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If you are considering adding dairy animals to your homestead, you may be considering getting a dairy goat or two. There are a lot of things to consider about getting milk animals. If your space is more limited, goats may be perfect for you!
Why would you choose goats to provide milk for your family? There are a lot of really good reasons!
Smaller space requirements
Goats need a smaller space than cows. Depending on the quality of their pasture, you may be able to keep up to 4 on an acre. With cows, you can only keep 1 on an acre or two.
Goats need less feed than cows. That is one big reason why they need less space. They do need grain, and loose minerals, but their hay and grass consumption is a lot less.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, gentle cow! But goats have more personality. Some think this is a bad thing, as they are curious and tend to escape. I just think their antics add to their charm as a milk-giving pet! If only they were easier to contain….!
Easily digestible milk
Goats milk is more digestible than cows milk. In fact, a lot of people who are lactose intolerant can actually drink goats milk with no problem. The fat globules in goats milk are smaller, so they don’t curdle up in your stomach as bad. Goats milk also has less of a protein called alphaS1-casein, which also helps with being easier on milk allergies. If you want to know more of the nutritional differences between cow and goat milk, this is a good article.
Dairy goats are much less expensive than a dairy cow. The fence needs to be goat-safe, so you might have to spend a little more up front on fencing. But you can usually get a good dairy goat for under $300, where a dairy cow can cost $1,000 plus.
If you haven’t been around large animals much, handling a goat may be a lot less intimidating. Cows are very big animals, and you have to be careful around them to avoid injury. Goats are easier to control. They also tend to learn their name easier, and will come when they are called.
Less milk to deal with
While this may seem like a drawback, goats provide less milk than cows. And this is totally OK if you don’t have a really big family or drink a lot of milk. We used to have a milk cow, and she gave us much more milk than we could consume. So a goat is just about perfect!
Easier to breed
With cows, you usually have to do artificial insemination. And then there’s the cost of the vet to do it for you. Goats, on the other hand, are much easier to breed. You can find a local buck to breed your goat much easier than a bull to breed your cow. A lot of goat breeders arrange a “driveway date”, where they bring the buck to your goat, let them meet in the driveway, and let them do their thing. Or you might be able to get someone to rent their buck out to you for breeding season.
Shorter gestation time
Before you can milk your goat – or cow – she needs to be bred and give birth. A goat’s gestation period is 150 days, whereas a cow’s gestation period is 283 days. That means, if you have an animal that isn’t in milk yet, or bred yet, you have quite a while to wait. But since a goat is pregnant a much shorter time period, you can enjoy fresh milk much faster!
Which breed is right for me?
Are you convinced you need a dairy goat yet? Then you might be asking what breed would be best. That’s a great question! Here are a few of the top dairy goat breeds, so you can choose which one fits your family best.
These are miniature goats, with playful, fun personalities. They don’t produce much milk (from 2 cups to 3/4 gallon), although their butterfat content is the highest at 6-10%. If you are considering Nigerians, you’ll need to get several to get a sustainable amount.
These floppy-eared goofballs can be loud, but they are also very sweet, friendly goats. They produce flavorful milk with one of the highest butterfat concentrations. They have an extended breeding season, which means they can produce milk nearly year-round. A good Nubian can give about a gallon or so of milk with 4-5% butterfat.
Alpines tend to be independent and strong-willed. They are good, steady milk producers. A decent Alpine will give you a gallon a day. A high producing Alpine can give you 2-3 gallons. The butterfat content of their milk sits at about 3-4%.
Saanens are calm, sweet, friendly goats. They are one of the top milkers as far as volume goes. 2-3 gallons per day isn’t at all uncommon. The downside to this breed is their butterfat content is quite low for a dairy goat. The butterfat content for Saanens is around 2-3%, which makes it taste watery compared to other breeds.
Toggenburg goats are friendly, calm, and gentle. These Swiss goats are impressive milkers, but their milk can have a really strong “goaty” flavor. Toggenburgs will reliably produce 2 gallons per day. And the butterfat content is about 3%. These goats are used more for cheese production than for drinking purposes.
Oberhaslis are another calm, gentle goat. However, they are another Swiss breed, and have the Swiss-favored strong flavor. But they are powerhouse milkers, giving typically 2-3 gallons per day. The butterfat content is around 3%. Like Toggenburgs, Oberhaslis are used more for cheese making.
These earless goats are very calm and well-mannered. They give high volumes of milk, with an average of 1-2 gallons per day. Their milk is sweet and pleasant tasting, with a butterfat content around 4%.
Golden Guernsey goats are a pretty rare breed, with a calm, quiet temperament. These golden girls give a good amount of milk, with a rich butterfat content of 6-8%. Typical production is about a gallon a day. The wonderful thing about these goats, though, is their bodies are very efficient at turning grass into sweet, rich milk.
Are you going to add a dairy goat to your homestead?
Well, what do you think? Do you think a dairy goat might be best for your family? What kind do you want? Please share in the comments!
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