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Setting up rotating pastures for Nigerian dwarf goats

 
Posts: 57
Location: Cape Town
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I've been planning Nigerian dwarf goats for years (literally-- it's part of year 5 of our 5 year plan). They're very expensive in South Africa, as they are relatively unusual here (in fact, they may not be the same breed as is classified as Nigerian dwarf in the U.S.-- i.e. same look etc, but possibly bred from a different line). Anyway, so I've found a few farms that breed them (though they seem super tiny-- may have been bred primarily for tiny-ness) and have been planning seemingly endlessly, and now we're getting close to the point where we could actually get them.

My reasoning for Nigerian dwarf goats: they're small, the milk is richer and seems lovely, the babies are in demand so, from what I can tell from local sales, we could sell goat kids to be pets, rather than having to slaughter (we started breeding ducks for meat and it was really difficult for one of our kids to cope with). Con: we'd also need to have a male as there are no bucks around for breeding.  I.e. we'd probably start with a breeding pair and then have 2 females and a male. (So my first question is whether I'm thinking logically about breed. We have a large herd of a mixed dairy breed kept at a nearby farm, so could easily and cheaply get goats there, BUT the issue of males is a big one for us-- they're actually currently trying to breed a line that is meatier, so that the males have more of a purpose...plus the milk there tastes not great, though the cheese is awesome.)

We're on 1 acre, and have a little less than 1/2 an acre set aside for them, which we are currently dividing into 6 pastures for rotation (each pasture at least 10mX10m, usually larger)-- we've been saving up poles, wire, etc. My plan was that such a rotation would allow each pen to remain relatively lush, and to keep pest/parasite pressure down. I was also thinking of having ducks then chickens in some kind of rotation, perhaps occasionally also with a crop (we have ducks and chickens now and feel more experienced managing their needs). Still, there are a few things I'm still pondering and I may be making things more complicated than necessary.

We're in a Mediterranean climate- no frost but cold-ish (down to 5C) and wet in winter.

Sorry, now for a slew of questions, some of which I know just have to be lived out to know the answers to:
1) Housing: would it be better to build a simple lightweight shelter that could be moved from pasture to pasture, or is moving a shelter practically difficult? Alternatives would be to have a small goat house near our own house-- then, my question is whether parasite pressure would build there because they're always sleeping there. And could we milk the goats in that same shelter? I tend towards having them close by, for safety/potential theft.
2) Crop rotation: If we have 6 pastures, would it be practically possible to use at least a couple of pastures for vegetables in the rotation? Here, I'd been thinking in terms of whether spending around 20 days in one pasture would be doable. I wonder how quickly 3 small goats would flatten an area, and how quickly the parasite load would start to build. if this kind of rotation sounds standard, doing some crops in 90-100 days would be feasible. The alternative I"m thinking through is allowing the acacia saligna to continue to grow in the pastures (an alien which goats really like) as a goat feed, and growing more tagasaste/tree lucerne in or around the pastures. It may be that a mix of both options would be best, because irrigation will not be possible everywhere so some areas may just be for winter crops, when irrigation is not needed. Anyway, I'd love any ideas on rotation so that we're using the goats as an asset (and getting them a variety of food).
3) Landscape waste: I can get fresh landscape waste (branch clippings from a variety of trees and shrubs-- I use the grass clippings for compost) and was pondering whether this could be a good source of feed, or if it would be too messy and labour intensive to sort/remove etc. Has anyone met someone who feeds their goats partly from such clippings?
4) Male/female together?: If we get a breeding pair to start with, is it ok to keep them together for companionship? I hear it's not a good idea to keep the buck and the doe in the same area, but also that you shouldn't keep a goat alone, so I'm not sure how to approach this, and if I actually have to start with 2 bucks and 2 does so both have a friend, which seems a little crazy. If I'm always using 2 pastures, it also affects rotation quite a bit.

Whew. Sorry- lots of questions. I think about goats a lot, and can't wait to have them. Thank you so much for any thoughts!


 
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Jo Hunter wrote:I've been planning Nigerian dwarf goats for years (literally-- it's part of year 5 of our 5 year plan). They're very expensive in South Africa, as they are relatively unusual here (in fact, they may not be the same breed as is classified as Nigerian dwarf in the U.S.-- i.e. same look etc, but possibly bred from a different line). Anyway, so I've found a few farms that breed them (though they seem super tiny-- may have been bred primarily for tiny-ness) and have been planning seemingly endlessly, and now we're getting close to the point where we could actually get them.

