Monday, March 21, 2011

Raising Dairy Goats

Below is an article I wrote a couple years ago for a Christian girl's magazine.  Though we had to sell our goats shortly after, I still miss the cute, mischievous and affectionate creatures.  They are surely a delight to have around!

Dairy Goats: A Rewarding Enterprise

This morning I woke shortly after 7, anticipating the feeding of our first goat kid born this spring. This time of year is always exciting for goat keepers. I love to watch for signs on the does, make sure they have enough minerals and nutritious feed, and finally, be present at the birth.
   The first kid of the year, a buckling (male), was born two days ago. We failed to introduce him to the bottle soon after being born, so I had a tough time trying to get him to drink from it a day later. This morning I found him in his own little corner in the old chicken coop, and when I called to him, he stood up and walked toward me. He was pretty skinny because he’d not had much milk in several hours. I hoped he’d take this time.
After about ten minutes, he finally accepted it and sucked! I was thrilled; then I rediscovered the satisfaction of watching a baby animal nurse. His pink tongue curled around the nipple and a little bit of white foam formed around his mouth. The milk had just been extracted from his mother, and was warm and fresh.
   We’ve only been raising goats for about four years now. But I feel as if we’ve had goats all my life. They are such sweet, people-loving creatures; although at times I have wished we didn’t have them, as they can be very stubborn and a lot of trouble! But the good outweighs the bad.

   The environment in which kidding takes place need not be sterilized, but the doe will need a small pen or area, with fresh, clean hay or straw on the ground. When we see signs of birth, we move her there with feed and water. Signs will include swelling of the vulva, and/or discharge.
"Arya" resting after giving birth to her first kid, "Sonatina"
   It’s an exciting and wonderful experience to witness a doe “kid”, or give birth—and even more exciting to help them! We try to record the day on which are bred, so that we can make sure we’re around when they kid. They are usually on time—at least one doe of ours kidded exactly five months to the day from when she was bred! I hadn’t looked at her due date, so she’d already given birth and her kid was nearly dry when we found them.
   Most goats kid easily; others need a little help, and in more rare cases, birth is complicated. The older they are and the more kids they’ve birthed, the easier they do—except for does who constantly birth with difficulty.  Our oldest doe kidded twins with no problems; it took her only about 10 minutes to birth. On the other hand, our youngest doe spent about 30 minutes on her first kidding. Eventually we helped pull the kid out. If it is in the birth canal too long, the kid can suffocate.
   After she has kidded, we give her a treat—molasses water and/or some Alfalfa (their favorite kind of hay) as a reward.

   We decided to bottle-feed the kids for the most part, last year, because it is a good way to ensure that each one gets the amount it needs to grow to a good size. Also, sometimes the mother doesn’t like how her baby is nursing and will walk off before the kid has had enough to eat. Finally, they tend to be more docile when hand-raised. A friend who has raised goats for many years helped us organize the process of bottle-feeding, as it can become very overwhelming and confusing if not recorded properly!
   When a kid is born, we milk some colostrum—the first milk the doe produces which provides necessary nutrients for the kid to survive—from the doe first thing, and offer it in a bottle to the kid, so that it knows what a bottle is from the outset. Then it is allowed to find the doe’s teat and nurse at will for those first few hours.
   The amount of milk fed begins at 3-4oz., and goes up to 14oz. for the first month. They are fed four times a day in that period; then three times a day until 3 months old, then two times a day until the 4 months, and finally once a day until they are six months old and weaned.

   The most popular milking-goat breeds are Alpine and Nubian. We started out with Nubians, and then tried out different mixes. This last batch of kids was mostly half Alpine, half Nubian. But we don’t hold to strictly two breeds.
One of our first Alpine does, "Lava", with her first kids, 
"Mocha" and "Java".
   Nubians have long floppy ears and a roman nose, and range in color from light brown to black. They are much attached to humans, and are quite vocal, too.
   Alpines are usually grey in color with a black stripe down the spine, and have upright ears. They are my favorite breed—nearly just as docile as Nubians, but a little spunkier and a little stubborn.:) Some other milking breeds are Oberhasli, Saanan and La Mancha.

Land is not an issue when raising goats.  In fact, goats eat mostly underbrush and less grass if they have the choice. I highly recommend goats to anyone who is interested in starting farming in a small way. They are certainly worth the effort!

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