Article Index "Record Keeping" Article Index

KEEPING RECORDS

By: "Jerry Belanger"
About the Author

Rated 4.2 by 4 responses.
Record keeping is necessary for the commercial goat dairy, because only through accurate and complete records does the owner know if the operation is making a profit - and if not, why not.

Record keeping is a necessity for the show goat breeder because only accurate and complete records will help to upgrade goats to the hoped-for blue ribbon status.

Most homesteaders and other backyard goat raisers shun records because they aren't involved with profit or upgrading or awards, and they think the work is a boring waste of time.

Big mistake. They're wrong on three counts.

It's true that the home dairy doesn't depend on goats for a living, as the commercial dairy does. But profits (and losses) show up in milk and dairy products that are better and cheaper than those purchased in the supermarkets. Even if the casual goat owner has no intention of ever entering a show-ring or even coming close to a goat show, it's still necessary to know certain facts about the herd's production and the results of management and breeding practices.

And record keeping can be fun! It becomes a challenge to have does that produce better than their mothers, and it's satisfying to look back on records that are several years old and see, in black and white, how you've progressed. No livestock breeder of any kind can afford to be without good records to use as a management tool.

If you have registered goats, pedigrees and registration certificates will be an important part of your files. The person you buy registered goats from will help you get started with these. There are several registries, with slightly different procedures. Get information on specifics from whichever one you choose to work with.

The Basic Barn Record

The basic barn record is a chart showing how much milk each goat produces. A plain sheet of paper with the goats' names written across the top and the days of the month down the left margin works fine. You can write the morning's milk in one corner of each square or imaginary square, and the evening's milk below it, as 4.5/4, with the first number the morning's yield of 4.5 pounds, and the second, the evening's.

Milk is measured by weight rather than volume, for official records on both goats and cows. It's the best procedure for the home dairy, too.

Freshly drawn, unstrained milk foams, and it's difficult to gauge actual Production in quarts, pints, or even cups. Then too, it's much simpler to deal in pounds and tenths of pounds rather than in quarts and fractions of quarts. For all practical purposes, a quart of milk weighs 2 pounds, and 8 pounds is a gallon.

It's a good idea to use this sheet to make notations of relevant data. For example, if you note "Susie in heat," you will be alerted to watch for her next cycle in 21 days. Notes on changes in feed, unusual conditions such as a doe not feeling well or acting quite right, or any other factor that might contribute to differences in milk production can be a big help in interpreting your records even years later. Even the weather can be important.

Any medications used - vaccines or wormers - should definitely be noted, including the type, amount, and date. And you might want to include hoof trimming and other routine chores on your calendar, too.

It's convenient to note breeding dates and the name of the buck, and freshening dates with all pertinent information, right on this same sheet.

This is an example of a very simple barn record form. Real barn records are usually hastily scribbled, often stained, wrinkled, and I've even had a few with goat teeth marks on them. The basic information is milk production, which is weighed and recorded at each milking. Other data such as feed purchases, medications administered, kidding dates, and even weather conditions can be included. To make these records even more valuable, they can later be transferred to a spreadsheet so you can determine the cost of your milk, create individual production records, and even chart lactation curves for each of your goats.

When we bought feed instead of growing our own, that went on the sheet, too. At the end of the year we had a complete record of the input, output, and interesting happenings in our barn, all on just 12 pages.

Recording Reality

One of the primary advantages of such a system is that it overcomes the natural forgetfulness of most human brains. Letís face it: few people, if any, are going to remember statistics from 730 trips to the barn a year that, if the herd consists of three goats with lactations of 305 days, means 1,830 separate entries each year for milk alone.

In addition to not being able to remember all those numbers, the brain can distort them. For example, you might be impressed by Suzieís production of 1 gallon of milk in 1 day and consider her the best goat in your herd. But your records might indicate a less spectacular producer that just chugged along less dramatically, but with a long and steady lactation, actually produced more than a flashing the flashing star. If you had to cull milkers or make a decision about whose daughter to keep you might make the wrong choice without those records.

In many cases, breeders will note that a relatively few top does produce as much as a larger number of poorer producers. Since poor producers require just as much work as good ones and eat virtually as much, it follows that milk from the lower third of even half of your herd costs more than milk from the top half or two-thirds. This suggests that you could get more milk for the same amount of time, effort, and money by replacing does with daughters from the best does. If you donít need that much milk you might be able to eliminate one or more animals, reduce your feed bill, and still increase your milk production.

Records of breeding, expenses, income, and milk production are all basic, and it doesnít take much time or knowledge of accounting to keep them. Just the act of writing them down will tell you a few things about your operation, but itís also possible to squeeze a lot more helpful and interesting information out of these records. Today, with computers, itís easier than ever. Check the publications for programs written specifically for goats, or simply use a spreadsheet.

In any given category, your cost and inclome will vary according to your location, your type of operation, and your management methods. Even when these factors remain constant, your costs can vary from year-to-year. In a drought year, the price of hay can double. You might have mostly doe kids one year, with heavy registration expenses. The next year you might have mostly bucks that go to the butcher, and very low registration expenses. Medical expenses often come in spurts. And don't forget that if you produce more milk than your household can use and the surplus is used to feed calves or pigs, there should be a price differential.

