Art of Proprietation

Monday, December 06, 2010

What I like about goats

We've been keeping goats for coming up on four years now. I don't consider myself an authority on goats, but I have had a chance to learn if I like them.

I got goats because I wanted a secure source of milk that I confidence in. I chose goats over cows milk because I liked the human scale of goats. A typical milking doe weighs in at 120 - 200 lbs. As a friend of mine is want to say, "When a cow kicks you, you stay kicked". There's also the issue of goat tough. Building to the international standard "goat tough" is a lot cheaper than building for "cow tough" certifiaction. It didn't hurt that I was offered a Saanen doe that I was sure of to get started with. Saanens are a large breed dairy goat and I knew the doe I was getting was a good producer because I had been milking her for close to a year at a friend's.

I find goats to have personalities similar to dogs. Friendly dogs. They seek human attention and are easy to train to routines. They can be skittish, but not hard win back over.

I have had challenges in keeping goats. I started from scratch, I didn't have any fencing or housing, I didn't even have that much grass. I chose to go with a high tension smooth wire fencing for their first paddock. While that might be handy for training a new goat to electric fence, but I now think those five wires are over kill. I have been quite successful keeping them behind three flimsy poly wires strands for most of the season. I am trying to do rotational grazing, something I am growing into. Since my first season, I have continuously expanded our pasture areas and I am able to feed them for about six months a year on pasture. For the remainder of the year, I have to buy in hay. The steady expansion of our pastures means that even though we have grown from two animals to 7, our hay costs have been pretty steady. I do face a dilemma about grain though. I haven't found a ready source of organic that I feel I can afford, so I am using a conventional grain to supplement the hay for milking animals. For housing, I didn't want to have something permanent. I didn't want to have lazy barn goats or the parasites and health problems go with them. I have found that goats do just fine in our cold snowy winters with three sided stock panel structures. And there are enough health risks to worry about, making sure the goats have access to minerals, don't carry a heavy parasite load and don't succumb to something like Johnnes or CAE. As big as anything is the daily grind of milking. My wife or I have to milk goats everyday if we are going to keep the goats in production. Because of that, we have only been away overnight together once since we got goats. My final challenge is breeding. I have found only one other Saanen breeder in my area. For some complicated reasons I have chosen to stick with purebred goats, but I am not a big enough operation to carry a buck for breeding. For the time being, I am lucky the one farm close enough is willing to provide stud service for us.

So, after all that, why would I keep goats? Primarily Daily milk. Before I got goats, I was buying three or four gallons of milk each week. I consume a lot of milk, it's an important part of my diet and always has been. Now that I have goats, I also have milk to make cheese with. On a weekly basis, I make chevre, my wife makes a nice mozzarella and quaso blanco. And this year I have started making a Gouda. There is also meat, an inevitable by product of lactation. We can't keep all the offspring created by freshening our goats for milk. Bucklings just don't have much use, and there will come a time when we can't keep all the doelings. On farm slaughter has meant that we also get a small amount of meat from our goats. Then there is the compost. Sure, everybody poops, but not every bodies poop is equal. Goat poop is ready to go from day one. It is nearly perfectly balanced Nitrogen Carbon. And with brush control like goats, I doubt I'll ever need to put a rear mower behind my tractor. Goats clear out many aggressive species like sumac and raspberry. And they love Japanese knot weed and honeysuckle.

I enjoy my goats. They are affectionate and likeable. I enjoy the work and the fruits of my labor. Even early morning milkings in the field are pleasant. There is something refreshing about a goat latte right from the teat on a crisp morning before the mist has cleared.

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