Breed: Dairy Goats
Temperament: placid and manageable
Cost: from $300
Lifespan: 15 – 20 years
Maintenance: low (non-lactating) high (lactating)
Recommended for: a semi-rural or farm lifestyle
According to the list of provisions for the First Fleet, 19 goats were among the first animals brought to Australia in 1788. How many goats actually lasted the trip is unknown though those that did survive were maintained for personal rather than commercial use. Keeping goats for personal use continued until the Second World War, after which more specific milking breeds were brought to Australia from England and a small but dedicated dairy goat industry was born. The industry remains small; The fresh milk is mainly supplied as a health product to people intolerant of cow’s milk and those suffering from bronchial and asthmatic conditions. It has also recently become more popular as a gourmet milk, as
cheese, yoghurt, soap, moisturisers and in fine dining restaurants.
Dairy goats are equally suitable for small rural or semi-rural properties or low density suburbia.
Breeds and appearance
There are four main dairy breeds in Australia. And, as with cattle, the breeds of goat that produce milk are specifically bred for that purpose. Three are of Swiss origin (No doubt you remember the story of Heidi and Peter the goat herder, set high in the Swiss Alps). The Saanen (pronounced saynen) – a pure white goat; the Toggenburg – brown with white points (white on the legs and head); and the British Alpine – a black goat with white points. British breeds contributed to this type in order to improve milk yields. The British Alpine is the tallest of the breeds, standing around 850mm (about 33.5 inches). About 5cm, or 2
inches taller than the other breeds.
The fourth breed, the Anglo Nubian, is of Middle Eastern origin with British influence and appears in various colours. It is distinctive with its pendulous ears which were said to have been developed to keep sand out. The Anglo Nubian stands around 750mm (30 inches) at the shoulder. Little tassels of pendulous skin are often seen hanging from below the neck of all these breeds. No one really knows what they’re for, but they don’t present a problem if the goat is just a pet or milk provider.
Provided they are reared correctly, the dairy breeds will have a placid temperament. Handling young goats (kids) from an early age whilst still feeding from the mother (doe), will help ensure that they grow to be accepting of handling. Unhandled or poorly handled kids will grow to be shy and unmanageable. In fact, they can even be taught to lead, a trait developed for the show ring. A domesticated goat is still ultimately a livestock species, so don’t expect the same affections as one might see in a dog or cat. There is no real variation in temperament across the breeds and no vices to note. However, care should be taken not to encourage the goat to butt. Don’t tease or play roughly with a goat and don’t push against its head. Whilst they are usually very clean animals, the billy goat in particular has some unsavoury traits. Musk glands behind the horns, which are used to attract females during mating season, produce a very pungent and overwhelming smell. Billy goats will also urinate on themselves (on their belly and beard); yet another way of alluring that starry-eyed doe. Goats can be a bit mischievous (don’t let them into the garden unless you want your prize flowers eaten) but they’re not known to be escape artists. They can be nervous around other animals but will adjust over time. Dogs must be well trained if permitted to run loose near goats.
Like cattle and sheep, goats are ruminants (they have four stomachs) and are better able to digest hard fibrous plant material than other animals such as horses. Although they do graze and pick at some grasses, goats really prefer to pick at food which is off the ground; such as shrubs, scrub, tree foliage, flowers and weeds. Despite common belief, goats are selective feeders and will usually only choose the most digestible part of the plant. However, they do like kitchen scraps; especially fruit skins and peels.
Goats are rangeland animals and will need diet supplementation to maximise lactation or if maintained on small holdings. A diet consisting of lucerne chaff and hay, rolled oats and possible additions of bran and oaten chaff are ideal. Roughage (the chaff and hay) should be provided at twice the volume of any grains or concentrate fed. Cost of feeding is roughly about $1.00 per day per goat. Feed is required to be provided off the ground in troughs, feeders and hay racks. Once feed is dropped to the ground by a goat, it is unlikely to pick at it.
