Interesting Facts About Dairy Goats

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One of our momma goats.

One of our momma goats.

General Information

The female dairy goat is a doe; the male, a buck; the young, kids; and a castrated male, a wether. Dairy goats are hardy, gentle, intelligent animals. Their life span is eight to twelve years.

Breeding

Dairy goats are usually seasonal breeders. Most breeding occurs in late summer through early winter. The goat has an 18-21 day estrus cycle or “season.” The doe’s “season” lasts from a few hours to two or three days. The gestation period is five months. Twins are common, but single or triplet births are not rare. A doe milks approximately ten months following kidding, then is held dry for two months before her next freshening.

Bucks have a strong musk-like odor during breeding season, but are not offensive with proper management. The doe has no odor at any time. Many small herds do not keep a buck if stud services are available from other local herds. Only bucks from high quality parents should be kept for breeding purposes. Artificial insemination is another option.

Yearling kids may be bred in the first year at 7-10 months of age, depending on breed, if they have grown well to about 80 lb. and are of good size and condition. Body weight relative to breed is more important than age and can influence lifetime performance. In dairy breeds in the United States, many bucklings are fertile by 5 months of age, but successful breeding has occurred as early as three months of age. The doe kid may be able to reproduce at three months of age, but should not be allowed to do so, as her growth may be permanently stunted. To prevent this, buck kids should be separated from doe kids at an early age. If breeding doe kids is postponed much beyond 10 months of age, they will be less productive. Older kids are not as easily settled at first breeding and may have lower lifetime productivity.

Most goats are seasonal breeders, and their season is initiated by decreasing daylight. Thus, their season is from late August through January usually. However, goats can also be “fooled” into thinking that the short-day season has arrived by manipulating artificial light-hours per day and thereby initiating estrous cycles out-of-season.

Feeding

Dairy goats need a year-round supply of roughage, such as pasture, browse or well-cured hay. Winter browse and pastures should be supplemented with hay. Milking, breeding and growing stock need a daily portion of legume hay, such as alfalfa. Kids and bucks need a balanced grain ration and milkers should be fed a standard dairy grain ration. Kids are milk fed until two to three months of age, but should be consuming forages such as pasture grass or hay by two weeks of age and grain within four. All dairy goats must have salt and fresh clean water. Mineral supplements are desirable.

Dairy goats have fastidious eating habits and are particular about the cleanliness of their food. Their natural curiosity may lead them to investigate newly found items by sniffing and nibbling, but they quickly refuse anything that is dirty or distasteful.

Housing

Dairy goats are kept successfully in all climates. They do not need elaborate housing, but do require clean, dry, well ventilated, draft free shelter. Dirt pen floors are preferred over cement. At least 15 square feet of bedded area should be provided for each goat. The outside exercise lot should provide a minimum of 25 square feet of space per animal, well-drained and properly fenced. Dairy goats have a strong herd instinct and prefer the companionship of at least one other goat.

Bucks should be kept in separate quarters away from milking does.

Management

Ideally, goats should be dehorned when they are very young. It is advisable to wait until they are 1-2 weeks of age and in good flesh to be sure they are healthy and not coming down with neonatal diarrhea. If discolored skin is fixed to the skull in two rosettes, horn buds are present. Moveable skin indicates a naturally hornless condition.

Hooves should be trimmed frequently to assure proper development of the hoof.

To check the health of goats and determine suspected illness, it is useful to know their normal physiological values. Pulse is about 83 per minute ranging from 50 to 115. Respiration is around 29 per minute with a range from 15 to 50. Body temperature is about 103.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keeping good weight records is important for proper feeding and medication, besides good management. Tapes can be used for estimation of weight by measuring the heart girth behind the forelegs. There also exists normal growth curve to age-weight relationships. For large breed male goats, they are in average as follows: 1 month-25 lb., 3 months-55 lb., 6 months-85 lb., 9 months-110 lb., 12 months-130 lb., 18 months-155 lb., 24 months-170 lb., 36 months-205 lb. For smaller breeds and females, these standards are less, proportionate to the lesser adult body weight.

Milking

On a worldwide basis, more people drink the milk of goats than any other single animal. A dairy doe should be milked in the same manner as a dairy cow, using good dairy hygiene. Does may be milked by hand or machine. The milk requires the same careful attention to cleanliness and cooling as any other milk.

Goat milk has a more easily digestible fat and protein content than cow milk. The increased digestibility of protein is of importance to infant diets (both human and animal), as well as to invalid and convalescent diets. Furthermore, glycerol ethers are much higher in goat than in cow milk which appears to be important for the nutrition of the nursing newborn.

Goat milk tends to have a better buffering quality, which is good for the treatment of ulcers.

Goat milk can successfully replace cow milk in diets of those who are allergic to cow milk.

The natural homogenization of goat milk is, from a human health standpoint, much better than the mechanically homogenized cow milk product. It appears that when fat globules are forcibly broken up by mechanical means, it allows an enzyme associated with milk fat, known as xanthine oxidase to become free and penetrate the intestinal wall. Once xanthine oxidase gets through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, it is capable of creating scar damage to the heart and arteries, which in turn may stimulate the body to release cholesterol into the blood in an attempt to lay a protective fatty material on the scarred areas. This can lead to arteriosclerosis.

Many dairy goats, in their prime, average 6 to 8 pounds of milk daily (roughly 3 to 4 quarts) during a ten-month lactation, giving more soon after freshening and gradually dropping in production toward the end of their lactation. The milk generally averages 3.5 percent butterfat. A doe may be expected to reach her heaviest production during her third or fourth lactation.

Pasture

Dairy goats will graze grass pastures, but prefer to browse brushlands and a varied selection of pasture plants, including non-noxious weeds. Dairy goats seldom thrive when tethered. They may be kept in a dry lot if fed adequate roughage and allowed shade and space for exercise. Dairy goats are curious and agile and require well built fences for containment and protection from predators.

In temperate climates, one-half acre of land per milking goat should be plenty. Under arid conditions, people must guard against the danger of overgrazing. Overstocking in temperate climates is also bad for goats, since it increases reinfestation of internal parasites. Rotational pasturing is one of the successful controls.

Products

Goat milk is used for drinking, cooking and baking. It is used to make cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt, candy, soap and other body products. Goat milk is whiter than whole cow milk. Butter and cheese made from goat milk are white, but may be colored during processing. Due to its small fat globules and soft small curd, products made with goat milk are smooth and cream-like. Goat milk is also naturally emulsified.

Chevre is the French word for goat. Domestically, it is a generic term that applies to all goat cheeses, and more specifically the mild fresh cheeses.

The three fatty acids which give goat products their distinctive flavor are capric, caprylic and caproic.

References/Sources:
American Dairy Goat Products Association
Extension Goat Handbook
-USDA

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