So it has been a ridiculous last couple of days. The dreaded Snow Of Doom has returned and we've had more antics in the barnyard. We had to band our turkeys so we could identify who was from which hatch, and then we clipped their wings to keep them from flying up into the trees. Then, of all things, one of our chickens pretty near laid an egg on me. And that's just the half of it.
So before this week gets too far along, lets get to more on those goats. Thanks for all the questions and comments. How about if I answer some of the Q's and then give some bits and bobs of information..... and a look at the math behind dairy goats for the farm?
As always, to start off, I only know what I know and so please run right over to the fiascofarm.com site and read all of her information. She has a great approach and we (mostly) follow her lead. I say mostly because we'll have meat goats a some point which will be used for.. well.. meat.
A couple things about dairy goats and their milk:
The number one question I get over and over again is.... goat milk? Are you KIDDING? And then they recoil..... to be fair, as in the first goat post there was a lot of "I double dog dare you" before either The Big Man or myself actually took a swig. But I'm telling you, its delicious. Never goaty, not stinky...the only thing we had to get used to was that its whole milk and previously we usually only bought 2%.
The second question I get is: But isn't raw milk dangerous? A fair question – but to the person who gets sick every time I get drive thru, I think there are a lot worse foods to eat. While you are most likely going to get a “99 cent heart attack” from regularly eating a bag o' food handed to you after you yell into a clown.. you most likely are not going to get sick from drinking fresh, raw milk from a goat you personally keep, care for, and milk.
The big data point to underscore is YOU. Provided your goat is healthy the big risk for at-home dairy is contamination which you control (mostly). Bleach, clean hands, clean goat, chill milk immediately... hold your processing standards very very high.
Raw or not raw is a personal decision and I'd urge you to seek out information on raw milk and weigh the pros and cons carefully. Usual disclaimers for the very old, the very young, people with compromised immune systems, and if you are pregnant. I love raw milk and am completely stunned by the misinformation out there.
Raw milk is a great healer for lots of things. If the poultry needs a bit of a lift or if they seem to have some kind of digestive ailment, raw milk mixed with apple cider vinegar is just the ticket. There is lots of 'good' bacteria in raw milk.
Of course there are ways to pasteurize milk at home. Many of the home dairy books and sites have good information on this including Ricki Carrolls' Home Cheese Making.
Speaking of, cheese making is one of the great benefits from on farm milking. We made a ton of fresh chevre using the directions on the fiascofarm.com site. And, of course, yogurt is a snap to make. Strained until very thick it can be used as sour cream or cream cheese. I'm still working on the hard cheeses...but that will be a project for this summer.
Goat math: Why it pays to have goats on the farm or homestead
I also get asked about the costs to keep dairy goats and if its 'worth it.' We always give a resounding “oh yes.” Even if you consider the initial purchase price, good quality hay, and bagged dairy goat feed we found its still worth it. First, we saved well over $50 a month on dairy products for us. Not just milk, but buttermilk, yogurt, and cheese. So even if nothing else, we just about broke even last summer.
But the biggest savings came from other uses – we used our goat's milk to drastically reduce our feed costs. All of our poultry, except the geese, loved the milk – including the ducks! (With the ducks you just need to make sure that they have plenty of fresh water – they make a mess and will be sticky from flinging the milk everywhere.)
We made a kind of cereal with cracked corn for our hens. We just poured the milk over the corn and they all dug in. You can also just pour it into a low bowl alone. Nothing is cuter than hearing the 'plink plink plink' of little beaks tapping the feed bowl as they are slurping down the milk. The extra calcium and protein really helped the hens with their egg production - and we used this cereal to 'finish' our meat chickens. Worked great.
Here is where the savings come in: If you consider that layer mix is $8 - $12 a bag...and cracked corn at $5 a bag plus 'free' milk... the costs for the goats feed and hay are quickly absorbed. Of course, this should be a supplement and we still relied on the hens free ranging and also layer mix at night.
