By Steve Bird, California – If you’re raising goats for profit, are you sure dairy goats are for you? Don’t get me wrong, I love dairy goats! Around my home, cow milk is considered a choice of last resort, and chevre (goat cheese) seasoned with dill and garlic is spoken of in hushed and reverent tones. Yet we do not have dairy goats. At least our 4-H goat club does not consider them as such.
We have dual-purpose goats. The dual-purpose concept is one of breeding and raising goats for both meat and milk. The dual-purpose system takes full advantage of the wonderful versatility of goats and can increase your farm income when raising goats for profit.
In today’s world of mass production agriculture, specialization is valued over versatility. Those who produce dairy products and are skilled in making goat’s cheese emphasize milk production exclusively in their breeding programs. Those who produce meat want the efficiency of feed conversion and large muscle size in the prime cuts. When a small farm owner wants to raise goats he must choose which specialty animal he wants to raise, meat goats or dairy goats. Yet specialty goats were not bred with the small farm in mind. Specialty goats are bred with the goal of maximizing production of a specific product, not to maximize production of food.
Dairy Goats are Delightful!!!
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Our goal in the raising goats for profit (as well as for our own enjoyment) is to maximize the production of high-quality food for our own table. In our case, goats provide us with milk, cheese, whey to feed chickens, gardens grown in goat manure compost, and meat. We found the ideal goat for us was not one of the recognized breeds, but a new goat breed under development, the Santa Theresa.
Santa Theresa goats were developed by small farmers who wished to fully utilize all the goat had to offer. They started with Spanish meat goat and crossed it to the largest, most rapid growing dairy goats they could find. In time they produced large, rapid-growing “dairy goats.” Milk production is not as good as a dairy would be looking for, but more than adequate for a family farm. In fact, the beauty of the dual purpose system is the utilization of our extra milk to feed market kids. One taste of milk-fed kid quickly changes people’s opinions about how palatable goat meat is.
The versatility of the Santa Theresa allows the owner great latitude in developing a management system. I present my system here as only one example of dual-purpose management.
As with any management system, one starts by defining one’s goals. In my case, provide high-quality food for family consumption. Specifically, food that is delicious to eat, food that is as free of chemicals as possible, and food that is economical to produce. In addition, we wanted the goats to provide us with both dairy products and meat. After trying a few different suggestions we found the following system works well for us.
When we’re raising baby goats, we allow the kids to freely nurse for the first two weeks after birth. In our case, our herd has all tested CAE negative and we limit contact with other herds. We wait two weeks to be sure all colostrum is out of the milk. This usually takes from 10 days to two weeks.
The next two weeks we milk once a day to get a little family milk and increase production. The kids still have free access to does 24 hours a day.
At four weeks we begin to separate the kids overnight. We start with eight hours and gradually increase to twelve. At this point, we get enough milk to produce all the milk and cheese our family of four needs.
At five months the kids have reached market size. Last year we took two bucklings to the county fair at 24 weeks of age. They weighed 102 lbs., and 87 lbs., with both dressing out at over 50% usable meat.
After sending the kids to market in the fall we go to twice a day milking and make a lot of cheese. When we get tired of twice a day milking and have more cheese than we need, we dry off our does until next kidding season.
As a family we are concerned about what goes into our food so we limit the use of antibiotics, we use no worm medicine, we include natural browse as feed that we know is free of herbicides and pesticides. This system fits our families needs.
This year’s results are shown in the chart.
Are Goats a Homestead Necessity?
For the homesteader who is interested in raising goats for profit, I believe the dual purpose goat is an absolute necessity. What other animal will provide all the products these will — meat, cheese, milk, whey, butter, and even high-quality compost? A modern dairy goat will outproduce my goats for dairy products, but they grow very slowly and produce little meat.
Really, much of what the Santa Theresa does is to salvage the “old style” dairy goats used on small farms as dual-purpose goats. Certainly, my dual purpose goats are to a great extent a rapid growing, large body type dairy goat. The very popular Boer goat is superior to my goats in the efficiency of feed utilization. If your goal is only meat and you wish to feed low quality feed or range feed, that is what the Boer was developed to do.
Of course, the meat one gets for a range fed goat is not exactly the same as a milk-fed kid. you can milk feed your Boer kid for short time but the Boer does do not produce milk like a dairy goat, so kids must be put on range much earlier than with a dual purpose goat. As such, even young kids from a Boer is not of the same quality as a dual purpose goat.
When I think of all we get from our goats I do not see how any homesteader could be without them. I strongly encourage homesteaders to consider a dual purpose system for their own needs.
Production From Dual-Purpose Goats
Milk: Two does milking, one-third freshener, and one first freshener. Milk once a day, free access by kids for twelve hours. Present (May) production, 10-12 lbs.
Meat: Seven kids born to three does. Four doelings and three bucklings. All weights were taken with a measuring tape.
Originally published in the May/June 1999 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.