When I moved out of the suburbs, I could not wait to jump into raising milk goats. So I did some quick research, found a couple of goats, and brought home a couple of Nigerian Dwarf goats. Nigerian Dwarf goats are ideal for my family, backyard, and milk needs. But there are plenty of milking goat breeds to choose from.
The best milk goat breeds are: Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Saanen, Sable, Oberhasli, LaMancha, Alpine, and Toggenberg. These goats are typically easy to manage and produce plenty of milk. Some can also be used for meat production and for pets.
This article will cover the best milk goat breeds. But there are a few things you need to know about milk goats before you pick the breed that works best for your situation. So we’ll talk about how many goats you need, how to milk your goats, and how to have fresh goat milk all year. But first, let’s take a very quick look at some of the benefits of owning milk goats. (Here are two books you might find helpful: 1. Starting Right With Milk Goats and 2. Raising Goats For Beginners.
Benefits to Owning Milk Goats
Of course, the number one benefit to owning milk goats is their milk! Fresh goat milk doesn’t have that ‘goaty’ flavor that many people associate with store-bought goat milk. For some people, it is easier to digest and has less effect on allergies. In addition, owning a couple of goats is generally easier and more manageable than handling a cow due to the size and nature of goats.
Goats also make great pets if you have the space for them. They are intelligent, trainable, and often hilarious to watch. Also, they’ll take care of your weeds and poison ivy and give you rich manure for your garden in return. (See also my article entitled “How Much Does A Milk Goat Cost?“)
How Many Milk Goats Do you Need
Goats are herd animals, so you should never have just one. Ideally, you should have at least two, and even better, a minimum of three goats to start your milk herd.
If you are new to raising goats or have small children, I highly recommend that you avoid having an intact male goat in your herd. Male goats who are not castrated can be dangerous, and they have to be kept separate from the female goats except when mating.
If I were to start over again, I would probably start a milking herd with two females and one wether (castrated male). With two or more females, you can stagger the milk production so that you have milk all year round.
If you are looking to produce as much milk as a cow, you’ll need at least ten female goats in production at a time.
Quick Guide to Goat Milking
Goat milking isn’t hard, but it does take a little practice. Therefore, you need to know a few things about milking goats before you start.
To Get Goat Milk, You Need Baby Goats
In order for milk goats to make milk, they have to get pregnant and have a baby first. Goats are typically bred in the fall, and a goat pregnancy lasts around 150 days. Once the mom has her baby, known as kidding, her milk production starts. So don’t worry, momma goats have enough milk for you and her babies, both!
Keep the babies with their mom for the first two weeks. After two weeks, you can separate the babies from their mom for the night and then milk her first thing in the morning. You need to keep to a consistent time as much as possible! Once you have milked the mother goat or goats, then you can allow the babies to be with their mom for the day. She will feed them as usual.
You can wean the baby goats from their mom at around 8 to 12 weeks of age. When the babies are weaned, you’ll want to milk the mother goat both morning and evening, roughly twelve hours apart. Some goats will produce milk for up to two years after freshening. If you are going to breed your goat again, make sure you allow her milk to dry up.
How to Milk Your Goats
Milking goats is a process. It isn’t hard, but it does take a little practice. First, you’ll need a place to milk your goats. The easiest is to use a milk stand, but you can also tie your goat to a fence post and milk her right in the pen if you need to. I’ve even milked goats inside my covered porch or garage when the weather was bad.
You’ll need something to milk into, like a milk pail or jar. You’ll also need a strip cup and supplies to wash and sanitize your goats’ teats. MannoPro gives an excellent breakdown of the sanitizing and milking process here.
If your goat likes to kick, you might need to secure her foot with a strap. If she tends to put her foot into the milk pail, you can milk into a smaller jar that you hold with one hand.
To put it simply, you’ll need to clean your equipment and have it ready. You’ll also need to clean the goat’s teats. Then, you’ll want to squirt the first few bits of milk into your strip cup to look for blood, clumps, or other issues which might indicate a problem with the milk. After that, if the milk looks good, it’s time to milk.
