by Debbie Dahl DairyDoll@Juno.com or DebDahl@aol.com
I have been raising goats of one kind or another since early 1990, mostly mixed dairy breeds. It started out with a few Pygmy goats to be pets for our kids, and then turned it into a brush-control project, as we had many acres of land surrounding our old farmhouse. Then we progressed to milking them for home use, and before long, we had more than doubled in size from the two we had started out with, and soon had about twenty! I was really impressed with the fact that the mother goats could have twins and triplets every year and manage to produce enough milk to feed them all so well.
After actively reading library books and the goat-related publications available, I decided to take the next larger step and go "big time" by milking several goats with a home-made milking machine. My husband made one from old pieces of Surge equipment, purchased from farm and dairy auctions. It was originally made to hang under the belly of a cow during milking, hanging from a thick strap with adjustable notches in the handle of the five- gallon pail, with four teat cups coming out of the top of the lid. We simply turned one of the tubes back into another one, sealing off those two and leaving the other two for milking to make it adaptable to goats.
We consulted with a Surge representative (listed in the phone book) in a big town only an hour's drive away about proper pressure and maintenance, and the necessary tubing, keeping in mind that we may need more parts in the future. We also asked for the differences in milking goats than cows, to make the pressure adjustments. Although we originally wanted to milk one cow and two goats at the same time, we soon decided that this was stretching our energies (and chores) a little too much, so we just stuck with the goats.
In 1991, we had a calf that lost it's mother, and we had our first experience in raising a bottle-calf strictly on goat's milk, no milk replacer. The difference was astonishing. We had no scour problems, and no mixing dried powdered formulas was a blessing. And the calf grew better than if it had been nursing a cow! We were convinced; no doubt about it - goat milk was better for calves than cow milk!
Having a few years of experience under our belt, we knew that every year we would have "extra" buck kids from our ten milking mother goats. With half of them birthing twins and the other half having triplets, that meant over a dozen male kids to get rid of. The next question was what to do with them. Some people said to "get rid of them" at birth, don't even bother with them, but I knew that was not an option for us. I could not kill a living thing that easily, even if it did mean less milk in the bucket every day. So after they were about a month old, they went to the Sale Barn or were advertised in the local paper. The financial return was not much, but at least it was an amount that could be applied to the feed bill. And with ten does milking, there was an increasing amount of grain being used daily to have maximum milk production. Then the young female kids would start eating the grain too, and decisions would have to be made about which ones to keep.
I found myself questioning what would get a better price on the extra kids, and the most logical answer was to make them more of a meat-quality. That meant bringing in a strictly meat-type for breeding, like a Spanish goat. So after searching for information on meat goats and making a few phone calls, arrangements were made to bring up a small trailer- load of Spanish goats from Texas. This sizable undertaking led to doubling the goat herd, for a total of about seventy goats! After a few weeks of separation from the dairy herd, the two groups were merged into the same pen. It only took a few sniffs and head-butting gestures for them to get acquainted, then they got along with each other.
The Spanish goats were about six months old and their horns were left on as a measure of defense against predators under pasture conditions. Sometimes they would get stuck in the hog wire or panel fence that makes up the pens near the house and barn, and have to be taken out. But for the most part, they take very little time to care for. Certainly much less than a dairy goat, which has to be milked. As a matter of fact, it takes about five minutes to feed about thirty Spanish goats, as compared to thirty minutes to milk six dairy goats! And the Spanish goats require very little care; they are considerably more hardy than dairy breeds. When all seventy goats were ranging the fields together, seven of the dairy goats came down with pinkeye, but only one Spanish goat got it. And the dairy goats would get scratches on their teats and udders, but the Spanish goats have such small "milking fixtures" that they weren't hurt at all.
An added benefit is that the Spanish goats will breed in all but the coldest part of the year, so they feasibly could have their kids in the Fall and go through the Winter with them. This means that the following Spring, the "extra" buck kids would be considerably larger than the one-month old dairy ones, because they would be six months old! And because the Spanish goats breed almost year-round, they would be breeding while the dairy goats were just starting to milk from freshening. Plus, at eight months of age, the Spanish females are breeding age, because meat goats grow faster (and larger) than dairy goats.
However, the Spanish goats are not as tame as the dairy ones, and once a Spanish goat is caught, they are a handful to keep under control. Although this particular group of Spanish goats were fairly tame, it took about a month of graining to be able to catch a few without running them into a pen. I'm sure that if the young Spanish goats were raised on a bottle, they would be just as friendly too. Some of the dairy goats that have never been milked and raise the kids on their own every year have been considerably wild until they were enticed with grain and trained on the milk stand.
It has been a busy year, with so much increase in the goat herd. Spring will be even busier, with about 120 new baby goats born. Guess you could say we're "goat crazy", because we will be laughing all the way to the bank. Which is good proof that there is profit in numbers, when you have goats around the place!
Feel free to write to us if you are interested in learning more about goats or Spanish meat goats in particular. We are always happy to "talk goats" with you.