Note: This record can be much more detailed. You might want to divide "Sales of Stock" into breeding stock, meat animals, and perhaps pets, to learn where your best market is. It could be very helpful to separate hay from grain. For example, you might look at your records, determine that you're spending too much on hay, and decide to build a new, hay-saving manger. Later, you'll want to use those records to see how much money the new manger is saving you. And if it works really well so the goats are no longer bedding themselves with wasted hay, you might want to add a category for straw!

Figuring Out Costs

It would be helpful to know in advance how much a gallon of milk from your home dairy will cost, perhaps as a way to justify the investment in a goat in the first place. Unfortunately, there is no reasonable answer to that. Even well-managed commercial dairies have costs that vary widely. Dairy plants that buy goat milk likewise vary in their payment schedules from place-to-place, and even month-to-month, as well as on protein and other factors. Recently, this has ranged from not much more than $20 per hundred pounds to as high as $43. This is from $1.60 to $3.44 a gallon!

The cost to produce this milk varies just as widely in commercial herds, and perhaps even more in home dairies.

That's precisely why you should keep records. Your own balance sheet is the only one that counts. There's no point in looking at numbers and setting unrealistic goals for yourself - or being disappointed because you think you don't measure up. You should determine what your milk is costing you and balance that against what you're saving at the grocery store. But don't forget to add in the value of meat, fertilizer, the security and pleasure of providing your own dairy products, and the fun of having goats!

Pricing Milk

Pricing the milk from your home dairy is no simple, cut-and-dried calculation. Even if you go by the maxim that anything is worth only what someone else is willing to pay for it, goat milk presents special problems.

Most of us produce milk that has varying value. In winter, when production is likely to be low, the entire output might be used for drinking (the "fluid milk" market, the dairy industry calls it). If we'd be willing to pay the health food store price of fresh goat milk, this milk is quite valuable. If you have a baby who's allergic to cow milk and can't find goat milk - at any price - the cost of your home-produced milk is probably of little concern. If, without goats, we'd be drinking cow milk, it's somewhat less valuable. As the milk flow increases we might begin to use some to make cheese, or yogurt. This is "manufacturing" milk, and even cow farmers get less for it. When we begin to use an even greater surplus as feed for pigs, calves, or puppies, the value slides even further.

That's not all. Do you consider manure to be "waste,". or is it black gold? Do culls go to the butcher, or to the rendering plant? Do you utilize the hides? In one way or another, all of these affect the cost of your milk.

In other words, you have a lot of leeway in putting a price on the milk you use yourself. Remember, you're not keeping these records or coming up with numbers for the bank or the IRS. They're strictly for your own use, valuable tools that will improve your herd's performance.

Capital Costs and Operating Expenses

Figure your capital costs, that is, money you invested in things that aren't used up all at once. This includes milking equipment, feed pans and water buckets, fencing, tools such as the disbudding iron and clippers and tattoo set, and the goat itself. Naturally you don't want to charge all this against the milk produced in 1 year.

The milk pail might last 20 years: take one-twentieth of the price as this year's cost. (That's conservative: ours is going on 40. I have long forgotten what we paid for it.) The goat might be good for another 5 years: take one-fifth of-what you paid for her. Go down the list of capital goods, determine the capital costs for I year, and you'll have a more honest picture of your true costs.

Then add up your operating expenses: hay and grain, electricity used in the barn, veterinary fees, milk filters, and everything else that was purchased and used up.

Add up the operating expenses and I-year cost of capital equipment and stock, and subtract that from the value of the goat's production. This will give you a pretty good idea of the goat's annual value to you. By adding up all these costs and dividing by the number of quarts or gallons of milk produced, you'll know the actual cost of your milk.

Even this isn't completely accurate, but it's adequate for most people, and far better than a complete disregard for accounting. If you're inclined, you can figure in the cost (or value) of labor, the value of manure, the cost of money or the return on investment, taxes, and even more.

If more goat raisers kept such records, you can be sure there wouldn't be very many $10 or $20 goats for sale! More people would pay better attention to culling and proper management, too, if they knew what their goats were really costing them.

The Market for Goats

Some sources suggest that many herds break even not because of the value of the milk but because of the value of the kids. A purebred and registered herd that can command top price for its animals will come out far ahead of a herd of grades whose kids are a drug on the market.

This is still true, but notice the wording: "can command top price." At a particular time in a particular place, even excellent purebred stock doesn't always bring high prices. This could be simply because there are plenty of good grades available, and that's what most people in the area want anyway. Still, many other factors could be involved. For top prices you need not only top animals, but you have to earn a reputation in the showring, you'll probably have to be on test and have your animals classified, and you have to advertise. All of these require time, money, energy, and often frustration. How can you know if it will payoff?

One way is to make projections, based on current prices and costs and market conditions in your particular area. This is just one more way of making records work for you. On the other hand, many goat owners simply aren't interested in increasing profits if it means going to shows, getting involved in registering animals and all that entails, or dealing with the public. This can be reflected in their bookkeeping by emphasizing what's important to them.

About the author: This article can be found in "Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats" written by Jerry Belanger. Copyright 2001 by Storey Publishing, LLC.

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