BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT GOATS
Perhaps your heart has been captured by the antics of baby goats at play, or your self-sufficient spirit has lead you on a course toward finding a family-friendly source of fresh milk, homemade cheese, and maybe some nontraditional meat products. Whatever the inspiration, this book assumes that you are interested in goats but does not assume that you know anything about them. A good place to start the journey is the very beginning, with some basic terms and facts.
Terms to Know
Female goats are called does or sometimes, if they're less than a year old, doelings. Males are bucks, or bucklings. Young goats are kids. In polite dairy goat company, they are never "nannies" or "billies," although you might hear these terms applied to meat goats. Correct terminology is important to those who are working to improve the image of the dairy goat. People who think of a "nanny goat" as a stupid and smelly beast that produces small amounts of vile milk will at least have to stop to consider the truth if she's called a doe instead.
Goat Myths and Truths
Over the many centuries and generations that goats have been humankind's companions and useful domesticated stock, myths have been passed along that have their origins in goat behavior and characteristics. As myths tend to be, however, these are exaggerated truths or downright fiction.
The Truth about Goat Aroma
Does are not smelly, they are not mean, and of course they don't eat tin cans. They are dainty, fastidious about where they walk and what they eat, intelligent (smarter than dogs, some scientists tell us), friendly, and a great deal of fun to have around.
Bucks have two major scent glands located between and just to the rear of the horns or horn knobs and minor ones in the neck region. Bucks do smell, but the does think it's great, and some goat raisers don't mind it either. The odor is strongest during the breeding season, which usually runs from September to about January. The scent glands can be removed, although some authorities frown on the practice because a descented buck can be less efficient at detecting and stimulating estrus and will still have enough of an odor to be mildly offensive.
Still, even if they don't stink, bucks have habits that make them less than ideal family pets. For instance, they urinate all over their front legs and beards or faces. This is natural, but it tends to turn some people off.
In most cases the home dairy won't even have a buck (see chapter 9), so you can keep goats even if you have neighbors or if your barn is fairly close to the house, and no one will be overpowered by goat aroma.
Livestock or Pets?
One of the challenges of goat public relations is that everyone seems to have had a goat in the past or knows someone who did. Most of them were pets, and that's where the trouble lies.
A goat is not much bigger than a large dog (average weight for a doe is less than 150 pounds [68 kg]), is no harder to handle, and does make a good pet. But a goat is not a dog. People who treat it like one are asking for trouble, and when they get rid of the poor beast in disgust, they bring trouble down on all goats and all goat lovers. If the goat "eats" the clothes off the line or nips off the rosebushes or the pine trees, strips the bark off young fruit trees, jumps on cars, butts people, or tries to climb in a lap when it is no longer a cute little kid, it's not the goat's fault but the owner's.
Goats are livestock. Would you let a cow or a pig roam free and then damn the whole species when one got into trouble? Would you condemn all dogs if one is vicious because it was chained, beaten, and teased? Children can have fun playing with goats, but when they "teach" a young kid to butt people and that kid grows up to be a 200-pound (90 kg) male who still wants to play, there's bound to be trouble. Likewise, a mistreated animal of any species isn't likely to have a docile disposition.
Because goats are livestock, and more specifically dairy animals, they must be treated as such. That means not only proper housing and feed but also strict attention to and regularity of care. If you can't or won't want to milk at 12-hour intervals, even when you're tired or under the weather; if the thought of staying home weekends and vacations depresses you and you can't count on the help of a friend or neighbor, then don't even consider raising goats. The rewards of goat raising are great and varied, but you don't get rewards without working for them.
Goats Eat Everything, Don't They?
The goat (Capra hircus) is related to the deer — not to dogs, cats, or even cows. It is a browser rather than a grazer, which means it would rather reach up than down for food. The goat also craves variety. Couple all that with its natural curiosity, and nothing is safe from at least a trial taste. Lacking fingers, goats use their lips and tongues to investigate their world like an infant stuck in the oral stage. Anything hanging, like clothes on a wash line, is just too much for a goat's natural instincts to resist.
Rosebushes and pine trees are high in vitamin C, and goats love them. Leaves, branches, and the bark of young trees are a natural part of the goat's diet in the wild. If you expect them to mind their manners when faced with the chance of a garden smorgasbord, of course you'll have problems! But don't blame the goat.
Goats are not lawn mowers. Most of them won't eat lawn grass, unless starved to it, and they won't produce much milk on it.
