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.