Is Raising Dairy Goats for you?
This blog is not meant to discourage anyone from raising your own goats, but rather to thoroughly inform and educate you on what raising goats entails and how big of a commitment it can be.
When my family decided to raise dairy goats years ago, it was to provide us with our own clean source of nutrient-dense raw milk as well as providing companionship and perhaps a little bit of shrub cleanup too (they did clean up all the oak shrubs as well as eating the siding off of our house and putting the first dents on the hood of my car, we fenced them off very quickly after that)
Once our first does came into milk, it quickly became a full-time commitment and added a huge workload to our already busy lives, and we only had 4 does back then, now we have 21 does!
At the time our does freshened, my husband was working full-time outside the house extremely busy with his own landscape business and I was working full-time at home as a nutritionist, writer, and fitness trainer all online.
I remember waking up and milking goats in between answering clients questions about everything from weight loss to vegan diets and hiit routines. I would set my laptop on the hood of my car and run back and forth to answer the live incoming questions between milking. That was the shift I had and there was no way around it.
I also remember how we had 12 hours in between milking to do things or go somewhere for the day. It's still that way, just on a larger scale and a with a lot more goaties to milk!
Fast forward years later and now we have a total of 23 goats, 150 or so chickens, 2 emus, 30 quail, 2 dogs, 4 cats, a turkey, 12 ducks, 2 cows, 2 kids, and a garden! We milk the goat's every 12 hours to this day. This, my friends, is a lot to do!
No More Vacations or Getaways?
As I mentioned above, there is a lot to do when you have dairy goats. The routine goes something like this each morning and each evening: Let your goat's out of the barn, get them on the milking stand one by one to hand milk them (or machine milk, whatever you decide on). Clean the teats, milk, move on to the next goat and the next and so on until you have milked them all.
Now it's time to filter the milk to make sure there is no dust, sand, etc that got in there, and figure out what you'll do with all that milk. Are you going to bottle it to drink? Are you making cheese? Soap? Yogurt? Depending on your plan for that day, you'll need to bring out all your equipment and ingredients and get started. Then comes cleanup, dishes, buckets, tubing, filters, etc.
Do you intend on having other farm animals? Add all that to the morning routine too such as feeding all the chickens, watering, filling troths, growing fodder, etc.
Mid day will entail cleaning the barn, raking up hay, poop, etc, checking waters, and whatever else you may have going on.
Evening time will repeat everything that you did in the morning such as milking the goats and refilling/checking on the water situation. Chickens nor goats should ever run out of water, that something that we check on constantly.
Unless you know and trust someone, and don't feel guilty unloading such a huge amount of work on them, you may never get away again. This is a fact, you cannot just leave for the weekend and expect your milking does to be fine, they will not be fine.
Hiring a Farm Hand to do it all so you can Take a Break- Or Maybe not
We've tried this just a couple of times and just for the day. As a legitimate farm business and raw milk dairy, we have to be extremely careful and cautious with the milk-handling and cleanliness.
Most people can handle what you give them, following a farm checklist, milking goats, and cleanup, but most people will never put the amount of pride and caution into your own farm as you do. We learned this the hard way and had a lot of milk to dump after the farm-sitter left as he was not well-versed in cleanliness coming from a factory-type farm. The experience was there, but the cleanliness was not.
If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself and when your sole source of income is your farm, you take no chances. This may mean that you are destined to stay at home and take no vacations, that's just the hard truth of it.
It's Only Expensive if you Make it Expensive- Just Kidding, it's Expensive no Matter What
You can't imagine just how much money goes into raising dairy goats, everything that is a specialty item such as a milk bucket, is extremely costly. They also eat alot, and they need alot, I'm going to break it down for you....
First and foremost, you buy yourself some dairy goats and depending on their breed, registration, etc, the price can range from about $150-$750 per goat. We have Alpines, Nubians, and a mix of the two. Our first 4 goats were not purebred, registered, etc so they didn't cost much.
