My experience with dairy goats
We started raising goats and chickens in 1999. I was told that goats milk was the best for special needs children and that it might be the best thing for my daughter, Faith Anne’s, tummy troubles. It also appealed to me as we were wanting to try to have a farm that provided the healthiest most natural food that was not tampered with to eat. One other thing was that our family was growing and as the years went by food was getting more expensive so we knew if hard times came we would have goats and chickens for food.
I had no idea what I was doing. As a matter of fact when I went to buy my first goat from a dairy goat breeder, she actually wanted to know that her goats were going to be taken care of well once they left her property. She refused to sell me a goat and told me to go and get educated and come back if I was not too offended. Offended I was, but she was also right. She had the best milk goats around in our area and I wanted some. And back then I thought you bought a milk goat and then you had milk. Wrong! There is a whole right way and wrong way to the animal husbandry of goats. So I started my journey to learning all I could to raise goats and do it right.
At first I thought that if I was going to raise goats I was going to raise the best. But I soon learned a lot about that. You see the best in show standards are not always the best for a backyard farms like ours. One time I had a pure bred Lamancha doe that I paid a lot of money for. She milked over a gallon a day. But those teats were so small and the orifices so tiny that the milk came out in such a small stream. It took me 20 minutes and many cramps in my hands to milk her out. Twice a day! NOT worth it to me. So thus started our breeding program.
We had all registered animals. They were all disease free and CAE and CL negative. We ran a clean closed herd. Meaning once a goat left our property it never came back. No one used our bucks but us and I only bought from other disease free herds. We had new arrivals quarantined and then tested before adding them to our herd. I ran two herds at that time. One was Lamancha (very small ears) and the other was Nubians.(very long ears) These are dairy animals so not like the petting animal goats. My does were about 150 pounds and the bucks up to almost 300 pounds. Trying to run two herds and keep things registered and take care of my large family soon took its toll. One night after a long day of caring for the children and then three hours in the barn doing work and everyone else was in bed sleeping already. I thought, why the heck am I doing this? I just wanted healthy milk for my family. I wanted to enjoy being with our goats. Take good care of them. Expose my children to the joys of being raised on the farm and learn a good work ethic.
So I came up with a new philosophy on what I wanted to do with my breeding program. Breed for good healthy, sturdy goats that gave a lot of milk out of long enough teats to hand milk comfortably and have good size milk orifices. I wanted to go out to the barn and milk a goat out in five minutes pat her on the head and send her off to graze for the day and I didn’t care if they were going to be pure bred with papers and didn’t care if I could sell the babies. I would give them away if I had to and I have at times too! This realization was about in 2003.
I kept my two best Nubian bucks and all my best does from both herds. Most of them were Lamanchas. And I sold off the rest. I went from 30 adult goats, plus kids and yearlings, down to about eight! I started to bred them, breeding for the above stated characteristics. If they didn’t do the above, they got sold or given away. The first babies out of the cross did indeed have crossbred vigor. They were bigger, healthier and more worm resistant animals.
Over the years of breeding this way, I have had some great milkers for my family. People often bought goats and came back for more as they wanted what I wanted and bred for. God was gracious and helped me learn so much. I would pay a vet to come out once if I had a problem I could not handle. I watched what he did and prayed to God to help me take care of the same situations if they popped up again after that. And He has.
For years now, I only had four does and two bucks on the property. That is all we needed. As I bred two does every six months to keep us in milk year round. We did indeed use that much milk. About 2 gallons a day. All those years I had many children with feeding tubes that needed it and I made cheese and the little kids drank it. We made ice cream, custards, cheese cake and so much more.
Here are triplets from a Lamancha doe and a pure Nubian buck. The two does were born with what they call elf ears. And the buckling with long Nubian ears.
I love goats. I think they are so practical and I will always have a few on the property even if I never milk them when I am old. :) But as time has went on feed prices have climbed very high and we don’t need as much milk as we used to. The kids are older and don’t drink milk every day. Three of us in the family can’t even have dairy any more. So I knew we needed less milk per day as well. So two years ago I started to make some huge changes once again.
