Goat Girl, or, The Milking Life

Sharon October 18th, 2009

I’ve had many people email and tell me that my stories of cute little goats make them want to get them – but they aren’t sure they’d want to have to milk all the time, or don’t feel like they have a sense of what the requirements are like, so I thought I’d write about what it is like.

My life as a goat girl (in reality, Eric does slightly more milking than I do, so not all days involve me milking twice a day) begins around the time I get up, when I begin sterilizing the milking equipment.  I soak each implement – the quart sized glass mason jars we milk into, the milk strainer, the strip cup and the pint jar that holds the teat cleaning mixture, and the bowl I carry everything in in a solution if either iodine and water or bleach and water (just a very small amount of each), or you can purchase a special mixture to sterilize with.  A much more dilute version of the same solution is used as a teat wash and dip.  We keep the sterilizing mixture in a closed container and reuse it several times, so there’s not much to it – just rotating the various pieces through.

  Eli’s bus comes at 8:20 or so, and so I like to be out milking by 8am – the kids come out with us and play or help out, according to age and ability.  The goats have their routine completely down at this point – the first week or so, while they got settled, we had to allow more time, since they were jumpier and we were less competent, but now things go smoothly for the most part.

Brad Kessler’s superb new book _Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese_ includes a much longer version of this story, and one of the things he observes is that herding people can’t seem to shut up about their animals – their cattle or their sheep or their goats hold a lot of their attention. This is true of us as well – Carla Emery observes that when you milk an animal, you get into their emotional life – you are taking the place, in part or whole, of their baby. I’m not sure it is fully possible to milk by hand, every day, and not get bound up emotionally, as well as practically, with your animals.

Selene is the first one on the stanchion – she’s herd queen, and she knows it – no one would even consider pushing past her.  Selene and I have had a complex relationship.  She’s a troublemaker – if a fence can be jumped, she jumps it (these are little goats, fortunately, so 4′ fences will mostly keep them in, but Selene is challenging), if there’s a way to kick over the milk jar, she will.  She’s better behaved for Eric than for me, and I used to come back in the barn saying that when it came time to sell goats, Selene would be first in line.  Now she has plenty of wonderful qualities – she’s affectionate and sweet, but Selent used to drive me nuts.

But that was before she gave birth.  Selene gave birth huddled against me, and she clearly wanted me there – she was afraid, and wanted to be near her human.  As she delivered, she began to lick me all over, as though I were her kid – frantically, she licked my arms my hands, as though I were her baby, and she was through this process.  Ever since then, she’s treated me as though I were one of her own, rubbing against me and nickering her mother call to me when I come out.  All the tension has gone out of our relationship, and now I’m hers, and she’s mine, and I can’t imagine the farm without Selene.

We keep the goats in the barn at night because of the coyotes, so we let Selene out, and she leaps on the stanchion. Tekiah, her kid is hungry and gets a small amount of grain, and we milk Selene out.  First, I wash her teat with the sterile solution, to remove anything that might contaminate the milk.  The first two squirts are shot into a glass cup, so I can look at them to make sure there no signs of mastitis  or contamination.  All is well, so I continue, two handed, squirting into the jar.  The milk foams and the milk makes that milk noise as each spray hits the milk before it.

We have a tool called the Maggidans milker, which is rather like a breast-pump for goats – it makes milking a bit easier and faster – you still have to finish the process by hand, but we got it for me because I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and while two goats didn’t bother me, four were pushing it.  It is also useful because with it, with five minutes practice, almost anyone can milk well enough to be able to cover the goats for a few days while we’re out of town – it means that milking doesn’t require any special skill.  Milking manually is not hard, but it does take a little practice, and if you have arthritis, carpal or bursitis, a milker can be helpful.  

Selene, however, I never use the milker with – she’s a fast, easy milker, and in less than five minutes, I’ve emptied her out.  As a first freshener (after kidding the first time) she was an unimpressive milker, but she’s improved a lot this year, so I’m pleased.  Now it wasn’t always this way – when we first began milking, it took much longer, because we were slow and they were unpracticed too.  But once you get good at it, it is very simple.

