knowledgeable goat person, but you left out a very important consideration for anyone thinking of doing this. Fencing! A wise person tole me when I first was thinking about goats: “If your fence will keep in a goat, it will keep in anything!” Goats are highly intelligent, and they can figure out how to jump over, crawl under or run through anything except an excellently designed and installed fence. And goats MUST be kept in a fence, NEVER tied. The fence serves two purposes equally important: to keep the goats in and protect them from predators, which can be anything from a coyote to the neighbor’s dog. After several attempts, we’ve settled on a design recommended by Premier Fencing; a woven wire fence topped with electric and barbed wire at the bottom. Here’s a link to a photo of this design:
    http://www.premier1supplies.com/fencing.php?mode=detail&fence_id=78
    Another consideration for any goat owner is what they eat. Goats do not do well on a purely grass diet like cows. Goat are “browsers” like the deer they are closely related to. They like small trees, brush and a variety of weeds. And if there happens to be a fruit tree within their reach they will strip it of bark in no time. There are several poisonous plants you should be cautious of too, here it’s mountain laurel, rhododendron and wild cherry.
    All in all, thanks for a great article….!!!

  7. When my niece was young, she was severely ADHD and bipolar. Even with medications, she was not well controlled. We did discover several foods that seems to trigger the really bad behaviors, so tried to avoid them. Among the big triggers was milk and sugar. She absolutely LOVED pumpkin pie. One year for Thanksgiving, I decided to make her her very own pie…with condensed goat’s milk and honey. Yuck. Kept adding honey, and more cinnamon, trying to make it palatable. Finally thought, baking it would make it taste better. No such luck. Even my scroungy old outdoor dogs, who will eat ANYTHING, wouldn’t touch it!
    So I think I’ll pass on the goat idea…lol!

    • Yep, store-bought goat milk is awful, but don’t judge goat milk by what you get in a store. My children, who were raised on goat milk, cannot stand the store-bought stuff. We’ve had goats for 19 years and most people who taste our milk think it compares to a thin milkshake.

  8. You forgot to mention the Lamancha goats they are by far the best goats to have there milk is just as good or better than the Nubians and they are mello and easy to raise not the spaced out goats that the Nubians are.

    • LaMancha’s. Don’t you just love ‘em? I did – do you have any now? In the next 6 to 8 weeks I’m going to be looking and La Mancha is what I want again – they’re that wonderful.

  9. GOATS – I had a herd of registered La Mancha’s and we loved ‘em. And the babies are so entertaining. One goat, Princess, had a huge udder and produced milk so sweet and creamy, I would strain it and pour it into a cow’s milk container. My “I won’t drink goat’s milk” child never knew the difference. On the other hand, Glory – yuck. Made no difference what you fed her, her milk was horrendous and tasted like onions and garlic……she was La Mancha also. So if possible taste the milk from the female you’re about to purchase.
    The variance is tremendous. Princess gave 3/4 gal every day and we loved it. Glory – the dogs got it, and even her offspring had off-tasting .

    A “gang” of town dogs attacked my goats and killed all but 5…..devastated me and I’ve had none since. So invest in a good guard dog. I’ve always used Great Prynees and have a couple still – but there are other very good breeds. Had i gotten mine a week earlier, I’d never had lost my babies…and you do get attached.

    Great article….apprepciate your good reporting so much.

  10. Good article. Got me some chickens and they are laying now. Been thinking of milk now. Goats would be ideal. In my one acre home I have two fenced adjacent areas with a gate between them. The chiclkens roam around both areas. one is 1200 sq ft and the other is 800 sq ft. The chicken coop is on the large one. Don’t know. Can I have them share both areas? The chain link fence is 5 feet high. Will that be good enough? Don’t want the goats to eat my small vegetable garden that is outside of those two fenced areas. Thanks

  11. I know the article is about dairy goats, but I started out with meat goats. They were 2 Nubian-Boer crossed does. Then a neighbor gave us a pigmy doe. Then I bought a fullblood, registered, Boer buckling.
    That was several years ago. The herd grew. Now we’re down to just a few, and milking a doe which birthed 3 doe kids in January. The milk from this Boer-Nubian doe is delicious. She’s gentle, anxious to get milked, and a great mother.
    The herd-buck does not get isolated, but rather spends his entire life with the herd. At times he stinks, but not today. The milk is not tainted with eau-de goat musk. The current buck is a son of my first buck. This buck is a sweet boy and a proven stud.
    Make no mistake; goats are work. If you don’t like work, don’t get one, but there are many joys derived from spending time with these animals.

  12. Great article

  13. I started out with a LaMancha doe and thought if I had a Nubian or two we could have year around milk. Well, I found out the Munchies have very long/level lactations (I milked two does over 2 1/2 yrs without freshening) and the Nubians let me down on milk production come August and if they were not bred would dry up.