Second, you have to take a minimum of 1 year to feed, care for, and raise your goats before they are old enough to get pregnant and finally give back to you in the form of milk, once they give birth, which is another 5 months as that's their gestation time. Even after that, you will obviously continue to feed, care for and continue to raise them.
Feeding dairy goats is extremely costly, especially here in Florida, and especially now that the cost has increased again this year.
We purchase 1000lb blocks of alfalfa, 2 of them, and between our 21 does, those blocks will last around 3 weeks if we are lucky. Goats are foragers, not grazers like cows, so you cannot just turn them loose in a grassy pasture and expect them to do well, they will not.
They also need some supplementation such as mineral blocks and specialty feed to munch on while you are milking them. If you want them to be still and be good, the feed is necessary, it also provides them with extra nutrients as nursing mothers.
Special outside equipment. You'll need a few things around the goat yard to ensure their health, safety, and nutritional needs are being met. You might need to get a hay feeder, this keeps their hay from being spilled and messed all over the ground, goats WILL NOT EAT OFF THE GROUND so dirty hay is wasted hay. You'll need water buckets or troths placed around the yard where it's convenient for them. Hoof trimmers to keep their hooves in tip top shape and avoid deformity.
A first aid kit will come in handy as they can get cuts, scrapes and scratches just like people.
Water, water and more water. Goats drink all day long, and whether you are on a well or connected with a community, you're going to go through a lot of water. This can increase your electric bill by utilizing the well pump often. It can also increase your water bill if you have it set up that way in your area where you have to pay for water.
Housing! Let's not forget the cost of building your goats a safe place to sleep at night and a place to get out of the elements during the day such as the scorching sun, the rain (goats are like cats, they hate rain!) the snow, etc.
If you're in a place where you have predators such as coyotes or bears, your goats need a safe barn to go into at night and we all know that wood is not cheap!
Fencing! We had roughly two acres to fence in and that was not cheap or easy! You have to get the right kind of fencing too, we found that the no-climb horse fence worked best for us as it is tough and the holes are too small for your goats to get their heads stuck in, that's a huge problem with goats, if there is a way to get into trouble, get stuck, or even die, they will try to find it.
Medication and Vet care. Now, we're not big on medicating anything at our farm as we do things the most natural way possible, but there are times that you may need to purchase medicine for your goat and specialty medicine is quite costly! It's also expensive to see a vet because they have to come to you when you have livestock, it's not like taking fido for his check-up.
Goat's are well known for getting an overpopulation of parasites depending on their environment and if you are not careful and diligent, you can add the cost of fecal tests and deworming medicine to that bill as well.
Milking, Cheesemaking, Soap Making, Supplies! No matter what you decide to do with your fresh goats milk, you're going to need a few things and when it comes to milking supplies, they don't come cheap!
If you've decided to stick to just milking, you're going to need a milking stand, feed bucket, milk bucket, cleaning equipment such as wipes, cleaning brushes, etc, milk filters or filtering system, pitchers, testing equipment, a milking stool, and storage containers. If you won't be hand milking, expect to pay anywhere from $350-$2000 for a milking machine depending on the size of your herd and your preferences and if your going grade A pasteurizing dairy, well that's a whole other article from a whole other type of farmer and we wish you the best on that very expensive and all consuming journey.
Making cheese? Add all that plus some stainless steel equipment like large pots, spoons, measuring devices, cheese thermometer, cheese cloths, cheese press, cheese cave, and a good source to buy your cultures.
Just doing soaps? This can get expensive too, after all the milking equipment gets purchased and utilized, next you will need to source good oils and ingredients to make your soaps with as well as soap molds, soaping thermometer, liners, drying racks, etc.
Goats in Heat, Bucks in rut, and More fun!
