There are few animals quite as synonymous to farm life as the dairy cow. For most people looking for a self-sufficient life on some land, the first two kinds of livestock that come to mind are chickens and cows. This makes sense since both eggs and milk are a big staple for many families. However, there are a lot of downsides to adding large livestock like a cow to your property.
First off, a cow is a very big animal with a mind of its own. Many a new homesteader coming from a city environment has never been close to a cow, let alone handling one one-on-one. While most family dairy cows are generally amiable and sweet, they still can have their bad days. Being able to handle an 800-pound Bessie safely for you and the cow is a skill that you should learn from an experienced person. Some people never end up feeling comfortable around such a large animal, and that is OK. Thankfully, there is an alternative to cows: dairy goats.
Why Dairy Goats?
Dairy goats are an amazing alternative to dairy cows. In fact, some longtime cow owners who’ve switched to goats often state that they wish they would have done so sooner. Here are a few reasons why dairy goats are perfect for those wanting a self-sufficient life.
1. They Are Much Easier to Handle
Goats are far smaller than a cow, meaning they are easy to handle and less intimidating for those who aren’t accustomed to working with livestock. The largest dairy goat will hardly be over 150 pounds, even for a very large breed like the Nubian.
2. They Eat Less
This can be a huge benefit for many people. A cow eats a ton of food, to say the least. Not only does this mean you may be spending quite a bit, but you will also have two other potential issues: first off, finding enough hay in your area and secondly, storing it. Even a pair or trio of does of the standard breeds will eat less than a cow.
3. They Are Easier on Land
Naturally, the heavier the animal, the more damage it will do to your land. Goats are lighter and have small hooves that are fairly soft. Goats rarely trample and kill grass if given enough space. Also, since goats only defecate in tiny round balls, you don’t have to worry as much about giant cow pats damaging grass.
4. They Are Amazing Weeders
Goats are naturally a browsing species — meaning they love their shrubs, twigs, leaves and forage. Therefore, you can keep using your dairy goats to clear out overgrown or undeveloped pieces of land. Goats are so amazing at that task that there are actually companies that hire out herds of goats to clear shrubbery, weeds and other brush.
5. They Produce Less Milk
This might not seem like a benefit at first, but it actually can be for a small family or individual. Did you know that the average Jersey cow in her prime can produce a whopping 6-plus gallons of milk a day? Impressive, but what is your family going to do with all that milk? Goats produce less milk, anywhere from 1-2 gallons depending on breed. If you are a single person or a couple, this is more than enough. You could even look into mini dairy goats.
6. The Milk is Delicious
Unfortunately, there is bit of a stigma about goat milk being disgusting tasting. Of course, it is individual preference; however, I once didn’t like it. I had only tasted store-bought pasteurized goat milk in the past and thought it was pretty nasty. After I was convinced to try out fresh, raw milk, I was astounded at how delicious it was. I highly recommend those of you who think you don’t like goat milk to try fresh, raw milk.
Also, if you or someone in your family has stomach issues with milk, you’ll be happy to know that goat milk is much gentler on the stomach. Especially for children. You can read more about that here.
7. They are Fun!
If you have yet to experience the joy of hanging out with goats, you are going to be surprised at how friendly, playful and personable they are. Goats are quite dog-like in behavior and really enjoy being around people. They are incredibly intelligent, sometimes to a fault, and dairy goats are easily trained to jump up to their stanchion for milking at the same times every day.
Also, despite their playfulness, goats are generally aware of people and are gentle around children. Even small children can safely enjoy their goats, with supervision, of course. Parents worried about the size of the cow around their young ones will feel much better about the smaller stature and awareness of a goat.
More Information about Dairy Goats
Here are a few of my favorite websites and articles for more information about goats:
- Fias Co Farm
- 7 Dairy Goat Breeds Homesteaders Simply Love
- 5 Best Dairy Goat Breeds for the Small Farm
Have you thought about keeping goats? Maybe you already have goats? Feel free to share your stories, comments and questions in the comment section below.