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Stay happy – never let anyone get your goat! >Jonathan Huie
Getting Started With Goats
From GRIT magazine, by Linda Heitman
You are tired of paying $4 per gallon of milk and close to $3.50 per pound for ground beef at the grocery store. It’s even got you thinking about taking another step toward food independence by purchasing a few goats. Great! But now what?
The big decision
First and foremost you must decide on your main purpose for buying a goat: milk, meat or both. Milking goats are bred for maximum production of high-quality milk. A really good milk goat can produce a gallon or more of milk per day for about 10 months. We recently butchered a 7-month-old Alpine (a popular Swiss dairy breed) buck; however, it yielded less than 15 pounds of meat. To be fair, the meat was very high-quality, low-fat, 100-percent organic and totally delicious.
A meat goat butchered at the same age, in comparison, would likely yield more than three times as much meat. You can milk a meat goat, too, but the milk yield will be substantially less. A milk/meat cross will give you both, but not as much of either as a purpose-bred milk or meat goat. It’s a tradeoff, so before you choose a breed, think carefully about how much milk and meat you want, and select your animals accordingly.
Milking is fun, but still a chore
If you are choosing to milk goats, you must accept that you will be required to milk them at least once per day and probably twice per day, every day for up to 10 months a year.
Owning milking animals is a decision that will significantly impact your lifestyle. Unless they’re nursing or dried off, goats have to be milked 12 hours apart, at the same times every day. Failing to do this can cause resentful goats and chronic health problems. If you work all day, this can make it difficult to run errands or go out after work. Also, you’ll want to plan trips well in advance, arranging for friends to milk your goats while you’re gone.
The fat of the matter
Did you know that there is a wide variance of butterfat content in goats’ milk depending upon the breed? Butterfat content usually ranges from 2 to 6 percent, and starts low, increasing over the lactation period. High butterfat breeds are great if you want rich milk for cheese, butter or ice cream. The quantity and quality of milk a goat gives will vary by breed, forage and individual genetics.
The fat globules in goat’s milk are much smaller than cow’s milk, which makes it easier to digest for those with milk sensitivities or digestive problems. The flip side, however, is that it is more difficult to separate the cream.
Goat meat is delicious. It is a mild-flavored meat similar to venison and lamb. Also, since you raised and fed your goats, you’ll know exactly what’s in the meat.
Getting your goat
Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Buy the best you can afford. I have bought goats at auction and have had good luck and bad. For some, the auction is the only venue they have for selling excess stock. For others, it is a way to ditch some of their culls.
I prefer to go directly to the breeder so I can see their operation and stock. It also is helpful to have a conversation with the breeder so I can find something that suits my needs and budget.
To find a good breeder, start local and go from there. Your county extension agent may know who raises your breed. Also, check for state goat associations. You can also check the breeders’ listings on the national website for your breed. Lastly, Google your chosen breed.
Personality traits vary from animal to animal. It is important to talk with the person you are considering buying from and discuss your fencing situation, the personality you are looking for, and the milk production you desire. Most reputable sellers will be happy to set up a meeting to answer your questions.
If buying purebred stock, specify that your purchase is for home use. The qualifications (and price) are higher for show animals – you are just looking for a disease-free animal with good production and conformation. Make sure there are no lumps – even if the abscess is from a thorn, I still won’t buy her because the abscess could eventually affect other goats.
If you look over the animal and you don’t like her, don’t buy her. If the coat is ragged (a sign of old age) and the feet are untrimmed, curled up or broken, or if she is alone, there is a reason. You don’t want to buy someone else’s problem goat.
The cost of chevon
A nice young buck or doe kid can cost anywhere from $100 to $250 for purebred stock. A crossbred goat will be less expensive. A freshened doe can be as high as $350 for a young one. Generally, milk goats will produce until they are 8 years old, but exceptions can keep producing up to 11 or 12. The peak production years are generally from ages 2 to 4. Ask about number of kids per birthing. I like twins best. We leave the kids with their mom during the day and shut the kids in the barn at night. That way, we milk once per day (in the morning) and the does raise their young. After weaning, we milk her twice daily. This works well for us and helps keep the chores down a bit.
Forage and feed
Goats are ruminants that prefer to browse, rather than graze. They will go straight for the tough, woody plants in your pasture, if you let them. Their digestive systems can actually be upset if you give them too much lush green pasture all at once. One good way to counter this is to feed them a little grass hay before turning them loose on lush green pastures, so that they don’t overeat. You also can provide them with free-choice baking soda, which they will eat as needed to balance the acidity of their rumen.
Assuming you have enough pasture for your goats, you should not have to supplement hay during the summer and early fall. You do need to have enough hay to last the winter and spring. If hay gets moldy, make sure you don’t feed it to your goats.
Raising your own meat and milk has many benefits, and goats are wonderfully rewarding creatures to raise. Be sure to think carefully about your requirements, do your research, and you’ll provide your family with excellent food and companionship in no time.
Excerpted from GRIT, - Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.Grit.com or call (866) 624-9388 to subscribe. © 2013 by Ogden Publications Inc.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Meat Goats…Find other homestead books too!
Yours in freedom,
Bruce ‘the Poor Man’
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