From Mrs. T over at Redeeming the Time: I am hoping that dairy goats and cheese making will be in my future next year. We have a good friend nearby who raises dairy goats, so we may be able to purchase some in the spring. It looks like you milk them all by hand, rather than machine, true? If so, how long does it take you? I am willing to hand milk one or two does, but I'm not sure if I can handle more than that.
Fern: Yes, I milk by hand. The time it takes to milk a goat varies. It depends on the size of the udder, the size of the teat, how much milk you get with each squeeze, and the experience of the milker. I find that I am much faster than I was the first year I milked. It's like driving, after a while it kind of becomes second nature, but it takes a while to get there. On average, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to milk a doe that is in full milk production. If I milk before I go to work, I don't take my time. After work is another story. I can easily take an extra 15 minutes because I am not on a deadline. For maximum milk production you need to milk twice a day. But, you can also milk once a day and get less than maximum. A lot depends on you and your personality, and the personality of the goat.
From Mrs. T: I know that secure fencing is very important to contain goats. Could you please explain what type of fencing you use? Also, how many bales of hay do they go through in a winter? Forgive me for all the questions. In my part of Canada, they would be on hay from October to May, I believe. We harvested 21 round bales of hay (5 ft. diameter) from our few acres of pasture. Ideally, we would like to produce all of their food right here on our homestead, but I'm not sure how many goats that would feed. Thank you for your patience with my questions!
Fern: Fencing is very important. We don't have any problems with our goats getting out and that is due to good fences and plenty of pasture to graze. We use field fence that looks like this (some people call it by different names). It is a woven mesh. We also put a strand of barbed wire on the ground to discourage animals (like dogs) from digging under the fence, and two strands of barbed wire across the top (shown in the picture) to discourage animals from going over the fence (like dogs or our goats).
Something to consider. A couple of years back we decided to let our goats grow horns because it is more natural and they can protect themselves better. Well, there are two trains of thought here - goats with horns, goats without horns. Even if an animal is not doing anything malicious, it can still turn it's head quickly, jump upwards when it is scared, and easily result in a serious human
injury. Second, goats with horns have a tendency to get their heads stuck in the fence. You know the old saying, 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?' Well, that is true. We have never lost an animal because it's head was stuck in the fence, but it could easily happen. So, now we burn all baby goats horn buds. It is a disgusting and revolting procedure, but one that we feel needs to be done. So our answer to the question, horns or not horns? We are a not horn place. But they do make great handles.
The amount of hay you would use in Canada would be vastly different than how much we use in southeastern Oklahoma. It is much colder there and your animals would have different dietary requirements just to keep warm, so I do not have any valid information for you on that question. Maybe there will be some readers from up north that can help you out. Also, ask your neighbor that has the goats how much they use. We use hay primarily for bedding. On those extended periods when it seems to rain everyday, the goats do not like to forage in the rain. Then we do put out hay in a manger in the barn.
We know someday there is the possibility that commercial grains will not be available. We have been experimenting with other crops that livestock animals used to eat before the introduction of mechanized farming. We have and are experimenting with rutabagas, beets, turnips, carrots and these types of crops. Rutabagas and turnips at one time were the primary source of feed for livestock in this country. We have a neighbor that grows turnips in his pastures. He rotates his cows through these pastures when the turnip greens are ready to be harvested, in this case, the cows do the harvesting. He uses this method in place of hay. There is always something new to learn. There are commercial varieties of rutabagas and beets that are not used for human consumption, but for livestock feed. Cool, huh?
One thing we do for winter forage is leave one pasture growing most of the summer. This is what we call our 'standing hay'. We brush hog each pasture about every other year. It helps keep down the really noxious weeds, the type with three inch thorns that cause abscesses. We let the natural weedy plants grow since that is what the goats prefer over grass. It is a more natural source of dietary fiber which keeps our animals healthier. We use no herbicides, pesticides or any chemicals on any of our pastures, or our garden for that matter. But there is the occasional homicide on butchering day. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!) Pasture rotation will also help prevent overgrazing and parasite build up. We supplement our goats' diets with grain we purchase. There is a post about our feed mixing ration that explains the how's and why's.