Selene goes into the pen in the pasture, and out bounces Bast. Bast is a half-grown teenager, just about six months old.  She’s about 2/3 the size of the adult goats, and like any teenager, hasn’t decided yet whether she’s a grownup or a baby – she still plays with the kids, but she’ll be ready to be bred in a month and a half.  She’s still small enough, however to be able to climb out through the hay manger, slipping between its bars, so she can snabble grain from the other goats.  Isaiah is deputized to chase her off, after she’s had her rightful share of feed.

Maia is next – Maia is a beautiful goat, she looks just like a deer in miniature, dark brown, with a streak of darker brown along her spine, and a long, narrow body shape.  Selene is much less pretty – and much less perfect in her conformation, sort of your utility goat.  Maia, on the other hand, comes from great milking lines, and walks in beauty like the night.

She’s also an easy goat – she jumps up, eats her grain, gets milked and out again.  Her kidding was like that – we got up, there was a baby goat in the barn, she’d even cleaned up most of the mess.  She’s a remarkable producer, particularly on her far teat (goats have two teats like us) – we used to joke that half of each day’s milk came from Selene and Maia’s near teat, while the other half came from the far.  The only criticism I have of Maia is that she’s not that devoted a mother – don’t get me wrong, she’s fine, but she definitely feels that her baby will be fine while she goes off and browses for a while.  If Arava is calling, it is Selene, devoted Mom, who will come running to Maia’s baby and guide her back to the rest of the herd.

Both Tekiah and Arava were fathered by Wiggy, who is a goat of splendid conformation and good milking lines.  Part of the process of having goats is improving them – for Selene, better udder attachments and more capacity are part of the goal, along with a slightly more streamlined conformation.  With Maia, you’ve got a really great milking goat meeting really great milking lines, and you can already see that Arava is a promising kid.  Tekiah is more solid, like her Mom, although just as beautiful. The two babies leap and play together, climbing the woodpile or playing chase or investigating one of the cats.  They are about the same size as a full grown cat now, and they spend their days playing together and following the herd.

When we were just milking Maia and Selene, I could feed and water both goats and milk them both out in about 15 minutes – and that because Maia is a slow eater.   With four milkers and three young goats to tend, morning chores are up to about half an hour.  After Maia goes into the pasture, out comes Mina.

Just as I was once amibivalent about Selene, Eric struggles with Mina – she doesn’t like him much.  For me, Mina will hop on the stanchion no problem, and patiently wait while I milk her out.  For Eric, Mina, the color of cream with patches of yellow, might get on the stanchion, or she might not.  Mina, you see, is a wily old goat.

Her previous owners, my friends at Weathertop farm, used to call her “Mina the Milk Truck” – she’s a huge producer, and her genes have done a lot to improve their farm.  They sold her to use because they already had many of her daughters and granddaughters, but told us that if we wouldn’t take her, they’d keep her.  We wanted her and her lines – Bast is Mina’s granddaughter, so we got two of the Mina-line.  But perhaps because she’s older, and because she’s a thinker, Mina is a self-controlled goat, driven by her own desires.

That means that unlike all the other goats, a scoop of grain won’t necessarily lure her where you want her to go. In my hands, it generally will.  But she delights in making Eric crazy, refusing to get on the stanchion, or go into the barn at night.  And she’s fast – once we’re chasing her, it is all over.   And he’s the one coming in stomping his feet and saying “if it weren’t for the milk…”  But I don’t see us selling Mina the Milk Truck anytime soon – not until she’s done her magic on our herd. Plus, my kids adore her – she rubs against them and lets them stroke her ears.  She’s the uber-mama, with a taste for anything young – she adopted Bast when Bast left her Mom.  And we respect her smarts – the other goats can’t resist a treat, but Mina, Mina does what she wants.  You have to admire her self-restraint and intelligence, even when it is annoying.

