Nigerian dwarf goats for sustainable dairy
Mark would appreciate it if
you all could talk me out of it, but I'm currently thinking seriously
about goats. Our land is perfect for goats (lots of brush) as
long as I keep them out of the snail-friendly floodplain, and I think
that adding an herbivore to our menagerie would make the farm more
productive and fill an empty ecological niche.
In the past, I've
steered clear because I'm unwilling to follow the lead of my neighbors
and chain a goat, and I didn't trust my fencing ability to keep these
wily animals out of our beloved garden. However, Sharon
Astyk (fondly known
as "blogger Sharon" in our dinner table conversations) assured me that
four foot fencing is enough to keep in her favorite variety ---
Nigerian dwarf goats.
We've been doing a lot of
fencing this year for our chickens and already have nearly a tenth of
an acre of pasture (with two more pastures
partially built.) Since Nigerian dwarf goats are so small, I've
read that you can feed them on 0.13 to 0.16 acres apiece, which makes
goat pastures sound well within reach. In addition, our chickens
won't eat the woodier plants like ragweed and young trees, so it's
likely that we could add goats to the chicken pastures without taking
away much food from the chickens at all.
Most people plan to milk
year-round, but Sharon reports that if you breed your goats to kid in
the spring when forage is at its most abundant, you can let the goat
dry off for the winter and hardly have to feed any grain. That
means better quality milk and a more sustainable livestock
system. In addition, seasonal milking lets you go out of town
during the off season without finding a milking helper.
Sharon solves the twice a day
milking problem as well. She recommends milking your goats in the
morning, then putting the kid back with its mother to spend the day
grazing together. That way, you only have to milk once a day
rather than twice and your evenings are free. Meanwhile, Sharon
uses a modified breast pump to do the majority of the milking, which
saves her hands --- my carpal tunnel made the idea of daily milking
unlikely until I learned about this gadget --- and also lets an
untrained friend milk the goat if necessary.
Using the seasonal,
once-a-day milking method, we'd end up with around 25 gallons of
milk from one Nigerian dwarf goat per year, which would fulfill our
dairy needs quite nicely. Sharon reports that milk from Nigerian
dwarf goats tastes just like cow milk and I've read that goat milk in
general is supposed to be easier to digest than cow milk. I used
to love milk until I stopped being able to drink the grocery store
stuff a few years ago, so I'm hopeful that goat milk could put me back
in business. Of course, you also get to eat goat meat in the fall
when those kids grow up.
I'm tempted to buy one
(or two if I think one would be lonely) male dwarf goats this winter to
see how he does on our pasture and with our fencing before committing
to the whole milking endeavor. Males are much cheaper than good
milking does, so it wouldn't be so bad if the experiment didn't
work out and we had to eat the goat or sell him.
All of that said, there
are some very valid reasons not to get goats. First of all,
domesticated animals are a huge commitment, and I'm not sure if we're
ready to expand the menagerie. And I'm not clear on how the herd
dynamics would work out --- could we keep one doe and her kid, bringing
her to a local breeder when she's in heat, or would she be lonely in
the winter? Any more than one goat would mean doubling our
pasture area, which is feasible but more of a two year project.
Speaking of which, are our quick and dirty fences really good enough to
keep in even the tiniest goats? And do goats in the off season
fit our mandatory "can fend for itself for four days while we're out of
town" requirement? Finally, Mark's worried that Nigerian dwarf
goats are too cute to kill, which would make them less enticing.
Please chime in with
other reasons not to try out goats. I need someone to quench the
flame of my desire!
Our chicken waterer makes chicken chores almost
too easy...thus the dreams of goats.
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