Squeeze the Teat But Don’t Pull when Milking Your Goat
Never ever pull down on a goat’s teats. Pulling is painful! Instead, you gently wrap your hand around the teat to trap the milk in the bottom of the teat and then gently squeeze. The milk will squirt out, and hopefully, you can aim it right into your bucket! Then, open your hand to allow more milk into the teat and repeat.
You’ll know you’re done when you can’t get any more milk. It’s up to you to decide if you need to pasteurize your goats’ milk or not, but it needs to be kept clean and cold, no matter which you choose.
Have patience with yourself and your goat when you are first learning to milk. It is a process for you both! Your hands may feel very tired at first, but you’ll quickly build up hand strength from milking every day.
How to Have Fresh Goat Milk All Year
Most goats will produce milk for around ten months and up to two years. After that, the milk supply will drop at some point, and your goat will need to have another baby to produce more milk (this is what we call freshening.). Most goats are bred in the fall for spring, kidding. However, if you want a steady milk supply all year round, you can stagger goat breeding throughout the year, especially if you live in a warmer climate. It can be really hard on baby goats if they are born in the winter, so plan accordingly.
Some goat breeds will produce for a longer period of time than other breeds. And now that you have an understanding of how to milk goats, we can look at which milk goats are best for your farm or backyard.
The Best Milking Goat Breeds Are:
1. Nigerian Dwarf
My favorite breed of goat for milking is the Nigerian Dwarf. First of all, these goats are about half the size of other breeds, so they need much less space than other goats. So if you don’t have a lot of room, these goats are a good choice.
Nigerian Dwarf goats are friendly, curious, and sometimes mischievous. However, they are great producers for their size. They will produce a few pints of milk each day or more, and their milk is around 6.1% butterfat.
Nigerian Dwarf goats are prolific breeders and are easy to manage.
I love LaManchas for their friendly personality. Think of them as the labrador retriever of the goat world – they are rather large and would probably sit in your lap if you let them! However, they are distinctive in their appearance because they have very small or no ears.
LaManchas originated in Spain but are very popular in America. Their milk has about 4.3% fat.
LaManchas can be very tall, so you’ll need to make sure you have tall fences!
Alpine goats originated in the French Alps. They are high produces and can give one to two gallons of milk per day with a milk fat of 3.5 percent. Alpine milk is often used to make butter and cheese. These goats are used for both commercial and homestead milk production.
Nubian goats are large dairy goats and produce half to one and a half gallons of milk per day. They can produce milk all year long, as well. Nubians can also be used as meat goats.
Nubian goats are adorable with their long floppy ears. They are smart and friendly, but they are also very loud.
These medium-sized goats are well-known for their calm and gentle disposition. They are great pack animals as well as milkers. They have a striking black muzzle, belly, legs, and black stripe down their backs. They can produce up to a gallon and a half of milk per day. Their milk is 3.5 to 4% butterfat.
The Oberhasli’s horns are often removed when they are babies, and their smaller size makes them great for urban settings.
The largest dairy breed is the Saanen. These goats are very friendly and make great pets. They can also be sued for meat production. However, they also are known for digging! These goats can actually dig under fences, so you’ll need to be extra diligent about keeping them safe.
Saanens produce about a gallon of milk per day which is around 2.5 to 3% butterfat.
Sables are related to Saanens but have different coloring. They’re a little bit smaller, as well. Sables produce milk that is 3 to 4% butterfat.
Toggenburg goats are one of the oldest breeds. And although it only has 3.3% milkfat, it is hardy and a good breeder.
Final Thoughts on Milk Goat Breeds
Choosing a milk goat for your family is a combination of factors. First, you’ll want to look at how large the goat is because that will determine how much space you need for your goats. Smaller goats need less space, and large goats need more space.
You’ll also want to look at your goat’s temperament, as well. For example, if you have small children who will be working with your goats, you will want to look for goats that are especially calm and gentle. You may even find a breeder with young children who interact with their goats every day.