Your Guide to Buying and Keeping Goats in Milk
Goat experts Katherine Drovdahl and Cheryl K. Smith offer valuable tips to avoid disaster and raise healthy, happy animals.
Questions about milk does from Kat’s Caprine Corner:
Is it unhealthy for a doe to not be milked every day?
Yes! She should be milked about every 12 hours until she is below half of her peak production; then you can milk every 24 hours. Skipping days is not advisable until you actually dry her up, as that will increase the likelihood that she could get mastitis.
When should I retire my doe from breeding and milking?
If my does are holding weight, walking well without lameness, and have good attitudes, then I continue to breed them no matter their age. I really don’t consider age as a factor; much more important is health and condition. Does that have been used for milking or caring for kids their whole lives do better emotionally if they continue these routines. As for milking, as long as the udders are held up with the udder base above the hocks and are healthy, they can be milked. On our farm, we like to dry our does off for the 60 days preceding kidding so that their bodies aren’t trying to feed the third semester, fast-growing kids while still producing milk.
I have wanted to have a few dairy goats for a while and now I have the property for it. Can you tell me what breed would be the best for me? I am interested in milk and cheese production for my family and maybe a little more.
I’m going to try to answer this question without playing any breed favorites. Choosing a dairy goat breed often depends on traits desired, availability, and economic circumstances. First, I would encourage you to visit farms with several breeds of goats and do some research on the different breeds. Write down some questions that are important to you (such as the above) and ask those, plus ask actual breeders what else they think is important to know about their chosen breed. You will find that all breeds are used successfully for milk and cheese. One factor important to me is the rolling average percentage of butterfat in the doe I am considering. This means that I have to find herds that are on DHIR (official milk testing) in order to access those types of records. For house milk and for goat milk products, I personally prefer 4 percent butterfat or better for higher quality taste. You can find individuals in any breed that meet the requirement and you will find individuals in every breed that won’t meet that. On the average though, the breeds that are more frequently used in that direction are LaManchas, Nigerian Dwarfs, and Nubians, as well as experimentals and miniatures crossed into one of those breeds. I have owned Toggenburgs that easily meet that requirement and a friend of mine has several Saanens that also meet that, so asking to see milk records might make the search more defined. I would for sure want to taste samples of milk from any goat before purchasing them. Each goat will have an individual taste to her milk, as does every cow. I would also want to make sure that goats I buy come from a CL-free farm, CAE-negative with recent testing, and Johne’s-free. Please search the internet and learn much more about these three conditions. You do not want to bring them home as they are management headaches. Breeders of quality dairy goats can be found online at www.adga.org.
Why do most people prefer to remove horns on dairy goats?
For those that show their dairy goats, it is a disqualification to have horns. Before you panic, listen to the reasoning for that requirement. Dairy goats tend to be quite active and also usually enjoy being around their owners. At some point, I would be expecting a face or eye injury if I had horned goats, just because they are so busy and readily “in my face” for attention. Those that have had horned goats usually also find that the goats know how to use them with each other or even people if they are annoyed, creating management problems and again potential safety issues for herdmates and humans. I have also personally known of two cases where horns allowed goats to be taken by dogs when they got their heads stuck through the fence, leaving them defenseless. Getting caught in feeders and trying to deal with horns in milk stands can also be problematic. In domestic situations, it’s simply safer for them and us to not have to deal with the horns.
My schedule is crazy. Can I just milk my does once per day?
Maybe. Some people make that work well by leaving the kids on the does full time for about the first two weeks of the kids’ age. Then they start locking the kids in a pen together at night, away from the does, and take some of the morning milk for themselves. This way, the does are still not going over 12 hours with milk in their udders. For those that want to still hand-raise their kids but not milk twice per day, I suggest you wait until your doe is below half of her peak production. For example, if she is milking 12 pounds per day at peak, then her udder is used to about six pounds of milk being in that udder when she is full. Once she drops to around six pounds per day, you should be able to safely drop her to once-per-day milking without creating too much pressure in her udder. Just note that her milk will probably decrease at a faster rate once you go to one-time-per-day milkings. Still try to milk her about the same time each day, so she doesn’t have more than 24 hours of milk in her. Some people will drop their does down to once-a-day milkings sooner than that, but after the does are a month or so past peak lactation. To do that, you would gradually stretch the milkings out so that she would have 13 or 14 hours of milk in her before you milk her out and gradually increase the time interval between milkings. The herbs peppermint and parsley will also help you decrease her production when added to her diet. Fir Meadow also has a DriMamm herb mix if you want an already made blend.