The savings were even more dramatic with the pigs. Pig 'starter' feed is wildly expensive, about $17 a bag around here, because of the high protein required by the growing pigs. Two pigs would need at least a bag a week for 4 – 6 weeks (depending on how old they are ) and then would be moved to pig 'grower' which was still about $8/bag. So that $5 bag of cracked corn, with a gallon of 'free' milk, and hard boiled eggs from the hens makes is very cheap to raise pigs. To be clear, we had a special recipe for when the pigs were very small...but at mid-season they were off bagged pig food entirely on on our corn+milk+eggs+whatever we had in the garden. They finished very well and we are eatin' high on the hog all winter.
Using the goats milk to supplement the rest of the barnyard made it easy to keep our little farming growing without the huge costs. Some folks don't see the math in raising your own food (chicken and pork) because its seems so much cheaper at the store – but if you can feed what your grow.... well, friend, that's how to farm. Plus, we love having the whole 'circle of life' right here in our barn yard.
How about some random information?
Full or mini? (From someone's question the other day.)
One of the reasons we got the mini-mancha's was that I didn't have any experience with goats at all. I think I'd seen a couple pictures but that was it. My thinking was that I didn't want to start off with a bigger animal that I didn't know anything about. I figured at least a mini-size goat wouldn't kill me – or more likely, that I wouldn't be trampled, gored, knocked down or whatever by something that only came up to my knee. To my surprise, I found that goats are pretty reasonable. I would not have a full, intact male (a buck) under any circumstances, but the females seem to be easy enough to work with. Looking back we wish we'd gone directly with the full sized.
For first timers, if you have the confidence, I'd say skip the mini's and go for a petite full sized dairy goat - like the la mancha. For some people the mini's are hard to milk and may not be worth the work. Its one thing to get over a gallon a day - but to only get a quart or two? Remember that you need at least a gallon to make any kind of cheese - so it would take 4 milkings with a mini rather than one with a full sized. Goat milk freezes just fine and you can use extra for your mixed barnyard, dogs, cats, etc etc.
That being said, people LOVE their mini's – for instance the Nigerian Dwarfs (nigi's). Of my two mini manchas one of them was very 'nigi and the other was very 'la mancha.' The nigi's have a lot of pluses – they have high butterfat milk, can be dual purpose, can be bred year round (unlike the 'cool climate/alpine' goats), and some people love their personalities. I know grown people who will burst into tears from love for their nigi's.
We are not those people.
Nigi lovers will say their goat's little personalities are endearing. We say they are the most obnoxious animals known to man. Our little nigi was loud, stubborn, got out of every fence, got into every ridiculous situation, caused all the havoc, and to be quite honestly the only reason she didn't end up on the grill was because I paid so much money for her. I actually had a day where she and I faced off and I told her that if she didn't knock it off I would 'let those dogs have you and I won't even feel bad.' She stomped, I swore, and the dogs were wondering if I really meant it. We ended up selling her to a family who loves her little personality. And the barnyard has never been so peaceful.
Which breed of goat to get is totally up to you. There are pros and cons for each. Its really not which is the best breed, the question really is, “Which is the best breed for you?”
Many people love the nubians as they are esteemed as the best milkers. But they scream all the time and scream louder when in heat. People who love them say they like to hear them 'talk.' Me? I'd get the 9mm if I had to hear some fool goat screaming all day long. One of the interesting combinations I've heard about are mini-toggs - a small version of the Toggenburg which is a swiss dairy breed. There is a goat for every purpose so do your research to figure out what will work best for your situation and your facilities. Read up on different breeds and consider your climate. Some of the alpine breeds don't do well in extremely hot weather.
Once you've found a breeder (craigslist is great), feel free to ask to visit. You'll find most folks are excited to tell you about their goats. When you go to check out your dairy goat I'd recommend that you milk her before you hand over the money. This is not as weird as it sounds. If she isn't easy for you to milk then keep shopping. Remember you'll be milking twice a day so make sure she is easy for you to milk. An easy milker for one person is a chore for the next. You may or may not be able to try some of the milk when you visit a breeder. Raw milk laws vary by state and many breeders won't risk the liability.
