By Lisa Barthuly
If you are looking to go beyond the average “food storage” and move into the “sustainable food supply” realm, dairy goats may be just what you’re looking for! When we started down this path, we were looking for milk for one of our children who is allergic to cow’s milk (goat milk most closely mirrors human milk, and is often a blessing for those with allergies). We were also looking to get the entire family away from the unhealthy “extras” in store-bought cow’s milk; but also searching for a way to produce some of our own food without relying on the food supply chain of the modern day grocery store. Goats have given us that, and much more!
Dairy Goat Breeds
Depending on your area and needs, there are a variety of goat breeds available. We chose Nubians (with their signature long floppy ears) for their rich goat milk with high butterfat content. Nubians are also a good meat goat, but these days are mostly known for their rich goat milk. They are great milkers and their lactation tends to last, on average, nine to ten months. Saanens are generally a pure white or cream colored, are wonderful dairy goats, known for their calm and friendly personalities; as well as their very curious nature.
Alpines are an excellent breed of dairy goats, known for their long lactation cycle. Boers tend to be best known as great meat goats. Nigerian Dwarves, an African breed, are small with rich goat milk; easier to fence and feed than the larger breeds. There are many crossbreeds out there as well; look for the breed with the qualities you wish to develop in your herd that will best benefit your family.
Preparing for Dairy Goats
Once you’ve decided to add dairy goats to your homestead you will want to prepare for them and do your research. First, decide on the breed you want, by doing research via the Internet or your local library. If you know someone who already has dairy goats, talk to them! Second, you will want to create at minimum, a three-sided shelter, and good, sturdy fencing is a must! Third, a milking stand is fairly easy to build with scrap lumber and makes milking so much easier on the back than crouching over and trying to hold the goats while milking. You can find plans to build your own milking stand here: Goat Milking Stand.
Watering and Feed Containers
You will also want to round up large, sturdy containers for watering and feeding. We purchased one big, heavy-duty plastic container that will hold 25 gallons of water, that we only use after kidding season is over (generally in early spring and until the first freeze in fall) to avoid cracking, breaking, or birthing accidents. Not to mention, it’s great to have all that extra fresh water out for them in the hot summer months!
However, we also went the frugal route and picked up food-grade bakery buckets at our local supermarket’s bakery and deli departments for free (ask at your local stores) that we use for hauling warm water and grains to the dairy goats in the winter. Old (or new) clean galvanized trash cans are great for grain storage and an easy spot to mix your own grain blends. We also built our own hay feeder out of scrap lumber—just a simple square design to keep hay clean and in one spot. I would also recommend buying only seamless, stainless steel milking pails. Stainless steel lasts forever, and seamless containers make cleanliness (which is paramount in handling milk) simple.
A couple of other tools of the trade are a disbudding iron (burn horn buds off of kids at 3-10 days old), so your goats stay horn free (unless you want your goats to have horns), and a pair of hoof trimmers.
How to Care for Goats
Once you find the daiary goats you want, go out to the farm they are on now. Are they living in clean conditions? Look for healthy coats and friendly dispositions. Stay away from runny noses and odd respiratory “sounds.” You do not want to start out with problems. Ask the seller how they care for them, what they are feeding them, when they were born, how many times they’ve kidded, if they had any kidding (birthing) problems, when they were last wormed, were they given shots, if so what kind? The more knowledge you have on them, the better.
We care for our animals naturally and rather simply; clean water, alfalfa hay, grass, and grain mixture when they are on the milking stand. You can buy grain at this time or make up a mixture of your own (introduce new feeds slowly). I’d suggest learning how to make up your own mixture; learning how to grow the bulk of that mixture and stocking up on what you can’t grow. We’ve also always kept baking soda and minced garlic out for them. The baking soda they lick at when they need it and it keeps a good mineral balance going for them. The minced garlic keeps parasites at bay and they eat it as they need it as well. They’ll also happily clean up our fruit and some vegetable peelings for us too! We find goats to be a very low maintenance animal that gives enormous benefits in return!