Do I have to milk my goats out all the way each time I milk them?
First, let me define what “all the way” means to me. You are not going to want to milk out every last drop as that will put too much strain on the teat tissue, especially if you are milking by machine. You milk until the stream flow reduces to about 1/3 of the normal flow you see while milking your doe. If you want the most milk you can get from your doe, then you should milk her out all the way. This is what tells her pituitary gland that the kids are still hungry so, as long as she’s healthy and well fed, she’ll keep delivering milk on tap. If you decide to stop milking before the stream reduces, she will start backing off on her milk production. If you choose not to milk her out all the way that is ok, but be sure you are still sanitizing the teats before and after milking and monitoring udder health. If you are using your milk for human consumption then you should milk her out every milking.
How do I know if my goat is getting too full between milkings?
If you see that her udder and teats are tight, shiny, or red, then you have waited too long to milk and could be creating udder tissue or suspensory ligament damage. It may also cause your doe to leak milk to reduce the pressure in her udder. Mastitis-creating bacteria love to rush up the open orifices of leaking goats.
How do I know my goat is a good milker?
Here are some things I look for in a good milker. First I want my butterfat hitting at least 3.8 percent rolling average. This is because I want my milk to taste good and to have a good product yield if I’m making cheese. I also want a doe to have a great temperament. Fussing with uncooperative does on the milk stand is not my idea of a good time. As to milk quantity, I want my standard-sized yearlings to milk at least five pounds per day at peak, but I really like them milking in the seven to eight lb range at peak. I like my 2- or 3-year-olds to hit at least 10 lbs per day at peak and I want my older does peaking at least 12 lbs per day (but love 14 lbs or more when I can get it). The last thing I look for in a good milker is a long, slow lactation curve. This means that she moves into her peak lactation somewhere between two to four months after she freshens and then drops no more than one pound per month after that. Once the cold weather hits and they start going into heat cycles, it may decrease a bit faster than that. I want my goats to still be worth milking when I’m drying them off at about 10 months of production.
Which breeds do supernumeraries show up in?
Supernumeraries and other teat abnormalities can show up in any breed, due to the possibility of genetic inheritance or birth defects. Some breeds and some bloodlines have a larger predisposition toward these traits. Sometimes a teat abnormality (in this case, usually a spur attached to a teat) will not be visible or palpable by touch until they are older, which is why sometimes a vet, judge, or linear appraiser won’t catch one — it may not be visible or palpable yet. If purchasing or selling a kid or even an older goat, it is wise to recheck the teats to be sure they are just two clean teats.
Where is the escutcheon on a goat and why is it important?
The escutcheon (/əˈskəCHən/) arch in a goat is the pelvic arch below the tail and above the udder. In kids, when you lift them, it is the area that you can set your hand up into. An escutcheon may be an inverted V shape, an inverted U shape, or somewhere in between. Ideally, we would like the inverted U shape with a wide base. This allows for sufficient width for a wide rear udder, which ideally gives us more mammary for more milk production, along with a naturally occurring wide rear leg set to be able to comfortably walk around a wide udder. Because we want this wide arch in does for milk production, we also want them in our bucks, as we will be milking their daughters. It is amazing how many pinched, inverted V-shaped escutcheons are out there. An experienced breeder can start looking at the escutcheon arches within a couple of days of birth to see what they have in their kids for potential rear udder capacity.
Katherine and her beloved husband Jerry are managed by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications including Master of Herbology & lifelong creature experience give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her herb products & consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com.
Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP answers questions about natural goat health in Kat’s Caprine Corner, in each issue of Goat Journal. She and her beloved husband Jerry are owned by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications, including Master of Herbology and lifelong experience with creatures of many kinds, give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems.
Have a question for Kat’s Caprine Corner? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Homestead Goat: Buying the Right Goat
(Countryside Special Issue: Raising Small Animals)
By Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT Dip HIr QTP
So, you think you’d like to have a goat? Welcome to the club! No one knows for sure how many goats there are in this country, but there are many indications that goats are becoming very popular animals.
Buying a dairy goat that will suit your needs and expectations isn’t easy. You can’t just pick a goat off the shelf and, if you want a healthy and productive animal, you can’t use the pet-shop-puppy approach of taking the one with the happiest tail.
First, there are five common breeds of goats in the U.S., and most people have preference for one or another:
Nubian: The Nubian is the most popular. This goat is easily distinguished by its long, drooping ears and Roman nose. There is no set color or pattern. Nubians can range from white, through browns and reds, to black, and some have a combination of colors.
