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A dairy goat’s place in the backyard ecosystem  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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This is an excerpt from my upcoming book 'Backyard Dairy Goats'. For more information about the book, see the thread here

Raw milk for health, survival, and economy
There is nothing like having a reliable year-round supply of fresh milk for the family. Raw milk is a complete food, rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Having a source of this will reduce your household’s need for other animal proteins, and will give reassurance if there are picky eaters or vegetarians in the family who might be missing out on nutrients from other foods.

With a couple of goats for milk, a few hens for eggs, and a vegetable garden it’s possible to produce all the calories and protein you need in a typical backyard. Goats milk can be turned into delicious cheeses that can become a staple part of the diet for much of the year.

While many people think of preparedness in terms of having dry food stored away, having raw milk as a source of protein, fat and calories that appears fresh every day without needing much food to produce it is something that can make other preparedness efforts easier and healthier.

If you’re used to buying milk in plastic bottles, keeping dairy goats will also greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste your family produces. If you buy milk in returnable glass bottles, keeping goats will save you money. If you go out on lots of trips to the shops or farmer in order to get fresh milk, keeping goats will mean less time in the car.

Optional goat meat
While it is possible for vegetarians to milk goats without the goat getting in kid every year, for those of us who do eat meat, the offspring of our dairy goats can be a good source of red meat and bones for broth.

Whey for pigs
Pigs thrive on excess milk and whey (along with foraged acorns, windfall apples, and other often-wasted foods), so raising a couple of pigs when you have an abundance of these provides more self reliance and a greater variety of nourishing foods to the family diet.

Pets and lifestyle
Goats are intelligent animals that have lots of personality. It is a joy to spend time with them, watching them as they eat broccoli stalks, have play fights, and climb on cable spools. The routine of daily milking makes us more appreciative of our goats, what they are providing, and allows time for observation and reflection outdoors.

Compost and manure generators
Goats form a synergistic relationship with the backyard veggie garden and orchard, providing manure and bedding to compost or use as mulch. Goat manure doesn’t stink, and is a fairly mild manure that can be used on plants right away. Excess goat milk and whey can also be used on the garden.

Waste disposal
Goats can be fed many kinds of garden scraps and tree prunings, converting them into milk for the home, and manure for the garden.

Land clearing
If you have blackberries invading part of your land or common land nearby, goats will gladly gobble up the invasive plants, thriving on the minerals in them.
 
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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Hi Kate,  I've considered a couple of dwarf goats for my backyard homestead but decided against it when I learned about the annual requirement to freshen them to keep producing milk.   Does your book cover the challenge of finding a stud and where they should reside until the deed is accomplished and how to support extra babies until you can find someone to take them - which seems daunting and maybe impossible in a city.    Also it seems very complicated, expensive  and "unnatural" to have to supplement minerals to keep them healthy - and in a city there is very limited browse for nourishment to prevent the deficiencies caused by feeding mainly grain.

These are my novice objections based on the many blogs and vlogs and goat seller websites I've visited.   Two Youtube homesteaders I follow are "Weed em and Reap" who are urban,   and "Art & Bri"  who have a farm.  Both make it seem like goat keeping is very high maintenance?
 
Susan Pruitt
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Sorry Kate - I didn't mean to ignore your accomplishment.   Congratulations and I wish you great success with the book!   Meanwhile I'd love to hear your thoughts on the concerns I have before I jump in the deep end :)
 
Kate Downham
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Hi Susan, You've raised some good concerns. I will do my best to address them.

There are a lot of nice things said about Nigerian dwarf goats, and sometimes there is good reason to choose them, but I don't think they are always the best choice for a small yard. They are a relatively new breed outside of Nigeria, and there are a limited number of breeders around, so if you wanted your does to have purebred kids, you might not be able to get your goats to a nearby buck for servicing. They can also be really expensive to buy, and many breeders will just sell them as pets, rather than selecting them for the best dairy qualities. They are also more awkward to milk than a full size goat.

Different goats come from different locations. Nigeria is close the equator so Nigerian dwarf goats would do best in similar conditions, and may have health issues much further north or south of this because they are meant to get vitamin D from intense tropical sunshine.

