Milk a dairy goat twice a day for good-quality production.
Milking goats is time consuming, so before purchasing dairy goats it’s good to know what you’re getting into. For good-quality production, dairy goats should be milked twice per day, 12 hours apart. The milking activity will take 12 to 15 minutes per doe, plus milk preparation time.
To prepare a goat for milking, you need to clean the teat with a dry paper towel to remove loose dry dirt and feces, dip the teat in an antiseptic-based teat dip, allow the dip to stay on the teats for no less than three minutes, and dry each teat following the dip with a clean paper towel. Next, look for lumps and clumps in the milk by stripping three squirts from each teat into a strip cup. Do a strip test to check for abnormalities in the milk. If all is clear, milk her out, dip the teat again, and allow it to dry. This will provide a 12-hour protection from infection.
In addition to the time it takes to milk goats, you have to consider the management effort. Providing the right nutrition for your lactating doe means quality hay or pasture and a good grain supplement of 16 to 18 percent crude protein twice per day for a total daily intake of about 2½ to 3 percent of the doe’s body weight, depending on its body condition. For example, a 200-pound doe needs about 5 pounds of concentrate and high-quality hay. Overfeeding hay, however, can reduce concentrate intake, which is needed more than hay during lactation. You can feed the concentrate at both milkings.
Many dairy goat producers do not allow nursing. They remove the kids at birth and bottle-feed them, first with the doe’s colostrum and then with her milk for 10 to 14 days while transitioning them to milk replacer. The colostrum is heat treated (133 degrees F for one hour) to avoid infecting doe kids with caprine arthritis-encephalitis; at the same time, heating the colostrum negatively impacts the efficacy of providing passive immunity to the kid.
If you decide milking isn’t for you after all, dry off the doe slowly by reducing the concentrate to nothing over seven to 10 days. On the day concentrate feeding ends, reduce its water intake for 24 to 36 hours to significantly reduce milk production. Then put the doe on a lesser-quality grass hay or pasture and water only. If she doesn’t start to dry up, reduce the hay and restrict water availability for a few days. The doe may walk the fence line, bleat and look uncomfortable, but if you feel sorry for it and milk it, the doe will take longer to dry up. It’s the pressure that builds up in the teats that stops the lactation, and that’s very important.
If you’re trying to dry off the doe in the spring and there’s lots of green growth in the pasture, follow the same routine, but put her in a dry lot with no grazing. Does will usually dry up in six to 12 days.
If you’re making cheese with the milk, it’s important to note that the somatic cell count in goats’ milk shoots up higher than 1½ million cells per milliliter at the end of lactation and during the heat cycle. A high somatic cell count isn’t good for cheese making. Also, an enzyme that reduces the milk’s ability to coagulate for cheese making is released during this time.
—Terry Hutchens, cooperative extension goat specialist and head of sheep and goat production at the University of Kentucky
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2011 Hobby Farms.
About the Authors: Sharon Biggs Waller is an award-winning writer and author of Advanced English Riding (BowTie Press, 2007). She lives on a 10-acre hobby farm in northwest Indiana with her husband, Mark, 75 chickens, two Lamancha goats, two horses, and an assortment of cats and dogs. Dr. Lyle G. McNeal is a livestock specialist in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences at Utah State University.