Thinking about raising goats for milk? There are many goat milk benefits, including making goat cheese or learning how to make goat milk soap. But there are a few things to consider about raising goats for milk before you take the leap.
1. Is raising goats for milk legal in my area?
Even if you already keep backyard chickens or are raising rabbits for meat, that doesn’t mean raising goats for milk is allowed. To be sure, check with your local zoning and homeowner regulations as to whether raising goats is permitted and, if so, how many you can legally have.
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2. Goats are social animals.
A single goat will complain loud enough for the whole neighborhood to get the point. So plan on having at least two. They can be two does (females) or a doe and a wether (castrated male). With two does you can stagger breeding to produce milk year-round. Otherwise you will have some months of plenty and some months without any milk.
3. You need access to a buck (male).
A doe must be periodically bred to refresh her milk cycle. A buck is difficult to maintain, and is not worth the hassle or expense for just one or two does. Options include arranging with a nearby goat owner for stud service or using artificial insemination (AI). Your veterinarian should be able to help you find someone skilled at AI.
4. Does a local veterinarian treat goats?
Not all veterinarians understand goat medicine. If your local vets are not well versed in goats, at least seek an experienced goat keeper willing to help you out, should your goats ever need medical assistance.
5. Do you have, or can you provide, a goat tight fence?
Goat owners are fond of saying a fence that won’t hold water won’t hold a goat. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly so. Goats are Houdinis at climbing over, under, or through a less than adequate fence, to the detriment of your (or your neighbor’s) garden and landscaping.
6. What will you do with the kids?
A dairy doe produces one or more kids every 15 months or so. If you try to keep them all, you’ll soon be goat poor, so have a plan for dealing with those bouncing bundles of joy — and stick to it. Options include selling them or butchering them for meat. A common plan is the sell the doelings and turn the bucklings into roasts and burger. (Goat meat recipes are similar to venison recipes.) Also, learn more about managing your goat herd for optimum reproduction.
7. Milking is a daily event.
If you can’t be available to milk every day, you’ll need to arrange for help. If you milk twice a day, morning and evening, you’ll get a little more milk than if you milk only once a day. Some goat keepers optimize milk production by milking three times daily — morning, noon, and evening.
8. What will you do with all the milk?
Depending on the breed and bloodlines, a good doe may produce as much as a gallon and a half a day soon after kidding, dwindling down to a quart or less within 9 or 10 months. Some does produce much less to start with, and their production drops quicker. Ask about the milk production of your prospective doe’s dam (mother) and sire’s dam (paternal grandmother).
9. There are many benefits of goat milk, but do you like it?
A lot of people, including me, like goat milk better than cow milk. The infamous off-flavor milk typically results from not caring for goats properly, such as keeping goats in filthy conditions, improper diet, or housing milkers with a buck in rut. On the other hand, the occasional doe receiving good basic care naturally produces off-flavor milk as a matter of genetics, so ask to taste your prospective doe’s milk (or her dam’s milk). A scant few people claim to be able to taste the active enzymes in fresh goat milk, which multiply over time to the point that nearly anyone can taste them in milk that’s been stored too long.
Pasteurizing kills the enzymes, but also destroys the healthful benefits of goat milk. Further, pasteurized goat milk keeps only about half as long as raw milk, which remains tasty for up to 10 days in the fridge. But long before then, the milk from your own dairy goats will have disappeared in glasses of refreshing ice cold milk, enjoyed over breakfast cereal or made into delicious homemade yogurt and ice cream.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.