Starting a goat dairy requires a meaningful investment in equipment and facilities so you can produce milk at a large enough scale to break even, let alone provide a small income. Although you’ll need to research barn space and feeding systems before beginning your venture, in this article I’ll focus on what you need for the milking parlor (where the goats are milked) and the milk room (where the milk is chilled and processed), with some tips for transportation.
Each state has their own raw-milk production laws and dairy licensing systems, so know what is required in your state before setting up shop. All licensed dairies need to conform to 3A Standards and all plans and equipment should be approved by local inspectors. The last thing you want to do is buy all your equipment only to find it’s unacceptable to the inspector! With all that in mind, here are some critical pieces of equipment that you will need. Take your time researching each of them and consult with professionals before making a purchase.
1. Milking Stanchion
Whether you’re milking one goat or 100, you’ll need a milking stanchion. Depending on the size of your milking area, you might want a large platform with multiple head gates to accommodate more than one goat at a time. If you are a raw-milk dairy, you can most likely use a homemade wooden stand. As a licensed dairy, wooden stands won’t be approved.
On my farm, Little Seed Farm, where we keep 16 goats, we milk four goats at a time on an 8-by-4-foot wooden stand with four homemade wooden head gates, and cycle through four rounds of goats. With multiple people milking, you may be able to handle a larger platform with more goats. Very large dairies have rotating stands, similar to a goat carousel. YouTube has some great videos of larger goat dairies and their milking stanchions.
2. Udder Care and Sanitation Products
One of the most important aspects of operating a dairy is following all the proper sanitation procedures. Once the goat is on the stand, you’ll want to use a “pre-dip” wash on the udder prior to milking; we use a diluted iodine solution. After milking, “post-dip”wash is recommended to help prevent mastitis. We prefer a brand called Fight Bac as our post dip. With proper care of the bedding area and the udder during milking, instances of mastitis can be kept to a minimum.
3. Milk Vacuum and Motor Assembly
If you milk five goats or fewer, milking by hand is more effective than by machine because assembling and cleaning the machines will actually take longer than the milking itself. Once you get above five goats, we found a milking machine to be absolutely necessary.
There are two primary milk vacuums, the older oil-based systems and the newer oil-less systems. When selecting a vacuum, consult a professional to determine the size and type of equipment to fit your budget. On a larger dairy, this will be one of the more important and complex decisions you’ll need to make.
4. Bucket or Pipeline Assembly
If you’re not hand-milking, you’ll use a bucket milking assembly or a pipeline system. In a bucket system, the machine milks directly into a bucket and is later strained into a pail for chilling. Pipeline systems move the milk directly from the udder to a chilling tank. Bucket systems are perfect for managing smaller amounts of milk, usually from 30 goats or less. Above that, a larger pipeline system will start to make more sense. This is another complex decision, and you’ll likely need to consult experts.
5. Milk Strainer
Before heading to the chilling tanks, milk needs to be strained to remove stray hairs, dust and other unwanted particles that end up in the milk during milking. Straining is critical to keeping bacteria away from the milk. If milking into a bucket or pail, pour the milk through a stainless-steel strainer. A 4-quart strainer suffices for a handful of goats, but beyond that, use a heavy-duty 11-quart or larger strainer.
6. Chilling System
After straining, chill milk to below 40 degrees F within an hour. On a small scale, straining into 1/2-gallon jars and placing in a freezer for an hour should do the trick. Before it freezes, move the milk to the refrigerator. Freezing milk disturbs the fat particles and will result in off-flavors.
On our farm, which is an uninspected raw-milk dairy, we use a chest freezer as a milk chiller. The milk is strained into 8-gallon stainless-steel buckets, which are placed inside a bin a full of water inside the freezer. We use a temperature regulator, which can befound at home-brewing supply stores, to keep the freezer at exactly 32 to 34 degrees F. Larger dairies use bulk tanks to chill the milk, which is a great option for bottling, as you can bottle directly from the bulk tank.
7. Bottling System
Once the milk is chilled, you’ll need a method for efficient bottling. Pouring milk quickly and efficiently becomes important once you have more than a handful of bottles to fill each day. Based on scale, various bottling options can make sense. A pump and a wand of some sort (if not a conveyor belt!) willspeed up bottling greatly.
8. Cleaning Station
All milking equipment needs to be cleaned and sanitized after use—this is an absolute must! Scrub each piece with a detergent and then soak in a sanitizer. Most dairy-supply companies will have the solutions and can give instructions for proper procedures. Keeping equipment clean will help avoid off-flavors and provide a greater assurance against bacterial growth in the milk.
9. Refrigerated Transport System
The final step is safely getting the milk to the endconsumer. All milk, whether raw or pasteurized, needs to be chilled along the way. Coolers full of ice (or dry ice) can suffice over short distances. Ideally, though, you’ll use a refrigerated truck or a refrigerator on a truck. Milk should be kept only slightly above freezing until delivered to the customer.
All equipment decisions eventually come down to personal preference and budget, so keep an open mind and plan ahead for expected growth. The best resource for starting a dairy is someone familiar with the requirements in the area. Equipment and product vendors are always helpful, and if state inspectors are involved, then you can rely heavily on their suggestions. At the end of the day, do a lot of your own research and don’t plan an aggressive timeframe. It will cost more and take longer than you think, no matter how well you plan. Trust us, we planned for over a year, and we weren’t even close!