If you can't find any nearby goat studs around at all to take your does to, then maybe it would be best to keep dwarf goats, as you can fit more of them on a smaller amount of land.

My book covers a few different options for getting your does pregnant. My own experience with Toggenburgs and Saanens, and my research into British Alpine and other breeds has led me to discover that it's possible with some goats to get them pregnant once, and then just keep milking them for years afterwards. British Alpines are the best known for this quality, and I have found Toggenburgs are very good for this as well. My book covers the options of either finding a local-ish buck to take your does to (or borrowing him at your own place for a while), and keeping a buck on your land (it's often easy to find newborn buck kids for bottle-feeding, if you raised one of these kids, you would have a buck that's ready to breed in around seven months). I also briefly cover artificial insemination, which might be another thing to think of if it's available near where you live and there are no other options for bucks.

If you are close to other houses then it's generally not recommended to keep a buck, because they tend to be a bit smelly, so if it's very difficult to find a goat stud or goat dairy nearby that will service your does then it might be best to get a breed known for long lactations. If you have at least a twenty feet by twenty feet square or a similar-sized space, then you can keep two full size does and raise their kids until weaning age.

I would never feed mainly grain to a goat, so my first concern with raising goats in the city would be finding a good source of feed for them. If there are any horse supply shops nearby they might be able to direct you to a good source of alfalfa or grass hay. You might need to go to a rural location every so often and stock up on a trailer full of hay bales, or the farmer might be able to deliver if you order enough of them at once. Often in the city there are street trees, parklands, some wild-ish places, and maybe some neighbours who wouldn't mind if you pruned a few branches in summer to make tree hay. You can also fit goat fodder plants into your own yard, such as comfrey under fruit trees, tagasaste, mulberry, willow and acacias around the place. Cover crops and catch crops in the vegetable garden can also be fed to them. They'll also eat garden scraps like outer cabbage leaves, broccoli stems, lettuce that's bolted and so on. You might find a greengrocer or supermarket nearby that's willing to part with their vegetable scraps as well. Goats generally need a 'staple' food source so that too much of a new kind of food doesn't upset the bacteria in their rumens, so I'd recommend finding if you can grow something as a staple, or if you can get some alfalfa or other good hay.

Having woody perennials in the goat diet alone is not enough to avoid mineral supplementation. The soil these plants are grown on can still be deficient in some minerals, so it's important to be aware of the soil pH and any mineral shortfalls, and to supplement if it's needed. The main supplement I use is kelp, and I also give small amounts of dolomite limestone, sulphur, and copper sulphate. All of these I buy from a feed shop in an area with lots of horses, I can get small bags as I need them, and the minerals last a long time. I also feed apple cider vinegar and diatomaceous earth.

Using the word "unnatural" opens a can of worms... "Natural" means different things to different people, maybe I shouldn't have put it in my book title! When I use the word 'natural' in the context of the book I am talking about raising animals in a way where they can express their natural behaviour and instincts, and also raising them without drugs. I also don't dehorn or vaccinate them, but some people use the word 'natural' and do these things.

If we are to say that feeding minerals to goats seems unnatural, where on this train of thought do we stop? Is it unnatural to remineralise our soils with these same minerals? A goat in the wild would never encounter a fence, so is it unnatural to have them live inside a fenced area, where they can only access some plants and not others? Where in goat history do we go back to in order to find what is natural for goats?...

I find these kinds of thoughts to be paralysing. What is needed is for us to produce as much of our own food, as close to our own houses as possible. It doesn't matter if the way we do this is the most close to nature, or the most ideal way possible. As long as the method is good for the soil and wildlife, it doesn’t matter if we don’t find the perfect crop rotation, if we dig or don't dig, if our goats are eating the exact same diet they would in the wild. If we um and ah over every detail before starting, then that’s time when we’re not learning and not growing things, and during this time we are still eating food from somewhere, which probably isn't produced in the best possible way either.

I don't know much about your city and the feed for goats you have nearby, and how much time you have for them, so maybe goats aren't suitable for your situation. I'm not trying to convince everyone to keep dairy goats, but just to say that it can often be done, it just sometimes needs a bit of creative problem solving and determination.

