The Road Home

The Road Home
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Friday, November 1, 2013

Just How Many Goats Do We Need?

We have debated this question many times. In the last few years we have had as many as twelve does and as few as four. Our ideal number revolves around milk and meat production. We try to logically consider what factors may affect the sustained production of these items and our dietary needs. 

How many do you milk? This year we had three milkers and we had so much milk we couldn't use it up fast enough even though we were feeding it to the dog, cats and chickens. The chickens would only drink so much milk. And Frank is a milk drinker, everyday. So we cut back to milking the three of them once a day. That helped some, but we still had an over abundance of milk. 

After we made all of the cheese we wanted we dried up one of the does. Then we found out that One Stripe had 
bred in July like we wanted her to, and was farther along than we thought. She starts drying up about two months after she breeds and that left us with only one goat to milk. Since that wasn't giving us as much milk as we wanted, we went back to milking her twice a day in the hopes she would
increase her milk production again, but that hasn't really worked. We are just barely getting by and are dipping into our frozen milk reserves for Pearl and the kittens.

Special note: Some people will ask, "Why don't you sell the milk?" The reason is that it is illegal to sell raw milk. You have to be a registered dairy to sell milk. And then, some would say, "Barter for the milk." It doesn't make any difference. If we barter, sell or give milk away and someone gets sick, whether it is from the milk or not, we can lose everything we have and do jail time. Therefore, we do not sell, barter or give milk away for any human consumption. And that's it. 

If we keep the four does we have right now, next year we will have four milking goats. So we thought, why not go down to three? Three milking goats, as we mentioned earlier, will give us an abundance of milk. So, why not let one of them dry up early, which is a very good idea. Then you have two full-time milking goats and an abundance of milk. Here are the delimmas. If you want to have fresh milk year round, then you can't have them all breed at the same time. Goats need to dry up a few months before they birth. The reason for our messed up breeding schedule is because that is what we tried to do this year, was have separate breeding times for different goats, and it just didn't work.

We don't have a good answer for this situation. We have tried freezing milk. It's okay, but as long as the grocery store continues to sell milk, it is much better. We have tried canning milk. As Frank has been known to say, "I'm not putting that stuff in my mouth." But the chickens will drink it and you can cook with it. We store powdered milk as part of our food storage and it is just fine. But someday, it will run out. Our nine years in Alaska we drank powdered milk. Remember, Frank is a milk drinker.

We have not come across a sure fire way to solve the problem of being able to have fresh milk year round. There is a chance, because of our mixed up breeding schedule, that we might actually have fresh milk all year. We'll let you know in about January or February. Right now we have been getting fresh milk since January, so it will be close.

Okay, so getting back to the question of how many goats? We are probably going to stay with four. But then, what if one of the does has beautiful kid? Okay.....maybe five goats. We talked about going down to three does, but if one of them got sick or had problems that would only leave us with two to milk and that may or may not be enough. So we're going to stick with four, for now. But that doesn't mean that we are going to keep the four we have. We have one doe that keeps everybody stirred up all the time, she just spooks at anything and everything. She is a nice looking goat, good udder, good teats and a great milker, but she just keeps everybody on edge all the time. Remember, goats are herd animals, and if one animal spooks, they all run. You know, kind of like sheeple.

There are many factors that come into the decision making process in keeping a doe or putting her up for sale. Here is a list of some of the determining factors:
  • Milkablity (Frank's new word) which is volume of milk; udder conformation (the shape of the bag); and teat size; not to mention attitude about being milked and ease of training
  • Cooperation within the herd; ease of handling
  • Healthy kids; ease of, or problems birthing; attentive mother or not; looks - no one wants an ugly goat
  • Over all good or bad habits 
  • Family tree; don't keep too many from the same parents even if they produce desired characteristics - like Teddy - he is a big strong, good looking, healthy male that is easy to handle and a solid breeder. But when the girls are in heat, his attitude changes sharply and he can be dangerous. So he is leaving, dead or alive.
  • And one of the major deciding factors is Fern. If she likes a goat we will usually keep it, for a while anyway. The exception to the rule of selling off older stock on our place is One Stripe who will live out her days here. She is a great goat, good attitude, wonderful milker, excellent mother and Fern just loves her. So she stays until the end of her days. This is not always a good idea, but it is the plan for just this one.
One Stripe

In the birthing process, we have about half doe and half buck kids. On average, healthy adult does have twins or triplets. This year we will probably have four does and four buck kids. The plan is to keep one doe
kid to replace the one we are selling. But remember, plans can change.
We will sell the three remaining doe kids and that will leave us with four bucks. Young bucks in the industry are considered to be 'a dime a dozen'. It is rare that you keep a buck to become a new breeding billy. So, therefore, we may have four young bucks that we will castrate and one year later will butcher. These are called wethers, which is pronounced like 'weather'. This is part of our food supply. Now remember, it takes one billy to service 10 to 20 does, therefore, bucks are not in high demand. So that is where our meat comes from. All the wethers have the same name - Meat. One time Fern named them Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Teddy and the wethers, Meat, Meat and Meat

So, how many goats do we need? Four does and one billy will keep us in milk and meat and then some. The key is balancing them out so that we are not overrun with either. That is the plan anyway. So if you're thinking about goats, this is the way we do it. Hope this helps.

That's the news from the farm.

Frank and Fern


  1. It is sad that selling raw milk is ILLEGAL! In Michigan people have to buy a share of a goat to get the raw milk.

    I only milk once a day so we need 3 to get the milk, yogurt, ice cream etc. that we want.
    I did freeze some milk for soap making.

  2. Back in the days when we had dairy goats I would occasionally sell fresh fluid milk as "pet food" with a wink and a smile. It's was a way to get around the regulations. Fact is if someone chooses to eat or drink pet food that's not your concern nor your fault.

  3. I am hoping that dairy goats and cheesemaking 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.

    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! Oh, and thank you so much for adding my blog to your sidebar!

    1. Hi Mrs. T,
      You have some good goat questions. We will be answering them in an upcoming post along with some from some other folks. If you are anything like me, once you have them, you always will. We are glad to have you on the blogroll. Take care.

  4. Thank you, Fern. I am looking forward to reading any future posts regarding goat care.