By Andrew Campbell
When it comes to dairy, most think about cow’s milk first. But there is another popular choice, particularly for cheese and that’s goat milk. Raising goats can be significantly different than raising cows, given their unique personalities and much smaller stature. It also means that a smaller goat farm may still have several hundred goats at a time. In this tour, young farmers Erik & Hayley give us a tour of their relatively new farm and their experience getting started with milking goats. Plus a look at all these goats is pretty good entertainment!
This is a dairy goat farm where the goats produce milk. We already toured a meat goat farm and we’ve already toured a dairy cow farm. So this is even more unique. Let’s start out with what does a typical day look like for you guys?
We usually start morning chores around 6:30 am. Milking usually takes about an hour and a half for 200 goats. We’re hoping to get up to milking 400 by the end of this year.
These goats are pretty curious. Is that pretty typical for these animals?
Oh yes. A little too curious. The animals start chewing your barn apart sometimes. This barn is only six years old now. They just started chewing holes in the side of the wall and we have to patch them up. We came out once and the barn has been half flooded because they chewed all the water hoses. They cause lots of fun!
That makes it entertaining. We’re in the middle of the barn. What are all the different pens around here?
We have a pen with pregnant does (female goats) and they are close to kidding (having babies).
Close to kidding means they’re going to have baby goats here pretty soon.
They’re going to have baby goats today, tomorrow, sometime within the next two weeks.
Well this doe is kind of off by herself. Does that mean she might be pretty close to kidding?
Yeah, she’ll be kidding out today for sure. She is digging with her feet there, trying to find a spot to lay in and have her first kid.
What’s the step-by-step process that you go through after goats have their kids?
Within the first hour of the kid’s life, we give the kid colostrum. It’s very important for them to get the nutrients they need. We will take them to the shed and they will be put under a heat lamp to be kept warm. They’ll be under the heat lamp for about two or three days until we move them to a bigger pen. They’ll be in the larger pen for about six to eight weeks until they are weaned and not on milk anymore. Then they’ll come into the barn and get fed their hay and kid pellet until they are old enough to be bred.
How old are goats when they are bred?
We breed them when they reach 70-80 pounds.
You mentioned that there is a separate pen that houses the goats that are close to the right size for breeding.
In this pen they weigh around 60 pounds. So they have 10 to 20 pounds to go. It’ll be another two months. Breeding season only lasts from roughly the end of August up to the end of March. It depends on how long the days are getting.
The light outside is what actually determines the cycle of a goat? So you can’t breed them anytime throughout the year? It’s dependent on the light outside?
Yes. The light outside determines the cycle of a goat.
What’s in this third pen here?
This pen houses 90 milking goats right now. There are some that are starting to dry off. Now we’re hoping that they’re all bred. We’ll have to do pregnancy checks and ensure that they are pregnant.
The does are marked with different coloured paint on their backs. Here’s two standing up by the gate eating some hay. One has a red mark and one has a green mark. Did they get mixed up in a paint can or what’s with the colours?
That’s just the way that we identify our animals. We mark them with red or green to identify if they’re pregnant or not pregnant. Just a way of sorting them out.
The goats all look very similar, how do you tell them apart? How do you know one from the other?
They each have a unique ear tag. Every year is a different coloured tag. We start at tag number 1 for the first kid born at the start of the year and each kid born gets an identification tag. It depends how many kids you have that year. If we had 150 kids, then kid 150 will be the youngest and kid 1 will be the oldest.
Neat. Now, you two are fairly young. What made you decide you wanted to start milking goats?
We’re coming up on our second year being in the dairy goat business and I decided to go with the goats just because they’re an easy animal to work with.
They’re unique animals to watch and they’re just a simple animal to take care of.
So have you learned quite a bit then in your two years in the dairy goat business?
We’ve definitely had a few curve balls thrown at us through the process, but it’s finally going well.
So the plan is to be long-term dairy goat farmers?
That’s our plan. We plan on expanding up to 400 does and then building a new barn and milking them there.
That’s very cool. So now, there’s a few different things that I noticed. As a dairy cow farmer myself, one is that an udder on a goat actually has two teats versus the four teats that I get to milk with. Then in terms of the milk itself, it’s a different type of milk. What does it get used for?
98% of our milk goes for cheese and 2% goes for fluid milk. Any grocery store you go to will have goat cheese and goat milk that you can buy.
Young people like yourselves? Why do you want to be farming? Why do you like farming?
I just like farming. It’s almost like a hobby to me. But it is a lot of work and not for everybody.
As long as you enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like work. I get that. It’s a 365 day a year job milking every morning, no matter what, even during holidays. Thanks for the tour.
Watch Fresh Air Farmer, Andrew Campbell’s full video here