Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Got my goats..or "What's the big deal about goats?"

Ah... goats. The 'poor man's cow.' Some people love goats. I do not. I don't hate them like I hates them pigs... but I'm more of a 'goat liker' and not a goat lover. To be sure the only reasons I have diary goats are because:

1. I can't afford a cow (no pasture for them to graze)
2. of poison ivy.
These are mini-manchas
When we arrived at this new property it was late fall and we had no idea the entire place was invested with poison ivy. I got it about 67 times the first summer we were here. Honestly the evil weed was everywhere and I was one big scratchy mess. One day I literally threw down my garden tools, got in my truck, and drove up to meet a woman who advertised "mini manchas" on craigslist. I didn't know what a "mini mancha" was and at the time the only thing I knew about goats was that they eat poison ivy. This was good enough for me.  So I handed over all my foldin' money and drove home with two ridiculous looking, bleating goaties. The first thing they did was run over to the poison ivy and ate it. I loved them.

Then the shine kinda wore off.

But that's a story for another day. Suffice it to say that goats are just one step ladder away from a Three Stooge's skit ....and some of them refuse to stay fenced in. And they are loud. Its irritating and not in a good way. We like calm, quiet, low maintenance, 'easy keepers', who get out there and free range because its free. There is a reason they say "you stubborn old goat" ...'cepting that the young ones are stubborn too.

The mini's did their job so well we moved on to full sized dairy goats. Mostly because of a series of failures on our part, we did not breed the 'mini manchas' in the fall, so they didn't have babies in the spring, so they didn't produce any milk.  But we really wanted a dairy critter to round out our barnyard. We knew that the goat's milk would complete the 'circle of life' of sustainability that we were edging toward... the hens would drink the milk, so they'd lay the eggs, which would feed the pigs, which would feed us.  And my husband, The Big Man, guzzles milk like a frat boy with a free keg. We needed something we could milk or his milk drinking habit was going to put us in the poor house.

We brought home, Vita, a big ol' Saanen. Considered the "Holsteins" of the goat world, Saanen's are kinda like big marshmallows. Easy, quiet, she was an experienced milker and stood there understandingly the first time I tried to milk her. Basically I sprayed milk everywhere BUT in the bucket. It went all over the side of the barn, down my boot, all over the barncat, all over her.. it was a disaster. But we worked it out.

  In fact, it worked out so well that we were hooked. So we called around and found a full sized La Mancha in milk. We ran right over and bought Debbie on the spot. Actually she wasn't very happy in that herd - she was the problem child and odd man out. She didn't have any friends in that herd and was the lowest man on the goat totem pole and pecking order. We laughed when Debbie ran right over and hopped into the truck. She fit right in with our gals. Our smaller herd, and smaller goats were perfect for her. And she was submissive to Queen Vita so there was no fighting and everyone got along swimmingly.

Debbie, the la mancha, is our best milker. We were getting over a gallon of milk a day from her and she takes about 3 minutes to milk. And she free ranges like a pro. By the way, there isn't anything wrong with her - she really doesn't have big floppy ears. The breed is supposed to have little 'elf' ears. We think she looks kinda like an alien.

Our Saanen, Vita, is a sassy show gal and refuses to walk her pampered butt the 20 steps to the pasture...but if I go and get it, she loves the weeds, clover, and such. And all the extras helps produce spectacular milk. This is our version of 'weed-n-feed!'

All summer long we supplemented goats milk for feed for the ducks, chickens, turkeys, and of course the pigs. Everyone got big, fat, and happy off the milk. Including us. Granted the first sip of goat milk took a whole lot of  "I double-dog-dare you's" but once we cowboy'd up and took a swing... golly. Imagine the best, smoothest, creamiest, cleanest tasing glass of milk you've ever had.. that, friends, is goat milk. Nope, its not goaty. Nope, it isn't stinky.. its just pure and perfect.

We drank it by the gallon. We made cheese, and ate it by the pound. The yogurt... oh, the yogurt is something to write home about.. and drizzled with honey from our bees.... nothing could be better.

The only downside is that goat's milk is naturally homogenized. Which means, the cream does not readily separate. It will.. after a while. But its not like cow's milk which separates over night and gives you cream the likes of which the ice cream fairies dream of.... so we could not make butter and didn't have cream. So I still pine for a sweet jersey cow.