    No one has ever complained about the taste of my milk, it keeps at least 2 weeks (even in the summer in Houston). I make all kinds of cheese from the soft chevre to colby, cheddar and feta up to parmesan and romano. The hard cheeses are more time consuming to produce for both cow and goat milk.

    I used bucks from top ten and breedleader producers that had a butter fat of 4.8 to 5.2% and protein from 3.5 to 4.1%. The does these bucks were out of had better protein and BF than the Nubians on the
    topten/breedleader list.

  14. Interesting what do you feed them and whats the cost of maintaining a small herd?

  15. What breeds work well for meat goats? At what age are they typically ready for slaughter ?

  16. Good article, but you missed the best homestead goat of all! The Kinder goat! This is a breed which began in 1986 with a cross between a Nubian doe and a Pygmy buck. The breed is now spread across the U.S. and into Canada, and has gone as far as Brazil (introduced there in 1997). It is a mid-size dual purpose (milk and meat) goat with the sweetest tasting milk available anywhere. The big dairy breeds, with the exception of the Nubian, may or may not have what I would consider ‘palatable’ milk. Always taste test! The upright-eared breeds are notable for their fluid milk production, but low butterfat and protein content – so low cheese yield. The Kinder goat has a butterfat content that averages from 5-8%, and protein from 4-4.5% and makes wonderful cheese, and a lot of it (nearly double what your recipes tell you to expect). As far as milk production, their small bodies can produce an amazing quantity of milk – average for a mature doe is around 6 pounds (three quarts), and right now I have a 2nd freshener that had quintuplets 6 weeks ago and is milking 9 pounds (over a gallon) daily and has her kids with her for 6 hours a day. That’s another thing they are known for – multiple births.

    Their smaller body size and the Pygmy part of the background mean less feed and better feed efficiency. They are intelligent, cooperative, and a delight to handle. I have raised, over 30+ years, some of most of the standard dairy goats, and have loved them all. However, once I tried the Kinder – that was it. I had found my perfect breed! For more information, it is available at http://www.kindergoatbreeders.com, and there is a very active and informative Yahoo forum at http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/KinderGoats/.

    • I don’t have goats yet, but I hope to be a goat owner before the summer ends. I hadn’t heard of the Kinder goats, but I went to the website and they sound like what I’m looking for. I want goats for meat and milk, and I want smaller goats. Thanks for the great info!

  17. I researched dairy goats a few years back, am producing my own goat milk now, and love it! I wanted to suggest those interested in getting into dairy goats should consider the mini dairy goat breeds. The Mini Dairy Goat Association (MDGA) has a website and gives good info on these. As I understand it, all the standard size breeds are becoming available in mini sizes without sacrificing milk production. They are generally more feed efficient and more manageable due to their size. But because of the influence of the Nigerian Dwarf, the cross used to decrease the breed’s size, they are super friendly and probably increase the fat content of the milk which is higher in the Nigerian. My mininubian does are 70 pounds on average, about the size of a big dog, and much easier to trim feet as well as manage for me and my kids. Their milk is delicious! I have surprised a few friends who had negative opinions about goats milk. The pleasant look on their faces after they take a drink says it all. I think these minis have so many positive characteristics that they are worthy of an article all on their own. Also, I have found experienced goat people to be very helpful and generous with their knowledge. A few such people have told me that a buck present near your does DOESN”T affect the milk, but poor milk handling will. That has been my experience. I was advised to cool my milk immediately after milking, and we’ve never had any bad tasting milk even though we have bucks. I don’t usually comment on articles or write to magazines, but my experience has been so delightful and my kids have had so much fun with mini dairy goats that I had to share it in case it might be the right direction for someone out there!

  18. Luv minis, why don’t you be the one to write the article? Your comments above show several things: that you love the breed, that you can write, that you have years of experience, and that you know your subject well. Anyone such as yourself with those attributes going for you should be an excellent knowledge source for the rest of us. I’d like to read what you have to say!

    Thanks for considering the idea.

