Guest Post: Dairy Goats – the Animal Husbandry Side

Since learning that mini-dairy goats fall under the same city guidelines as dogs I’ve had a serious hankering for home dairy. It’s on my list but for now I’m living vicariously through some other amazing women who have taken the plunge. My friend Sarah (mother, urban gardener, maker of cardboard solar ovens, chicken, honey bee and dairy goat owner) has recently helped her dairy goat kid and has written this guest post to share with us. Caution – graphic photos below! But life is graphic so buck up.

Guest Blog: The baby goats

When you don’t live closely with animals, you forget how their cycles are connected with the food they produce for us. People who learn that I have chickens often assume that a rooster is needed for the hens to lay eggs. This would make sense, but it is not the case. Hens produce unfertilized eggs without a mate; although no egg produced without a rooster could hatch.

Similarly, people who learn that I have goats will often ask questions that lead me to think that they have forgotten, or never put together, the connection between reproduction and milk.

To have a doe goat (or a cow or sheep) come into milk, she must be bred and produce offspring. Milk is made for the baby, but through breeding, ample food and daily milking, we have developed animals that will continue to produce milk long after their babies have stopped needing it.

Gloria, the Glory Goat, is our milker. She got her name because she is a bit of a prima donna. If I go out to check on another animal, she thinks I’m there for her. If she hears me talking on the phone, she starts bleating like she is part of the conversation. She doesn’t like corn, and like my eight year old son, she hates for different kinds of food to be touching each other.

Gloria’s pregnancy was fairly typical. We brought her to a breeder that specialized in milk production goats of her breed, the Oberhasli. She met her guy, and fifteen minutes later she was on the way back home, pregnant. Goats gestate for about 150 days, and we had May 24 marked on our calendar but she was a couple of days later. Near the end I had a lot of empathy for her. The weight of the kids is carried in the lower half of the abdomen, and put a lot of pressure on her back legs and feet. Add to that the weight of her gradually filling udder, and you have a very uncomfortable goat.

About a week before her due date, we separated Gloria from the other goats. We wanted her to be able to kid in privacy, and we also had some anxiety about the goats harming her babies. Further, we needed a clean spot where the kids would not be introduced to any parasites the herd might carry. We treat our goats for worms and other parasites, but this is never a guarantee that they are fully eliminated, and the newborns need time to develop a tolerance to them.
As I mentioned, I have an 8 year old, Noah. I wasn’t sure what he would think of the actual birthing process. We discussed it and looked at some pictures, but the real thing is notoriously more intense than anything you could imagine in conversation. Still, Noah signed up as photographer. That is why he’s not in any of the pictures.

Around 8:00 pm on the 26th, Gloria began to show signs of early labor. She had some discharge and was making little sounds like those a mother animal might make to babies. Most of all she was restless, pacing around her enclosure after days of being very mellow.

At 8:30, she started having serious contractions. Noah and I sang to her. Mostly the Star Spangled Banner, because Noah is trying to learn the words, and it seemed to calm her. With each series of contractions, we could see the bag of water with the little goat’s feet in it. Eventually, the hooves and nose emerged. Noah said “pull it out, Mom” and I explained that if I needed to I would help but Gloria seemed to be doing great.

A few minutes later, brother goat was born. He’s the tan and black one. Once he was out, the licking instinct took over Gloria. It was incredible – I had never seen anything quite like it and the books didn’t prepare me for how passionate she was about licking. She started licking the baby until he could breathe. She lapped up the afterbirth. Back to licking the baby, even as sister goat was being pushed out. Licked sister. Licked both babies. Licked my hair, started going for Noah and the camera. The licking instinct went on for hours; she was still doing it when we said goodnight to her after 11:30.

One other thing the books did not tell me was what the afterbirth looked like. It is scary – a red sack with veins on it. I briefly thought – what if it’s part of Gloria’s insides? But her calm demeanor and lack of stress reassured me, and eventually the afterbirth was delivered.

Once the babies were cleared of mucus, we helped them find the teats. They knew what they were supposed to do, they just didn’t know where. But once they got a good shot of milk, they learned fast. When we knew they could stand well, find the milk, and when we had treated their navels with iodine to prevent infection, there wasn’t much left to do but admire.

