If milking goats seems idyllic and charming, you’re right! I always loved spending time with my kids and the goats, teaching my little human kids about the goat kids, and learning to milk them together. It’s fun family time, even if it does have a few challenges when you are a beginner. So keep reading if you ever wondered how to get started with the best goats for milk.
The best goats for a beginner goat herd are Nigerian Dwarf, LaMancha, Nubian, Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenberg, Saanen, and Sable. These popular breeds offer the most delicious, most prolific milk with calm and friendly personalities. With a bit of knowledge, you’ll know how to turn these goats into a productive milk herd.
This article will provide you with a primer on getting started with the best goats for milk. Then, we’ll talk about which goats are the best for a beginner goat herd. We’ll also talk about what needs to happen to get your goats to produce milk and how to milk them. But first, we’ll cover the basic milk goat terms and goat needs so you can understand and do more research on your own.
Basic Care for Milk Goats: What You Need to Know
Before you run to your local auction and come home with a minivan full of goat kids, you’ll need to know a few things about milking goats. First, of course, you’ll need adequate food and shelter for them.
Goats can enjoy a shed, a barn, or even a doghouse. A good rule of thumb is to provide about ten indoor feet of space per goat. They’ll also need fenced area outdoors to roam, run, and browse. If you don’t have enough browse for them to eat, you can supplement their food with hay (not straw) and a little bit of grain for does in milk. Of course, they always need access to fresh, clean water, too.
Before getting started with milking goats, you might want to know a few goat terms. Here are some of the basics:
- Does. A doe is a female boat.
- Doelings are female baby goats.
- Bucks. Male goat.
- Bucklings Baby male goat.
- Wether. Castrated male goat.
- Freshening. When a mother goat’s milk comes in.
- Rut. The period when a male goat is ready to breed.
- Kid. Another name for a baby goat.
- Kidding. When a mother goat gives birth.
How to Start a Goat Milk Herd
When you start your milk herd, you’re going to need to start with a few goats. Goats are herd animals, and they don’t like to be alone. A single goat will be stressed and may get sick easily.
It’s generally best to start with at least three goats. You might want three females, or a combination of 2 does and a wether. You can’t keep a buck with your does. Bucks need to be kept separate. However, I wouldn’t recommend getting a buck if you are new to raising goats.
Your Goat Milk Herd Doesn’t Need a Buck
To be completely honest, bucks do not make nice pets. When they are in rut, they smell, act crazy, and get extremely aggressive. You are better off choosing does and wethers for your milk herd and finding an alternative means to impregnate your does when the time comes. A buck can be very dangerous, especially around children.
We purchased our does already in milk, making it very easy to get started with milking for the first time. The does were already trained to the milk stand, so it was more a matter of us being trained by the goats to milk them correctly!
How to Get Goat’s Milk from Your Goats
In order to get goat milk, you’re going to need a pregnant doe. When it is time to have her impregnated, you can rent a buck for a driveway breeding, take your doe to another farm to be bred, or have her artificially inseminated by your goatie vet.
Most goats go into heat in the fall, although Nigerian Dwarf goats will breed year-round. Watch for signs of tail wagging, vocalizing, discharge, and swelling to know if your female goat is in heat. She probably won’t let the buck breed her if she isn’t in heat. If she stands for him, there’s a good chance she ovulated at the right time, but you might want to breed several times over a few days to make sure.
A goat pregnancy lasts about 150 days and then it is time for the kids to be born.
It’s probably best to let the baby goats stay with the mom full time for the first two weeks, although some goat farms will remove the goats and bottle feed them. First, they get the colostrum, then the mother’s milk. Then they are transitioned to a milk replacer. Bottle-fed babies are very friendly with humans!
After two weeks, you can keep the baby goat separate from the mother at night. Milk her first thing in the morning, then let her have her baby. She’ll make enough milk for both of you! Then, you can leave the baby with the mom all day until you lock them up separately at night.