My reasoning for Nigerian dwarf goats: they're small, the milk is richer and seems lovely, the babies are in demand so, from what I can tell from local sales, we could sell goat kids to be pets, rather than having to slaughter (we started breeding ducks for meat and it was really difficult for one of our kids to cope with). Con: we'd also need to have a male as there are no bucks around for breeding.  I.e. we'd probably start with a breeding pair and then have 2 females and a male. (So my first question is whether I'm thinking logically about breed. We have a large herd of a mixed dairy breed kept at a nearby farm, so could easily and cheaply get goats there, BUT the issue of males is a big one for us-- they're actually currently trying to breed a line that is meatier, so that the males have more of a purpose...plus the milk there tastes not great, though the cheese is awesome.)

We're on 1 acre, and have a little less than 1/2 an acre set aside for them, which we are currently dividing into 6 pastures for rotation (each pasture at least 10mX10m, usually larger)-- we've been saving up poles, wire, etc. My plan was that such a rotation would allow each pen to remain relatively lush, and to keep pest/parasite pressure down. I was also thinking of having ducks then chickens in some kind of rotation, perhaps occasionally also with a crop (we have ducks and chickens now and feel more experienced managing their needs). Still, there are a few things I'm still pondering and I may be making things more complicated than necessary.

We're in a Mediterranean climate- no frost but cold-ish (down to 5C) and wet in winter.

Sorry, now for a slew of questions, some of which I know just have to be lived out to know the answers to:
1) Housing: would it be better to build a simple lightweight shelter that could be moved from pasture to pasture, or is moving a shelter practically difficult? Alternatives would be to have a small goat house near our own house-- then, my question is whether parasite pressure would build there because they're always sleeping there. And could we milk the goats in that same shelter? I tend towards having them close by, for safety/potential theft.


Your thoughtful questions deserve a long response... I hope this helps!

I like the idea of a deep litter strawyard with a permanent shelter, that way if you need to rest the pastures longer than expected, you're not stuck keeping the goats for too long on the last pasture and compacting it. Also, a strong shelter is usually heavy and annoying to move, but others here might have good solutions that are easier to move than my old portable shelter was.

Whether or not to milk in the shelter is up to you. Goats have a habit of pooing all over the milking stand if given access to it all the time, so if you can fence a bit of the shelter off to keep the stand away from them, then it's more hygienic. There's more dust and dirt around in a combined shelter/milking area than there is if you keep the milking stuff separate. I milk outside every day of the year and it isn't too bad, in the past I've milked on a porch or in a garage, so you might have an existing undercover area you can use for milking.


2) Crop rotation: If we have 6 pastures, would it be practically possible to use at least a couple of pastures for vegetables in the rotation? Here, I'd been thinking in terms of whether spending around 20 days in one pasture would be doable. I wonder how quickly 3 small goats would flatten an area, and how quickly the parasite load would start to build. if this kind of rotation sounds standard, doing some crops in 90-100 days would be feasible. The alternative I"m thinking through is allowing the acacia saligna to continue to grow in the pastures (an alien which goats really like) as a goat feed, and growing more tagasaste/tree lucerne in or around the pastures. It may be that a mix of both options would be best, because irrigation will not be possible everywhere so some areas may just be for winter crops, when irrigation is not needed. Anyway, I'd love any ideas on rotation so that we're using the goats as an asset (and getting them a variety of food).



Have you thought of planting tagasaste or acacias as a hedge around the edges of each pasture? Goats have natural instincts to protect themselves from parasites, so they are picky about the kind of pasture that they eat - if they can smell another goat on it, they will avoid eating that bit of pasture. Putting trees around the edges will give them more variety in their diet, and will also provide more food in dry weather or other times when the grass isn't growing well. Leaving the fodder trees that they do like there is also a good idea, if you're not using it for crops right away.

The goat manuring on the pasture would definitely be an asset for growing crops. Which vegetables would work well there will probably be a bit of an experiment, and will depend on how much effort you want to put into getting rid of the grass. In John Seymour's self sufficiency book he has grass as a ley for a few years, being grazed by ruminants, and then ploughs one section up with pigs, and uses that bit of ground to grow crops for the next few years before re-sowing with grass. He had several different paddocks, with one being ploughed up every year and the rest being in grass, or the rest of the rotation of potatoes/grains/roots etc, he kept around half of them in grass at any one time. I think this is probably the best way of incorporating goats into it rather than freshly digging up and re-sowing lots of grass every year, his system (from memory) would just be digging up one paddock every 4 or 6 years.