Saanen: Saanens (pronounced sah-nens) are all white (except for Sables), with prick ears that stand up and “dished” faces that are just the opposite of the Nubian Roman nose. Bearing in mind that averages can be misleading, on the average Saanens produce the most milk.
Toggenburg: Toggenburgs are another Swiss breed but they’re distinguished by their brown coloring and white face and rump markings.
Alpine: There are two types of Alpines, French and Swiss, but they’ve often been grouped together … and today the Swiss variety is called Oberhasli. Alpines have erect ears, but the color pattern varies widely, ranging from white to black, and often with several colors and shades on the same animal. For example, the Cou Blanc has a white neck and shoulders shading through silver grey to a glossy black on the hindquarters, with grey or black markings on the head. The Sundgau has black and white markings on the face and underneath the body.
LaMancha: The LaMancha is the newest recognized breed. They often attract a great deal of attention because of their unusual ears. Fairgoers are often heard to ask, “Why do you cut off their ears?” Answer: you don’t. That’s the way they come. They have elf ears, sometimes only a half-inch long, so it almost looks like they have no ears at all. LaManchas have proven to be excellent dairy animals, and most people who have them claim they’re the clowns of the goat world. They’re full of fun and personality.
Which Breed is Best?
If there were a “best” breed, there wouldn’t be any need for the others! You’ll just have to choose for yourself.
Actually, if there were only five breeds to choose from, it would be relatively easy. In reality, many, many goats are of mixed ancestry. In most cases, without papers, you can’t be sure of what you’re getting.
The only real proof of a milking goat’s worth is what she can put in the pail. You’ll want to buy your first goat from someone you feel you can trust. Tell them what you want and rely on their judgment and honesty.
Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP answers questions about natural goat health in Kat’s Caprine Corner, in each issue of Goat Journal.
The Udder Scoop on Goat Teats
By Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT Dip HIr QTP
Goat udders and goat nipples (correctly referred to as goat teats) come in all shapes, sizes, and sometimes with deformities. For all types of goat udders, wellness and structure are important for longevity, management, kid productivity, and rate of gain, and health factors.
Be sure to watch out for teat deformities. Goat teats should only be two in number; more than that are called supernumeraries. Many excess teats are inherited and some are because of toxins the kids were exposed to in utero. They may also have orifices that can leak or cause mastitis. Check any kid born on your farm, and any goat that you are considering purchasing, by inspecting with your eyes and also by feeling for two smooth-sided teats with a single orifice on each, ideally centered on the bottom of the teat as they can show up on the sides as well. If you are unable to inspect the goat yourself, have the veterinarian doing the CVI (Certificate of Veterinary Inspection) write his or her findings on the health certificate. You can also state on your purchase contract that the teats need to pass veterinarian inspection as being two and clean, with only one orifice each. You can also ask sellers for photos. If you can’t trust the seller to take correct photos, then you probably don’t want to purchase a goat from them! Fishtail-looking teats are called fish teats and can cause problems with nursing kids and milking. Teat spurs are a growth that shows up attached to a teat. If they have orifices, spurs will leak once the doe is in milk, making her prone to mastitis. Many of these teat problems can be genetic. I don’t purchase issues of this kind for production stock.
Pay attention to the size and diameter of goat teats. Keep in mind that a doe’s teats, before she freshens for the first time, are going to start at first freshener size. They will stretch over time, as the doe is in milk and fills them. I prefer teats in the 3- to 4-inch range where possible, for easy milking. Longer goat teats can be stepped on by the doe as she gets up, or get snagged on brush, and shorter ones are harder to milk. Be wary of teats on a kid that do not grow, which are referred to as “mouse teats.” If in doubt on size, compare them to teats on a few other kids. It’s a good idea to take photos and compare them every month, if you aren’t sure of their growth. Doe kids with “itty bitty titties” often are hermaphrodites that are missing ovaries and the hormones they produce, so the teats don’t grow. Some of them will act bucky when they get older, so they don’t always make good pet options either.
Goat udder capacity needs to produce enough milk to keep the kids well fed and provide additional milk for you, if they are dairy stock. Udders also need to be appropriate for goat size and type, and relative to the number of times freshened. The udder floor should always stay above the hocks, so it doesn’t get close to brush or get hit by the hocks, which will make it more prone to mastitis. The strength of the medial suspensory ligament that halves the udder will determine how low the udder will drop over time. The rear udder should also have skin down the sides of it, attaching it to the rear thigh so that it doesn’t swing when the doe walks but stays in place secure from bruising by the hocks. Goat udders that lack side attachments or are too low will become pendulous, which places it at high risk for mastitis. Even if you breed meat or fiber goats, this problem often reduces the amount of kids you can get from your doe in her lifetime. Once you have your fiber and meat traits dialed into your breeding program, do please consider mammary traits for your herd’s productivity. Udders can also twist. If the medial suspensory ligament is not attached in the center, it can cause an udder to twist. The other way for a goat udder to twist is for the pelvic frame to be too small to accommodate the udder capacity (size) of the doe. In that case, it will twist as the doe becomes full.
