Goats are a fantastic homestead animal. They have great personalities, are reasonably easy to care for, and can produce two types of necessary food sources: dairy and meat.
The Benefits of Dairy Goats on a Homestead
On the dairy side, goat milk is great to drink and makes wonderful cheese products. The most popular type of cheese made from goat’s milk is known as farmer’s cheese. It is a form of cream cheese that is quick and easy to make.
Some people new to goats are unaware of the fact that goat milk can be used to make several other types of cheese as well, however. Goat milk makes terrific mozzarella cheese, and some breeds of goat produce milk in high enough fat content to even get good results with solid, hard cheeses like cheddar.
It is true that some dairy products such as butter are more difficult to make from goat’s milk. The general make up of the milk is much lower in fat that cow’s milk, and it does not separate as readily as cow’s milk, so getting the butter fat off of the milk requires extra work.
Goat milk is delicious and does not have a bad taste if it is fresh and proper milking methods are used. The way does (female goats) are fed also affects the quality of the milk, and homesteaders keeping goats for milk should always be aware of the pasture content as well as supplemental food quality to ensure the best product.
On average, the standard-sized breeds of dairy goats can produce between 0.5 and 1 gallon of milk per day. Like cows, goats have breeds that are more prolific in the dairy department.
The Nubian can be compared to a Jersey cow, providing slightly lower amounts of milk per day, but at a much higher fat content for richer taste and better cheese production. The Saanen is comparable to the Holstein cow, 1.5 to 2 gallons of milk per day, but far less fat. The Alpine is a wonderful mid-level milker, providing about 1 gallon per day with an average fat content.
The Benefits of Meat Goats on a Homestead
Providing food for the family table is one of the main focuses of homestead life, and goats are terrific providers of high-quality meat. Goat meat is a healthy choice, being low in fat and high in protein. Adult goats of average-sized breeds produce between 100 and 150 pounds of meat per animal for the table. Smaller breeds, like pigmies, can contribute 25 to 50 pounds of meat from a single animal.
Dual Purpose Goats
Smart homesteaders who want to have the best of both worlds, dairy and meat production, can raise dual purpose goats. There are several purebred goat breeds that lend themselves to this purpose, but many goat keepers prefer to mix the big meat breeds with dairy breeds for their own perfect combination.
Boers are a great choice for meat production, and when crossed with any of the standard sized dairy goats, such as Alpines, Nubians or Saanen goats produce serious homestead produce machines with great personalities.
Housing Goats on a Homestead
Goats are hardy animals, but they do have some important housing needs. Unlike sheep, goats do not do well in wet or extremely cold conditions. They need a solid structure, free from drafts and out of the cold to be comfortable and healthy. That does not mean they need insulation. A typical barn, garage or even well-built lean-to will do well to provide enough protection from the elements.
Most adult goats are moderately large livestock and need about four square feet of space per goat for optimal living quarters. Pigmy goats are popular choices for smaller scale homesteaders, because their small frames need less floor space and they do well in tighter confines. However, even pigmy goats need a well-made structure to get out of direct drafts and severe weather.
Feeding the Homestead Goat
It is not true that goats eat “anything.” The myth comes from some misconceptions that seem to lend itself to the idea that goats are not picky and will even eat tin cans. Goats do indeed look like they are trying to eat a tin can if they come across one, but it is really the paper and glue attached to most cans that they are trying to get at.
Goats also will definitely eat most weeds in any pasture that they come across. That makes them valuable for property maintenance, and some smart homesteaders have even found ways of supplementing their incomes by leasing their goat herds out to local property owners for weed control.
This works out great for homesteaders only concerned with meat production, because it also lowers their feeding requirements and costs. However, goats fed in this manner are not as good for dairy production.
When it comes to dairy production, always remember the old adage that applies to so many situations: quality in, equal’s quality out. Dairy goats, or dual production goats where milk is also consumed, should have access to good quality grass pastures, high-quality alfalfa hay and mold-free grain.
Like cows, goats have a complex digestive system that allows them to consume hay and grain that other, more sensitive livestock may not be able to eat. Mold is not an issue, but if you are going to be drinking the milk or eating cheese made from goat milk, you do not want tainted foods to cause the milk to taste off, or bitter.
New homesteaders are often leery of beginning a goat herd, because they have heard stories of stinky goats. In reality, goats do not stink in general. Of course, the average goat is a livestock animal and will carry the same type of aroma any barn animal would, but if horses and cows do not offend you, goats won’t either most of the time.
Female goats (does) do not stink at all. It is the males (bucks/billy goats) that carry a pungent aroma, but only during mating season, when exposed to females. Believe it or not, female goats consider the wafting breeze of billy goat odor quite pleasant. Most people do not.
Fear not! There are ways to control the perfume of a buck goat. First of all, if you only keep a few does on the property, you may not need a buck at all. Yes, you will need to breed your does every year so they have kids in the spring. First, female goats need to have kids in order to produce milk.
Even if you do not milk your goats, and only want meat, it is the kids you will be raising to butcher for food. You will want to keep your females so that you have a constant supply of renewable meat.
With just a few goats, you can probably find a local goat herder with a male or two that you can breed your does to in order to keep them productive. That cuts down your expenses of keeping a buck all year. Even if you have to pay a few dollars to breed your female goats to the buck, it won’t be as expensive as feeding and housing a male.
Some small homesteaders still choose to keep their own buck on premises. If there are no other goat owners nearby, or they just don’t want the hassle of transporting their does to a buck to get bred, it makes sense to keep a buck or two around. You can still control the odor of your bucks if you house them separately from females except for during breeding season.
Because goats are social animals, you will need to keep two bucks so they are not alone in the off-season. You can also put young stock that is not in production yet in the buck area to keep a single herd sire company.
Keeping goats on a homestead is enjoyable and very productive. With just a little planning and preparation, you can get started quickly and soon have the benefits of a constant supply of milk and meat for your family table.