Dairy goats are an animal that people seem to either love or hate. Raising dairy goat kids is a key part in keeping these animals as well as insuring that you have a continuous supply of milk with each generation being better than the one before. As you become familiar with these animals you will see a side that few others do. The purpose of breeding is to make the next generation better as even the best doe will not last forever. Having healthy, quality daughters to step up in her place insures a steady supply of milk, but this doesn’t come without a plan and a fair share of time.
Pound for pound a good dairy goat can outmilk a cow. In an open ag forum I would get teased by dairy cattle people and at the first insult of my goats I issued the challenge. The fact is a good Alpine in the herd milked 18 pounds per day on official test, and at roughly 100 pounds that’s producing more than her body weight in milk every week. Seen another way, a 1,000 pound cow at 10 times the body weight would have to produce 180 pounds (also 10 times) to equal her and that simply does not happen. This was a good doe but not even close to the world record holder. That title goes to a registered Toggenburg.
Heavy producing does need good management to maintain that kind of production without taking a toll on her body. These are the kind of does to product to the bucks for daughters that continue the family tradition. Often those criticizing the goat see the other side of the picture. This is the low production, hard keeping doe with poor tasting milk often because she’s grazing on brush and garbage forage that do not meet her nutritional needs. The dairy doe, like her growing kids, needs good nutrition to perform at her best.
As a homesteader you want the former type of animal or her daughters, whether or not they are purebred. Don’t gauge butterfat or production on breed as this can lead you wrong and any doe said to produce “a gallon a day” should have a clearly visible milk vein’ that runs on the underside of her belly. I’ve never seen a heavy milker without that vein clearly visible no matter what size the udder is.
Once you select your dairy kids from these types of animals you need to start early to keep them growing and healthy. If you are raising them from early on make sure they get plenty of colostrum from the doe, preferably two or three feedings. Due to some health issues many people remove the kids from the doe and pasteurize the milk. This also insures there is milk for the people as well as limits the damage a kid can do to a doe’s udder when aggressively nursing.
Contrary to often stated opinion goats do not “eat everything” and as you start feeding them you will wish sometimes that was true! They will nibble on many things and do have an appetite for boxes because it’s fiber. However, from early on the young dairy goat needs quality feed.
This means good clean hay and plenty of it! If you can find alfalfa mix hay so much the better. Have a feeder the goats need to reach into in order to eat and minimize what is pulled out of the feeder if it hits the ground many goats will not touch it! This adds up to a major cost for the homesteader as wasted hay may not be bad, just on the ground. Some people run a couple of hair sheep with their dairy goats to clean up such hay and make use of it!
Plenty of clean water is needed also for the growing dairy goat. Make sure the tank or bucket is cleaned often and keep it (again!) from where feet or debris can get into the water.
Many breeders provide a trace mineral block as well as a good mineral. If you run any lambs with the goats watch the copper level in the mineral goats need it but sheep can ingest toxic amounts of it. Don’t be tempted to feed sheep mineral but rather use a mineral for dairy cattle. The difference in this became clear when a change meant darker, richer colors on the Toggenburgs and a better hair coat on the goats. Some things goats and sheep are the same but in many you will need to adapt things down from dairy cattle.
Deworm young goats and treat for coccidia, a parasite that can kill a young goat remarkably quickly. This means treating with Albon or other drugs for coccidia as a regular wormer does not kill them. A good quality grain should be fed as soon as the kids will start nibbling on it. Don’t overfeed though as this can cause stomach upset which can be fatal.
There are not many vaccinations needed for dairy goats but a couple that shouldn’t be skimped on are tetanus and C&D. These will cost you under $8 including the disposable syringe and needle. The C&D helps protect against enterotoxaemia or “overeating”, a digestive upset that can be fatal. Tetanus is advised especially if there has been or are horses on the property.
Dairy got kids need a dry clean place to live. Dry is important as it not only prevents health problems but also prevents parasites. Good quality dairy got kids are an investment in your food supply. Feed and house them well and they will return it many times over not only in milk but also in their antics. There’s the occasional kid that especially likes people that grows into the doe that is always following you thisclose and it makes it even more rewarding to be able to say “I raised her.”