How to Get Your First Dairy Goats

miking a goat, dairy goat

Would you like to get dairy goats? Milk goats are a natural for homesteaders who want to produce as much of their own food as possible. They convert forage into milk, meat and entertainment. Under the right circumstances goats can be really great! They were one of the first projects we launched into when we got our farm, back in 2005.

Related article: Lessons Learned from Dairy

So, perhaps you would like to get dairy goats. What do you need to know? First of all there is way more to dairy than just getting goats. Don’t even think of getting them until you are set up for them. Goats require a pretty tight fence. Our place came with tightly stranded barbed wire fences which had been fortified with 4″ X 4″ woven wire, attached to the posts and barbed wire. This arrangement works pretty well, though it is still often necessary to find and fix places where the goats and sheep escape. Goats must also have shelter from the wind and elements. A wet goat is soon likely to be a sick goat. Shelter is a must.

What Kind of Goat Should I Get?

There are meat goats, dairy goats, breeds for producing wool (Angora) and just “run of the mill” goats, which are not really meant for milk production. Spanish goats, for instance, though hardy, are hardly ideal for dairy. If you want dairy, then get a dairy breed or a cross between dairy breeds. There are differences between the various dairy breeds, but I have never heard of a dairy breed that wasn’t superior for milk production to any of the non dairy breeds. We started with Nubian crosses; one doe was Nubian crossed with Toggenburg and the other was Nubian/Sanaan. Eventually we moved over into the LaMancha breed.

LaMancha Goat, dairy goat
The LaMancha breed has extremely tiny ears (their trademark), but as LaMancha lovers sometimes say, “You don’t milk the ears.” This is a fine dairy breed, also noted for an calm disposition.

If Possible Find a Mentor

Care, breeding, kidding and milking all come with their challenges. There are pitfalls in all of these areas and a mentor will save you a lot of heartache. For at least the first ten years we had goats we called and visited our mentor quite a bit, especially during kidding and early lactation of does. A mistake while getting a doe started milking can cost her her life or ruin her life’s production. Ignorance during kidding is not only scary, it can cost mother and kid their lives. If possible, find a mentor before you get goats. You may find yourself raising whatever breed they have, and you will end up WAY ahead.

Where should I get my first goats?

The quality and health of your foundation stock is of great importance. A high quality milking doe will produce MUCH MORE milk for about the same investment in time and feed. A high quality doe will actually save you time, as she’ll milk more easily than a lesser doe. Udder capacity, structure and shape of teats and orifice size all contribute to ease or difficulty in milking, amount of production and even the length of life of a milk goat.

goat udder, milking goat

It’s almost certainly best to purchase your first stock from a successful breeder, someone known for having good stock and being knowledgeable about dairy goats. Their goats will probably cost you more at purchase time and less from then on out. Chances are you will expand your herd by keeping a doe or two, born from your herd, so make your first stock the best possible. Avoid auction and sale barn situations for purchasing goats. In such an environment it’s nearly impossible to know what you’re getting, and, there are some very contagious diseases which you really don’t want to bring home. Some can linger in the soil, infecting whatever new stock you bring, for decades.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats World on Communicable Goat Diseases

What time of year is best for getting goats?

Most goat people don’t have adult animals for sale very often. In fact to get good dairy goats as adults will generally cost a whole lot of money unless there’s something wrong with them. It is usually best to purchase kids. The kids of most dairy breeds are born in late winter and spring. That’s the best time to purchase your stock. It’s generally easy to find kids for sale, whether they be newly weaned or just born and in need of bottle feeding.

Six reasons it’s best to start with kids:

  1. Kids are more easily obtained than adults.
  2. By purchasing kids from a good herd, you stand a better chance of obtaining excellent quality stock.
  3. Goats mature rapidly. This year’s kids can be milking next year.
  4. Kids are far less expensive than adults. If you purchase them as bottle babies, and you foot the bill and do the work to bottle feed, you can usually get really good quality kids for a really low price.
  5. By purchasing kids, you give yourself a bit of time to get used to them and their needs before launching into full blown milking.
  6. A bottle raised doe is easiest to accustom to the milk stand because she really trusts you.
boy playing with goat kids, kids with a boy
Getting kids is not only cheaper, it’s fun!

Get at least two goats.

I have a saying: “Goat hell is to be alone.” Goats are very social animals not only are they happiest with a companion, they’re more likely stay out of trouble when they have a companion. If you don’t care to milk two does consider getting a wether (castrated male) and a doe kid or a baby buck. If you get a buck it’ll be easier to breed your doe, but he’ll have to be penned separately when he reaches maturity. Starting out, if you can breed your doe to someone else’s buck, that might be good. A wether will be easier to keep, but after a year or two you’ll probably want to put him in the freezer, as they get really large and obnoxious. Whatever you do, get at least two.

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