Pay attention to scar tissue indicating past injuries. If there is an abundance of scar tissue in the udder, it reduces the amount of tissue available for milk production. If it’s in the goat teats, it may cause problems milking or for nursing kids. Scar tissue takes a long time to correct, but using herbal salves to support tissue healing can change that problem. Depending on the amount of scarring, it may take a few weeks up to about a year.
Cuts and abrasions on mammaries and teats should be attended to immediately. I focus on antibacterial and cytophilactic (cell or tissue growth promoting) therapies. You don’t want to risk getting bacteria into the mammary gland from ignoring this. Warts can experience tissue damage from kids or the environment, which can cause the same problems. They can be tied off tight with a small amount of fishing line to amputate over time, or you can put garlic oil on them to help the body kill the virus causing them.
Knots inside the udder from previous mastitis can be either from scar tissue or they can be bacteria that the body walled off to protect itself. These are risky in does that you plan to breed. Once they freshen, the pressure from coming into milk may blow that knot, releasing bacteria into the udder. I prefer to work on those with an herbal salve, using at least mullein and Lobelia inflata. If you don’t want to make your own, Fir Meadow LLC has one you can purchase. We use it every day until the knot becomes past tense. In the conventional world, I was taught that once you had them, you were stuck with them. That is not so.
While this article is not a directed specifically at mastitis, it is the cause of many udder deformities such as unevenness and the knots mentioned above. If you see any of these coming on, I do test for mastitis (I prefer CMT kits) and treat with antibacterials if you obtain positive results. If you use conventional methods (medication) then get lab work done to find the bacteria that is responsible for the problem so you know which drug you need to use. You can save yourself some money by sending in only one sample from one affected half. Also, you can collect the sample and send it to your state veterinary lab yourself. Ask them for collection requirements and purchase the sample vial or swab kit you will need to use from a vet clinic. You don’t have to order (pay for) a sensitivity test. Once you know what it is, you can research the internet for solutions.
Goat udders can have pustules called pox. This is usually caused by a goat lying down in urine. Keep dry bedding in their housing and even in a spot outside where they like to lounge. I like to use antibacterial essential oils (properly diluted) and/or herbal salves for these problems. Soremouth and ringworm can also end up on teats and mammaries, and I take care of them in the same way I work with pox. Watch that nursing kids don’t get these on their faces! HerBiotic™ salve is my favorite way to deal with this as it’s safe around kids.
Remember to inspect your bucks, bucklings, and wethers on a regular basis. They too can have any of the problems in this article and can be taken care of the same way you work with your does.
She Can’t Stand it! Improving Goat Stanchion Behavior
By Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT Dip HIr QTP
We are going to look at several common causes of behavior issues on the goat stanchion so that their experiences can be enjoyable rather than challenging.
Oh man! Who hasn’t experienced the skin-nourishing beauty of goat milk sloshed on their face and lap while trying to hand milk or strip a goat? If you have not yet experienced dancing goat fever, then you simply haven’t worked with milkers long enough. Your opportunity is coming!
First, we need to look at the milk stand itself. The stand needs to be on a flat surface that it will not rock or move when your goat jumps up on it. It also should have some type of non-slip surface in case the goat’s feet are wet. Periodically check all of the fasteners, nuts, and bolts on the stand if applicable and tighten them so that stand doesn’t get shaky or, worse yet, fall apart with a goat on it. A tiny bit of fingernail polish on bolt threads, just before bolting, will help them not loosen up but can still be undone with tools. Carefully run your hands down the neck rails and carefully look over the platform and feed tray/equipment. You are looking for sharp edges and protrusions that could cause your barn buddy pain or injury. Fix any deficiencies before you load a goat. Make sure any milk bucket you use is small enough to easily fit between their legs without bumping. I like mini buckets for this reason.
Goats are creatures of routine. They feel safe and confident from being handled at about the same times (especially for milking), by the same people and in the same environment. As a prey animal, they notice everything around them and can get insecure because their ability to escape a perceived threat is blocked when they are locked into the stand. New or sudden noises, or fast movements by children, dogs or even hand-raised baby goats they aren’t used to, can cause them to jig. A goat next to them, picking on them, can also be a problem. For that reason, we attach small plywood pieces between goat stanchions to keep faces where they belong. We also milk or do management in a room or area the goats are used to that also is unlikely to have new distractions.