I was researching how to cut back on feed and still get the amount of milk we need. I started looking into getting a new Nubian buck at that time. I had not needed a new buck in years. As I always replaced my two bucks at the same time and can play with those genetics for several years before needing to use a different buck. So I had not been buck shopping in many years. It had been so long since I went looking for a great Nubian buck and I soon realized that most of the great herds in my area were just not in business anymore. So I thought ok. I will find a Lamancha buck. Same thing. I mean they are out there. All over the country but pretty far from where I live to get a good one and far fewer dairy herds breeding out there than there were 10 years ago. I was just so curious why so many people had given them up? Was it the climbing prices of grain. Or people couldn’t afford to do it anymore? Then I realized that many of the people that did full sized goats had switched to the Nigerian Dwarfs and I wanted to know why. So I started researching.
Here is what I found out. I know everyone likes their particular breed of goat best and stand up for them. But the larger sized goats have been bred for years. Putting the feed to them to increase milk production and get the most and best out of them. And the fact of the matter is. At least in my part of the world. I HAVE to grain my full sized goats year round. At least 2 cups of feed a day on dry does and on bucks too in order to keep them in good body condition. That gets expensive. Then when they are pregnant and in milk they need even more and some of my heavy milkers a whole lot more.
The Nigerian dwarfs are just catching on because of the practicality of them. They have not been bred for greatness for as long. In most cases, where there is enough grass and browse, the bucks don’t need fed much if anything at all and the does only the last two weeks before kidding and then when they are milking. Also many people don’t have huge farms. And a Nigerian can live in a large dog house instead of investing in a huge barn. They can also live on a far smaller field than a large animal. So for the small back yard farm they are much more practical. And for me in my situation. They give less milk. So I can milk one or two and probably get just what I need for my family and are smaller and easier to handle. I don’t have the strength I used to and can get pushed and knocked around when trying trim hooves or give supplements. The little ones I just pick up and do what needs doing. They are bouncier though! :)
So all this is said to share I am in the middle of “The Great Goat Experiment” on my farm right now! I have sold off all my large goats except for my favorite two lamanch/Nubian cross milkers. They are the end result of all my years of breeding for a great back yard milker. And if I don’t like the Nigerians I can always restart my herd with these two.
Twinkie and Bluebell all grown up and six years old.
I took the money from the sale of my entire rest of my herd and last year bought four very good does that I did a lot of research on the parentage on them. They all have easy to hand milk moms and the bucks I bought(3 of them) are from easy to hand milk moms. I got them all from disease free herds. As I have always keep a clean closed disease free herd. As we drink the milk I don’t want any issues. So have always been so very careful. With four good does and three good bucks I should be able to play around with the genetics for quite a while before having to bring in more stock.
In the winter I took my new triple registered Nigerian buck and bred him to my two full sized does just for fun. To see if I could get some half sized great milkers with the good qualities from both worlds. So that is experiment number one. Then experiment number two is just working with full Nigerians. My four little does are finally at a good weight to breed so I have a buck in with them right now. He has been in there for a month. So in four or five months I should start to have full Nigerian babies bouncing around the farm. Then in a year I can begin to play a bit in breeding for what I want in them. Same thing as my old herd. Sturdy easy to hand milk and a good amount. I know they will never give a gallon a day. But I don’t need a gallon a day anymore. So I am good with that. When I sold off my full sized herd and went to the smaller ones our feed bill dropped 200 dollars right away. (our feed bill includes feed for ALL animals on the farm from geese to chickens to cats and dogs) So I am already happy there. I am still feeding two full sized goats. I am very excited with what is to come!
The end of January my first full sized goat bred by the Nigerian buck had her kids. It was a horrible delivery. (will have to share it later) But she gave me two does and a buck. The buck and one doe had the Lamancha ears and the other doe has the Nigerian ears. I found a home for the buck right away as I didn’t want to bottle feed him or keep him. And I needed the milk for the does and my family.
People right now are breeding what they call Mini Nubians and Mini Lamancha by doing just what I did above. Using a Nigerian buck on full sized Lamancha or Nubian does. Getting good milkers for smaller farms. So as I do my Nigerian experiment I am going to keep any does from my larger does breed to the Nigerians just to raise them and see how they milk. I am excited!