The final goat out of the barn is alway Jesse – brown with white spots, and thick around the middle, she’s cute, but not all that elegant looking.  But she’s an astonishing producer for a first freshener, and just about the sweetest creature ever.  There’s never any problem with Jesse – she’s not pesky, she’s always last in line, but always ready to be scratched or come over and cuddle.  She’s the youngest of the adult goats, and from lines we also wanted to add to our farm.  She produced twins last year – including a male good enough to be as a buck (very, very few male kids are sold as bucks, most are wethered (neutered)), and the nicest doe kid our friends, who have had more than 50 babies born on their farm, had ever had. 

By the time all four goats are done, we have about a quart and a half from the morning milking (remember, Tekiah and Arava are still nursing, so Maia and Selene are producing substantially more than this).  The evening milking, which Selene and Maia don’t take part in (daytime milk is for their babies) will be about 2/3 quart, for a little over 2 quarts a day.  When we were milking Selene and Maia, both first fresheners (their first kidding, they produce less milk than they will in later kiddings), we were getting a bit over a quart a day.

For a family of six, a quart a day was just about enough to meet our needs for milk for drinking and cooking, but not enough to cover yogurt, cheese and other dairy needs.  A family where the adults drank milk (neither Eric nor I do, as a general rule, except for the occasional cup of cocoa) would need more, while one where little dairy is consumed (or with fewer people) would obviously need less.  A full sized dairy goat might give you a gallon a day.  A cow would give you five gallons a day.  While this offers many possibilities, for most families, this probably means some milk going to waste.  The good thing about small goats is that for their size, they give a lot of milk – but manageable amounts.

I bring the milk inside and filter it.  The milk is in two glass quart jars (we don’t have a milk pail), and gets filtered into a half-gallon glass jar.  Both the jar and the lid have been sterilized, and we use a very small, disposable milk filter that catches any loose hairs or other matter that might have fallen into the milk.  Once filtered, we don’t pasteurize it – we are very careful, however, to watch our goats for any sign of illness.  We believe that on a very small scale like this, raw milk is both safe and beneficial – we’ve found that Eli seems to have a happier digestion with raw milk, rather than pasteurized.  That said, however, had I been pregnant we would have pasteurized.

What does it taste like?  To me, it tastes exactly like rich milk – Nigerian dwarves have an extremely high butterfat content – much higher than any other goat.  So the milk is sweet and tastes rich, but there’s no goaty flavor to it at all.  When it begins to sour, it may have that goat-tang that one associates with goat cheeses, but fresh and chilled, it tastes like milk – very good milk.

Beyond the ordinary routine of milking, there’s not much to goat care.  Goats were the second animal (after the dog) to be domesticated, and their long history of being with people means that they really like being around us.  So a lot of what we do is simply spend time with them – we leave our goats loose to roam around the property (what we don’t want them to get at, we fence them out of), as long as we’re home.  You don’t have to do this, of course – they can be kept in penned areas quite easily, but the goats are happy to roam with the kids or with us.  So when Simon is out playing, they accompany him to the creek, and browse the trees there, and while I’m fixing the barn door, they are up eating goldenrod.  Without a person to accompany them, they stay mostly in the yard, or wander about eating down the willow forest in the back.  Browsers, who like deer prefer leaves and bark to pasture, they are useful at clearing out trees you don’t want – or, if you aren’t careful, things you do ;-) .

They won’t go deep into the woods by themselves, but they will follow you – I thought I was the only person taking goat walks until I read Kessler’s book, but I really enjoy taking the goats for walks.  They follow you happily, enjoying both the sense of safety they get from human beings, but also, I thnk, the companionship – they are social creatures, and they have a long history of socializing with us.  We try and make sure they get plenty of browse, and thus all the nutrients they need.

You don’t have to have woods – goats are very flexible creatures.  You can bring them all their feed and keep them in a small space, perhaps cutting roadside weeds and bringing them tree prunings.  Two does would fit very nicely in most surburban or even decent-sized urban backyards.  They will eat pasture if that’s what there is available.  But their preferred foods are a mix of things, and they prefer to reach up, rather than down, to get their feed.

