Here’s what I know about goats.

So, it turns out that collecting a consumable from a lactating mammal is a lot different than collecting eggs from a chicken. Who knew?

This is a complex business (yes, it is, goat people; you’re just accustomed to it and can’t see it anymore.), one that requires diligence, attention to detail, and a strong stomach. Here are the Coles/Cliff notes of the results of my research thus far:

(Goat people, please leave the room. I don’t need you sniggering at my ignorance. Go on. SHOO.)

1. Female goats are called “does” and males are called “bucks”. If you call them nannies and billies in front of a serious goat person, you will get dirty looks. Young females are called “doelings” and young males are called “bucklings”. Castrated males are called “wethers”.

You know how lambs being born is called “lambing” and foals being born is called “foaling”? Kids being born is called “kidding”. The joke writes itself. The process of a female going into labour and bearing a kid (thus beginning her lactating cycle) is called “freshening”. I’m betting it doesn’t make her feel fresh, though. Twins are usual, but singles, triplets, quads and even quints are possible.

2. Yes, a doe must kid in order to give milk. There’s no way around this one; I tried. Ergo, keeping goats for dairy means breeding mammals, with all the complications, disaster and euphoria that entails.

Birth complications are rare, but they do happen. You might need to stick your hands up in there to straighten out a hoof or turn a kid around. There might be spontaneous abortions, stillborn kids, bleeding, 2am calls to your local large animal veterinarian. You will need a large animal veterinarian. Even if all goes right, there will be afterbirth and other assorted goo.

3. A doe begins giving milk as soon as she gives birth, and for about ten months thereafter. She will have a two-month “dry” period before freshening again. Once she has begun to give milk, you need to decide if you would like to share her milk with her kid(s) until they are weaned, or bottle feed them and take all mommy’s milk.

4. Does are milked twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as possible, eating their grain as they are milked on a little milking platform which keeps their heads restrained. An hour either way is not going to be the end of the world, but 12 hours apart is optimal for milk production. If you share the milk with the kid(s), you can separate them from their mum overnight, milk her first thing, then let them have the milk for the rest of the day. If you want to go away, you can just leave them in with her fulltime, and not have to worry about milking her.

5. Processing the milk is complex, and involves many steps to ensure cleanliness and safety. These include washing the doe’s udder before each and every time you milk, filtering the milk, chilling it immediately, and treating the doe’s teats with either a dip or a spray afterward. Infection is constantly being guarded against. Milking takes about 10-15 minutes per doe.

6. Okay. Back to the messy part. Does come into heat starting in August for a few days every 25 days. Once they are bred, gestation is approximately 150 days. You can keep a buck on site for the purposes of breeding, but this is complex. He must be kept separately, and not just to curtail higglety-pigglety humpy-hump.

Bucks stink. I have not witnessed this personally (yet), but I am convinced, nonetheless. They have scent glands near their horns, and they pee all over themselves. If they are anywhere near the does or your milking area, the milk will be rank. I plan to get my does studded offsite. This costs money, of course, but not so much, I’m thinking, as keeping a buck in a completely separate area, just for two dates a year.

7.  If you breed, you will have babies. I know, I know; it’s confounding. This means one must needs have a plan for said babies. Will you keep an exponentially-growing herd of similar genetics? Likely not. This means you need to know what you will do with the babies. Goat breeds, like chicken breeds, have functions: dairy, meat, fiber, or a combination thereof. You can sell doelings for milking, of course. You might be able to sell the occasional buck for breeding. Bucklings needs to be castrated at two weeks (sounds fun, right?!) or it changes the taste of the meat, apparently. Wethers can be sold for meat, or as companion animals. They also make good flock protectors.

8. Goats are social creatures. You must have at least two. If you stagger breeding, you can assure milk production year-round, or, you can let your does breed at the same time, in August, and freeze milk, giving yourself a break from twice-daily milking in the two coldest months of the year. This second option sounds good to me. This also means two does freshening at roughly the same time. Wheeee!

9. Goats are escape artists; a 4-foot electrified fence is recommended. I am most interested in Nigerian Dwarf goats, which, as the name implies, are smaller. They are better for dairy than pygmy goats, and, apparently give quite a bit of milk for their size. I’m thinking they might be easier to contain than taller breeds. I just love the black and white ones, which tend to have very light blue eyes:


I KNOW. How people eat these, I have no idea. I do know that we already have an order for a meat goat. I am keen to learn which dance Gail will do for me when that happens.

