Raising dairy goats... need to know some basics

Facts about raising dairy goats… need to know some basics. I have no recent farming experience except for having some exotics like llamas and emus, a few years ago. As a kid, we raised sheep and pigs but I was not primarily involved in their care.

We have two acres and a small barn formerly used for goats, and are seriously considering getting into raising dairy goats. Our hope is to have two female dairy goats (and maybe a billy goat see below) and use the milk for our yogurt, kefir etc. The area is not fenced in, and that in itself may be a deal breaker (we rent and won’t spend money to improve the property). My questions:

  1. can you realistically have goats without a truck? Is there ever any reason they might have to be transported someplace quickly, or will emergency vets come to your house?

  2. how bad of escape artists are they? We don’t have a large fenced-in area, so we are hoping to keep them in the small barn we do have, and use tie-outs so that they can graze our two acre pasture. Is this a sustainable system for goats or are they just plain too smart/wiley and need a fenced-in land?

  3. In that vein, how jumpy are the different breeds? Since we are planning to regularly grab the animals nipples as it were, we’d like to steer toward the more pleasant breeds. Also, what are the essential types of milking equipment needed to start up?

  4. How much feed do goats eat if there is not much pasture for a season? We are in the Pacific Northwest and pasture would definitely need to be supplemented at least part of the year.

  5. what is the life cycle of a dairy goat per year? It seems like they are bred in the fall, have a kid in the spring, immediately start being milked and then the mother is milked for something like 6 or 7 months, takes a rest, then it starts over again. The kids are taken away and fed their mother’s milk from a bottle, while massive quantities of milk also come from their mother for humans. Is this about how it goes? Other questions, is keeping a billy goat a good idea? Would he need to be separate from does and kids? Or is artificial insemination less of a hassle (and if so can you pay someone to do it without you having to be there!?!? :eek::eek::eek:) Also, the kids: do people keep them or is there usually a market for the little guys?

Well, this thread might sink, but I hope there are some goat-aware Dopers who can help with these unanswered questions. We have been able to Google and look up milk quantities, general information about each breed, and a rough estimate of expenses involved. Just couldn’t find enough nuanced information about the experience of raising goats and the nitty gritty about breeding, milking etc. All replies appreciated.

You might be interested in this thread.

LOL :eek:

I can’t help you from experience, as I’ve never raised goats, but the USDA has this site that might be useful in answering some or all of your questions - I haven’t been all the way through the site, so can’t say that definitively.

Assuming your username indicates a location, you might also try the Oregon State Extension office - see here.
Also - this site has a section that specifically addresses insemination as well as perhaps some of your other questions.

Large animal vets will typically come to the farms. When I kept sheep we had a fantastic vet.

Goats really do need a fence, they will wander to whatever looks edible, like your neighbors garden…

Yes a truck pretty much is required, as with that small an area, you will need to suppliment with hay and grain…unless you like schlepping a bale of hay in your trunk?

Goats are very intelligent, and when you get the ones with a nice personality they are a blast, but if you get a hellspawn, you will want to nuke it from orbit - think the worst behaved 5 year old possesed by satan…

I also vote for a fence. Goats have an infinite capacity for trouble and will either get tangled together or strangle themselves with a tie-out. They will also wriggle through and climb on the fence, so it needs to be a strong fence with vertical as well as horizontal wires. Barbed wire is a bad idea for a goat fence. Electrifying the fence can be a good idea, but it does not remove the need for the lattice design.

I also vote for a truck. Two acres (presumably of grass) is not enough to keep goats fed, particularly through the winter). Depending on size, pregnancy, or nursing, a goat will typically eat either one or two flakes from a standard “small” bale of hay, each day. That can add up to a lot of trips in the van. They also need supplemental grain and minerals, but you will be better getting that information, (varieties and varying amounts), from people raising goats in your neighborhood or a good text such as Merck’s Veterinary.
In addition, if you need to transport a doe* to a particular buck* for breeding in a hurry, (their ovulation cycle can be frustratingly short), having a truck with a cap is much easier than relying on the buck’s owner to have the time, the opportunity, and the vehicle to bring them together.

You will also need to figure out what to do with the bedding. You are not in Hawaii where you could get away with an open lean-to to provide wind and rain shelter. You will need to actually house them in the barn. This means that you will need to constantly bed them with straw, then periodically haul out the urine and pellet saturated bedding and dispose of it. Two acres gives you enough room to spread that out, but you need to be far enough away from the neighbors the days you muck stalls. (I’m not sure from the OP how much involvement you had with this procedure, so I thought I’d mention it.)

