If you have the possibility to do so, keeping dairy animals – cows or goats – is one of the best investments you can make, speaking from both a nutritional and economic standpoint. We have kept dairy goats, and the milk, cheese and yogurt were a superb addition to our diet, and our grocery budget was significantly reduced. However, goats or cows are certainly a higher-maintenance project compared with chickens, and before you are tempted to bring home a couple of cute Alpine does, consider the following:
1. Housing. A goat barn needs to be sturdier than a chicken coop, with the possibility to lock the goats in if needed, and provide adequate shelter. It is possible to keep your chickens and goats together, and some people do that, but I don’t recommend this option, in particularly if you have young chicks that can be trodden on.
2. Fencing. Goats are notorious for leaping over fences. If there’s even a slight possibility of doing so, they will get into your neighbors’ flower beds and get you in a very unpleasant situation (ask me how I know). Be a responsible neighbor and keep your animals securely fenced.
3. Pasture. How much you can rely on pasture to feed your dairy animals will depend on the extent of your acreage and your climate. In Israel, the lean season is the summer, when everything is parched and dry. In colder climates winter is the hardest season. When you don’t have adequate pasture, you will need to buy hay and that can get expensive. You can also supplement the diet of your goats by giving them fruit and vegetable peels and weeds from your garden.
4. Commitment. Once you have a dairy animal, it needs to be milked daily. If you need to be away for a day or two, you must make arrangements with someone to come and do the milking for you (though we could work around that by letting the goat kids have all the milk while we were gone). Also, if you have a high yield of milk, you will need to dispose of it by making cheese, yogurt, etc, on a daily basis, and this may be inconvenient at times. If you have several goats who produce a lot of milk and you skip a day of cheesemaking, you may find your refrigerator overflowing with milk.
5. Breeding. Unlike chickens, goats need to be bred to be productive; that is, a goat will not produce milk until after she’s kidded. You will need to breed at least once a year, and if you’re very small-scale, keeping a buck may be inconvenient, in which case you will need to make arrangements to take your does to be bred, or borrow/rent a buck on a temporary basis.
We currently don’t have dairy goats, mainly due to reasons of constricted space and compassion for our neighbors, but I do hope to return to this exciting venture someday.