Move over chickens, the fastest growing farming trend is raising goats! Well, the chickens don’t really need to move over because chickens and goats—as well as all sorts of flora—can harmoniously occupy the farm together. When we purchased our small farm we planned to grow vegetables, fruits and herbs for a market garden or CSA. We didn’t plan to raise any animals, except maybe a few chickens. But once we got to know the Nigerian Dwarf Goat (ND) we fell in love.
It all started innocently enough when one day my wife said, “We should get a goat to eat the blackberries.” Our imaginations ran with the concept of having petrolfree weed eaters. Then we figured we might as well really go for it and get dairy goats! Quickly we learned that goats are herd animals so we would need to start with at least two. Our property is now home to goats, My assignment for this newsletter is to discuss, in my usually humorous and candid way, what it entails to take a product from “farm to fork”. While there is much humor in farming, it takes serious time and work to put any farm product on a plate. Like all things farm-related, my story began with a seed — just an idea of providing raw milk for our food-sensitive child. We discovered the sale of raw milk was illegal in our state. With our get-it-done attitude my wife and I decided to make our first attempt at farming by taking on pigs, chickens, ducks, bees as well as having over 60 fruit and nut trees and vegetable, flower and herb gardens. Our goats roam on about ½ acre of pasture and because they are small (30-50 lbs.) they are quite easy to manage and house.
The ND are not pigmy but proportional miniatures and they come in an array of c o l o r s . They are compact yet can still munch back an unwanted (and wanted!) shrub efficiently and yield 1-2 quarts of milk daily. Compared to other dairy animals their milk is the highest in butterfat. Many people ask if the milk or cheese is ‘goatie’ or stinky and we can assure you that clean fresh goat milk is sweet, creamy and delicious—as long as there isn’t a buck (intact male) around.
At first we thought the goats would eat us out of house and home, but our little ladies are fairly particular about what they eat, deferring mostly to grains, hay and browsing the pasture. We sprout grains and seeds for them and they love peas, barley and wheat the best. Apples and Doug Fir sprigs are treats they enjoy along with pumpkin seeds. We strategize to provide a diverse and nutritious diet for the goats so that their milk production is prolific and tasty.
We started with three does, one of whom was bred. Once she gave birth she was “in-milk” and our adventure in home dairying began. We skipped hand milking and jumped right to mechanized milking. Nothing too fancy, we use a modified hand pump similar to a tool used to bleed brake lines in cars! We milk every 12 hours. Yes, that is a big commitment. This is probably the biggest consideration about having a goat in-milk; someone must milk her two times a day, every day and preferably at the same time each day. Each morning milking and feeding must be completed before leaving for the day. Dinner out—let alone a vacation—must be carefully planned and often are forgone in lieu of barn chores.
While we have given up many freedoms to homestead dairy goats we have gained the privilege of cultivating our own dairy products, thus expanding our farm’s culinary potential and sustainability. Aside from enjoying the simple benefits of fresh raw organic milk we have been making cheeses, mostly chevre, ricotta and feta, as well as yogurt. Sanitation is a very important component to making cheese, much like brewing beer; one must have a clean workspace, sterile equipment, thermometers, PH meters and the proper enzymes or cultures. Each week after collecting at least a gallon we process the milk. Soft cheese takes at least 24 hours or more and like so many other areas of farm life requires patience and stamina. That first pound of cheese represents the culmination of months of work, from acquiring the goat, breeding, birthing, feeding, milking, medicating, socializing… But, so far it’s been very rewarding. We are also making homegrown lavender goat milk soap.
It takes a bit of effort and a lot of commitment to raise dairy goats but we enjoy their quirky, stubborn yet graceful contribution to the farm. You can follow our blog at: misfitfarmoregon.com where we gush about our goats and farm life. We just added two more goats to our herd, one of whom loves to sit on your lap! Eventually, we’d like to have one in every color, because you can’t have just one!