Lessons in goat raising.
So, you want a dairy goat for your homestead? Where to start? My best advice at the top of the list would be don't buy a goat because it's in your price range. Do some research and buy the best possible goat you can get for your money-if that means saving a little more, then do it.
MISTAKE #1: We had $150 in our pocket and very little knowledge about goats; we had no equipment and no idea how to milk.
We borrowed a friend's doe, and the friend said "If you can milk her you can milk anything." She was right. It took four of us to catch Mary and three of us to milk her. We took Mary back on our way to buy our very first doe, Praline. A two-year-old, second freshening (she has had two sets of kids) Oberhasli. We loved her color, her sweet personality and her demeanor on the milking stand. We got her home and hated her milk, but we stuck with it.
We bred Praline and still hated her milk, and she had bumps all over her body. We were very unhappy with Praline. We had also allowed our daughter to buy a Nigerian Dwarf doeling for her 4-H project at the same time, after all, she saved up her own money and bought the first doeling she met. We loved Willow.
During the next year we began doing a lot of research and because of some rather unhappy incidents we learned more about goat health than we ever thought there was to know, and we were only scratching the surface. After more research and a lot of looking this time, we bought Rita. She had lovely babies and great milk, so we sold Praline and her kids.
Don't make mistake #1 like we did! Do your research ahead of time. Learn as much as you can about goats-dairy goats are a big commitment, worthwhile for the fresh milk and dairy products they provide and there is nothing more fun than kids running around. I suggest having at least minimal knowledge of health issues you could run into; ask a lot of questions and meet as many breeders as you can. I would say also to research the breeds. We love our Nigerian Dwarf goats and our Oberhaslis but in the mix bought a few Nubians, which we didn't like. Find a breed that works for you and your situation-not everyone's situations are created equal. My husband cannot drink milk that is high in fat and the Oberhasli's have low butterfat milk, which makes them ideal for his health issues. My children and I prefer the Nigerians for many reasons and I know folks who would not trade their Nubians, Alpines, Saanens, Toggenburgs and La Manchas for anything. And make sure you actually like drinking their milk.
Also your situation may be more suited to a dual-purpose animal. Are you a spinner or a fiber artist? Then maybe a Nigora would fit your needs. Maybe you want to cross your doe for meat kids, and getting a larger dairy doe to cross to a Boer or Kiko is what you need. Maybe you have a niche market for cute pets--Nigerians and Pygmies are great pets and fantastic 4-H projects. We considered the Pygmies but a local breeder encouraged us not to get them because of their difficulty birthing. There are many good books about goats and we found several at the local libraries. We like Jerry Belanger's book Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats (available from the Countryside Book Store). Also a great website for those of you with computer access is FiasCo Farm. They have tons of helpful pages on everything from diseases and medicines to dehorning and giving shots. (Ed. note: And don't forget COUNTRYSIDE'S sister publication, Dairy Goat Journal, www.dairygoatjournal.com.)
MISTAKE #2: Not having a clue what you want to do with your goats.
Boy did we blow it here. When we got into goats we wanted milk and to show for 4-H, but never did the research about showing and milking. Now I know that most registries have milk records on goats that have been milk tested. Also when perusing websites and talking to folks they will talk about their doe or buck being a Master Champion or Champion or having milking stars. What does it all mean? We had no idea about genetics and udder quality and that getting a doe that didn't have a well attached udder would actually matter in the long run. That is where buying the best doe you can comes in. This doe will produce milk for you for many years to come and hopefully nice offspring.
Even if all you want to do is have a backyard milker, it doesn't mean you won't have to sell some kids in the future, so look forward to who your clientele will be. Will they be folks who just want a back yard milker or weed eaters, or are there a lot 4-H kids who will be showing their goats? It will make an impact on what happens once those bouncing baby kids are born. It is no fun getting stuck feeding goats you cannot afford to feed. You could eat them if you can't find a suitable home. We do not sell goats for (rodeo-type) goat tying as we have seen some of the injuries sustained to the animals in this sport and don't feel comfortable with this. We have no problems with selling them for meat but not everyone does. We have revamped after defining some goals for our herd and ourselves. We are striving for really good milking Nigerians who can step into a show ring and do fine. We may not have Grand Champions all the time but we've had a few because milking is one of our main goals and we are committing ourselves to milk testing. One of our yearling does earned her milking star this year and we kept her daughter in high hopes that she too, will achieve this. We do show as well and have earned a few Reserve and Grand Champions.
MISTAKE #3. Oh, I'll breed to my neighbor's buck since he's free/ cheap.
Oh big mistake we made early on! We had no idea what kind of impact the buck could make on your herd. We bred to whatever buck was available in the beginning. Not anymore. I spend hours researching lines on my bucks to make sure that we capitalize on some of the best genetics out there in our area for milk and show.
Buying a buck is also a huge commitment and one you don't always have to make. But I suggest knowing what you are getting into before you take the leap and buy one of these stinky, nasty and loveable critters! I did buy a buck and I researched the genetics on him. I also was blessed in that he is a very sweet gentleman who does not come after my children or I and he is quiet-a huge deal when you only live on a half an acre. Also, I let 4-Hers use my buck at a discounted rate, so I want to make a buck available that is quality!
MISTAKE #4: Buying a goat just because--(fill in the blank).
In my area, it has been blue eyes, moonspots, a pretty color or just because it was cute, etc. I've done it myself and regretted it dearly! As a wise friend once said, it costs the same to feed a goat whether it is good quality or not. You can buy a pretty little goat with blue eyes just because you want it and regret that decision for a long time. I bought a goat because I liked her color. The goat had problems. I did not have a clue what I was getting into and it has impacted my herd ever since. I now keep this doe's daughter because she is a good milker whom I can cross for meat, but she will never show and I cannot sell her offspring as top quality--her udder attachment is atrocious. I could have bought better and had much better luck selling the offspring as quality kids, but I didn't. We've corrected that with our Nigies and we cull ruthlessly--it is beginning to pay off. You can't milk blue eyes, pretty colors or any other outward attribute, but udder quality and milkability is priceless when this is what you do day in and day out.
MISTAKE #5: Selling an animal to someone just because they want (fill in the blank-blue eyes, pretty color, etc.)
Last year I had a beautiful doe and a beautiful buck out of a doe who earned her Master Champion. I could have easily sold both for big bucks because mom was a MCh and because they were beautiful. The doeling however, had double teats (meaning four total instead of two). I had someone tell me to just clip the extra teats off and just tell the buyer. They could still show. I felt this was dishonest and lacked integrity. I sold the doe as a pet to someone without papers and told her not to breed her and also wethered the buck (which broke my heart!) and sold him as a pet. I did not want this fault attached to my herd name. I now do not even sell bucks out of my herd because I've set my standards even higher-if it has my herd name on it, it better be out of top quality animals.
Are you overwhelmed yet? I know I was the first year. But despite the mistakes, we've made a lot of headway and we love our little goats. They have been a huge asset to our homestead and we wouldn't trade them for anything. There are many groups online (Yahoo! and otherwise). There are clubs and breed groups in most states. Owning dairy goats can be a very rewarding experience and you can have a great time meeting breeders and learning a lot if you just take the time to do your research. You'll love all the fun things you can make with that fresh creamy milk!
Good luck on your goat endeavors and I hope you enjoy yours as much as we enjoy ours.
If anyone wants to learn more they can e-mail me at NMgoatgal@gmail.com
BOSQUE FARMS, NEW MEXICO
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|Title Annotation:||The goat barn|
|Publication:||Countryside & Small Stock Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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