Printer Friendly

Choosing and caring for your dairy goat.

A dairy goat should be angular and not round, hip bones prominent, thighs thin, with considerable length of neck and long body. (See charts at right.) Any tendency to be short and thick of body, short of neck, thick in the thighs or in any way fat and meaty is against good dairyness. Meatiness is the opposite of dairyness.


The good dairy goat will be sleek and alert, not fat and sluggish. She should be straight as possible on top and especially strong in the chine and loin area. From the hip bones back to the pin bones (bones on each side of the tail) there will be some slope on nearly every animal, but the object should be to get this line as straight as possible.

The shoulder should be refined and not coarse. It should blend into the middle smoothly. The withers or top of the shoulder should be sharp and refined and not rounded as in a meat-type animal.

The middle should be long and the rib well sprung, making adequate room for roughage, plus two or more kids. The ribs should be long and far enough apart to slide one finger between the ribs. This openness of rib denotes dairy character in the goat as well as the dairy cow.

There should be some width in the floor of the chest so the front legs are not too close together. Width plus depth of body denotes lung capacity and constitution and is associated with strength and ruggedness.

The legs should be straight, with adequate width of bone for strength but not so wide that it appears coarse. The animal should walk easily and freely so it can forage on pasture. The hooves should be well trimmed so the feet do not become deformed. Long pasterns make the leg look crooked; they should have some angle but not be so long that the dewclaws touch the ground. Breeding bucks, particularly, will be heavily discounted in the show ring if they are weak in the pasterns.

The skin should be smooth, thin and pliable. The hair should be reasonably fine to denote quality but this varies considerably with the breed.

The udder should show plenty of capacity and be well held up to the body by the suspensory ligament so it will not be injured by banging on stones or other objects in the pasture or around the barn. A low-slung udder is called pendulous and is undesirable. The udder should be pliable and soft, not hard and meaty. Hard bunches in the udder or teats will be discounted in judging or selection. The udder should be balanced in shape, with teats hanging the same and slightly tilted forward. The teats should be large enough to be easily milked. After milking, the udder should be collapsed and pliable like a soft leather glove.

The head should have an alert intelligent appearance, with ears and head the shape of its particular breed.


According to research done over a period of many years at the U.S.D.A. Experiment Station at Beltsville, Maryland, the difference between families and individuals in each goat breed appear to be greater than differences between breeds.

The five main breeds of dairy goats in this country are French Alpine, American La Mancha, Nubian, Saanen and Toggenburg. All appear to thrive equally well in every part of the country and all possess high milking ability. There is little difference in the production records of these breeds, except that the Nubian rarely gives as much milk as the other four, though her milk averages higher in butterfat.

The Nubian is relatively large and has a proud and graceful appearance. The breed is of mixed origin and owes its distinctive features to the imported goats of India's Jumna Pari and Egypt's Zariby type. Crossing these with British dairy goats resulted in the Anglo-Nubian which is the foundation of the U.S. Nubian breed. Distinguishing features are long, wide pendulous ears, convex roman nose and short sleek hair. They may be any color--black, grey, cream, white, tan, brown and rich reddish brown. Common markings include lighter ears, facial stripes, muzzle, crown and/or undertrim, often with overall light or dark-colored spots or patches of any size. The average doe weighs 130-180 pounds.

The American La Mancha was developed recently in this country from a short-eared Spanish breed crossed with leading purebreds. They may be any color but are distinguished by their external ears which are either absent or very short. The different type ears are known as "gopher" and "cookie." Hair is short, fine and glossy, and their faces are straight. Any color or combination of colors is acceptable.

Toggenburgs and Saanens came originally from the Swiss Alps and French Alpine from nearby French Alps. These three breeds are very closely related, similar in conformation and often referred to as "Swiss Type." All have erect ears and straight or (in the case of some Toggenburgs and Sannens) dished faces. An alert and graceful carriage gives them a deerlike appearance.

The Saanen is medium to large in size, with rugged bone and plenty of vigor. Mature does weigh 135-180 pounds. Does should be feminine not coarse. They may be white or cream in color, the cream varying from light to dark fawn. White is, however, preferred to cream. Spots on the skin are not discriminated against but colored spots in the hair are not desirable. Hair is short and fine, although a fringe over the spine and thighs is often present. The black Saanen is beginning to be accepted as a new variety.

The French Alpine is a large rangy, yet deerlike, animal characterized by an endless variety of color and pattern. Cou Blanc has a white neck, the body and hindquarters usually black or dark in color. Cou Clair has a tan neck with body and hindquarters black or dark. Cou Noir has a black neck and dark or black hindquarters. Chamoisee has color and markings similar to wild Chamois, that is, moderate to grayish yellow. Sandgau is black with a white underbody or with white Toggenburg markings. They are also white, pied, cinnamon, strawberry and various shades of red. Does weigh 125-150 pounds.