We worm them once a week with an herbal wormer that we get from fiasco farms www.fiascofarms.com, and we also feed pumpkin seeds now and again to keep the worm load low.  We trim hoofs every month or so – it takes about 5 minutes a goat.  They have access to hay most of the time, but they prefer browse and eat it only to compensate.  They obviously need clean fresh water at all times, and goat minerals.  We also give them a little supplemental copper sulfate (goats have a high need for copper).   Other than kidding and breeding, that’s pretty much it. 

There are four parts of goat handling that you might find unpleasant.  First, of course, there’s manure.  To us, this stuff is gold, so we don’t mind it at all.  Goats are fairly tidy creatures, they poop little dry berries that is wonderful on the garden.  We clean the barn out every few weeks during the summer, and then in late fall and not again until spring, just adding plenty of dry bedding, so that the lower layers are composting and warming the barn. The smell is not unpleasant at all – merely earthy.  Buck goats do smell, but most small folk won’t keep a buck, they will have only does or does and wethers.  We take our goats to be bred, or borrow a buck – eventually we might get a buck, but we’re not there yet.

The next unpleasant bit is vaccinating – it is vastly cheaper to do this yourself and it really isn’t hard – most vaccinations are given subcutaneously (under the skin) and can be done while the goat is in the milking stanchion.  My goats don’t make much of a fuss, and I’ve never had trouble with it. Not everyone vaccinates, this is a ymmv thing, but we do.

Those are the tiny unpleasantnesses.  The next part is associated with kidding.  They are banding and disbudding. Banding or burdizzoing are methods of castration – unless your buck kid is amazingly perfect, you won’t want him to breed.  For nigerian dwarves, which people like as pets and lawn mowers, the males are salable – if they are neutered.  So you have to do it.  I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve seen banding done, and it is fairly quick, if not very pleasant for the kid.  Disbudding, which cauterizes the horns so that they don’t grow (yes, I know this is unnatural, but goats with horns are dangerous, and it isn’t to the animal’s benefit to end up at the sale barn or eaten because they accidentally hurt someone’s kid, or dead, because their horns got caught on the fence), is pretty unpleasant.  It lasts only about 30 seconds, but it isn’t much fun.

Finally, there’s the question of what to do with extra males.  You don’t have to breed every year to make milk – most goats will lactate for a couple of years without breeding, but you may want doe kids for sale or replacement, and you will find that the goats make more milk if they are bred annually.  Plus, babies are very appealing.  Doe kids can be sold or kept and are obviously useful.  But what about the boys?

The options are these – the thing about Nigerian dwarves, as mentioned above, is that people like them as pets.  Because goats are herd animals, a small family or single person who wants only one doe will need to get another goat to keep them company, and might want a wether, or someone who just wants goats to play with.  So far, my friends who have been doing this longer than I have never  found it difficult to sell a wethered male kid.  I’ve heard otherwise with larger breeds.  You can also use them as pack animals – the fact that they love to go walking with you can be used to your advantage.  In this case, larger goats might be better, but a couple of wethered nigerian boys are the perfect companion for a couple of kids off for an afternoon’s picnic.  Or you could eat them. 

This last is a hard option – we have both sheep and goats on our property, and the difference between them is striking.  When a strange person walks towards a sheep, the sheep mostly walk away.  When a strange person walks towards a goat, the goats come on over to check you out and see if you’d be fun to play with.  We butcher our own turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese and will butcher our lambs once we have them – and all of us accept that the sheep on our pasture will end up in our freezer.  The goats are a harder thing – they are just so personable it is hard to imagine eating one, even though I like goat meat.

At this point, as long as there is a market for male wethers, we probably won’t eat our goats.  Eventually, as times get harder, we probably will.  I’m not fully reconciled to this, however – but I suspect I’ll get more accustomed as time goes on. I do warn prospective goat keepers, though, that goats present a particularly difficult problem in this regard.

