Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Simple Dairy Goat Setup

I've thought a lot lately about the times I would dream about my future life on a homestead somewhere and how it seemed unachievable or so far out of reach at that time in my life. It is funny that knowing what I know now I realize that there were a lot of things that weren't really that far out of reach back then. Obviously I couldn't have kept a dairy goat when I lived in an apartment, but there really isn't that much you need to keep a goat instead of a dog if you have a yard. Since bringing goats to our farm here I have come to the realization that they are indeed my favorite animal, and a dog has nothing on a good friendly dairy goat.

What you really "need" to get started

There isn't really a whole lot to list here. Basically you have to have a rope or a fence, a bucket or pan or two, a tie-out stake or post or tree you don't care anything about, and some secure housing. You can buy some rope and a dog collar for less than $5. You can get a bucket for pretty cheap at a dollar store or a oil drain pan from the dollar tree to use as a feed dish. A tie-out stake is a couple of bucks, or you can tie the rope to the side of a fence or a tree. The housing is definitely the most expensive part of having a goat. You don't have to have anything fancy. If you just want 2 goats to milk (which gives more than enough for a family), then a standard chain link dog kennel would be perfect with a dog house big enough for both goats to lay down in comfortably at the same time.

In my experience fencing is probably the most frustrating part of keeping goats. They either wear it down, stretch it out, jump over it, go through it, get stuck in it (especially if they have horns), or just plain ignore it all together and eat all your garden and trees. I found that the best way to get milk goats used to being handled and led around is using a halter and then moving onto a dog collar once they realize how it works and won't choke themselves out. I put my milking does up in the shed stall every night for a couple of reasons. One is for protection from dogs or predators. Two is because having to chase them down in the morning to milk them is a real pain in the butt, and no matter how much they need their bag drained, if they are stubborn, then they're probably going to put you in an awful mood before you even get them to the milking stand. If they are in a stall, then I can just walk in and close the door behind me while I grab the end of the leash that I just left on them overnight (which I don't necessarily recommend because they could choke themselves should it get caught on something and a lot of the time it gets dragged through manure and urine). A bonus to keeping them in a stall is that they harvest up all that good fertilizer growing in your yard an deposit it in the stall for you every night so you know where to go shovel it.

So to avoid the fencing issue and the chasing them down issue, my solution was to put them on a tether and move them around the yard or up and down a fence row as they needed new material to browse. Goats are more like deer than sheep or cows; they prefer bushes and trees and whatnot over grass any day of the week. They are called "browsers" rather than "grazers." They will eat grass, but they prefer your flowers and shrubs and the bark off your trees. Remember these things when deciding where to stake down your tether for a goat. Goats also are herd animals and get stressed out easily if they are away from a friend goat. It is unhealthy for them to be stressed and can cause them to get sick or worse, so always have your two tethered goats somewhat close to each other or close to a pen of other goats where they can see each other fairly easily and lay somewhat close to each other. Putting them on tethers in the yard may look funny at first and be annoying when it starts to rain (since you have to go get them out of the rain and put them in their stall or kennel) but it makes taming and accessing the goats way easier.

Basically you just put a bucket of water where they can get their head in it at the end of their tether but where they can't drag their rope into it and knock it over. Other than having access to water, just make sure they have sufficient grass and brush to eat. But one of the most important parts of the tethering process is making sure they can't tangle their ropes together or wrap around objects like trees or posts, because if they can, they will, and you'll have to go untangle them when they start whining.

I wouldn't recommend tethering for someone who wasn't around the home-place for most of the day to watch and make sure nothing molested the animals, because being in a fence is enough of a handicap that a dog can tear a goat to pieces in minutes without it having a fighting chance, but being on a tether, it most assuredly isn't getting away. And there is not much more demoralizing and traumatizing than going out in the morning and finding your loving gentle sweetest goat with her heart literally eaten out of her chest on the ground INSIDE your fenced in pen (one of the reasons I lock my babies and milkers up at night now).

The Daily Process

My daily dairy goat process is trimmed down to morning and evening unless something goes awry. In the morning I go out and take the girls out one by one and put them on the milking stand, wash their udders with a baby wipe, and milk them into either mason jars or reused spaghetti sauce jars. Then I take them to the spot they are going to be tethered for the day and make sure their water bucket is adequately stocked. They munch all day and then in the evening when I come out to feed everything they start bawling wanting to be fed. So I take them off their tethers one by one and lead them back to the stall and lock them in with a bucket of water and a pan full of sweet feed. I could milk them a second time, and would probably increase my yield if I did, but we have plenty of milk doing it once a day and both owner and goat are used to the routine now. In the morning I get about 2 quarts of milk plus a little bit more that I give to Neko the Pug who follows me around on my daily chores.

The Gist

If you can afford to have an outside dog, you can afford to have a dairy goat, and you can actually get all your milk and goat cheese needs fulfilled in the process, as well as some hedge trimming, grass eating, and lots of animal/human bonding time. There isn't much sweeter than a baby goat. I wouldn't trade having goats for much of anything.

A Simple List of What Supplies You Need

  • 2-3 Buckets
  • Feed Pan
  • 50' of Rope
  • Couple of dog collars and D-rings (Buckle kind are way better than plastic snap kind)
  • A barn stall or dog kennel with a dog house
  • 2 dog tie-out stakes or T-posts
  • A Milking Stand (Homemade out of wood scraps is a plus)
  • Half a dozen spaghetti sauce jars
  • Cheese cloth
  • Sink drain strainer/catch (metal mesh concave disk normally used for the drain in kitchen sink)
  • Gallon Jug with a lid for storing filtered milk (BPA free)
  • Pack of unscented baby wipes
  • Strong pair of scissors or garden shears for cutting toe nails on occasion 
  • Firearm that you are not afraid to use on attacking dog or predator

That is pretty much my standard block of equipment. If you can manage to cobble together a milking stand out of free materials like I did, then you're looking at less than $20 worth of stuff other than the shelter and gun. You might have to buy a syringe and some wormer on occasion but you don't really do that with dairy goats unless you're not milking them because you don't want the traces of Ivermectin in your morning cereal.

1 comment:

  1. You have learned a lot keep up the good work!


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The Crowsons