The Toggenburg is of medium size, sturdy and vigorous. The hair is short or medium in length--soft, fine and lying flat. Color varies from light fawn to dark chocolate to lavender with distinct white markings--white ears with a dark spot in the middle, two white stripes down the face from eyes to muzzle, hind legs white from hocks to hooves, forelegs white from knees downward, a white triangle on either side of the tail, white spot in the area of the wattles. Varying degrees of cream markings in place of white are acceptable. Does weigh 115-150 pounds.

Other less numerous breeds in the U.S. are Rock Alpines (developed from French Alpines), Swiss Alpines, Norskas and Murcianas. There are also a few British Alpines, British Saanens and British Toggenburgs.

Selecting your animal

Look at several breeds and decide which breed you like. You will generally do better with animals that appeal to you personally, even if the breed you choose has fewer high-milk producers than another breed.

If you are interested in breeding and raising goats for show and sale as well as milk production, purchase a purebred animal. If your main interest is milk production for home and/or sale, you may want to purchase a good grade animal. They are usually less expensive than purebreds.

Raising the kids

When a doe has kids, her system produces an especially thick rich milk, almost yellow in color, which is known as colostrum. This colostrum is high in protein, minerals and vitamin A. It contains antibodies which help protect the kids from diseases. It also serves as a mild laxative and helps clean the prenatal residue from the digestive system of the newborn kid. It is very important that the kid receive this colostrum for the first three days after birth. The first feeding should be within 20-30 minutes after it is born. Without the colostrum, the kid probably will not survive.

At birth, the kid weighs approximately seven to nine pounds. Following the three-day colostrum feeding period (feed approximately one pint of colostrum two times daily), the kid may be changed to cow milk or fed a good milk replacer (same feed used for dairy calves) if the mother's milk is needed for human consumption. Some kids do not take to milk replacer. If scours (diarrhea) occurs, return the kid to its mother's milk. The kid should receive two-to-three pints of milk each day (or the equivalent in milk replacer) in two-to-three feedings until it is weaned. It is best to feed from a nipple bottle or nipple pail. Most kids can be weaned at 8-12 weeks of age. Be sure to clean and sanitize all feeding equipment after feeding.

At two-to-three weeks of age, the kid should be offered a small amount of concentrate mix. A good calf starter with 16-18% crude protein should be adequate. Start offering good quality green hay at the same time concentrate feeding is begun. A mixture of good quality hays--such as alfalfa/ sudan grass or alfalfa/prairie--is preferable to an all-alfalfa or all-grass hay. Feed hay and concentrate mix twice daily and only what the kid will clean up. Be careful not to overfeed.

Supply clean, fresh water at all times.

Kids that do well should gain from 1/4-1/2 pound per day so they will reach a weight of 85-90 pounds by breeding age.


You will need some type of simple shelter for your animal. It need not be elaborate but it should be dry and free from drafts. A small shed about 4 x 5 feet will protect one animal against rain and cold weather. If you do not provide some shelter, your goat will be more likely to have respiratory difficulties or even pneumonia.

Later, after your animal has kidded, you may like to have a milkhouse with a stanchion.

You will need to fence the area to keep out stray dogs, coyotes or other predators. About 200 square feet is sufficient for one animal. Be sure to use a good gate fastener as goats learn to open many gates. Provide some bedding (straw, leaves, sawdust or woodshavings) inside the shelter. Keep this clean by removing the manure regularly. (Use the manure on your field or garden.)

Castrating buck kids

If you do not wish to keep your buck kid for breeding purposes, castrate him before he is two weeks old. This can be done with a clean, disinfected knife or use an elastrator. Check with your vet for details on the different methods.


All dairy goats should be dehorned. Like many other animals, goats establish a "pecking" order and sometimes butt each other around. Horns can rip up udders and frequently get caught in fences. Because of this, it's best to dehorn your goats. Do this when they are only about a week old. The longer you wait, the more difficult the job becomes and the better chance that the horns will grow back.

Unlike a cow, goats have nerve ends in their horns; sawing the horns off after the animal is grown is a shock to the animal's nervous system and can result in death. In addition, show judges will take off points and sometimes disqualify an animal with horns or partial horns.