They eat some grain each day – about 2 cups per goat per milking.  We’ve experimented with cutting this back, and find that we can cut it back a little in the summer, but that for optimal milk production, they do need it.  A bale of hay with two goats lasted us about 10 days to two weeks, depending on the season. With 7, it lasts 3.  My estimate of annual upkeep costs, absent the cost of the goats themselves, is about $150.00 for two milking does – more like $300 for my four plus kids.  A gallon of locally produced organic cow’s milk was $6.00.  With two first freshener does producing a bit over 2 gallons a week, we made back our investment in 12 weeks, and the rest of the year’s milk was effectively free.  The numbers will be different for you, of course, depending on the cost of hay and grain, etc…

We paid $325 for each of our five goats.  It is certainly possible to find them for lower or higher prices.  Registered Nigerian Dwarf doe kids or milkers will sell for around that, depending the quality of the genetics and their milking ability.  Wethers (neutered males) sell for about $100.  Most goats will twin most of the time, so you can expect an average of about 2 kids per goat per kidding, half of whom will be female.  The sale of kids can provide an offset to the cost of initial investments in goats, housing, etc…

One of the reasons I’m so interested in this breed is their extreme thrift – they produce a lot of high butterfat milk (that is, not only is it sweet tasting, but it makes a lot of cheese per gallon) on comparatively little feed.  I’m beginning to experiment with how they do on alternate supplements – mangels, pumpkins, high protein leaves like malinga…etc…  What interests me most is the possibility that they could provide a meaningful way for people to convert yard scraps, garden wastes and marginal weeds to high protein milk, with few purchased inputs.  I’m just starting to explore how different forms of management might work for them, while obviously taking good care of my girls.

The big thing that I think stops people from milking is the idea of having to do this dull chore twice a day, every single day, but we really haven’t found this to be a huge issue.  Right now we’re milking twice a day, but since we plan to eventually allow our herd to peak around 10 does in milk, our longer term plan is simply to milk once a day, in the mornings, leaving them with their kids during the daytime.  10 goats, milked during the higher-yield morning milking should give us plenty for all our dairy needs, and should reduce the time in evening chores dramatically to just feeding and watering. 

When the kids are 3 - 10 weeks,  we could conceivably go away for a weekend and simply leave the does with their kids, just arranging for feed and water.  We’d see a small fall-off in milk production afterwards, but it is doable.   Each doe is also dry for two months before her delivery, and during this period, there’ s no milking (although you can breed Nigerian’s year ’round if you want to and have milk all the time) and it is also easy to go away.   

But with the milker, which reduces the skill level, we honestly haven’t had any trouble getting someone to tend the goats – our standard goat care person is Killian, a 14 year old whose grandmother is the next house over.  Killian earns money for online gaming, and he and his Mom (who keeps her horses at her mother’s and thus is over every day) come and milk the goats morning and evening.  This has been a great arrangement for us, and permits us to go away regularly to visit family.

We’re also not that good about making sure we milk at exactly the same time each day – mornings are pretty consistent, since morning routines are pretty consistent, but evenings we’re flexible – if we’re going out to dinner with friends, we might milk early.  If we’re going to be coming back late, we might milk late.  We try not to be so late that the goats are suffering (full udders get uncomfortable) and consistency does result in the maximum production, but quality of life enters the occasion too.  The goats seem pretty adaptable to this reality.

Most importantly, however, we love milking – the goats are warm, and again, we’re tied into their lives.  We look forward to seeing them, to petting them and seeing how they produce tonight.  We hold the babies and feed them grain from our palms and brush the goats until they shine.  Dairying is an emotional relationship – a family thing – they are caring for you and you for them.  It is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t done it – it seems like it would be work – and it is, but work in the sense that helping your kids with their homework or doing something for a beloved family member is – it is reciprocal, imbued with emotion and ultimately, deeply pleasurable.

Sharon

29 Responses to “Goat Girl, or, The Milking Life”

  1. Abbieon 18 Oct 2009 at 10:52 am

    What a wonderfully complete post. We don’t have enough land for a goat, but I grew up with a few goats. We never milked them, they were simply companions and provided excitement in the springtime with the prospect of kids.

