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Extend Milk Supply
With Longer Lactations

By Shelene Costello

Each year I consider the possibilities of year-round milk production and the varied ways to achieve it, without having a freezer dedicated to just frozen milk. Dairy goat folks are quite inventive and find many ways to get and keep that fresh goat milk year-round.

Some people stagger their breedings so that the does kid at intervals. With a normal lactation, each doe that is milking for 10 months and kidding once each year, there will be milk available all year long, by having does who kid a couple months apart with at least one doe milking at all times. Some will milk a doe past that 10-month mark if she did not breed to freshen at one year later, such as a doe that kidded in April in one year and may not kid until June of the following year. That gives a lactation of 12-13 months. Some will breed for out-of-season kiddings to get fresh milk in the fall and winter months. This may be easier to do with breeds known for year-round breeding such as Nubians and Nigerian Dwarf. Swiss breeds—Alpines, Toggenburgs, Oberhaslis, Saanens, Sables and La Manchas who come from such genetics—are harder to get to breed out of season, though it can be done.

Still others will just leave one doe or more in milk for as long as they choose, and not re-breed that doe. This eliminates the extra kids if one does not want to have more kids, and it also eliminates the risk of pregnancy and kidding problems as well. Often milk production is reduced some over time, and the overall length of lactation makes up for that drop, since the doe is never completely dry.

I have done a few of these things to keep us in fresh milk all year long, and know others who have done the rest. I freshen does over a period of several months in the spring, leaving the does who are kidding later in milk from the previous year’s kiddings, while the early ones are kidding. By the time the last does kid several months later, the first ones have kids close to weaning so that we have enough milk available for other uses.

This past year, two of my older does did not breed until late winter for June kids, so both of those does stayed in milk until approximately eight weeks before their due date. That way they milked through the early March, early April and nearly up to the May kiddings, providing extra milk for the La Mancha and Nigerian kids we purchased as bottle kids, as well as table milk. Destiny, a Nigerian Dwarf, milked from early April of last year through mid-April of this year, giving her a 12-plus month lactation. Rachel, also a Nigerian Dwarf, kidded in June of last year so her lactation was simply a normal 10-month lactation. They are the two who freshened in June this year.

Some years ago I bred a Nubian/LaMancha cross doe in April when I bought her and noticed her in season shortly after buying her. I moved her into the pen with one of my LaMancha bucks whom I thought was still acting somewhat in rut, though it wasn’t as strong as his fall and winter, full rut. He managed to get her bred and settled, so she kidded in September with twins, and provided some fresh milk throughout the fall and early winter. That year, her extra milk enabled me to have plenty of milk to put in the freezer for spring kiddings, besides the milk we were already using.

Mostly my bucks are seasonal breeders (including my Nigerians), and I haven’t utilized the lighting programs or hormones to do out-of-season breeding on a regular basis, though I’ve heard of others who do, with good success. My Nigerian does tend to cycle seasonally with the LaMancha does. I do have friends who have Nigerians tell me their bucks are in rut year-round and their does cycle all year as well.

My sister has bred for fall kidding, which gave her fresh winter milk in her Nigerian herd over the years. She has milked one doe, Sierra, through without breeding her for a year and a half, milking just once per day as her schedule allowed. Her doe stayed steady in production throughout the lactation. With milking through, there may be seasonal highs and lows. Often the milk production will drop some during the dark cold months of winter and pick back up as spring gives longer days with more light and warmth, I’m told.

It takes a doe with a real will to milk to continually produce without being rebred to freshen periodically. A LaMancha doe named Tibet, from the Quixote herd in California, produced for multiple years on one lactation. I kept up with Tibet’s progress as I have one of her daughters and was interested in how it went. Tibet started on her third lactation at three years of age in 2007, and milked through 2008 and 2009, only being rebred to kid for the 2010 season since they decided they wanted more kids out of her.

I’ve heard from other breeders that, to be successful, a lengthened lactation should be established in a doe’s first year of milking, and that skipping breeding seasons may affect fertility. But Tibet proved that a good dairy doe will milk on if asked to, even following normal length lactations, and then coming back afterwards kidding normally with triplets and milking just fine.

At the moment I have a doe, Lucky, a seven-year-old Saanen/LaMancha mix, who never totally dries up. She freshened last at five years of age, was mostly dried off, and when she miscarried at six, her owners just started to milk her and brought her into enough milk for their son to show in 4-H at their local fair. Then she was dried off again, only to either not take her fall breeding, or resorb her fetus(s) when she moved here last fall. When I realized she was not going to kid, I started to milk her regularly, first once a day and then twice a day to bring her back into milk to provide some extra here to help pay for her upkeep. She picked up to just over 1/2 gallon a day after a few weeks and has maintained that production for the last few months. This doe never totally dries up, so I had to empty her udder at least once a week throughout the winter months. Her udder would fill up over time and I wanted to keep her comfortable and to keep her udder in good health. I do notice with this doe that her milk is a bit stronger flavored than the rest of the does in my herd, and I attribute that to her being "stale," that is, not having been freshened for so long. I can’t really call that an extended lactation so much as a doe that just wants to milk and has the ability to do so. She has been able to provide me with extra milk when I needed it. I am thinking about extended the lactations on several more of my does however, so I can make cheese through the winter and have plenty of fresh milk as needed.

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