Goat milk is a popular dairy alternative because of its unique taste and perceived health benefits. Often, people who are allergic to cow’s milk can drink goat milk, according to Penn State Extension. Hobby farmers who raise dairy goats can use the milk for drinking and to make ice cream, soap and more.
The average dairy goat lactates for 284 days while some can produce milk for up to 305 days after kidding, according to Kelly Fry a dairy goat farmer in Northern Indiana. She is also the Chairman of the Dairy Goat committee for Purdue University Extension.
Genetics, age, breed and the number of lactations influence how much milk a doe produces. While a farmer cannot control all of those factors, management practices can help dairy goats achieve maximum production. For example, goats should be milked on 12 hour intervals, either by hand or with a two-cup milking machine.
Fry recommends using these five strategies to maximize the lactation cycle of your dairy goat.
1. Udder Cleanliness
Wash the doe’s udder before milking to prevent pathogens from entering the teat.
Some hobby farmers use a soap and bleach mix to remove manure, mud and bacteria. Others use baby wipes. A pre- and post-milking teat dip are also effective for reducing infections known as mastitis.
“Most people use iodine. There is a blue teat dip and a pink teat dip,” Fry said. “We use a powdered dip year round so it does not crack or freeze in the winter.”
2. A Balanced Diet
Good nutrition is important for maintaining milk production.
Kidding zaps a doe’s energy, and it takes about a month for her to get back into shape. Increasing the feed ration ensures she is getting enough energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Fry recommends feeding a higher protein feed, between 14- 16 percent, along with a good-quality grass/alfalfa mix hay during lactation.
“I only give grain when the goats are on the stand so I know how much they are eating,” she said.
Additional minerals and nutrients may be necessary in some parts of the country.
Fry says that a goat that gets skinny despite having adequate grain and hay rations may be suffering from a selenium deficiency. Selenium is important for bone and muscle development, so hobby farmers in areas lacking this mineral typically give a BoSe booster shot, which includes vitamin E and selenium.
“Some people give copper pellets,” Fry said. “I don’t because I’m a little leery about doing so. Instead we have a salt block available.”
Copper is necessary for important body functions, including lactation, but excess amounts get stuck in the liver rather than being excreted by the goat. Over time too much copper in the system can destroy liver tissue and lead to death.
Much of the time, soils and forages contain enough copper for proper function. Working with a veterinarian to determine a deficiency is key.
4. Watch for Worms
Goats eat what their body demands. Fry warns that if your goats are chewing on tree bark—especially pine—then it is time to check for worms.
“We worm as needed to avoid resistance,” she said. “We rotate wormers every three years. Ask your vet what product they recommend.”
Keeping goats current on their vaccines is also important. The vaccine commonly known as “CDT” or “CD&T” (a vaccination for Clostridium perfringens type C + D) and a tetanus shot should be given annually.
5. Provide Shelter
Dairy goats do not need fancy shelters, but they do need a space that is well-ventilated while giving them a place to escape the elements.
Bringing goats into a barn is a popular option for some. For others, a three-sided structure blocks the wind and offers protection from rain and snow.
Newborns can struggle to maintain natural body heat in the winter, so if you are expecting kids, providing a heat lamp or a stall in a barn is important.
Bedding also gives the animals a place to keep warm. Hobby farmers typically use one of two methods—regularly cleaning soiled bedding or employing a “deep litter” method where additional straw is added on top of existing straw. The composting of manure and urine creates heat.
“Keeping the bedding clean helps keep mastitis down,” she added.
Remember the Bottom Line
It is easy to treat goats like a household pet. However, Fry emphasizes the importance of remembering that dairy goats are production animals. Her family has their favorites, but best practices are always followed to maximize the lactation cycle of each goat.
“It costs just as much to feed a bad goat as it does a good one,” she said.