    Both of my parents grew up on working dairy farms, and they enjoyed the freedom of not having to milk everyday, twice a day, so I think that’s part of why they never got into milking our goats. Both of their families experienced tough times competing with the larger dairy farms, as they lived on small New England farms. When the 300 year old dairy barn on my dad’s farm (where I grew up) burned down in the late 70’s (before my parents were married) that was the nail in the coffin, and they decided to transform the farm into an orchard instead.

  2. Jerryon 18 Oct 2009 at 10:53 am

    Sharon,

    I love the way you name your goats and how each one has a different personality. I do the same with my Holsteins though some days some of them are called something else when they are miserable. All in all its the connections you make with your animals that lead me to believe you would make what I and other farmers call a cow man but in your case a goat gal.

  3. Stephen Bon 18 Oct 2009 at 11:09 am

    I still want a cow :-)

  4. Susanon 18 Oct 2009 at 11:39 am

    Oh, now I really want a goat!

    Out here the economic situation has resulted in people simply releasing goats that were formerly pets into the desert, where of course they head toward the road where they know people will be. My friend Dana has two Nigerian dwarves that this happened to; she is holding them for our friends who want them when they purchase land. I personally would LOVE to take one of them, but the idea of milking is putting me off (not to mention I doubt I could have them in my HOA restrictions). Dana has let me try my hand at milking but it really isn’t anything like milking a cow which I did when I was little.

    I simply adore goat cheese and they do have good personalities.

  5. Carolynon 18 Oct 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Sharon. Thank you for sharing with us. Any chance we could ever see pictures of our goats? The farm?

    Thanks again. You are a blessing to me! (A suburban mom with a square-foot garden and big dreams)

  6. TLEon 18 Oct 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for a lovely post Sharon. I have a great fondness for goats, & just ordered Kessler’s book to dream over (I’m another city back-yard farmer). My grandfather was raised on a small family dairy farm, and expressed the same relief as Abbie’s folks over *not* having to milk before school/work :)

  7. TLEon 18 Oct 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you for a lovely post Sharon. I have a great fondness for goats, & just ordered Kessler’s book to dream over (I’m another city back-yard gardener). My grandfather was raised on a small family dairy farm, and expressed the same relief as Abbie’s folks over *not* having to milk before school/work :)

  8. ceceliaon 18 Oct 2009 at 4:06 pm

    read a study done in the UK that indicated that named cows and goats actually produce more milk and are healthier than cows and goats who farmers do not “name”.

    Would seem to go to the relationship between the farmer and the animal and the social nature of these animals – it makes sense to me that they would respond to a “relationship”

  9. Sharonon 18 Oct 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I think there’s a huge difference between dairying as a job and dairying at the home schedule – most of the people I know who say they are so glad they don’t have to get up at 5am to milk anymore might be ok with rising at their normal time, milking once a day and perhaps going off on vacation periodically. Just as there’s a huge difference between market growing and home gardening in many ways, you simply can’t afford to run a dairy in the rather self-indulgent way we run our home milk production system.

    I’m enormously grateful to dairymen and women who make it possible for people not to milk, and who have to milk in a much more orderly and serious way than we do – but I’d also really like to turn people on to the possibilities – that some goats in the backyard for milk may not be quite as easy as chickens for eggs – but they aren’t as hard as most people assume.

    We didn’t name most of the goats – they came named from their previous home. But our policy is to name any animal we’re never going to eat ;-) .

    Sharon

  10. Yaelon 18 Oct 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Fabulous post–thanks Sharon!

    Definitely makes me want to get a goat–I htink they might be #1 on my list now, with chickens following close behind!

    Hopefully someday….Thanks for making my far-off plans/dreams seem like they could be a reality! :)

  11. veraon 18 Oct 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Wonderful post. Goats are troublemakers, but so adorable!

    Sharon, one thing I did not understand. You said you worm them every week. Why so often? Does everybody?

  12. Naomion 18 Oct 2009 at 6:00 pm

    wonderful post!

    I really enjoy goats (both their company and their tastiness ;) ) and am planning on getting some for our farm – I’ve liked the look of Nigerian Dwarfs, but wasn’t sure what their milk production was like. Sounds as though 4 would be perfect for us to start with – two adults, two younglings with another on the way, and all big milk/cheese/yoghurt consumers.

