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There are many compelling reasons for raising dairy goats. Perhaps you’re intrigued by goat milk benefits, making goat cheese or learning how to make goat milk soap. Whether you want to raise a small herd for your personal or family needs or are interested in raising goats for profit, you’ll find these creatures to be friendly, docile, curious and intelligent.
A milking doe will produce as much as a gallon or more per day soon after kidding. After that peak, production declines. A “good” doe should produce for 9-10 months of the year, although the last part of the lactation (milking period) might only amount to a few cups a day.
While there are hundreds of breeds worldwide, but only eight are generally recognized as dairy breeds in the U.S. There is no best breed, and there is far more variation among animals of the same breed than there is between one breed and another. The eight U.S. breeds include:
- La Mancha
- Alpine Goats
- Nigerian Dwarf
Goats are hardy animals, but they do need an outdoor space to exercise as well as a dry, draft-free place to sleep and escape the elements. In hot regions, a simple roof or lean-to might suffice. In cold climates, the concerns are chilly drafts, drifting snow, and adequate ventilation. You’ll need 12 to 25 square feet of shelter per animal. Keep in mind a licensed dairy farm will have its own requirements for housing and sanitation. Goats are notoriously difficult to confine, and they are hard on fencing—especially the cheaper kinds. One good choice for smaller areas is stock panels. Note that one acre will require 825 feet of fencing and more if it’s not square.
Foraging is the mainstay of a goat’s diet, consisting of hay, pasture plants, and trees and bushes. Such coarse materials are indigestible for them, but the rumen microbes break them down. Roughage is essential for their nutrition. Grains are secondary. The best, easiest and cheapest way to feed your herd is to provide good leafy grass or legume hay, plus 2-3 pounds a day of a commercial feed (grain ration). Others prefer feeding their herd on pasture as much as possible. This can be quite simple, or it can become management-intensive, with controlled rotational grazing, pasture maintenance and renovation, expensive fencing and predator control, to name a few concerns. Like all livestock, your herd will need access to fresh water daily.