Are goats smart? You bet! When “interviewing” my girls, they also ranked boredom pretty high on their list of reasons to misbehave. I always keep herb mixed kelp at the bottom of their grain feeder so that once they are through their grain, they still have kelp to work on. In addition, we load no more than two or three goats per person or equipment milking onto stands; otherwise, we can’t finish before they are done eating. Also, watch for moldy or problematic feed or mold on unclean feeders, which will shorten their eating time.
You have one opportunity to make a good milk/grooming stand experience with your goat or kids! For this reason, we do not disbud, castrate, draw blood for testing, or tattoo using a goat stanchion. Goats have excellent memories and if their first experiences with a stand, or you, are those of pain and fear, you may work hard to overcome that later. We try to trim feet on a stand in our barn isle, rather than in the milk room. To keep that good impression with a new goat or first freshener, plan extra time to load them on the stand for the first experience. If you drag or rush a hesitant goat, you will succeed in supporting their instincts that they are in danger and will make the next time more difficult. Who wants that? Coax, be gentle, reward, be kind. Coming off of the goat stanchion, we always offer a small treat so they end their experience on a good note and don’t risk injury to us or them by just flying off of the milk stand.
Incorrect milking techniques can also initiate problems with the best goats for milk. Brrr! No cold hands or cold sprays on teats or udder tissue, please, otherwise your goat may levitate! Also, keeping fingernails short so teats are not poked, scratched, or pinched is very helpful. Be confident while learning to milk by kindly but firmly grasping teats or touching the udder so you don’t tickle them. If you are using a milk machine, do not allow your goats to “dry milk.” That is allowing inflations to remain on the teats once milk flow is very thin or finished. This causes the vacuum to pull on sensitive tissue inside the teat. This can cause pain, damage, and even can pull out teat tissue. Be sure your milk machine is adjusted to the correct pressure for goats. It will be less pressure than is normal for cattle or sheep with that machine and hose length. Talk to your machine’s manufacturer to learn the appropriate setting for your machine. If you have an ancient cast iron unnamed workhorse like ours, start at eleven pounds of pressure and adjust slowly if needed.
Sometimes, issues with the udder itself can cause “dancing goat fever.” I once had a yearling doe that came into milk so fast after kidding that her teat skin split. A doe may also have a sore, cut or abrasion in an area not readily visible. If she bounces, gently but firmly feel around the teats and udder base to see if the tissue or skin feels different inside or out, before you jump to conclusions. Also, feel for internal lumps that may indicate mastitis. Blockages in the teats caused by injury, a lump, or even harder (and sharp) calcium crystals in the teats can all cause pain when squeezed. A goat that comes into the milkroom too full may also get upset when you begin to relieve pressure from her stretched-out mammary. Be sure to address any of these issues before blaming the goat for a bad performance. Soothing herbal salves go a long way to giving your doe immediate comfort in many of these situations.
Scaring a goat by performing a procedure they aren’t used to, or not doing frequently, may also get a negative reaction out of them. When trimming hooves, we always make sure the goat feels secure by leaning on them or holding their feet in a way that they can balance against us. A goat out of balance instinctively moves to correct that problem as, in the wild, being out of balance could mean a fall to their death. Clipping goats with noisy grooming clippers can be scary indeed. I usually clip goats starting at the rump and tail end, and most of them, by the time I get to their head, have long since decided they are more interested in their kelp and goodies in their feeder. Other herd management, such as drawing blood for testing, may take two people to keep the goat feeling most secure.
Sometimes a goat just does not want a human touching her mammary, ever. It may be a goat with a bad temperament or maybe a goat that has been repeatedly mishandled or abused. If you are calm and patient, you may address previous poor management as your doe learns to trust you. Remember to always keep yourself safe from injury as well as the goat. You can put her on nervine herbs and see if, over time, she becomes more balanced out in her behavior. Rescue Remedy is homeopathic product you can also try, which helps many animals deal with fear. Energy medicine may help. If you find that your goat-whispering skills and supplements aren’t getting you anywhere, accept it’s the one-in-a-million goat that isn’t a good hand- or machine-milking candidate. You may also find that if you continually have a short fuse when a goat is problematic for a legitimate reason, you are going to be less patient than you need to be and can cause a problem to become worse. Please consider that part of the equation as well.
My hope is that every chore time and session on the goat stanchion will be a peaceful and enjoyable time with your beloved goats!