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Dairy Goats Make a Big Difference in Small Farm Survival

Shelene Costello

doe & kids

Dairy goats can be an integral part of homesteading. As small livestock, they fit well into a small acreage. Many people in today’s society are realizing that corporate farm production is not meeting quality expectations in food production. For this reason, moving back to the country and raising self-grown food has become very attractive. Not only are health conscious individuals looking for organically grown fruits and vegetables, they are looking for livestock that can contribute and enrich a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Small farmers are finding solace in knowing where their food comes from, whether raising goats mainly for milk or meat, cart pulling, packing, or eating forage other livestock may not.

Goats also provide a diversity that makes for survival in an economy powered by corporate farming practices that don’t always benefit the people.

While dairy goats of all breeds and sizes work on almost any small farm, I am finding that there continues to be a growing market for the smaller goats, the Nigerian dwarf goats and the mini breeds made by crossing a Nigerian dwarf buck with larger dairy does. These mini-crosses result in a slightly smaller animal with higher butterfats and milk solids, and less volume of production. Some of the larger breeds now produce so much milk that many smaller families just don’t want that much milk every day.

I also see the trend in the show ring to breed bigger and bigger goats in the full size breeds, which eat more feed and make them a bit less economical to the homesteader.

I know that for our family over the years, with just the two of us, one full size doe produces more milk than we can consume. I have compensated by using much of the milk my goats produce in other ways. The by- products from making cheeses and butter can easily be fed to the poultry and cats and dogs that contribute to the farm as well. We have also raised bottle lambs and calves on our excess milk. But as my husband and I get older and want a bit less work, we have found that a pair of small does provide plenty of milk for our needs and even that of our smaller crew of other animals.

I’ve made cheese for our own consumption and enough to share with friends and family over the years. While my first love in dairy goat breeds is the LaMancha, I had to admit that when I began milking Nigerian Dwarf does, their milk, in the same volume in the cheese pot, makes more cheese. For each gallon of milk, our cheese result has nearly doubled. That means I need less milk to make the same amount of cheese.

I experimented with the different milks of the goats I’ve owned through more than 25 years of raising goats. I’ve owned does of most of the dairy breeds, or their crosses in my years in goats. For my own personal use, I love the extra butterfat and solids the smaller does usually have. It may well be that there is just less water in the milk, consequently the components are more easily seen. The more volume a goat produces, often the less solids and butterfats are found per quantity.

As the year’s lactation curve goes, the milk test results of the herds I’ve watched on test, as well as my own observations of my own animals, there tends to be less volume and more solids and fats in the earliest milk, it drops off as production peaks, and then becomes more of the milk again as the volume decreases, which is why I’ve concluded that the more volume, the more water content and less solids.

I’ve seen Nigerian herds on milk test, with butterfats as high as10-14% later in lactation. Pretty impressive. And those other components make some spectacular creamy cheeses in my own kitchen.

I use excess whey from cheesemaking to either feed the poultry, cats and dogs, or to use in cooking. Baked goods, soups and more can be made richer and fuller tasting using whey and excess milk. I know many people who raise a pig or two on the excess milk, whey and even the extra eggs produced on the farm. I’ve heard it called the best pork ever.

I know that for us, often that extra milk and its products can really cut down on the purchased foods for our other animals. These are the same animals that provide a service to the goats. The livestock guardian dogs protect the farm; and the cats and terriers  keep down rodents and other small pests. The poultry keep down the bugs and often weeds as well on the farm. All benefit from eating excess goats that are turned into meat for those same animals. And we humans, who also eat meat, enjoy the occasional roast goat. It makes perfect sense that all of the animals on the farm are interconnected.

There are many benefits to keeping goats on the small farm that go beyond milk and meat production. The goats eat the spent plants and weed out unwanted plants in the garden, and often the excess and trimmed part of plants from the household use. The goats also contribute by eating many plants on our farm that our horses do not. Conversely, the horses eat the grasses that the goats prefer not to eat. The two hooved livestock species complement the pasture as well. I’ve read and listened to the research into the fact that adding goats into pastures with other livestock, such as cattle and horses, eat plants the others do not. Those who raise cattle, find that adding a goat or two to the acreage, actually does not cut down on the forage available to the larger stock, and makes more money from the same amount of acreage and the goats actually improve the pastures for the other species, removing or controlling some of the invasive woodier and broadleaved plants. This is what contributed to me rotating my goats through the same fields as my horses, or in some cases in the same fields at the same time, depending on the personality traits of the animals we have at the time.

Regardless of whether my goats are out to pasture or in their dry lot being fed cut and pulled weeds and trimmings from the farm, they help keep the farm in good shape.

I get a lot of good exercise working with my goats to keep my own body in shape as well. We’ve trained a couple goats over the years to pull the small farm wagon, often filled with those cut and pulled plants to the feeders for all of the animals. They pull the wagon to help us move smaller equipment around the farm, such as when we are fencing. We simply put our fencing tools, the wire, the cutters, pliers, etc., in buckets load them on the wagon and let the goat pull it around behind me, keeping the equipment at hand while I’m working. While wethers are ideal for this job, I’ve trained my milking does as well for this light duty. I’ve heard of goat owners who put their bucks to work during the off-season hauling smaller logs from woodlots.

Goats can easily carry a small pack for day trips while hiking, no matter the size, breed, or sex of the animal. I have found they enjoy the activity and look forward to being a part of the small farm survival lifestyle. There are many uses for goats, large and small on homesteads. They can be and are an integral part of our own small homesteading farm.

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