    Bob G

  19. We lived on a small 27 acre farm in rural Michigan in the 70′s and 80′s I think we were called ‘homesteaders’ then. More from necessity than anything else as I was just starting my career and the income was very low.
    Anyway, my wife came home one day and announced that she (we) were going to get some goats. I told her “No way!”. We got the goats. Ended up with 8 or 10 of them. Milked them and raised them for meat for 2 or three years. I said I would NEVER drink any goat milk. I drank goat milk. Liked it actually. Very creamy. Made great butter and puddings. My wife put yellow food coloring in the the butter to make it look like butter rather than lard. It was easier than trying to explain to our ‘city’ friends what they were eating. No one ever knew.
    Later, my wife came home and said that 4 or 5 goats can equal one cow. “We are getting a cow”, she announced. I said, ” No way, we are not getting a cow!”. We got a cow. Milked her for 10 years. She was the ‘queen’ of the homestead. The money we made from her milk sales bought all of her grain, the horses grain, the chickens grain and the any left over milk or whey went to the pigs. Although we ‘technically’ never sold milk. It was understood by all of our customers that we only ‘rented’ the gallon jars. There just happened to be milk in the jars.
    I attribute my sons great health this day to fresh goat and cows milk as they were growing up on the old homestead. My wife and I often pine for that place today. Especially with the times that we are in today and the huge asparagas patch that we left behind. As big as your thumb. Oh, my!
    Because of our self sufficiencey back then we don’t fear what may come. We are prepared.

  20. Buzzymuzzwelle

    Fantastic info as all ways. Keep up the good work!! Buzzy

  21. William Thompson

    This is the kind of article which will pique someone’s curiosity. It seems to be quite dated as far as information. At the Roseburg ADGA buck show, there were 40 Dwarf Nigerian owners showing. It was more than all of the other dairy goat breeds combined. No mention was made in the article of the difficulty of trying to steer a big powerful goat, also known as manhandling. They have four traction points quite close to the ground as compared to our high center of gravity and only two points of contact. The milk is rich and has a sweet taste. It makes me smile to hear some milk hater say how good the milk tastes, and then begins asking about our different cheeses and ice cream. Oh ,yes, one goat is a baa aad idea. One will bleat you to death! We will not sell a single goat to anyone who does not have another goat or some other kind of outdoor animal. Our does are with our mini donkey, and the buck is with the horses. Goats like being on the highest thing around. If not kept secured, it well may be your car. Our daughter came home from her second tour in Iraq to three goats who were kidding. Sarah had no time for separation anxiety or missing anyone. With the one who delivered via C section, we ran day and night ops. She commented about how much easier this transition was from the first one. Good things do come in small packages.

  22. I’ve had dairy goats for 51 years – love ‘em. I have had Alpines and LaManche. I’ve never had off tasting milk from any goat. Goats are intelligent and easy to train (easier then dogs) and they are affectionate. LaManche are my favorites but I’d like to try an Oberhasle goat someday. They are a relatively small goat with big production. They have great milk too, very creamy and sweet. Since I’ve never owned any of that breed, so I don’t know about their personality, but the milk they produce is out of this world . LaManche is a very large goat – one of the largest (larger then Saanan), but one of the most gentle and loving. Alpines are not a quiet goat; LaManche’s are on the quiet side. I call the LaManche’s the gentle giant.
    Goats make great pets !

  23. I would like to know what would be the ideal acreage for, say for 4, Nubian goats for milking. If not acreage, how much space is required and what kind of feed is needed for these goats???? I will be purchasing 10 acres of land with house and workshop, just wondering if that will be enough land for these critters, I am planning on some free range chickens for the eggs. I hate chicken as a meat product, but I love eggs.

  24. We’ve had Nubians for over 30 years. Most of our girls give over a gallon a day by their second freshening, and some quite a bit more. The original Nubians brought to this country were very heavy milkers, as much as the Saanens, so don’t know what happened to the breed. Most people have Nubs that give only 3/4 gallon per day or less. We breed for udder capacity, taste, conformation and gentleness, as well as good mothering abilities.
    My husband was so resistant in the beginning to taste goat milk, he didn’t for a year. He’d had too many stories of bad milk growing up. It’s all in the handling of the milk. Strain it immediately and chill it down in an ice water bath if you can, in small containers (I use quart mason jars, or half gallon size), dry off the bottle and keep in a refrigerator very near to freezing, maybe 34 to 36 degrees if you can. It keeps for us three weeks in perfect condition that way. My husband finally tasted the goat milk and loves it. I did the cow thing many years ago, but that cow ate us out of house and home and I had so much milk I didn’t know what to do with it all. Also I have a problem with cow’s milk and it causes severe sinus and lung problems for me, also for my daughter, so must be some kind of genetic thing. So many vets here recommend goat milk for baby orphaned animals, I get referrals all the time for people needing milk for them and people ask me about it constantly. There’s been an upsurge recently in people wanting goats to keep for milkers for themselves. Might be the radiation scare.

  25. I agree with your article but what some people may not be aware of is a breed called Minature Nubians. We have several and they produce about the same as a Nubian but they are smaller and cost less to feed. The other goat breed to consider is the Nigerian Dwarf goats they produce quite a bit for a small families needs and take less room and less feed. Also both of these breeds have a higher fat content for making butter and cheese. I thought I would share this with your readers.

  26. So I can keep my mini lamancha buck around my two does and milk will be fine? Awesome how do I go about keeping the milk tasting great with him around then.

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