Goats eat tin cans? Of course not. But they'll eat (or at least taste) the paper and glue on tin cans, which is what probably started the myth. Goats can be raised in a relatively small area. If there are no zoning regulations restricting livestock, dairy goats can be (and are) raised even on average-size lots in town.
A Little History
Goats have been humanity's companions and benefactors throughout recorded history — and even before. There is evidence that goats were among the first, some say the first, animals to be domesticated by humans, perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago. They provided meat, milk, skins, and undoubtedly entertainment and companionship.
Wild goats originated in Persia and Asia Minor (Capra aegagrus), the Mediterranean basin (Capra prisca), and the Himalayas (Capra falconeri). There were domesticated goats (Capra hircus) in Switzerland by the middle period of the Stone Age, and the first livestock registry in the world was organized in Switzerland in the 1600s — for goats.
Early explorers and voyagers distributed goats around the world, often carrying them on board ships as a source of milk and meat. There were goats, for example, aboard the Mayflower on its famous voyage to America in 1620, and British explorer Captain James Cook has become infamous in New Zealand and other South Pacific islands for dropping goats on dry land along his route. They were supposed to be emergency food in the event of subsequent shipwrecks.
As a consequence, goats spread to most parts of the world and ended up on shores far from home. Many returned to their feral state in their new homes, but today many more are in domesticated settings. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates there are nearly 994 million goats in the world, and the number is increasing at a rate of 2.4 percent a year.
In Europe, goats provided more milk than cows did until well after the Middle Ages. With the growth of modern cow dairies in densely populated countries, it is hard to say where goat milk consumption stands in the world today, but the FAO lists China as first in goat milk production and India as second. Goats are certainly more common in less fertile, more arid, or developing countries than they are in the United States and Canada, because they're more efficient animals than cattle in their ability to convert plants into more valuable animal protein. Although goats are more labor intensive than cattle, this is of small concern in backyard dairies and nonindustrialized countries, and of no concern at all where there isn't enough feed for cattle to do well or where a cow would produce more milk than a family could use.
Breeds of Goats
While all domestic goats have descended from a common parentage, there are many breeds, or subdivisions of the species, throughout the world — more than 80. Only a few of these are found in the United States.
Goat breeds are classified according to their main purpose: that is, meat, mohair, or milk. In this book, we concentrate on the goats that have been bred for milk production, although in most respects care is the same for all.
Bear in mind that many, perhaps most, American goats are not purebreds: they are mixed and can't be identified as belonging to any particular breed. If these are fairly decent animals, they're usually referred to as "grades"; if not, most people call them "scrubs."
The French Alpine originated in the Alps and arrived in the United States in 1920, imported by Dr. C. P. DeLangle. The color of Alpines varies greatly and can range from solid shades to a variety of patterns. Often one animal displays several colors and shades. Plain white and the fawn and white markings of a Toggenburg are discriminated against.
There are recognized color patterns, such as the cou blanc (French for "white neck"). This goat has a white neck and shoulders, which shade gradually through silver gray to a glossy black on the hindquarters, and gray or black head markings. Another color pattern, the chamoisée, can be tan, red, bay, or brown, with black markings on the head, a black stripe down the back, and black stripes on the hind legs. The sundgau has black and white markings on the face and underside. The pied is spotted or mottled; the cou clair has tan to white front quarters shading to gray, with black hindquarters; and the cou noir has black front quarters and white hindquarters.
According to the American Dairy Goat Association, Alpines average 2,548 pounds (1,156 kg) of milk a year, with 3.2 percent butterfat. The record is 6,990 pounds (3,171 kg).
You might also hear of British Alpines, Rock Alpines (named not because they like to climb on rocks any more than other goats do but because they were developed in America by Mary Edna Rock), and Swiss Alpines.
The stereotypical Alpine is pushy in a herd setting, will do anything for food, and is a little hyperactive. As with all stereotypes, this is a broad generalization, and there are many that don't fit that picture.
The LaMancha is a distinctly American breed. There's no mistaking a LaMancha: it looks as though it has no ears!
During the 1930s, Eula F. Frey of Oregon crossed some short-eared goats of unknown origin with her top line of Swiss and Nubian bucks. The result was the LaMancha.
If you show LaManchas at the county fair, you'll have to put up with many exclamations of "What happened to the ears!?" Some people who are somewhat more knowledgeable about livestock will accuse you of allowing the animals' ears to freeze off. Even worse, you might be accused of cutting them off. But you don't milk the ears, LaMancha backers say. These goats have excellent dairy temperament, and they're very productive. A good average is 2,323 pounds (1,054 kg) of milk, with 3.7 percent butterfat.