While goat feet are similar to llama feet, I don’t know what care llama feet require. Goats must have their hooves trimmed a few times a year.

Since the goats must be bred each year to get the does to produce milk, you will need to figure out what you are going to do with the kids: sell? butcher? add to the herd? I have seen goats drop single kids, but pairs and triplets are more common, so to get milk, you will wind up with a lot of goats. (They do make good barbecue and good sausage, however.)

In any event, since no dairy goat breed of which I am aware is polled, (i.e., the horn growth has been bred out of them), you will need to disbud the babies, preferably within a couple of weeks of birth. (Individual goats may be born polled, as noted in the discussion of “bangs” in the link.)

Unless you know that you are going to want to keep a buck for breeding, you will also need to castrate the male kids at a pretty young age. (I, like the author of the linked site, recommend the knife method as the most reliable one and the least likely to cause later problems.) (Not recommended for guys having watched Pell the Conqueror the night before, despite it being a great movie.)

Gestation for goats is 150 to 155 days. In our area, they are typically bred in October through mid December, have their kids in five months, and then are milked through September when they tend to dry up. Once they have dried up, they will begin to come into heat every few weeks until bred again. Although, if they are not bred, they will stop coming into heat around January until the following September or October.

When the kids are born, one typically removes them from the doe, immediately, then begins milking the doe to stimulate the most production, feeding the milk to the kids manually. (The kids are often weaned through a general changeover to formula.) This makes the kids easier to handle as they are less likely to bond to the mother and will tolerate human interaction better. This, however, also means that one needs to have separate pens for the kids, with fences that will keep them isolated from the does until they have been fully weaned or shipped away.

The primary dairy goat breeds in the U.S. are Alpine, Saanen, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, La Mancha, and Nubians. Nubians are the lop-eared goats. La Manchas have tiny or very short ears. All goat breeds are cross fertile. Nubians are loud; La Manchas are nearly as loud. I have a vague memory that Saanens (all white) have a reputation as being calm, but all breeders have their own favorites. Pygmy goats and Nigerian Dwarfs are more pets than dairy, although I have heard that the Nigerian Dwarf has begun to be entered into dairy competitions.

Two other thoughts occurred to me, this evening.

BoSe is used before breeding to ensure sufficient selenium, but it needs to be administered carefully because while goats will suffer for a lack, they will die for too much.

There is also a degenerative disease that goats tend to pass around, CAE, (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis). It is a good idea to quarantine any new goats to a flock until they can be vetted to ensure that new goats do not pass the virus on.

Does anyone get the genral idea that tom knows about goats? :slight_smile:

Someone has to warn the innocent against the insidious caprine trap.

OS, I really don’t think keeping goats is realistic for you.

You need fencing. You can’t tie the goats out. If you breed the goats, how would you protect the does & kids from dogs or coyotes? Goats are notorious escape artists. I had to have my entire farm re-fenced with non-climb fencing just for my goat babies. And they’re Pygmies. Dairy breeds are much, much larger.

You would have to supplement pasture grazing with grassy-alfalfa hay and loose mineral salts. Goats have to be kept out of cold winds and dry. They get pneumonia in a heartbeat. You have to trim their feet. You have to worm them, and while a horse can tolerate an overdose of wormer, goats have a very small window between “just right” and Dead Goat.

If you try to confine your goats to a small barn, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle. The goats will win. They have all day and nothing better to do than find a way out.

You would be better off to find a local goat dairy that you could buy milk from. Then you could make your kefir and such without paying hundreds of dollars apiece for dairy goats.

Yer fellow Oregonian,


Excellent advice has been offered so far. So I’ll add just a bit about disposing of the kids. If you register your goats with the ADGA then the does will bring a decent amount when sold to other folks wishing to start or expand a herd. But this does require some paper work and tattooing the kids for ID purposes. The buck kids are worth much less, usually being sold for meat or pets. Alternately you could choose a buck with good confirmation (do they call it that in goats?) to show and provided he does well, he might generate some demand as a breeder.

Also, the hay/pellet muck from the stalls makes a most excellent soil amendment after a couple of years of composting. But it is farming, and all farming involves a lot of hard dirty work and a lot of scratching your head saying “What do I do now?” Get to know your county agent.


All info is at least 20 years old, from when my mother raised dairy goats.