    Have to admit, the fencing requirements for the Dwarfs are very appealing too lol!

    Looking forward to future updates on your herd :)

  13. Sharonon 18 Oct 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Vera, sorry, should have been clearer. If you are using a chemical wormer, like ivermectin, no, you don’t do it every week. The herbal preparation we’re using is designed to keep worm load low generally, rather than allowing it to build up and then killing them all with the chemicals. So they get a weekly dose of an herbal maintenence wormer, and then every six weeks they get a wormer that contains wormwood and is a stronger preparation (still herbal though).

    Sharon

  14. veraon 18 Oct 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Ah, now I see it clearer. One more question if I may… why would goats, as herbivores, be so beset with worms? I know cats and dogs get them from hunting rodents and from fleas… but only need to be treated very occasionally. So I guess I am surprised that goats harbor worms in such a steady onslaught. If that is what you are saying…?

  15. Kate-Bon 18 Oct 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I confess I haven’t read this post yet, but I will because I love the topic! Off topic -I was just wondering, are you familiar with this group? Garden Writers Association at http://www.gardenwriters.org/gwa.php?p=index.html ? They started a program called Plant a Row For the Hungry that provides food to local foodbanks in many states. I plan to research it for my blog tomorrow.

    Thanks

  16. Jillon 19 Oct 2009 at 6:34 am

    Hmmm. Now I’m thinking goats would be very doable. Thanks for this post. And my husband thanks you, as well. He’s been agitating for a few dairy goats but I was never in favor of them, precisely because of the buckling problem. I hadn’t thought of the whole pet wether angle! I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that some Nigerian dwarf goats can lactate for years–I assumed goats were like dairy cows, and needed to be rebred every year. Very interesting.

  17. Sharonon 19 Oct 2009 at 6:34 am

    All herbivores get worms – the worms lay their eggs on grass and plant material, and the herbivores eat them, and they hatch inside of them. Sheep are the most vulnerable, because they eat grass non-stop, while goats are slightly less, because they tend to eat up, rather than down, but all herbivores need to be managed for worms or they won’t get optimum nutrition.

    Sharon

  18. rdheatheron 19 Oct 2009 at 8:47 am

    I have Nigerian Dwarfs(not registered so technically just spanish goats) and I’ve had to address the eating of the bucklings question. I had two born this year.

    I’d been there at both of their births, named them, and liked them but had always known I would be eating them. (I’d have trouble selling them because I’ve heard too many people act like livestock being killed by dogs is just an unavoidable situation. I’ll not have my boys last moments be of terror, thank you very much.)

    So killing was relatively easy. A handfull of super yummy grain and a quick shot to the head. The rest was just butchering. So there was the sadness of taking life, but knowing it was a good life.

    And on another note-are you getting cream rising to the top of your milk? I didn’t expect that! Butter without an expensive cream separator. Wheee!

  19. Jill B.on 19 Oct 2009 at 8:49 am

    Thank you, Sharon, for a wonderful post! I’ve wanted goats for quite some time and your writings make me feel even more comfortable with the idea. They sound very affordable and ‘family-friendly’. The little Nigerians seem like a good fit for our 2 acres. If only I could convince my husband and get around our zoning laws… (and really, I’m more concerned about my husband’s support!)

    Jill in Michigan

  20. Sharonon 19 Oct 2009 at 11:03 am

    Rdheather, thanks for the info – I appreciate it. We can’t slaughter with a gun (ritual reasons), but we’ve gotten pretty good at painless and easy deaths for poultry, and will master it for goats, when the time comes.

    Sharon

  21. Jenon 19 Oct 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Great post! I’m very interested in Nigerians. We have an acre in an unrestricted urban neighborhood. We already have a small barn on the property that would be great for 4 -6 goats comfortably that we are planning to update in the spring. My main concern is whether we have enough space. I have set aside a 500 sqft plus “pasture” that I want to fence in and plant with various goat attractive shrubs and small trees, would this be enough space? I plan also to allow them to roam throughout the yard as well when I’m ready for the garden to be ravaged. Would this be too limiting?