If LaManchas have a personality quirk, it is that they tend to be the uncontested herd queens when put in with other breeds. One way goats create a pecking order is by nipping ears, so LaManchas can sit back and watch the others jostle for position. Although they can hear perfectly well, they are like teenagers — they play deaf when it suits them.
Although these miniature dairy goats have been considered more of a novelty than true dairy animals for many years, the American Dairy Goat Association officially recognized this breed for their registry in 2005. Introduced in the early 1980s, when they were seen mostly in zoos, some of these little imports are excellent milkers for their size. As more serious breeders continue to develop them, their milk production is constantly increasing. What's more, they are considered dual-purpose animals, providing both milk and meat. Consequently, this breed is of particular interest to the backyard or small farmer.
The Nigerian Dwarf was the breed chosen for the Biosphere 2 experiment, in which eight people spent 2 years (from 1991 to 1993) sealed inside a self-contained, mostly self-sufficient dome in Arizona, along with 3,500 plant and animal species and no outside supplies or support except electricity. Biosphere 2 was designed as a space-colony model, though ecological research became the primary, scientific goal. At any rate, future space travelers might be milking Nigerian Dwarfs!
One Nigerian Dwarf doe gave a whopping 6.3 pounds (2.9 kg) of milk on test day, and another had 11.3 percent butterfat. A well-bred and well-managed Nigerian can be expected to produce an average of a quart (1 L) a day over a 305-day lactation. Many of these good producers have teats as large as those of the full-size breeds and are milked just as easily.
Nigerian Dwarf conformation is similar to that of the larger dairy breeds. All parts of the body are in balanced proportion. The nose is straight, ears are upright, and any color or combination is acceptable. Does can be no more than 22? inches (57 cm) tall; bucks no more than 23? inches (60 cm) tall. Weight should be about 75 pounds (35 kg). Being oversize for the breed standard is a disqualification in a goat show, as are a curly coat, a Roman nose, pendulous ears, and evidence of myotonia (a muscle condition characteristic of "fainting" goats).
Nigerian Dwarfs offer several advantages to the home dairy. Three Dwarfs can be kept in the space needed by one standard goat, so with staggered breedings a year-round milk supply is easier to achieve. This is enhanced by the Dwarf's propensity to breed year-round (compare this with seasonal breeding, discussed in chapter 10). These small goats can be kept on places that might not have room for larger animals. Also, for some people, a regular goat will produce too much milk, while the Dwarf's quart-or-so a day is just fine. And the smaller animal is obviously easier to handle and transport, an attribute that many folks find especially appealing.
One potential disadvantage: many people still regard Nigerian Dwarfs as pets. If you purchase one from someone other than a dairy breeder, chances are the goat does not come from a line that has been upgraded and bred for milk production. She may not give enough milk to make it worth a trip to the barn, and if she has never been bred, she may have physiological problems that prohibit her from being bred in the future. Animals like this are not ideal choices for the home dairy.
The most popular pure breed in America is the Nubian. Nubians can be any color or color pattern, but they're easily recognized by their long drooping ears and Roman noses. Unfortunately for people who like peace and quiet, that nose acts like the bell of a horn. Nubians are noted for loud voices, a tendency to stubbornness, and an unqualified dislike of rain, but the babies are so darned cute it's easy to overlook the personality flaws.
It's commonly said that the Nubian originated in Africa, but technically, the genealogy is a bit more complicated. From Africa, the Nubian made a stop along the way in its journey to the United States. Our Nubians are descendants of the Anglo-Nubian, which resulted from crossing native English goats with lop-eared breeds from Africa and India. The first three Nubians arrived in this country in 1909, imported by Dr. R. J. Gregg of Lakeside, California. The thicker-bodied African genetics still show up in many herds in the United States. People looking for a dual-purpose animal that will maximize meat production probably want the thicker neck, shoulders, and loin, but those wanting higher milk production will prefer the more refined and angular variety.
The Nubian is often compared with the Jersey of the cow world. The average Nubian produces less milk than the average goat of any other breed, but the average butterfat content is higher. This is a good breed for cheesemakers; not so good for dieters.
Averages can be misleading, though. While the average production for a purebred Nubian is about 1,920 pounds (871 kg) of milk in 305 days with 93 pounds (42 kg) or 4.8 percent of butterfat, the top Nubian recorded by the American Dairy Goat Association produced 6,416 pounds (2,910 kg) of milk and 309 pounds (140 kg) of butterfat in 305 days. That's 802 gallons (3,036 L) of milk in 10 months.