Once your lady goats come of age, they will have their season where they go into heat every 21 days or so. This may not be noticeable for some of them, but more often that not, yours will scream bloody murder from sun up to sun down. They won't bother much with food or water during this time, so expect your milk supply to be very short for a day or so.
Please, please, please be sure that you have good strong fencing if you don't want accidental pregnancies, because some of these does will do anything possible to get out and find themselves a handsome buck (male goat) to make babies with.
On the other side of the property, which is where your bucks should be if you don't want weird tasting milk, the bucks will be doing their thing. Their nasty, nasty, dirty thing. What is this nasty, dirty thing they do? There's no way to put it lightly or even make it sound less gross than it is so I'm gonna come right out and say it...... they pee! they pee a lot! They don't just pee, they pee on themselves, all over their own faces, all over their beards, all over each other. It's a giant pee fest. Why do they do this? Well, their pee is their "cologne" , this is how they attract the lady goats and they set each other off.
During this time of being in rut, your bucks will want to get to the does any way possible, so it's extremely important that, once again, you have good and strong fencing.
Kidding Season is Tough, so be Ready!
Kidding season is the time of year where your does will have their babies! It's actually one of my favorite times of the year because there is nothing cuter than a baby goat. They are so tiny and bouncy, and playful. I love watching them, it's the best entertainment possible.
Be prepared for emergencies! Does do an amazing job of handling things on their own. We've sat and watched the most flawless births happen at our farm with no trouble at all. But we've also came across some pretty scary situations, and this is where you need to be prepared, educated, and willing to step in if something does go awry.
We've had to help pull too big of babies from their mamas, reach in and reposition breech babies, dig in throats and pull out mucus so they could take their first breath, clear noses, remove afterbirth and dry kids during cold nights so mama could focus on the other two, and yes they have more than one at a time. Twins are the most common, but we've had triplets and even quads here on the farm.
Anything can happen and a good situation can quickly turn for the worst, so be ready.
Be prepared to clean a lot! Once your does give birth, there is a lot of cleanup to do. Though the mama knows how to clean her baby off just like a mama cat or dog cleans their kittens and puppies, you have to be responsible for keeping their birthing stalls as clean as can be because this is a vulnerable time for mama goat having just given birth, lots and lots of harmful bacteria can be introduced at this time, so replacing soiled bedding multiple times is a must.
As mentioned above, the new mama will keep her baby clean. But, you may have to step in and do some butt-wiping and be sure you do it before it has a chance to dry because that first poop (meconium) is like Gorilla Glue!
Be prepared to get dirty! We have a rule on our farm, no white clothes! There is no way possible that any of it will stay white, especially for the fact that we do not buy or use bleach for clothes, but also for the fact that, well, we live on a farm!
It's definitely a given that you are going to get dirty as a farmer, but during kidding season, you can add so many other types of fluids and dirt to your regular level of soiled-ness.
Be prepared to watch your heart grow and then break. Goat kids are some of the most loving and adorable little critters, they can quickly become bonded to you, and you to them. If keeping them is not in the cards though, please be sure that you find them a good home and that you help the person adopting them to understand a thing or two about raising them. Pass on your knowledge and offer your support. It's always hard to let them go, but it's a good feeling when they go to someone you trust and someone who is going to carry on the tradition of raising diary goats.
We have realized and learned so many things along the way about raising and caring for dairy goats. There is never a day where we don't realize or learn something new, goats are animals that you never stop learning about either. and there is never a dull moment.
Goats all have different personalities, different needs, and each goat farm is different as well. What works for one farm may not work for another so there is plenty of trial and error when raising your own.
This is the life we wanted and this is the life we thoroughly enjoy. It's not only a dream come true, but it's also true to our roots. It's incredibly rewarding, we sleep like rocks at night, and the level of good health can never be matched by any other lifestyle.
Though it's hard work, a lot of expenses, and a bit extreme at times, we wouldn't trade it for anything, not even a vacation.