Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

How to Maximize Production in a Dairy Goat Using Safe and Natural Methods

Dairy goats are a great source of milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products for homesteaders, hobbyists, and small-scale farmers. They are also friendly, intelligent, and adaptable animals that can thrive in various climates and conditions. However, raising dairy goats requires some knowledge and skills to ensure their health, welfare, and productivity. In this article, I will share some tips and techniques on how to maximize production in a dairy goat using safe and natural methods that respect the animal.

The first step to maximizing production in a dairy goat is to choose the right breed and individual goat for your goals and situation. There are many breeds of dairy goats, each with different characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. Some of the most popular and productive breeds are Saanen, Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, LaMancha, and Nubian. You can also find crossbreeds or hybrids that combine the traits of different breeds. You should research the breed that suits your climate, space, feed availability, milk quality, and personal preference.

When choosing an individual goat, you should look for several factors that indicate good health and potential for high production. These factors include:

Body condition: The goat should have a well-proportioned body with a straight back, strong legs, and no signs of injury or disease. The goat should not be too thin or too fat, as both can affect fertility and milk yield.

Udder: The udder should be large, symmetrical, well-attached, and free of lumps or mastitis. The teats should be medium-sized, evenly spaced, and easy to milk.

Temperament: The goat should be calm, friendly, and easy to handle. The goat should not be aggressive, nervous, or skittish.

Pedigree: The goat should have a record of its ancestry, including its parents’ and grandparents’ performance and health history. The goat should come from a reputable breeder who follows good practices and standards.

Age: The goat should be at least 9 months old before breeding for the first time2. This ensures that the goat is mature enough to handle pregnancy and lactation. The goat’s peak production is usually between 5 to 7 years old, after which it declines gradually.

The second step to maximizing production in a dairy goat is to provide proper nutrition and feeding. Nutrition is one of the most important factors that affect milk production in goats. Goats need a balanced diet that meets their energy, protein, mineral, vitamin, and water requirements. A good diet consists of:

Forage: Forage is the main source of fiber for goats. It includes pasture, browse (woody plants), hay (dried grass or legumes), or silage (fermented grass or legumes). Forage provides bulk and roughage for the rumen (the first part of the stomach) and helps prevent digestive problems. Forage also provides some protein and minerals for the goats. Goats need access to fresh and clean forage at all times.

Concentrate: Concentrate is the supplemental feed that provides extra energy and protein for goats. It includes grains (such as corn, barley, oats), by-products (such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal), or commercial pellets or mixes. Concentrate boosts milk production and helps maintain body condition. Goats need concentrate especially during late pregnancy and early lactation when their nutritional needs are high. However, concentrate should not exceed 50% of the total diet4, as too much can cause acidosis (a condition where the rumen becomes too acidic) or other health issues.

Minerals: Minerals are essential for various bodily functions and processes in goats. They include macro-minerals (such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium) and micro-minerals (such as copper, zinc, selenium). Minerals can be provided through mineral blocks or loose minerals that are free-choice or mixed with feed. Minerals should be balanced according to the type and quality of forage and concentrate available.

Vitamins: Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small amounts for normal growth and metabolism in goats. They include fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, D, E) and water-soluble vitamins (such as B complex). Vitamins can be provided through natural sources (such as green forage) or synthetic sources (such as injections or supplements). Vitamins should be supplemented according to the deficiency or excess symptoms observed in goats.

Water: Water is vital for hydration, digestion, circulation, temperature regulation, and milk production in goats. Goats need access to fresh and clean water at all times. The water should be free of contaminants, such as bacteria, algae, or chemicals. The water should also be at a comfortable temperature, not too hot or too cold. The water should be changed regularly and the containers should be cleaned frequently. Goats may drink more or less water depending on the weather, the type and quality of feed, the stage of production, and the individual preference.

