The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Goat Q & A

There have been some good questions and comments about milk goats that we wanted to combine into an article. We hope these answers will help out, or at least give some food for thought. 

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


  1. I find it isn't necessary to use the "back of the hand" to correct goats on the milk stand. Scrub up a fairly large rock and place that on top of the food in the dish. It slows down the goat eating as they have to eat around the rock. A little messy at first but less aggravating in the long run! Also, 10 to 15 minutes is a long time to keep one goat on the milk stand while you milk. Try to get as much as you can and once the goat really starts to get fidgety stop. You might have some loss in production for awhile but as you both get more experience you'll milk faster and the goat will be more patient too! Great post. Goat owner for 18+ years

    1. The rock idea is interesting. I have never heard of that one. What kind of goats do you raise? I am always interested in learning.

      I have found when I am training a new goat to milk that they usually do fairly well as first, they may kick a little, but do pretty good. Then after a couple of weeks they all go through a stage of kicking and trying to get me to quit milking about half way through. Some can get quite adamant about it. That is usually when they get a few quick corrections from me. It seems to be a short little spell they go through trying to see who is boss. After that, it's great.

      Part of the reason for the timing in my milking is that I only milk with one hand. My arthritis will not allow me to milk with two, so I alternate hands giving each a rest. I am sure there are some people that can complete the task much faster, but we all do what we can. After I have milked for a while the goats get used to it and most will actually eat slower since there is no competition and they realize there is no hurry.

      Thanks for the great information, please continue to share your experiences. We can all learn much from each other.


  2. Thanks for this post. We are currently building a cabin on 12 acres raw land. We are planning on getting dairy goats after we clear some of the land and grow a pasture. I am trying to learn all I can about their needs and care, etc. Your first hand experience is great. We are in east Texas so the Nubians should be a good fit for us.

  3. I have a you think a meat goat breed such as Myotonic or Spanish goats could be used for milk production?
    Your article on training was very good and made such sense.
    I really enjoy the information and am compiling a Fern Folder in my Resource Gide book!

    1. Fiona I have no experience with Myotonic or Spanish goats, so I really don't know. The Boer goats, which are meat goats, that are raised in this area don't give a lot of milk. Sometimes when they have triplets they don't have enough milk for their babies. It is not uncommon for some Boer goat breeders to keep a couple of milk goats on hand just in case they need more milk for Boer kids. That's about the extent of my knowledge on meat goat's milk.

      Some folks like to cross a Boer goat with a Nubian since they both have long floppy ears. That way they don't get weird ear configurations from breeds that are so different. We tried it, but the Boer nanny was just too aggressive with the other goats.


  4. One More you use dehorning paste or and electric debudder?

    1. We have never used dehorning paste. Right now we use an electric dehorner. We will show how we do this when the time comes. We also found a dehorning iron that can be heated in a fire when there is no electricity.