But the goats paid their way. We easily cut our feed bill by 30% across the board. And yep, that included the extra feed for the goaties. And we saved at least $50 a month on our grocery bill. We had milk, buttermilk, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, and yogurt all basically for free. So was it worth it? Yep. Sure was.

The initial start up costs were a little stiff. We had to buy the goaties, set up the goatshed, build a milk stand, buy the milking supplies (basically a stainless bucket and a strainer), and pay for the extra feed. This spring we should be ahead of the game - especially since we'll have goat babies to sell or dress for our use. In my 'even steven' view of the world, the money we will make from selling the goat babies should pay for our feeder pigs. And the feed reduction for the rest of the barnyard will put us clearly on the upside.

Next month I'll work on making soap from the several gallons of milk still in the freezer. If this works out we'll have something else to sell at the farmer's market...and of course we'll have our own soap and probably lotion as well.

The best reference for all things goat is the spectacular fiascofarm.com site. This site, along with the Storey's Guide to Dairy Goats is basically everything that you need to get started. I'll follow up on some specifics, including hilarious goat deeds...and not so hilarious goat deeds. And why electric fence is the best invention. Ever.

Coming soon we should have our first goat babies. Its well known in this county, and the point of much mocking, that the only medical attention required for this upcoming blessed event will be for me.... when I pass out. I'll letcha know how it goes. Luckily, the neighbor's 4H kids are available to handle the situation.

In the next installment.... How (not) to milk a goat

ps by special request.. This is the best corner feeder I've ever seen. See that extra effort has been made - the garden hose so no one gets scratched...and that the hog panel has been attached to hold in the hay but let goat heads pop thru. We just put a section of hog panel in the corner and let them eat thru. We will, however, enlarge the openings as Debbie got stuck the other day.....


basicliving@backtobasicliving.com said...

Thank you! I love how your milk stand turned out! I'm going to start building mine this weekend. Thank you SO much for the pictures! You totally rock.

Chai Chai said...

Thank you for the wonderful post, the ability to glean this type of helpful information while being entertained is priceless. I have been toying with the idea of getting two Nigerian Dwarf goats and trying my hand at milking, your experience is driving me towards taking the plunge. Do the chickens really drink the milk?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hi Chai Chai! I tried to post a comment at your site, but it wouldnt let me. I think its my browser but good to hear from you!

Yep all the poultry but the geese LOVED the milk. You can either pour it into a low bowl alone, or we made a kind of cereal with cracked corn. We just poured the milk over the corn and they all loved it - even the ducks!

The extra calcium and protein really helped the hens with their egg production - and we used this to 'finish' our meat chickens. Worked great.

If you consider that layer mix is $8 - $12 a bag..and cracked corn at $5 a bag plus 'free' milk... the savings really added up. Of course this should be a supplement. So we didn't feed it all the time.

Raw milk is also great if the poultry needs a bit of a lift - mixed with apple cider vinegar.. a great healer for lots of things.

If you are considering goats 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. We had the same logic when we started but wish we'd gone directly with the full sized. Hum..maybe I'll write more about this.

Mimi said...

You are so lucky your milk isn't goaty. I tend to avoid any goat dairy because I hate that goat flavor.

I was lucky enough to get some cheese - once - from a goat farmer who grazes our hillsides, it was not goaty at all and it was pure heaven!

Your goats are really cute.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! My dream is to eventually live simply and sustainably on my own homestead, and one day I want goats. Your info is a huge help!

Julianne said...

You say you can't do cream and butter but that's NOT true. I have a cream separator called a Novo that I got off ebay for 70 dollars. It is hand cranked and plastic but once I use it on my just-milked milk (while still warm) and chilled it is easier to make butter than cows milk. I just put a little less than a quart of cream in my blender, put a bag of ice cubes and water on the side of the blender to keep milk cold (blender motor heats it up) and within a few minute I have butter. So don't think you have to get a cow!!! From one gallon of milk I got one quart of cream.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

actually jmp, thats not what i said. i said it doesnt readily separate. the cream separators we've seen are superduper expensive. we made goat butter one time and it just wasnt the same. we still want a cow.

Brian_the_builder said...

Maby look at some of the minature cow breeds im planing on getting one or two as soon as i find some land

Ohiofarmgirl said...

hey Brian! yep. i'd love some mini cows but wow they are SO expensive!

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