Property owners who prefer self sufficiency and live on properties too small for milking cows may keep dairy goats as an alternative. Although specialised equipment is used on commercial properties, goats can easily be hand milked. A doe has two teats (cows have four) and when lactating will produce an average of two to three litres/day. A typical lactation lasts for 300 days and average production may reach up to four litres/day. So unless there are plenty of uses for the milk, more may be produced than you are able to use.
On commercial properties, dairy goats are usually milked twice daily, this may be essential at the hight of lactation, but once-daily will generally suffice if only a few goats are kept. The sale of milk is regulated. If you are drinking milk derived from your own goats, it is advisable to learn proper dairy techniques.
Health and lifespan
Goats are regarded as clean and healthy animals. A viral arthritic disease, called Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Syndrome (CAE), which is transferred to the kid via the mother’s colostrum (her first milk) is best avoided by purchasing kids from a CAE-free breeder.
Like all grazing livestock, goats are prone to internal parasites and require worming when infestations are apparent. Faecal testing for parasitic eggs can be undertaken by many veterinarians. There are no registered worming medications for lactating dairy goats. The doe should not be wormed whilst lactating or when due to give birth, as the drug will transfer into the milk and remain for some time.
A course of vaccinations against tetanus and pulpy kidney is recommended for kids from four to six weeks of age. An annual booster is also required.
External parasites such as lice can also affect goats. Control is relatively simple using a spray gun but prevention is best. Just keep the grazing and living area clean and the animals well maintained.
If kept on soft ground, feet will need to be trimmed, though this is not difficult.
Dairy goats will live up to 15 to 20 years. Average life as a ‘milker’ is around 10 years.
Good quality pedigree kids cost about $300 a head from good breeders. There is very little difference in cost between the breeds, though there is a slightly higher demand for the Saanan due to milking quality and production. If just starting out and not sure of the commitment, ‘rough goats’ can be bought from regular livestock markets. However age and quality can be hard to determine for the novice.
The doe doesn’t need to be mated every year. Once she starts lactating she can keep milking for a couple of years. Once yield drops below one litre/day, she should be mated again. Goats are very cyclic, coming into season only in autumn and winter. Most does are mated in the autumn and will kid in spring. Unlike many animals, goats actually respond to shortening day length; as the days get shorter, the goats will become sexually receptive.
Goats are easy to mate. Bucks are very agile and virile and with such appealing sexual habits the doe will often go ‘like the clappers’ to get to the buck. Planning for kidding is essential. Kids must be protected from predators such as dogs and foxes and provision of suitable shelter is required as cold, wet weather can be fatal for kids.
Maintenance and space
Dairy goats don’t need much space as long as it is kept clean. Shelter from wind and rain must be provided, as must clean water. An elevated concrete floor with straw bedding is suitable for soaking up urine and preventing any bad smells.
Anyone interested in animals can handle a dairy goat. They are a relatively easy livestock animal to care for, but remember that lactating females require daily milking. If you want a taste of rural life, or goats milk, but don’t have much space or experience, then a dairy goat is a good start. There are many good stud breeders in semirural areas who can assist with the right purchase. In a domestic situation, one to two goats will suffice. Goats can be noisy and may disturb the neighbours if they are too close. If you want to keep goats in suburbia, a buck is not recommended. It is easier to just take the doe to someone else’s buck when she needs mating. Check with your local council about requirements for keeping livestock animals in your area.
They love eating the prettiest flowers and shrubs in the garden and are also prone to eating poisonous plants such as oleander. It is best to keep the animals in their own separate, penned area. Goats do however make for excellent weed controllers; and any weed seed they eat will not germinate once passed through.
We filmed this segment in Sydney with dairy goat breeder Ted Byers, of Goolagong Dairy Goat Stud. For advice on dairy breeds and suppliers, contact Ted on (02) 9826 1371, or fax (02) 9826 1100.