3) Landscape waste: I can get fresh landscape waste (branch clippings from a variety of trees and shrubs-- I use the grass clippings for compost) and was pondering whether this could be a good source of feed, or if it would be too messy and labour intensive to sort/remove etc. Has anyone met someone who feeds their goats partly from such clippings?


It depends on the tree - goats have their favourites, and ones they don't like as much, and some they won't eat at all. They will find the stuff that they do like, so there's not much sorting involved for you. If the twigs on the branches are very small, they will just eat them up, but if the branches are thicker, then the goats will eat the leaves and you'll be left with a bunch of branches ready for putting through a mulcher to use in the garden. There's some information about doing this (and other good small-scale goat information) here.


4) Male/female together?: If we get a breeding pair to start with, is it ok to keep them together for companionship? I hear it's not a good idea to keep the buck and the doe in the same area, but also that you shouldn't keep a goat alone, so I'm not sure how to approach this, and if I actually have to start with 2 bucks and 2 does so both have a friend, which seems a little crazy. If I'm always using 2 pastures, it also affects rotation quite a bit.

Whew. Sorry- lots of questions. I think about goats a lot, and can't wait to have them. Thank you so much for any thoughts!


I keep my buck with my does all the time. We don't notice any extra goatiness in the milk, it's still beautiful and fresh tasting. Maybe other people that taste it do notice, as they wouldn't be used to the smell of the buck, but I'm milking the goats for my family, not for anyone else, and if it's fine for us, then it's fine. Once we get a bit more organised I'll probably keep him separately at times, but just through the fence so he can see them and interact with them but not get them pregnant, either that or keep him with a wether or other buck.

Our first two does had to be taken away from the buck at their last home, as he'd gotten them pregnant and was then butting them in the belly a lot, so maybe some bucks do need to be kept separately for this reason. I've never heard of any other bucks doing this, so it's probably an exception rather than the rule. If you do need to keep one goat separate for a while, it can help if you spend a lot of time with the goat so that she has you as her herd - it's not the ideal situation for them as herd animals, but sometimes it does happen, and it's not the end of the world.
 
Jo Hunter
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Thank you so much for this reply, Kate! It was hugely helpful. The link you shared that mentioned acacia and tagasaste also seemed spot on- thanks so much.

Do you think my logic around having Nigerian dwarves-- despite the initial up front cost-- makes sense to you? Goal (I think similar to yours) is just to have dairy for our family.
 
Kate Downham
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I would find out a bit more about milk yield and lactation length from the Nigerian dwarf breeder. Here in Australia, dwarf goats are bred for size, and not many breeders know what their goats are like for milking.

Are people where you live interested in other goat breeds as pets? You may not get as good a sale price for the kids, but other breeds may be cheaper for you to begin with too. If you don't mind someone else butchering them, then you can sell them to people who buy kids and raise them for meat.

Another option if you don't want to have to butcher the kids is to get goats that are good at milking through for many years after kidding once - here in Australia, British Alpines are best known for that, but my Toggenburgs are good at milking through too.

Full-size goats eat more than dwarf goats, but their milk yield is often higher too, and you might just be able to borrow someone else's buck when you need one rather than having to feed one there all year.

Which dairy breeds are easiest to find where you live?
 
Jo Hunter
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Thanks so much. I've been checking in with someone a little ways away from me, to track how their experience with Nigerian dwarf goats has been going-- they're just getting their first kids and milking for the first time. There are starting to be people who say "from good milk lines" but I'm not sure if they're saying that because I've been pestering them with that question!

From what I can tell, the market for males of other breeds is not too good-- I am actually ok with butchering, and my son may start to be more comfortable with it.

Nigerian dwarfs are ten times the cost of the white dairy goats down the street. Some friends are waiting to gift me with whichever goats I choose... They are sick of me talking about goats I think. So the startup cost is covered. In general, our experience with animals has been that they don't do what they're supposed to on paper, so I am a little cautious about getting goats that may turn out to be pets more than dairy producers. Either way, I think once we get started.

I'll let you know how it goes-- and thank you again!

Jo
 
Kate Downham
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I hope you'll keep us updated.

It is a tough choice as there are pros and cons to every breed and every breeder. I think a lot of the information on Nigerian dwarfs comes from the USA where there are more breeders, and more of them breeding for milking qualities, than there are in countries fairly new to Nigerian dwarfs.

You're likely to get the same amount of milk (or more) from the free goats than you are from high yielding Nigerian dwarf ones, and there is that risk that the NDs will not give much milk, or that by the time yours are kidding there won't be much demand for their kids as pets.
 
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