We used to keep dairy goats, and the milk, cheese and yogurt were really fabulous. Unfortunately, we were forced to give up on goat-keeping because of a combination of several factors: our goats repeatedly escaped and caused damage, and we knew we must either invest in a sturdier barn and extensive fencing or let them go. Since we were on the point of moving and everything was so uncertain, we chose the latter option. However, I do miss these cute, fun and useful animals and wish and hope we can have some goats again someday.
Also, we do love dairy products of all kinds, and milk, cheese and butter form a large slice of our grocery store bill every week. I sure would love to eliminate this expense – not to mention gain healthier, more wholesome, better tasting dairy products.
Above: a goat kid born to one of our does two summers ago. His mother was a wonderful milker, prolific and patient
Because dairy animals of any kind are a major commitment, however, I don’t want to rush things. I know I want to go back to keeping dairy goats, and I know my husband does too, and I have a feeling that G-d is leading us in the right direction and it will happen eventually, at its proper time. And with the proper considerations, too:
- Housing. A goat barn needs to be sturdier than a chicken coop, with the possibility to lock the goats in if needed, and provide adequate shelter. There’s no way I’m ever getting into goat-keeping again without a very solidly made barn and goat run!
- Fencing. Goats are notorious for leaping over fences. If there’s even a slight possibility of doing so, they will find their way into your neighbors’ flower beds and get you in a very unpleasant situation (ask me how I know). Be a responsible neighbor and keep your animals securely fenced.
- Pasture. How much you can rely on pasture to feed your dairy animals will depend on the extent of your acreage and your climate. In Israel, the lean season is the summer, when everything is parched and dry. In colder climates winter is the hardest season. When you don’t have adequate pasture, you will need to buy hay and that can get expensive. You can also supplement the diet of your goats by giving them fruit and vegetable peels and weeds from your garden.
- Commitment. Once you have a dairy animal, it needs to be milked daily. If you need to be away for a day or two, you must make arrangements with someone to come and do the milking for you (though we could work around that by letting the goat kids have all the milk while we were gone). Also, if you have a high yield of milk, you will need to dispose of it by making cheese, yogurt, etc, on a daily basis, and this may be inconvenient at times. If you have several goats who produce a lot of milk and you skip a day of cheese-making, you may find your refrigerator overflowing with milk.
- Breeding. Unlike chickens, goats need to be bred to be productive; that is, a goat will not produce milk until after she’s kidded. You will need to breed at least once a year, and if you’re very small-scale, like us, keeping a buck may be inconvenient, in which case you will need to make arrangements to take your does to be bred, or borrow/rent a buck on a temporary basis. We have done it in the past, and we were lucky enough to have a friend within a short distance who had a good breeding buck and was willing to host our does for their “honeymoon” and then bring them back, but not everyone is so fortunate.
So are we getting back into goat-keeping anytime soon? Honestly, I don’t know. It will depend on our budget, time, how much longer we stay at this house, and more factors all of which are very uncertain. But I do have a feeling my milking and cheese-making days aren’t over, and that one day, two or three dairy does will make a valuable addition to our little homestead and take us one step further down the road to self-sustainability.