Any animal can be high maintenance at times. Dairy animals need daily milking, observation, the right feed, and plenty of nutrition to help them produce milk. I love goats, raw milk and cheesemaking, and goat dairy is an important part of my family's diet, so this is something I don't mind at all.

Susan Pruitt wrote:Sorry Kate - I didn't mean to ignore your accomplishment.   Congratulations and I wish you great success with the book!   Meanwhile I'd love to hear your thoughts on the concerns I have before I jump in the deep end :)


Thank you! I wish you success also, whether it be with goats, or with other food growing in your yard. I am always happy to answer goat questions.
 
Posts: 80
Location: SW New Mexico, 5300'elevation, 18" precip
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Hi Kate!
How wonderful to spread your love for goats far and wide with your book! I'm excited for you and wish you much success with your venture.

We've been raising dairy goats for 12 years now and are in love with the lifestyle as well as with the wonderful dairy products they produce. Fresh Squeezed raw goat milk and scrumptious cheeses and creamy yogurt> Mmmmmm!

I have a question for you: What is the purpose for supplementing with sulphur? Do you use yellow sulphur powder?
Thanks!
 
Kate Downham
pollinator
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Sunny Baba wrote:Hi Kate!
How wonderful to spread your love for goats far and wide with your book! I'm excited for you and wish you much success with your venture.

We've been raising dairy goats for 12 years now and are in love with the lifestyle as well as with the wonderful dairy products they produce. Fresh Squeezed raw goat milk and scrumptious cheeses and creamy yogurt> Mmmmmm!

I have a question for you: What is the purpose for supplementing with sulphur? Do you use yellow sulphur powder?
Thanks!


Thank you!

I supplement with sulphur because my goats now get most of their food from our land, where the soil has a pH of around 5.4, and sulphur is less available below a pH of 6. Sulphur is needed in order to absorb selenium, and it also helps with skin problems. I use yellow sulphur powder, and use around half a teaspoon per goat per day. I don't think everyone has to use sulphur, it's just something I use because of the deficiencies where I live.
 
Sunny Baba
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Thank you Kate. That makes sense. Do you find that the goats exude a Sulphur smell? And does it effect the taste of the milk at all?

Someone recommended feeding it for external parasites like fleas and ticks. I have started giving it to our LGD for fleas. So far the goats don't seem to have any fleas. But I did wonder if it would taint the milk if I did feed them some Sulphur. I've heard it is also great for hooves and skin.
Interesting about Sulphur helping with Selenium absorption. Good to know.
 
Kate Downham
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Sunny Baba wrote:Thank you Kate. That makes sense. Do you find that the goats exude a Sulphur smell? And does it effect the taste of the milk at all?

Someone recommended feeding it for external parasites like fleas and ticks. I have started giving it to our LGD for fleas. So far the goats don't seem to have any fleas. But I did wonder if it would taint the milk if I did feed them some Sulphur. I've heard it is also great for hooves and skin.
Interesting about Sulphur helping with Selenium absorption. Good to know.



I've never tasted it in the milk, probably because I use such small amounts of it. I can't smell it on the goats either, but it gets into my nose a little when I'm mixing it into their feed.
 
pollinator
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We've had goats for about seven years now and I've found everything Kate wrote about their advantages to be true!

I might add one more thing: in our experience, goats are dog-like in their love of human company. From the day they were born, all of our goats have instantly bonded with us and there has never been any problem milking the mother. If I compare them with our cows, the whole process of getting some milk from those cows (and letting the calf suck some too) has been much more difficult with cows.  

We also go on walks with our goats like they were our dogs. It makes the neighbours smile and it's fun for us on dark and dreary winter days. In the summer we are too busy to go for walks with them, but they don't mind, they are happy out there on pasture.

Call me crazy, but I'd like many more people consider goat as their pet instead of a dog. Quiet (compared with sheep), non-smelly (doe) and vegetarian, I think a goat is suited even to larger suburban backyards (provided your town hasn't gone and prohibited it). Then you can walk your dog and milk her too
 
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