Once you wean your baby, somewhere around 60 to 90 days, you can milk the mom twice a day. Or, if you are bottle-feeding the baby, you’ll milk her twice a day from the beginning.
Mom can produce for about ten months. Then you’ll need to let her dry up and rest for about two months before she gets pregnant again. You can have several goats on different cycles if you want year-round milk to always have someone producing milk. Or you can milk all your goats at the same time, allow them to dry up at the same time, and give yourself a break from milking two times a day.
Now that you know the basics of managing your milk goat herd, you can look at which milk goat breeds are best for you.
Best Goat Breeds for Beginners
Technically, just about any breed of goat can be milked. But some goats produce better – and make sweeter – milk than others. So when you are looking to start your herd, you’ll probably want to consider one of these beautiful breeds for their milk production and personality.
- Nigerian Dwarf Goats. These are my favorite goats to raise. They are small in stature, highly energetic, and produce lots of sweet milk for their size.
- La Mancha. LaManchas are very docile goats and enjoy being with people. They produce well and are easy to handle, but they are pretty large! My Lamancha was so large and friendly he would just step over the fence and sit on our porch to be closer to us.
- Nubian. While they don’t produce the most milk, their milk has the highest butterfat. They can also be used for meat, but their floppy ears make them adorable pets.
- Alpine. Alpine goats are great for producing a lot of milk, and they are often used in commercial dairy farms.
- Oberhasli. These goats are quiet and calm, making them great for beginners.
- Toggenburg. These calm and friendly goats are medium-sized, curious, and good produces of lower-fat milk.
- Saanen. Saanens are very easy-going goats, but they can’t tolerate a lot of direct sun in the summer. Nevertheless, they can produce a gallon of milk per day.
- Sable. Sables are a large but docile and hardy breed of goat.
How to Milk Your Goat
The process of milking your goats is simple, but it does take a little practice. You can milk your goat anywhere that’s clean. You could use a goat stand or even tie her to the fence if you like. I’ve milked in my garage, on my enclosed porch, in the goat shed, and on a goat stand. A goat stand is probably the nicest for you, and it is pretty nice for the goat, too, since you can feed her easily while you milk.
Give her some grain or yummy snacks to keep her happy while you’re milking.
You’ll need to wash and sanitize your equipment, wash your hands, and wash your goats’ teats. We used a solution of warm soapy water with a little bit of bleach to make sure everything was sanitary.
Never ever pull your goat’s teats as you see in a cartoon! Instead, you need the trap the milk in the teat. So first, pinch the teat gently between your thumb and first finger (not hard enough to hurt her, just enough to trap the milk). Then, while holding that, use your other fingers to put a little bit of pressure on the teat. The milk should squirt right out!
Don’t get frustrated if it is hard at first. You need to develop hand strength and coordination to make it work. Just always be gentle on the goat and don’t pull. Aim the milk stream into your bucket. If your goat is a little antsy and tends to stick her foot in the bucket, you can set the bucket to the side and milk into a small jar in your hand, then pour the milk over as the pot fills. Over time you and your goat will get good at the process, and it may only take you five or ten minutes from start to finish.
Some people like to pasteurize the milk by heating it. Others will keep it raw. That is a very personal decision that only you can make. You need to keep your milk sanitary and cold, so refrigerate it as soon as possible.
Is goat milk better than cow’s milk?
Goat milk is slightly different than cow milk. It has more protein but is easier to digest, so some people who have trouble with cow milk might drink goat milk.
How many goats do I need? Is just one enough?
One goat is never enough. Goats should always be in a herd of at least 2 or 3. However, goats often get along with other herd animals such as sheep, alpacas, and even miniature donkeys.
Should I get a dairy breed or a dual-purpose breed?
If your primary purpose is to have goat milk, you are probably best to get a dairy breed. However, dual-purpose goats are great if you want to have both milk and meat.
Can I skip a milking?
If you skip a milking, your goat’s udder will become uncomfortable full, and she could potentially develop mastitis. So no, you should never skip milking your goat until she is dried up.