How to Increase Milk Production in Goats
How to manage and what to feed goats to increase milk production.
By Rebecca Krebs Whether you’re supplying your family with homegrown dairy products, selling milk, or participating in official production testing, at some point, you’ve probably wondered how to increase milk production in goats. Increasing production is about establishing management practices that allow each goat to express her full genetic potential as a milker.
Internal or external parasites can reduce milk yield by 25% or more, as well as negatively impacting butterfat and protein content. Diligent year-round prevention and proactive treatment will curtail production losses by ensuring that goats are in good health and body condition to support strong lactations. Consult with your veterinarian or another qualified professional about a parasite control protocol suitable for your herd.
Milk production fluctuates within hours when goats are forced into stressful conditions, so consideration for their well-being and comfort is an essential aspect of how to increase milk production in goats. Adequate living and feeding space and dry, clean shelter are required. Dairy goats also need relief from extreme weather so that they can put energy into making milk rather than regulating body temperature.
Furthermore, goats are habit-oriented creatures that thrive on consistency, and disruptions to their routine or surroundings cause anxiety and decreased production. Minimize change as much as possible. When it is necessary to make alterations, production typically rebounds as the goat adjusts. However, major changes, such as moving a goat into a new herd, may affect production for the remainder of her lactation.
How much milk does a goat produce per day? That largely depends on the quality and quantity of feed she eats. Dairy goats need a continual supply of good feed and clean water to fuel high production. Poor nutrition during late gestation and early lactation significantly affects milk yield through the entire lactation.
Forage in the form of high-quality pasture, browse, and/or hay is a staple of what to feed goats to increase milk production. Legumes, such as alfalfa, are an excellent source of protein, which is necessary for high milk yields. If legumes are not available on pasture, legume hay or pellets may be fed as part of the diet.
Beginning by late gestation, supplement goats with a grain ration containing around 16% protein. If you want a ration tailored to your herd’s specific nutritional needs, a professional ruminant nutritionist can use a forage analysis of your hay or pasture to formulate a dairy goat feed recipe that you can mix yourself.
As a general rule, feed a goat one pound of grain ration for every three pounds of milk she produces in early lactation. Decrease to one pound of ration for every five pounds of milk in late lactation. But take care that your goats don’t overeat and develop acidic rumen pH, or acidosis, which can cause drastic production loss and is potentially fatal. To minimize the risk of acidosis, make gradual changes to feed type or quantity over 10 to 14 days, and feed the ration in two or more servings throughout the day. Offering free-choice sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) helps goats balance their own rumen pH. As an added bonus, sodium bicarbonate has also been shown to increase milk butterfat content.
Additionally, provide free-choice goat minerals and salt. Lactating dairy goats have high mineral demands, so I prefer quality mineral mixes that contain no added salt. This allows the goats to eat as much mineral as they need without being limited by the amount of salt they can safely consume. I offer salt separately.
During the bustle of kidding season, it’s easy to let a goat raise her kids for a few weeks before milking her, but by then, her body will regulate production down to the amount of milk her kids drink each day — not the outcome you want when you’re figuring out how to increase milk production in goats. It’s worth the effort to put each goat on a milking routine as soon as she kids. Even if you plan to dam-raise her kids, milking out surplus milk will encourage higher production after the kids are weaned.
Of course, if you remove and bottle feed or sell the kids, you will have more milk for your own use. I prefer milking goats that aren’t raising kids because they make their milk more “available” to me, whereas goats with kids sometimes hold back milk. However, if you anticipate days when you won’t be able to milk, leaving the kids with their mother allows you to preserve a more flexible schedule without your milk goat drying off completely.
Once dam-raised kids reach two to four weeks of age, you can separate them from their mother for 12-hour periods and obtain the milk produced during that time. This is a great option when you’re looking into how to increase milk production in goats if you can milk only once a day. The kids will demand more milk when they are with mom, thereby maximizing her production. Note that under these circumstances, the goat generally shouldn’t raise more than two kids by herself, because additional kids will not receive enough nutrition unless you supplement them with bottle feeding.
Finally, whether you milk once or twice a day, a consistent milking schedule is a vital part of how to make goats produce more milk. As long as it’s consistent, twice-a-day milkings don’t have to be exactly 12 hours apart — you might milk at 7:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.
Increasing milk production in dairy goats requires year-round commitment to good management practices that support the high demands of lactation. You will be fully repaid by a dairy herd that is content and efficient.
- Koehler, P. G., Kaufman, P. E., & Butler, J. F. (1993). External parasites of sheep and goats. Ask IFAS. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IG129
- Morand-Fehr, P., & Sauvant, D. (1980). Composition and yield of goat milk as affected by nutritional manipulation. Journal of Dairy Science 63(10), 1671-1680. doi:https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(80)83129-8
- Suarez, V., Martínez, G., Viñabal, A., & Alfaro, J. (2017). Epidemiology and effect of gastrointestinal nematodes on dairy goats in Argentina. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 84(1), 5 pages. doi:https://doi.org/10.4102/ojvr.v84i1.1240
Originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.