10.  And now, the good news. Goat’s milk is, in many ways, more nutritious and easier to digest than cow’s milk. You can pasturise at home, if you like, or drink it raw. It makes yummy cheeses, yogurt, even ice cream. The fat in goat’s milk doesn’t separate the way it does in cow’s milk, but a separator can make butter possible. One can also make soap from goat’s milk. I haven’t tried goat’s milk yet, but I don’t drink cow’s milk, and this might be a good way for me to get off soy milk.

Turns out that’s not all I know, but I’ll stop there for now. I have a lead on a good breeder, but I am very, very glad this is over a year away. We need to fence, completely clean out the barn, and get used to turkeys first. As with getting day-old chicks or poults, there will be time to prepare for things like breeding, freshening, and milking, as the doelings grow. Also, killing cute babies.

God knows, I need the time.


15 thoughts on “Here’s what I know about goats.

  1. This is a very good post. I learned a lot from it :)

    I really would love some goats.. I think the sheep will have to do for now, and everyone I talked to said they are less trouble. I don’t know about goats, but my two girls are LOUD. Big too. Sheep milk can be used just like goats milk, however – they are supposedly less destructive in the garden. Here’s to hoping. I’d still like a couple of goats eventually.

    What do you think you’ll do for shelter?

    • I heard that one can’t keep sheep and goats together because sheep need copper and it’s toxic to goats (or the other way around, I can’t remember). But a quick search showed me that people do keep them together, but feed their grain separately.

      As for shelter, we are so freaking set. You know the famous pony stalls? I have two sturdy, enclosed stalls that are 5′ x 10′, and each goat needs about 25 sq. ft of stall space. There is easy access to the barn’s east door, which will lead out to their pen. That’s the least of my worries!

      I planted a bug in The Man’s ear that a small, functional kitchen in the barn’s showroom would be incredible for beer making…also, goat’s milk. Hee hee.

      • You’re all set! Oh my goodness… A kitchen in the barn… Stop putting ideas in my head! lol.

        It’s goats that need copper. Sheep don’t need anything but hay and salt in the winter (and water of course) though ours have been getting grains as treats because it shuts them up for a few minutes while we do the other chores – and it’s not harmful (just wheat, barley and oats). We could always do our copper feeding during milking, so there wouldn’t be any issues there.

        My sheep pen is 10 x 15.

        They share it with the turkeys. The turkeys are on the other side of the wall. They can get back and forth. The sheep can not. My goodness they love people. We have to sit in there with them for a while just to let them love on us. They were bottle fed, so are very attached to humans. Goats would be similar, if not worse – as I find goats are more friendly naturally.

        Also.. Just for fun.. Check out Tom the other day. Isn’t he gorgeous? Oh I just love him. He gobbles now every time the sheep baaa. Our property is now definitely considered a farm.

        Tell your man that I said you need goats to go with your turkeys ;) lol

        I sure hope you get the turkeys this year. Any thoughts on how you will coop them at nights?

      • What a beautiful space! Your sheep are very cute, and your tom is a seriously handsome fellow. But…you knew that.

        The Man has one upped me and suggested a rudimentary outdoor kitchen in the courtyard. MUCH smarter. Closer to hand, more hygienic, water and electric already close to hand. I KNEW there was a reason I married him…

      • Oh, I’m getting the turkeys. I have ordered and paid for them from Porters. Barring serious God doesn’t want me to have turkeys mojo, I’ll have them mid- to late-May. As for cooping them at night…silly Aoxa. Plan? Pffft. We figure things out as we go!

      • Oh thank god. I’m really hoping I can just let them sleep in the trees once they get to be about 10 weeks old…until then, they’ll own the run.

  2. What a timely post! My wife has been pestering the feed store constantly to find out when she gets to become a “goat momma”. She tried to bring one home an adult Nigerian on her lap a month ago but decided to wait for one of the Does to kid which should be any day now.

    • How incredibly exciting! Please keep me posted, WITH pics. Are you getting two? I heard that one, like chickens, gets lonely…

    • I have thought of this! We have so MUCH brush that they could clear, and good riddance, but what of the trees we want to keep? I’m thinking of wrapping the trucks perhaps. I’ll jump off that bridge when I get to it.

    • Don’t tell The Man, but I can totally see myself taking a goat in the car. Do they make goat diapers? Maybe my first million could be in there. So to speak.

  3. Just wanted to add, keeping goats wormed regularly is very important… I would get a fecal test to see what the worm load is and what to worm with. Does should be wormed right after kidding. The hormones during kidding awaken all the worms in the body apparently.

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