Owning dairy goats: How I became the “crazy goat lady”

Guest post by Jessie
Nigerian Dwarf Goat photo by simplyjessi – CC BY 2.0
Nigerian Dwarf Goat photo by simplyjessiCC BY 2.0

I had zero experience with dairy goats until I spent two weeks volunteering at the World Hunger Relief Farm, near Waco, Texas. I never would have imagined that that two-week stint would change my life as much as it has.

I arrived at the farm for my two-week stay hoping to gain some hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture while working on my Bachelor’s of Science in Interdisciplinary Agriculture. I looked forward to learning more about the “normal” parts of sustainable/organic gardening… but instead I became fascinated by the Grade “A” Raw Dairy that the World Hunger Relief Farm housed.

I had never tried raw milk at all, and definitely not raw goat milk. Off the bat, I was NOT a huge fan of the strong taste of the milk. But the health benefits were really intriguing, not to mention the countless products that could be crafted from the milk. Goat milk, goat soap, goat lotion, goat cheese… need I go on? And let’s not forget dulce de leche — a delicious caramel made from goat milk and sugar.

Fast forward three years, and I am an Agricultural Science teacher, and a homeowner, complete with eight whole acres to use for sustainable farming. While the garden was put in, and laying hens purchased (chickens are the homesteading gateway drug), I couldn’t forget my fascination with the dairy goats I had met! So I began researching…

There are quite a few different breeds of dairy goat, and, just like dogs, I discovered they are super different. They can range from giant to small, from ear-less to ears a foot long! I was immediately drawn to the Nigerian Dwarf Goat breed.

Nigerian Dwarf Goats are small in size, with a breed restriction of less than 23 inches. These little-hooved darlings are far less intimidating to handle, and much cheaper to feed, than the standard size breeds, and could easily adapt to back yard living. A mature doe (female) will weigh around 70 pounds, while a doe of a standard breed could tip the scales at over 200 pounds!

While the Nigerians are cute, with their multi-colored coats and blue-eyed genetics, the selling point for me was the milk. All my research told me that it would be totally different from the musky milk I had tasted before, and is remarkably similar to a sweeter, thicker, whole cows milk.

My goats
My goats
In early 2014 my first Nigerian Dwarf Goats joined our farm. I did my research and purchased one doe and one wether (castrated male) from a registered, well-tested herd. I really wanted to get to know my girl before she matured enough to be bred — after all, we would be getting pretty up close and personal with each other of the next year. Goats are gregarious, so a companion was a must. Totes (the wether) and Cake (the doe) were quickly assimilated to our little farm!

The neatest part about goat ownership so far (aside from the milk — I get a quart of milk a day from Cake, and her milk production will only improve as she matures!) was getting to take part in bringing the cutest baby goats into the world. Cake gave birth to her first set of beautiful twins on New Years Eve, 2014, and I got to take part and assist in it all. As a first time mama, she was both proud and confused of her kids, and it was surreal to get to help her through it all. Since then we have added four new goats to our herd — one of which was Cake’s doeling that we have decided to keep.

These goats are the biggest joy, and milking in the mornings and evenings is the perfect quiet time to start and end my day. They’re also very social animals, and love attention from their humans. They get along well with the other animals on our homestead, and are endlessly entertaining to watch — all while loving to eat the poison ivy that grows along our fence lines! Not to mention the fresh milk, cheese, and kefir my girls provide.

If you are considering becoming more sustainable through providing food for your family, I more than recommend any breed of dairy goats, but especially the very precious Nigerians.

Comments on Owning dairy goats: How I became the “crazy goat lady”

  1. I just finished up a six-month stint of milking goats, and I miss them! Goats are just fabulous animals, and I love the milk. It’s often recommended for lactose intolerant people, though I still have trouble with it.

    One note for anyone thinking about getting goats: check the laws where you live! Many places won’t let you have goats.

    • So goat milk won’t actually help if you’re truly lactose intolerant. However, most (though by no means all) Caucasians who think they are lactose intolerant actually have a resistance to bovine milk proteins. If this is the case, goat or sheep milk may sit on your stomach just fine (but drinking the lactose free milk at the grocery store won’t help at all).

      My son (and a lot of infants apparently) had such an intolerance his first few months and I couldn’t drink milk or eat cheese while I was nursing him or he would throw it all up. He was sensitive enough that I couldn’t drink goat milk either, but I could eat goat cheese so at least that was something.

  2. This is very interesting! Your research said that Nigerian dwarf goat milk tasted a lot like cow’s milk, but sweeter and thicker. Has this been your experience, too?

  3. I’ve loved goats since I took my first visit to a farm as a toddler. This article is making it very difficult for me to remember that we are not really in a position to bring home teeny, adorable goats 🙂

  4. “Chickens are the homesteading gateway drug.” Too true! I did a long stint on a homestead with ducks, though, so my dream is ducks, Nigerians, and hedgehogs. My partner, thankfully, is very tolerant of these desires and wants to add a giant tortoise to the list just because. Menagerie (petting zoo side business?) here we come!