The third step to maximizing production in a dairy goat is to provide proper housing and bedding. Housing and bedding are important for the comfort, safety, and hygiene of goats. A good housing and bedding system consists of:

Shelter: Shelter is the structure that provides protection from the elements, such as sun, wind, rain, snow, or predators. Shelter can be a barn, a shed, a hut, or a simple roof. Shelter should be spacious enough to allow free movement and ventilation for goats. Shelter should also be dry, clean, and well-lit. Shelter should have separate areas for feeding, milking, resting, and kidding.

Bedding: Bedding is the material that covers the floor of the shelter and provides insulation and cushioning for goats. Bedding can be straw, hay, wood shavings, sawdust, or paper. Bedding should be thick enough to keep goats warm and comfortable. Bedding should also be absorbent enough to soak up urine and manure. Bedding should be changed regularly and disposed of properly.

The fourth step to maximizing production in a dairy goat is to provide proper health care and management. Health care and management are essential for preventing and treating diseases, injuries, parasites, and other problems that can affect milk production in goats. A good health care and management system consists of:

Vaccination: Vaccination is the administration of vaccines that protect goats from common infectious diseases, such as tetanus, enterotoxemia, rabies, or leptospirosis. Vaccination should be done according to the recommended schedule and dosage by a veterinarian or an extension agent. Vaccination should also be recorded and monitored for any adverse reactions.

Deworming: Deworming is the administration of anthelmintics that kill or expel internal parasites (worms) that infest goats’ digestive system. Deworming should be done according to the fecal egg count (FEC) test or the FAMACHA score that indicate the level of parasite infection in goats. Deworming should also be done with different classes of anthelmintics to prevent resistance.

Hoof trimming: Hoof trimming is the cutting and shaping of goats’ hooves that grow continuously. Hoof trimming should be done regularly (every 4 to 8 weeks) to prevent overgrowth, cracking, splitting, or infection of the hooves. Hoof trimming should be done with clean and sharp tools, such as hoof shears, hoof knives, or hoof rasps. Hoof trimming should also be done with care and caution to avoid injuring the goat or yourself.

Milking: Milking is the extraction of milk from the goat’s udder. Milking should be done twice a day (morning and evening) at regular intervals to maintain milk production and quality. Milking should be done with clean and sanitized equipment, such as buckets, strainers, filters, or milking machines. Milking should also be done with gentle and consistent pressure to avoid damaging the udder or causing mastitis.

Kidding: Kidding is the process of giving birth to baby goats (kids). Kidding usually occurs once a year, after a gestation period of about 150 days. Kidding should be monitored and assisted if necessary to ensure the safety and health of the doe and the kids. Kidding should also be followed by proper care and management of the newborns, such as colostrum feeding, navel dipping, disbudding, castration, vaccination, and weaning.

The fifth step to maximizing production in a dairy goat is to provide proper breeding and genetics. Breeding and genetics are important for improving the traits and performance of goats. A good breeding and genetics system consists of:

Selection: Selection is the process of choosing the best goats for breeding based on their characteristics, such as milk yield, milk quality, conformation, health, or temperament. Selection can be done by using records, pedigrees, performance tests, or visual appraisal. Selection can also be done by using artificial insemination (AI) or embryo transfer (ET) to access superior genetics from other sources.

Mating: Mating is the process of allowing the male goat (buck) and the female goat (doe) to mate naturally or artificially. Mating can be done by using natural service (NS) or artificial insemination (AI). NS involves keeping a buck with a group of does during their estrus cycle (heat) and letting them mate freely. AI involves collecting semen from a buck and injecting it into a doe’s reproductive tract at the right time. Mating can also be done by using controlled breeding or out-of-season breeding to manipulate the timing and frequency of kidding.

Culling: Culling is the process of removing the inferior or unproductive goats from the herd based on their characteristics, such as low milk yield, poor milk quality, poor conformation, poor health, or poor temperament. Culling can be done by selling, slaughtering, or donating the unwanted goats. Culling can also be done by using sexed semen or embryo sexing to control the sex ratio of kids.

By following these steps, you can maximize production in a dairy goat using safe and natural methods that respect the animal. You can enjoy the benefits of having fresh, healthy, and delicious dairy products from your own goats, while improving your self-reliance, sustainability, and profitability. Happy goat keeping!