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Why Dairy Goats Are Cheaper And More Practical Than Dairy Cows

dairy goats

One of the cornerstones of any self-sufficient homestead is the ability to produce dairy products.

Dairy products are a valuable source of essential fats, carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals – including riboflavin, vitamin B12, magnesium and potassium. Unlike fortified and pasteurized milk, however, raw milk is not a significant source of vitamins A and D. Raw milk can be used to make cheese, yogurts, keifers, and butter, adding rich variety to your diet in any self-reliant situation.

Many of us, however, lack the space or have insufficient good pasture for keeping a milk cow. If you don’t have the ability to feed a cow off the land, feed costs can mount quickly. At the height of last year’s drought I watched neighbors selling off cattle or going broke buying hay, if they could find it. I was never so happy to have chosen goats over cows to meet my family’s dairy needs. My goats went along just fine eating dead weeds. We incurred no additional feed costs as a result of the drought, and our milk supply was uninterrupted.

Droughts aside, goats are great on poor pastures, and do fine overwinter on relatively small amounts of feed. Our annual feed expense for a goat herd that fluctuates between 6 and 12 goats runs about two round bales and a few 50 pound sacks of sweet feed. The sweet feed is used primarily as a treat at milking time. Although we have 40 acres, about three quarters of it is not good pasture. It is brushy and wooded, and perfect for goats!

If your ultimate goal is dairy cows, a herd of goats is a great way to clean up overgrown pasture, and is a nice intermediate step. You may find that you enjoy the goats so much that you never make the transition to cows.

Goats are far more economical than dairy cows. You can purchase eight or 10 good dairy goats for the cost of one good Jersey milk cow. You can run more goats in the same space, and we have already discussed the savings in feed costs in raising goats over cows. Feed is a big consideration when planning for a crisis, and goats require little or no planning in this regard.

This book clearly illustrates what an easy and rewarding experience raising goats can be.

Goats are also a lot easier to handle than cows. My daughters, aged 11 and 15, can manhandle the orneriest goat, where a grumpy cow could have its way. This ease of handling is a Godsend at milking time, at kidding time, or at any other time when bending a goat to your will is required. Other than milking time, very little handling is required. Periodic hoof trimming is a good idea, but it is fairly straightforward and an easy skill to learn. Most kidding goes smoothly and nannies almost always handle it on their own. Problem births, however, are easier to handle than those with cows since you don’t have to worry as much about getting stepped on, fallen on, or kicked to death.

We raise a mixture of breeds. Our best milker at the moment is a Lamancha named Snickers. We run her on a once a day milking schedule and she can be counted on for at least a half-gallon per day. Lamancha goats have wonderful dispositions, and the butterfat content is high but not overwhelming. Other goats in our herd are Nubians, Alpines, and crosses of these breeds. Nubians contribute higher fat-content milk, while Alpines are very hardy and good kidders. We have been very pleased with the results of the crosses, although we are leaning more on the Nubian side of the equation at this time. There are many other fine breeds of dairy goats, and you should definitely do your homework before making your selection. If you are very limited in space, several of the miniature breed make excellent milkers, Nigerian dwarfs in particular have extremely high butterfat content in their milk. There is a breed to fit almost any need, preference, or environment.

As I mentioned, we tend to run a once-a-day milking schedule. Opinions vary on this practice. Some maintain that this presents health risks to the goats in the form of a greater likelihood of mastitis. We have not encountered this problem, but we monitor constantly and are prepared to switch to a twice-a-day strategy should the need arise. Another consideration with a once-a-day schedule is that it does reduce milk production. We have weighed the options, and the reduced output is justified by the lightened load on our time at the moment. You will have to make this determination for yourself, but realize that should you choose to milk once a day you are making a commitment to monitor the health of your herd more closely and that there is almost NO flexibility in milking time.

One big minus, to some folks, in goat’s milk is the difficulty in converting it to butter. Even though goat’s milk has a high fat content, it is naturally homogenized. This means that the cream does not separate and making butter requires a lot more effort. We have moved butter production into the “not practical” column, although some folks accomplish the task. Other than that, we use our milk for everything that cow’s milk is good for. This includes morning coffee, chocolate milk for the kids, a variety of cheeses, yogurt, keifer, and even ice cream! Some people find goat’s milk to have a “different” or “goaty” taste, but we have found that this is reduced by using the milk within three or four days, and that after a couple weeks of using goat’s milk you forget it tastes different at all.