  5. <3
    As a former 4Her who used to love working with goats and organic farm worker whose task it was to milk the goats, I totally love this. Oh how I wish I could have goats where I live! Someday……

  6. I also got Nigerians last year, a doeling and a first freshener. I didn’t have any prior experience with livestock (except for chickens, which I got the year before….), so their size was a big selling point. After the first tumultuous milking sessions and seeing just how strong my little 50# girl was, I immediately knew I made the right choice. Also, I don’t use much liquid milk, but loooove cheese, so their milk’s high butterfat was the second reason on the ‘Pro Nigerian’ list.
    Getting dairy animals, and egg laying animals, was a goal of mine in order to get away from the industrial food system. I have a brown thumb and haven’t made much progress on growing food; thankfully, I am much better with animals (including my husband, who had been pretty wary of the whole prospect and is now fully on board). Both my girls are due to kid late summer, so I’m hoping that they’ll be able to provide all the dairy needs for our household by the new year.
    Someone once described them to me as ‘dogs with horns.’ One of my girls ‘paws’ at my leg with her hoof when I’m not paying enough attention to her. They’re silly and fun, and sometimes you’re tired because one of them decided to tear a bucket off the wall and get the handle stuck around their neck at 4 a.m. …….this morning.

  7. I’ve always wanted a couple of goats! I knew two (some dwarf breed, not sure which) that a gal used to bring to a local renaissance faire. They definitely had personality! (One loved to rub her head against people, like a cat, and they were both very patient and enjoyed kids). I worry about the amount of time they need, with milking every 12 hours, and I have zero experience with possible health issues. But someday, I hope to get over that and get 2 goats for our urban homestead. I’m pretty sure the neighbors would be okay with it, once I give them some goats milk ice cream (which is the BEST) or cheese to placate them. 😀

    • I had some of the same fears before diving in, especially about not being able to milk every 12hrs on the dot. I have found that they are pretty forgiving as long as the milkings are within 15 hrs of each other, and my production hasn’t suffered.

      They are so quirky!

  8. We live in Hawaii and have grown our herd to 7 goats. We love them! Our milker has had two rounds of twins and they are so fun. Wish we had a few more friends who love goats so we could learn from them…it IS a learning process for sure.

  9. Hooray for this! We’re thinking about getting goats next year…mind if I pick your brain on a couple things?

    I’m wondering how you breed your does…do you use a breeder or stud service or mail-order semen? How have you liked the process? Do you find there’s a market for the kids?

    What if you need to be gone overnight or have to miss a milking?

    Do you register your goats with any association or track their lineage? That part all sounds very confusing, and I wondered if you’ve gotten into it at all.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Not to hijack this from the OP, but since everyone does things a bit differently I thought I’d let you know what my (limited) experience has been.

      I just found out today that both of my does are pregnant! One is pregnant from an overnight visit at a breeder’s, and the other is pregnant from a buck that I purchased. Since the window in which they can get pregnant while in heat is relatively small (12-24hours), it can be tough coordinating with the breeder. The breeder I was working with doesn’t lease bucks, like some do, so I had to transport my girls to them (over two hours away). Their heat cycles don’t always come in like clockwork, so I’d have to wait til I was certain they were in heat, call the breeder to see if they were available, then drive them there IF the breeder was available. If I weren’t able to take them that day, I’d have to wait another three weeks. I didn’t want to leave them there for 30 days (long enough to catch two heat cycles, ensuring a good breeding) because of the stress it would cause them, and because I would miss them!
      I had wanted to hold off on getting a buck for a couple of breeding seasons, but the months long, frustrating experience (with two failed visits) I had of trying to get them bred at the breeder’s place led me to getting my own buck now. He’s a sweetheart and I’m so glad I made that decision.

      My mother has learned how to milk and takes care of them when I’m out of town. Some goats will get used to whoever milks them and misbehave (kick and dance around on the stand) when someone else tries to milk them. She uses a mechanical milking ‘machine’ I made to make it easier because my girl is definitely a dancer. Since getting them, I really don’t like leaving for too long.
      They’ll be ok if you miss a milking, but their production will probably go down a bit. This happened when my girl spent the night at the breeder’s and missed two milkings.

      Mine are registered with two associations. I haven’t educated myself too much on the different farms and what to really look for, but since I’m not planning on showing them (ever) or selling kids (for the next couple of years at least) I’m in no rush to figure all that out. I plan to register all future goats because you can put a higher price tag on them and will be more likely to get buyers who are serious about the animals and producing quality offspring and helping the breed. (not that everyone who has unregistered animals isn’t ‘serious’ or doesn’t take good care of their animals, but the decision to buy a $400 goat probably garners more consideration than a $50 one)

      I know that’s a lot, but I hope it was helpful!