Keeping the Goat Milk Flowing
How many freshened (in milk) female dairy goats (called “does”) will you need to supply your family’s needs? Your average dairy breed is going to produce between a 1/2 and 1 gallon per day. Some will produce more in full lactation, and I wouldn’t accept any less. Take some time to determine your needs and weigh out the possibilities and realities here. In a grid-up situation, these things are a lot more easily addressed. However, planning ahead for the grid-down scenario is only prudent.
Will you drink your goat milk raw or choose to heat pasteurize it? We use our goat milk raw. The health benefits of pure, clean, raw goat milk are unbeatable! Heat pasteurizing not only depletes your heating/fuel/cooking resources (a lot of them!) when you are pasteurizing two times a day, but it also removes some of the excellent health benefits you would otherwise reap by using it raw. How will you keep your milk? Will you clabber* some? Do you have a natural water source, such as a creek where you can keep your fresh milk chilled? Will you plan to use what you get each day as it comes in? Keep in mind too, in a “grid down” or “emergency” situation, fresh milk will be a real treat and possible barter item too!
Goat’s Milk Cheese, Goat’s Milk Soap, and More!
We attempt to keep one doe in milk at all times, staggering their kidding/freshening. We drink it fresh, make cheeses, yogurt, and (right now in a “grid-up” situation) ice cream! You can also use “clabbered milk” for cream cheese making, baking, and much more. When we have an overabundance that doesn’t get put up into one of these other forms, it can also be fed to other animals on our homestead such as our dogs and chickens. We also make hand-crafted goat’s milk soap for personal use and selling. This and goat milk lotion will be a good barter items in the future as well.
For the best milk, make sure your does have plenty of fresh, clean water and they stay away from strong weeds (if they forage/free range). Also, make sure you are using only clean containers (canning jars are seamless and work GREAT!). If you keep a buck, keep him in his own separate area—especially during rut! All of these things can give your milk an “off” flavor or in the case of unclean equipment, even make you sick.
Speaking of bucks … in order to keep in milk, you need to keep freshening your does. Most does have a nine-to-ten month lactation cycle—some longer—and some I’ve read about can go on for years! However, on average you can expect to want to breed your does once or twice a year. Many folks choose to take their does to others’ farms that keep a buck for breeding. We didn’t want to deal with that and decided it was best for us to just keep a buck on site. However, in preparing your self-sustainable homestead, you will want your own buck on site.
Now, bucks can be a bit more challenging, however, over the years we’ve learned a few things from our experiences. We’ve had a few bucks at our place and by far the worst situation was one we purchased as an adult … with horns. His aggressive and destructive behavior wielded via his horns was not going to work for us. Our best situation to date was with a de-horned Nubian, raised with us since a month old, who was friendly and wonderful! We will never have a goat on our property with horns again, period.
The Perfect Addition!
When things do “hit the fan” and we’re in an emergency situation, having a self-sustainable food source will be invaluable! Goats are an asset to anyone with the desire to be more self-sufficient and to provide more of their own (very healthy) food—the perfect addition to any long-term homestead plan!
*Clabbering is process where unpasteurized milk is allowed to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. The milk thickens or curdles into a yogurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor.
Ready to learn more about caring for your goats? Be sure to check out our article on the benefits of rotational grazing!
Lisa Barthuly lives in the mountains of the American Redoubt with her family. She is a Follower of Yeshua, Torah Lover, Helpmeet, and Mama! She enjoys a simple, home-centered life, built on God’s foundations; studying scripture, homeschooling, scratch baking and cooking, canning, candle making, gardening organically, and raising dairy goats and chickens. She’s the family herbalist, enjoys goat milk mochas and reading, and loves a round of competitive target practice! Visit her at her “homestead on the web” at: www.HomesteadOriginals.com/blog and check out her book, A Simply Homemade Clean,.