Overall, we find keeping goats to be an incredibly rewarding experience, both in tangible and intangible ways. Our goats provide us with abundance far in excess of the demands they place on us, and they are a joy to work or just hang out with. Baby goats are about the cutest critters on the planet, and they are more fun to watch than just about anything on TV these days. When we first got our goats, we viewed them as a temporary stop on the way to a milk cow, but now I wouldn’t trade them for anything. We may still get a cow, but it will be an addition rather than a replacement.

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  1. i’m a noob and am curious and hoping to add goats t my small permaculture set-up. how do you manage the kids? i would like to have some goats but want to do it ethically and sustainably. i don’t eat meat nor want to kill/sell [to ultimately be killed] extra goats. can you share a milking schedule with existing kids… what do you do with them?

    • We are lacto-ovo vegetarians that raise Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. The wethers (nuetered males) are sold as pets and the does are sold as milkers/show goats.

      Here is how I manage my kids. The kids stay with their dam full time for the first 2 weeks. Then if they are all healthy and doing well I start separating them at night. I milk the dam in the morning and then turn the kids out to spend the day with her.

      Usually you have to have a doe kid yearly in order to get a typical 305 day lactation cycle, however there are some goats that will “milk through” meaning that you only need to breed them every other year. That is something that is unique to an individual and not to a breed.

      One nice thing about Nigerians, because they do come into season year round, you can stagger your breedings to be sure you have a year round milk supply. A good milking Nigerian should give about a 1/2 gallon a day when first fresh. And butter fat is often double that of the large goats. My herd consistently has a herd average of almost 8% butterfat. And higher butterfat translates into more cheese per pound of milk.

      Hope that helps,
      Wags Ranch Nigerians

  2. I had Nubian goats (2) a great while ago and loved them. Everything mentioned in this article is true and I agree with whole heartedly. I would add that if you can find an inexpensive enough seperater, butter is a practicle endevor.

    Additionally, I want to caution those interested in any of the milk providers. When you take on this task you alter your life completely. Milking is a must and cannot be skirted (switching to a once a day schedule as Pat says helps, but actually makes the timing more critical). It is usually pretty easy to get friends to come over and feed your animals, but to get someone to come over twice a day to milk is a lot harder.

    I would never have changed my experience with goats and someday will get back to them. Great article Pat!

    Thank you,

  3. My big question here is fence…that’s a big concern with goats, and if rotationally grazing, can get pricey VERY quickly. Cows only require one strand of electric, goats need…A LOT.

    • Fencing can be an issue! Particularly where gardens and young fruit trees are concerned! We have not been without mishaps in this regard. But, for the most part, your goats are not going to run away from home, we have never had an issue with that. At the moment, we are using a four wire electric fence to keep them out of the high tunnel area, the second wire from the top is a grounded neutral. any goat that hits a hot wire and the grounded neutral gets a full force hit and they seem to respect this.

      For rotational grazing, I think your best bet is one of the lectromesh enclosures, these come in a 160 foot length with posts attached to form a forty X forty pen which can provide a fair number of goats with adequate grazing if moved on a regular schedule. They are fairly economical and not terribly labor intensive. We are considering one of these as a kid pen for next year. We are not looking at rotational grazing at the moment, our property has a fair amount of bramble and thicket that we want eradicated and the free ranging goats are beating it back from the edges, not stressing the good pasture in the least. Day jobbing, writing, 5 kids, three chicken tractors, a flock of turkeys, a small herd of Red Wattle Pigs, and all the other homestead chores have made implementing a rotational grazing program look too time consuming at the moment. It is a great idea, but for the time being we are letting the goats handle things on their own schedule.

  4. We have a Nigerian dwarf and Pygmy as pets that were our daughters before she graduated and moved and we kept them. Both are maidens, never have been bred or even been around any males. The Nigerian has extremely enlarged utters and a local 4H mom came over about 5 months ago to milk her for us to check for mastitis. It was just an almost clear liquid that came out. Her udders are back to being large enough the teats nearly drag on the ground. A vet coming for another goat said not to milk her or she will not dry up. She is not drying! Any suggestions?

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