March 2008
For What It's Worth

In Praise of Dairy Goats

Interest in goats as a form of alternative livestock continues to increase throughout the U.S. While the primary interest lies in meat goat production, there are also those who hold an interest in dairy goat production on a small scale basis. Many of these people will tell you their reason for interest is they tend to have more congenial personalities, are easier to handle and are very versatile ? relevant for dairy and meat production. This tends to be true of dairy goats versus meat goats. A good dairy goat will easily produce one to two gallons of milk per day; milk production is dependent upon adequate nutrition and milking twice a day. Dairy goats have been domesticated for thousands of years. History books often tell about nomads in Middle East and Africa known for moving about and taking their dairy goat herds with them. Long ago, many European families tended to own a few dairy goats which they utilized for milk and meat production. Now, people with a few acres and an interest in goats intend to utilize dairy goats for milking then using the milk for their household. These same people tend to hold an interest in homestead cheese making, homemade fudge and ice cream, and utilizing fresh milk from their personal goats for drinking. Some of them even go as far as using the milk as an ingredient in skin care products. Awareness and ability to partake in such endeavors has almost become a lost craft. For those not familiar with the different breeds of dairy goats this article should enlighten you about the various breeds and variation among the breeds. Dairy breeds include Alpine, La Mancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable and Toggenburg, as well as the increasingly popular Nigerian Dwarf.  Saanens are always solid white in color and tend to be very large framed. Oberhaslis and Toggenburgs tend to have similar colors and pattern markings. However, Alpines and Nubians vary in color and markings. People seem to recognize Nubians because they tend to have polka-dot markings, come in a variety of colors, have those long, droopy "beagle like" ears, and are large framed like the Saanens. Alpines come in a variety of colors, markings, can be one solid color, except white, and have upright ears. Most of the breeds with upright ears originated from the Swiss Alps area, while the droopy ear goats (Nubians) originated in Africa, and the LaMancha breed (known for its short stubby ears) was developed in the U.S. Once you see a LaMancha goat you will never forget those "bizarre" ears. One might even question the authenticity of them as a goat. Then there is the butterfat content and varying milk flavor of the different breeds. Just like a grocery store carries whole, 2% and skim milk based on butterfat content, the same applies to the different breeds of goats and their milk. Nubians and Toggenburgs tend to give milk high in butterfat (think of whole milk), Alpines give milk having a medium butterfat content (imagine 2% milk) and Saanens give milk low in butterfat (consider skim milk). Hay and feed types as well as nutrient intake may affect the butterfat content of goat milk. Overall, goat milk is about 4% butterfat. So, what can one do with goat milk? If a dairy operation is a licensed grade A dairy with the right equipment, it can bottle and sell the goat milk, use the milk to make cheese, fudge or ice cream to sell. All this is based on meeting legal requirements including health department regulations. Without being a licensed dairy one is very limited in what they can do with the milk. It can be used as an ingredient in skin care products like goat milk soap and lotion. Some people sell the raw milk as a food supplement for young puppies, cats, etc. However, it must be labeled as pet-grade milk. This is rather a risky endeavor (and one I cannot recommend) as it "skirts" the issue of being legal if not used for its labeled purpose! Some dairy goat owners feed the raw milk to feeder pigs or calves, which they claim makes for very tender, flavorful pork or beef. Many meat goat producers are learning if they save and freeze the milk from dairy goats, it can be utilized to feed orphan goats in place of milk replacer. And, dairy goat colostrum (the yellow milk from the first few days of production) can be used to feed newborn goats who may have been abandoned by their new mothers. The colostrum from dairy goats offers the same antibodies for orphan meat goats. Dairy goats can be exhibited in dairy goat shows, just like other types of livestock. Now you have been fully versed on the virtues of dairy goats, you should have a greater appreciation for dairy goats as a multipurpose animal and a viable animal for nontraditional livestock production with built-in value-added features. Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence, Alabama.