Our herd is small. We are keeping four does this year. We will be butchering our wethers soon (that's when the homicides occur) and our buck will be going to the sale barn. So far, four does seem to be a good number for us. This summer when we were milking three does we were swimming in milk, so even though we have kept four does, I don't know if we will be milking all of them.
From Sandra over at Clearwater Farm: I have been lucky to only have one or two goats really give me grief about milking. I do have a Toggenburg now that does great until she runs out of food. When she is out, she flips the feeder onto the ground, my cue that the kicking will commence. If she isn't getting anything out of the deal, neither am I.
Fern: We will tolerate a certain amount of obstinate behavior from an animal, but after a while, either the animal comes around or leaves. We find that attaching the feed pan to the milk stand has worked out well. Our first milk stand had a place to put the feed bowl, but I like this set up better. I have also had a few goats that would let me milk for a while then start kicking and sometimes putting their foot in the milk bucket. I have found that after a few corrections with the back of my hand, they usually come around and stand nicely until I am finished. Not always, but usually. The other thing I have finally figured out is to learn the body language of the goat. If the doe is standing, relaxed and eating while I milk, then they are not going to kick. It's when they have a subtle shift of the weight on their back legs when I know a foot is getting ready to come up. I can usually pull the bucket back out of the way in time, but again, not always! Then that milk turns into supper for the dog or the chickens. Chickens love milk!
From Kathi over at Oak Hill Homestead: I completely agree that raising your own is the best way; they are just easier to milk. I can't wait till we have milk again, it's been two years now, but my three current does are due in December, all first-fresheners. (I lost my entire herd in a barn fire last year. My current girls came to live here as tiny bottle babies, I hope they won't give me any trouble.)
Fern: Kathi, I am sorry you lost your herd in a fire. I can't imagine. That would be really hard. It's too bad you have been two years without milk, too. We are so used to it, I would hate to do without. On occasion, we buy store bought milk, and I'm glad at this time that we can. It sounds like you are expecting kids soon. Have you started training your does to the milk stand? Since they are bottle babies, they should be much easier to handle. I only have one 'first-timer', Copper, in the picture above. She was a single when there were no other kids to play with, and she is One Stripe's daughter. One Stripe is very sweet and easy to handle and I am grateful her daughter is following suit. I can't wait to see what kind of mom she will be. But you know what? I can't wait to have baby goats again! I just love baby goats. So I look forward to hearing about the progress yours make. We handle our baby goats a lot, everyday, from the minute they are born. This makes all the difference in training. So your bottle fed babies should train comfortably.
Raising goats can be an experience full of wonder, frustration, heartbreak, laughter and food! There are many types of goats to be had. We have always had Nubians, well, except for one Boer goat we bought. She was okay, but turned out to be somewhat of a bully to the other girls. So we ate her. Some of you will think that is mean and some of you will think that is funny. It's just the way it is here. If an animal works into our scheme of things, they stick around for a while. If not, they either get sold or find their way into the cook pot.
Besides the fact that we really like how Nubians look with their long, floppy ears, the primary reason we chose them is because they are warm weather goats. Other milk goats have characteristics and features that are made for more northern climates. Do some research, look around, talk to people experienced at raising goats in your area. Milk goats are not real popular, so it may be difficult to find what you are looking for. You might need to drive a few miles to find some quality animals. Don't forget Craigslist. A good source to help find just about any animal is your agriculture teacher, and don't forget the vet.
All of the animals have a job to perform. The goats provide us with milk and meat, and we hope someday they will also provide us with hides or leather. But that is a ways down the road, if ever. Our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, is a great protector for the goats. She is a jewel. The cats are for varmint control. The chickens are for meat and eggs. It's the nature of things and it works well for us.
We will continue to share the adventures of our animals. They teach us new things all the time. One Stripe will soon have her fifth set of kids. She is getting 'big as a barn'. She is one of these goats that gets just about as wide as she is long. I can't wait! I love baby goats!
Until next time - Fern