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Topic of the Day - Picking a Goat (Part 1)

Posted by GoatWorld on November 02, 2001 at 05:37:25:

Hi folks,

Next in this series of discussion in picking your first goat(s). In reality, I am hoping that anyone who is reading this series does not actually run out and get a goat yet because there are quite a few things that still need to be discussed and planned before making the purchase. A quick review - we've discussed fencing and shelters. What really should follow next are the essential items to have on hand. I will hold off on discussing that for the next topic discussion. In the meantime, there is no harm in thinking over some of the ideas presented here - give them alot of thought - avoid being an impulse buyer or buying a goat just because you think it looks cute.

Okay, goats are as varied in breed, type and purpose as are personalities in people. You need to ask yourself WHY you want to have goats and WHAT you expect from them. If you can answer these two questions with a simple "because I like them" and "because I want one as a pet", then you have a simpler choice altogether. But many goat ranchers will tell you that goats can satisfy the "pet" status and then some.

An important question that you also need to ask yourself and answer honestly is "do I want to make money from raising goats?" Why is this important? Simply because a few goats are not likely to return a whole lot of money and you will either just break even or end up paying for the pleasure of having goats. Many factors determine this: fencing and shelters (as an initial investment - sometimes requires added investment for upkeep), feed (ongoing expenditure), and health maintenance, again an ongoing expenditure for the life of the goat.

Let's start with dairy goats. Perhaps you have an idea that you want to raise goats simply to have a supply of goat milk on hand, either for drinking or for making foods such as cheeses. There is an increasingly growing demand for this but many are satisfied with getting just enough for their own personal use. My opinion is such that any animal (livestock) that will be used to create an end product (milk, cheese, meat) MUST be certified disease free. Of course pasteurizing milk will take care of impurities, but a goat that has health problems is not going to be a goat that will reliably produce milk to fulfill your needs.

A dairy goat should have a good bloodline from proven producers and also have a good udder. You'll see many a "dairy" goat that has a small udder, malformed teats, etc., and while they still produce milk, the quality and quantity is not always there. Here quality and quantity go hand in hand. Likewise, you can take just about any goat (does of course) and get milk - but the quantity and quality may not be there.

There are several breeds of dairy goats that have been proven producers over time: Nubians, LaManchas, French Alpines, Toggenburgs, Saanens, etc. These are among the more common. Through research and discussion I have learned that certain breeds also have a higher "butterfat" content in their milk - LaManchas are one such breed that comes to mind. Personally, I have compared fresh LaMancha milk to regular cow milk, and on one particular ocassion, I could not tell the difference. However, some breeds do produce a more "goaty" tasting milk than others. Some of this does have to do with feed though.

A dairy goat is going to have different nutritional requirements than a goat used for meat and vice versa. Simply letting a dairy goat browse on a pasture with no nutrition supplementation is not going to yield a quality or quantity milk. The quality of "what goes in" is going to influence the quality of "what comes out". Also, it syhould be noted that dairy goats allowed to browse common weeds such as poison ivy and oak can pass the plant toxins into their milk and to you the end user. So it is important to understand this concept of "what goes in".

While I certainly am not the foremost authority on dairy goats, dairy goats were the very first type of goats that I owned and had experience with thanks to a neighbor who raised solely dairy goats (100's of them) for the purpose of selling the milk to customers. At that time (in the mid to late 1960's), the Nubian breed was the breed of choice, at least for my neighbors. As I have kept in touch with these neighbors over the years, they slightly altered their gameplan and went solely to French Alpines. Why? They claimed a higher quality yield of milk and quote, "found French Alpines to have better dispositioning and less health problems than their Nubians" unquote. I do not know if this is entirely true or not, but it would make sense in some regards.

The other thing to understand about dairy goats is that there are large organizations here in the United States devoted solely to dairy goats. Many of these people can tell you things I simply do not know. From my knowledge, the ADGA (American Dairy Goat Association) has been around much longer than ther counterpart "meat" goat associations, simply because the use of goat milk has long been more widely accepted in the United States than has goat meat.

Such organizations are a very good place to start and perhaps the best place to begin when contemplating the purchase of dairy goats. As with nearly every goat (besides "pet" goats), you want to purchase from a reliable source. Auctions and salebarns are not always a good place to purchase a dairy goat. For the most part, while there are certainly many goats to choose from at such sales, the sheer number of goats being moved in and out of these facilites leads to health issue concerns. While there indeed may be a "few" quality goats that can be purchased at an auction as such, the majority of these goats are most often being sold because they had a problem, i.e., low milk production and health concerns. A thought that I keep in mind when frequenting auctions is that many of the goats sold at a livestock auction are bought and sold for primarily slaughter.

Visiting local dairy goat breeders is a great way to start as well so that you can get a good idea of what is involved and actually see producing dairy goats and their lineage of offspring. I often use examples to express my point and this is as good a time as any. Buying goats with a purpose in mind (such as dairy goats) is akin to buying a used car. A person can run out and buy a used car, not know any history behind it and end up driving home a lemon. Buying from a reputable source is always your safest bet.

I have written some of the basics here about dairy goats and I know that there are quite a few Message Forum members that have their own ideas and opinions as well. From here, I will let them take over and give their advice as well. In the 2nd part of this discussion, I will discuss Meat Goats.

Best regards,

Gary Pfalzbot

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