    • I had Dairy goats (and pack goats) for 4H, and a few shows outside of 4H, and still have them (they live forever! <3) They’re very leggy American Alpines (at some point a very tall, leggy buck was bred into them and they’re gorgeous. Our biggest one is as tall as a small pony, he’s magnificent.

      We always registered our girls with the American Dairy Goat Association. Which also had a form to fill out for lineage. So whenever we bred our girls we'd fill out the form, have the breeder fill out their end of it and then send it off to the ADGA. Once the baby goat was born we'd then register her with the ADGA. If it was a boy that we weren't keeping as a buck aka neutered, we didn't really do any registering, although we did keep records of him and the vaccines he received. I'm sure there are organizations now where you can register neutered boys, but there wasn't in my 4H days. The ADGA is a great resource to start with.

      I can't speak on the market for kids, I live in a rural area and we'd sell ours to people in the area who wanted one to be a stable buddy for their horses, need a 4H animal, who wanted a pack goat, or who just wanted meat. Or we'd keep them and butcher them for meat (delicious by the way, much better than lamb, a very rich meat). There were contacts we had for goat dairy farms who'd want to buy mature lady goats for milking reasons, I never did since I only ever had 3 dairy goats, but my 4H leader had a huge herd of over 30 milkers and she’d sell sometimes to clear the ranks.

      Since I was in 4H I used my 4H leaders herd for breeding as she was the only one in 100 miles that had a buck. She had a lot of connections throughout the state and she'd have a buck come stay with her every year so we could breed if we wanted to.

      If your goat is in milk you do have to be there to milk them on a regular basis. It is a responsibility. I mean, I’ve never been pregnant, but I’d hate to carry around a full supply of milk for two days in me. 🙁 It can get seriously uncomfortable for them. Freshly into milk ladies need to be milked sometimes twice a day or they'll be engorged and you risk mastitis and other infections. I had friends or family milk my girls for me if I was ever gone on any trips. But when my girls were in milk I didn't travel that often because of it. When they started to produce less on their own, then I’d feel okay skipping milkings, but that leads to drying them up since the production does drop. I only skipped milking them when they were fully in milk a few times, and that was to get them to produce less on purpose.

      One thing I've noticed not mentioned in this article or comments… if you decide to buy goats, make sure you buy from a person who's never had Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis in their herd. CAE is a HORRIBLE disease and can affect an entire herd, it's basically the goat version of HIV. It's something to prevent at all costs, and be very aware of it, as it's horrible to witness and there is no way to treat it. If you have a smaller herd it's easier to prevent, but if a doe has it she will pass it on to her offspring and it can pass from mature adult to mature adult through bodily fluids.
      Please be sure to do your homework!

  10. So my research says that to keep them in milk you have to kid them every year. If you don’t want an ever growing herd, what do you do? Are there breeders who will waive the stud fee in exchange for getting to keep the kid? What arrangements have you made to keep your girl milking?

    • IME (I grew up on a mini farm with dairy goats that were actually dairy breeds – mostly LaManchas and Alpines), they only need to kid once every 2 years to produce reasonable levels of milk. Unless you’re trying to min/max production, you don’t need to breed every year. Milk slowly tapers off during the 2nd year, but nothing drastic. We had two goats when we first started and, alternating breeding every year, had surplus milk feeding a dairy-hungry family of four.

      We later got obsessed and had 8 dairy goats all in milk at the same time without a milking machine, but that was when my mom started making and selling soft cheeses. And a lot of leftover milk would still end up feeding our pigs and chickens after bottle feeding all the baby kids. Goats can have 3 or sometimes even more kids, but typically have 1-2 — they produce as much milk as they use, so as long as you milk them empty twice a day, they will keep trying to produce that amount of milk. Skip a day of milking, and not only do you have a sore and disgruntled goat momma who is waddling around leaking milk, but she slows down her production.

      I think the standard of “breed every year” is to min/max both production of milk and production of sale-able offspring. If you’re not in it for mass-quantities or mass-profits, then you certainly can get away with every other year, no problemo.

      If you’ve got dairy breeds, the kids are very easy to sell – especially females. Nigerian dwarves are generally considered pet breeds, they’re not known for their milk, so they may be harder to find homes for. Being that we were on a minifarm and meat-based food was part of life, I can say that goat tastes a lot like lamb – but that option is not a choice for everyone.

  11. I am so excited to see this on Offbeat Home! I have been dreaming of owning a goat farm for years now. There are several dairy goat blogs that I follow to get my fix. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  12. I have three pet Gooties. Here (New Zealand) they’re running wild all over the place. Filled my heart to the brim when my husband brought them home 🙂 their pronking is hilarious!!

Join the Conversation