  22. Jimon 19 Oct 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Sharon, good post! Go Go Goats!

    When your kids play pirate, are the goats part of the game? Pirate goats??

    Also, you mentioned pack goats. How much pack weight, and how far are they good for? *has goat hike fantasies*

    I WANT goats now after reading this.

    Jim

    the goatless

  23. Sharonon 20 Oct 2009 at 8:21 am

    Jen, no I think that would probably work fairly well, if you don’t mind feeding hay to supplement – that’s not enough pasture, but if you can cut down some weeds and bring them in and supplement with hay, it should be good for 4 goats or so.

    Jim, the nigerians are small – I wouldn’t put more than 15lbs on them total – full sized goats can take more. Mine will follow me a good ways, but I’ve not experimented with maximizing distance.

    Sharon

  24. curiousalexaon 20 Oct 2009 at 9:05 am

    oh what a relief to learn i can use glass jars instead of having to invest in stainless steel containers! I really do worry about start-up costs. my two wethers were free, but i’m certain a milking doe won’t… I plan to have all the infrastructure and equipment before investing in a doe. (the wethers are temporarily housed in a 6′ chain-link dog kennel while we work on their winter housing!)

    now to add that book to my library request list!

  25. Staceyon 20 Oct 2009 at 10:00 am

    Hi Sharon,

    I am wondering if you have read or tried to supplement your goats’ or chickens’ diet with potatoes (in order to bring in less grains from outside your farm)? We seem to be able to grow a lot of potatoes here but small grain production has been less successful. Thanks for the post. We have already tracked down a nearby farm that raises Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

    Stacey

  26. Joanneon 20 Oct 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Hello — I tried your link to Fiasco Farms, and ended up at the wrong site. Perhaps you meant to link to Fias Co Farm (http://fiascofarm.com/)? Thanks for the link, even if it was a mistake! I am interested in herbal wormers for my Angora goats.

  27. Coleenon 21 Oct 2009 at 6:59 am

    As an avid goat lover, milker, herder-momma I applaud your efforts. These are my favorite animals on the farm and I have lots, including a wonderful swiss-brown jersey cross milk cow.

    Extra Milk-especially skimmed? Feed it to your chickens or pigs (no offense intended Sharon). Both of these animals are omnivores and need lysine which is hard to get if you are growing your own feed, especially in the winter when bugs are less plentiful. They will fatten quite well on this and its an economical way to convert your grass or inexpensive hay into protein.

    There is nothing like goat ownership. Once you’ve had kids, you’ll never want to be without goats again. They each have their own personality. Many are much less expensive than what is quoted here, especially in the southern states. Nubians are a wonderful breed and I have not found them to be as “loud” as they are reported to be. Some individuals are louder than others. If they others they are less likely to be lonely. They are very familial and even if they have not been with their siblings or progeny for a long time when reintroduced and herd order figured out, will go back to laying with their family most frequently.

    Wonderful animals! You have to get some!

  28. Jimon 21 Oct 2009 at 8:34 am

    Thanks Sharon! I don’t know whether I can can handle goats alone, but it’s a nice idea. Go Pirate goats!

  29. Pine Ridgeon 21 Oct 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Sorry I’m a little late with my comments. I banded my first goat this summer and it was very easy. We got Billy (yes, Billy ) when he was about 3 mos old. I waited until he was about 5 mos old to band him. By then I had a really good realtionship with him and he was comfortable with me. I just fed him more grain then normal to buy me time, gave him a tetanus shot then bent behind him and slipped the band on. He did not even notice until he was done eating, and then he only acted like a bug was biting him, no wild hopping or crying like I expected. It did take about 8 weeks for his dangling bits to fall off.

    I have another young buck to do and have been waiting for cooler weather.
    If I had known it would take 8 weeks for them to fall off I would have waited to do Billy also. I was worried about maggots and checked him out often. The things you do when you own animals :)

    I never knew I was a goat person until we got the goats. They are so friendly. We decided to name our females after plants, so far we have Clover, Willow and Hazel. The boys are Billy and Billy Bob.

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