Gloria drank nearly a gallon of warm water and ate a bit of oatmeal. Hardly a glamorous feast after such an undertaking, but she seemed happy with her family and ready to go.

In the next few days we will let Gloria nurse her babies, and only milk her if she seems to be overproducing. As the babies get bigger, we can start milking Gloria once a day and let the babies have the rest of the milk, until eventually we will be milking her twice and they will become weaned. This worked for us before, although if we wanted the most possible milk, we would separate her from the kids, milk her and then bottle feed the kids. For us, that is too much intervention.

This is Sarah’s answer in response to me asking how frequently you need to breed goats in order to stay in milk:

A typical goat lactation cycle starts out with kidding and goes until about 2 months before she kids again. So traditionally goats were bred yearly, and dried up naturally or by design as their pregnancy became heavy.

That said, a lot of people who keep goats for home dairy will milk them for 2 years between kids. Or I milked Jeannette for 3 years. Less milk, but I’m not a dairy and I appreciated her never going dry. She had fairly mellow heat seasons, so it was no big deal. Gloria is a diva during her heats, and was clearly drying up, so in her case breeding her was the way to keep the milk coming.

I’ve heard that the heavier milkers (like Gloria) are more cyclical, while those with less output may be able to sustain the supply longer. A sort of slow and steady thing.

13 Responses to Guest Post: Dairy Goats – the Animal Husbandry Side

  1. omg. i totally want goats.

  2. I’ve always wanted goats. We have an acre, our city requires 10 acres for chickens (rgh!), so no chickens. I’m encouraged by the mini-goat classification – I’ll have to see what they say!

  3. This brings back so many memories of late night deliveries of foals. We raised horses for many many years and this process is exactly the same for broodmares other than they most often lay down and go all stiff legged during delivery which can scare a newcomer to the whole process!

    Sarah and her family did a fine job of caring for the mom to be before, during, and after the delivery.

    I absolutely adore goats and would love to keep a dairy goat. However, our property really just does not have adequate room so for now I will enjoy reading about other’s adventures in goat animal husbandry.

  4. I love my Oberhasli dairy goat and having fresh milk is great! They really are a very easy animal to care for and great for families who want milk but don’t have the space for a cow!

  5. We have two very sweet goats that provide us with all the milk we want, plus some for friends who prefer it. It’s absolutely delicious, and totally worth the effort. :) If you can get the dwarf goats, I say go for it… We’re thinking about adding a Nigerian dwarf to our “herd” – should be fun!

  6. Joy that is insane – what city do you live in?

  7. tehehe. this farm girl has to laugh at you city kids’ reactions to kidding. perhaps I could be an urban veterinary midwife. :D

  8. Tonya, no online laughing allowed. This is not a humor column. ;p

  9. I’m in Mequon, a suburb north of Milwaukee. The irony is a horse is allowed on 1.5 acres. I think they’re trying to separate the farms from the residential. Another suburb just south of us, Shorewood, recently changed to allow chickens, so I’m hoping to look into what they did.

  10. Good luck Joy, that is ridiculous. Maybe if you get enough folks together to sign a petition and keep the allowed number of birds down it would pass. In Seattle anyone can have 3 but they are thinking about raising it to 8 which means Thanksgiving turkey for us…

  11. interesting. what do you do when you have two goats and your doe has two kids?

  12. Hi Brian, you can keep the kids until they get bigger and then you need to sell them or some people butcher and eat them just as you would any other pastured animal on a farm. Even on dairy farms they sharpen their pencils and crunch numbers because at the end of the day you can’t afford to feed animals that don’t fit in with the production plan, just as you wouldn’t continue to plant more crops than you can command money for.

  13. Great interview/article! Sarah has some of the prettiest, healthiest urban goats I’ve ever seen.

    Worth a mention ~ I’m currently enjoying the heck out of Jennie Grant’s new book, City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping. Even if you don’t keep goats, the book features great dry humor as well as a look at some of our assumptions about pets versus farm animals. Amazon carries it in paperback.

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