A word on goat breeders. They can be nuts. I can say this because I'm not a breeder. Unlike chickens who's care is pretty standardized (water, layer mix, shelter = success), the spectrum of goat care runs the gamut. For heavens sakes. If you want to start a fight among goat breeders just call walk into a room of them and ask what to feed a goat. I guarantee there will be a brawl.
At one end of the goat-crazy-scale is the "by the book only, call the vet if the goat looks funny, and let the goat be in the house with you because you LOVE her" folks. On the other end, its folks like me who say 'get out there and free range', use natural/organic methods, and think goats are nice, but they are livestock and we don't snuggle the help. And there is everyone in between.
I once got into a real argument with a woman who insisted her goat was a much better guard dog then my dogs. And she house trained it. A goat. In the house. Either you are saying to yourself “oh geez thats so cute” or you're saying “golly that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard short of the people who put little nappies on their ducks and let them live in the house.” Just so's we're clear – our ducks don't live in the house. And for the record, there is no way her stupid goat would save her from killer pigs like my dogs do...
But to each his own.
I'll leave you with a few pix (at the bottom) and a tale of goat ridiculousness, just so you know what you are getting yourself into:
We pulled into the drive one cold winter day, late, from church to find the turkeys up on the roof of the house. This was kind of weird and as I was saying just that I gasp loudly and shrieked “Stop the truck!”
The Big Man stopped and I got out and ran over to the turkey pen gate where our goatie, Miss Nigi, was hanging. Upside down. By her hock (that's her back foot). I was sure she was dead. When I got to her I could see that somehow she had gotten her leg stuck on the hook for the gate. The gate hook was piercing her leg between the bone and the main tendon and she was hanging from it. I quickly evaluated her and found she was still alive – she was chilled, and had peed and pooped herself as she'd been there a while, but she was completely stuck. Just then The Big Man arrived and he held her while I worked on freeing her leg.
When she was free I scooped her up and we rushed her into their pen and got the heat lamp going. I took off my only non-pooped on, good jacket and wrapped her up while I barked orders to The Big Man to get warm water, some corn, more straw etc. etc. Since she was cold and in shock I got down on the straw in my previously-used-only-for-church clothes and I rubbed her vigorously. When she seemed to come around we checked out the wound (which was clean) and felt her for any other injuries (none). We consulted our vet manual and had the 4H neighbor kids come over and look at her and we all agreed she was OK. We left her to recover while I burned my clothes. After a couple days she was back up and to her old tricks.
I'm still not sure what exactly happened that day but its seems all goat owners have a story about coming home and finding their goat hanging in some ridiculous situation. So consider this fair warning that you just never know what that silly goat is going to do. But don't let that stop you – go on now, go and get your goat!
Here are a few pix of different items for your goat barn/shed. Let me know if we should chat more about this:
We love these are the permanently mounted 'flat sided' buckets with hardware at TSC - hardware is sold separately. We have several mounted around their shelter and also outside on the fences. Goats tend to kick buckets over, or just get stuck in them. If you hear a funny noise chances are your goat has a bucket stuck on her head.
This facility is just beautiful - see how the goats they 'feed thru' - less mess and no goats poop in feed, easy to get to and maintain. This is an ultra deluxe goat barn - wow!
We like these latches and clasps. Goats are really large raccons with udders - they can get any gate open. Make sure you have latches that can only be opened if you have thumbs and are very clever.
One of the "S" shaped bucket holders from TSC - so cheap! We never would have found them in the horse section if someone hadn't suggested it. Can be easily moved around to hold flat sided buckets for feed and/or water.
Our corner feeder - see they pull the hay thru. Its mounted with those heavy duty fence staples that need to be hammered in.