There are several methods of dehorning a goat. Caustic sticks or pastes are difficult and dangerous to handle. The quickest and easiest method is the electric disbudding iron. This can be purchased from a goat dairy supply firm. It looks like a soldering iron with the tip sawed off. Heat the iron so that at least two inches are cherry-red. The hotter the iron, the quicker the job is completed and the better off the kid will be. Center the iron on the horn bud and apply it with a circular motion and light pressure. About six to 10 seconds is sufficient. Apply vaseline to each disk immediately after removing the iron. If you have a bottle of milk ready and give it to the kid immediately, he will forget the discomfort more quickly.

If you are unable to purchase an electric disbudding iron and cannot find someone who can help you in the area, take your kid to a veterinarian who is experienced with goats. He can do it for you or show you how to do it effectively.


Goats are generally hardy. If you take good care of your doe, she will provide you with good milk and good kids. If you do not keep her pen clean and protect her from the weather and do not feed her properly, she may develop illness, parasites or some other disorder.

Take special care to protect your young kids during the early spring and winter. Pneumonia often follows chilling and exposure and is probably the chief cause of death among kids during winter months.

Foot rot and foot abscess is caused by an infection that destroys tissue. The germ which causes it grows in wet dark places, such as mud, where there is no air. The germ enters the tissues of the feet through small cuts or bruises and multiplies under the skin and in the outer tissue. The goat becomes lame and suffers pain which keeps it from moving around for food; as a result, the animal usually loses weight and milk production falls off. Check the feet carefully. A watery fluid may ooze from the infected area. As the tissues rot away, there is a greyish, cheesy discharge and a foul odor. To prevent foot rot, keep your goats in dry pens and clean barns. Drain any wet or muddy areas. Trim hooves regularly. To treat the problem, carefully trim away the decayed part with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Treat the infected parts with an antiseptic. Several good ointments are available. Check with your county agent, or veterinarian.

Mastitis is generally any type of udder infection. It can be caused by two different types of bacteria. The udder may appear hot, painful and hard. The infection can be picked up when teats come in contact with contaminated areas, ground or bedding. Flies, infections and injuries can also cause the condition. It can be controlled if treated early. A wide spectrum antibiotic is often effective. Call your veterinarian for suggested treatment. Do not drink the milk or feed it to kids until the infection is cleared.

Watch your animals for parasites--lice, ticks, domestic flies, screwworms and fly maggots. These are all harmful to your goat. Sprays can be used but do not take the place of good sanitation. To prevent spread of parasites, inspect your goat when you buy her. Reduce the fly problem by keeping the shelter and pen sanitary. Insecticides are poisonous so use them with caution. Do not let them come in contact with feed, water or the containers for feed or water. Wash your hands thoroughly after using an insecticide. Do not spray if your goat is thin, sick or in milk.

The goat is susceptible to a number of types of internal parasites also. Since she has more stomach area for her size than any other ruminating animal, this is a serious problem. If your goat seems listless, loses weight, has a poor appetite, diarrhea, a chronic cough or if her milk begins to have an off- flavor, have a fecal sample tested by a veterinarian. He will be able to tell you if she has worms and prescribe the proper drug and a method of administering it.

Pinkeye is a usually infectious disease carried from goat to goat, especially during hot, dry, windy and dusty weather. If your goat's eye begins to water excessively or cloud over, separate her from the herd and treat as suggested by a veterinarian.


Goats are intelligent animals, quick to learn good and bad habits. Start right!

1. Put a collar or chain around the neck of your newborn kid.

2. Always grab the collar when handling the kid and direct all goat movement by collar lead. Do not pull on the ring if you use a choke chain.

3. Use voice commands together with physical leads.

4. Call your goat by name. It will learn to come, much like the family dog.

5. Never introduce a bad habit, like lifting a kid over a gate or pen. Never let a goat run free in the yard, even though it is fun to play with it outside the pen. The goat soon learns to leap over, go under or break through to get out to play.

6. Bucks need both collar and ear training, since their great strength and lack of handling make them less easy to manage than does. Pull gently on an ear with one hand as you collar-lead with the other hand.

7. A goat may want to bolt and run when you lead it out of the barn. Keep your hand on the collar and use your free hand under the goat's jaw, pulling back if she starts to go too fast. Bring her to a complete stop before proceeding again.

8. Never push playfully on a goat's head. This "teaches" it to push back or butt.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Previous Article:There's a market for natural and organic pork, economist says.
Next Article:How to castrate bull calves.

Related Articles
Raising Spanish goats for meat.
As expected, prices drop for Boer goats.
Dairy Goats for Pleasure and Profit.
What some people know about goats isn't the truth.
Dual purpose goats meet their needs.
Start your own meat goat herd.
Fecal tests will tell you when worming is required.
New pastures for Delamere Dairy with Tetra Pack.
How a 4-H project became a full-time family business.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters