When it comes to typical “farm animals” and livestock, goats are often an overlooked option. While we love our little goats, they are not often at the forefront of discussion when it comes to agriculture! With our farmer’s market schedule now in full swing, we are meeting so many new friends and customers who are just being introduced to goat milk products, and the goat world in general. They have lots of questions and curiosity about our little herd – and we love those questions and answering them! Which brings us to today’s post, a crash course of sorts into the goat world. Let’s call it Dairy Goats 101. We’ll answer all our most frequently asked questions about our herd, goats in general, and clear up some common misconceptions. Ready? Here we go…
Goats, along with sheep, are the oldest domesticated species on earth. For centuries, goats have been highly valued as multi-purpose animals, providing milk, meat, skin, and fiber, depending on what part of the world they were located in. Today’s domestic goats can generally be split into three categories – dairy goats, meat goats, and goats that produce fiber, such as angora goats. Similar to cattle and other livestock, different breeds of goats excel at producing different products – just like Angus cattle are valued for their beef, while Holsteins are valued for their milk. In goats, Boer goats are commonly recognized as those raised for meat, while there are eight breeds recognized for their ability to produce milk (dairy goats). While we recognize and value goats who produce both meat and fiber, today we want to talk specifically about dairy goats, since this is the area of the goat world that we specialize in.
The eight established breeds of dairy goat range in size, physical characteristics, and the quantity of milk they produce. At Madd House Hill, we have been raising dairy goats for over ten years and specialize in Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. Nigerian Dwarves arrived in America in the 1970’s, and have been gaining popularity ever since. While they are the only miniature dairy breed, Nigerian Dwarf goats produce a proportional amount of milk for their size, and milk which has the highest butterfat content of all the dairy breeds. We think this butterfat content is what makes our soap extra, extra moisturizing!
Using the correct terminology is very important in the goat world. Knowledgeable producers, as well as national goat organizations, are strongly against using outdated terms like “nanny” and “billy” to refer to goats. These terms are viewed as slang and degrading to the animals and those who raise them. Just like deer, a female goat should be referred to as a doe, and a male goat, a buck. A castrated male goat, which is commonly kept as a pet or companion for another animal, is called a wether. Baby goats are generally called kids, though you may also hear the terms buckling or doeling, which denote the gender of the kid. A group of goats is called a herd.
Goats come in all sorts of varying colors and patterns – that’s part of what makes them so fun! Some dairy breeds have upright ears, others have floppy ears. One breed as tiny, almost invisible ears. Dairy goats also range in size and color. Our Nigerian Dwarfs stand approximately 20 inches tall at the shoulders and come in a variety of colors and patterns. While there are too many to name in one post, some common patterns include tricolor, buckskin, and solid colors. One look at a picture of our herd and you’ll see that our goats really do come in a rainbow of colors! It is also common for Nigerian Dwarf goats to have spots. We especially love when our goats have little white spots on the tops of their heads, and it looks like they are wearing a little hat 😊
Most goats have brown eyes, but Nigerian Dwarfs are an exception, and can produce blue eyed goats. While we love ALL our goats – we have to admit the blue eyed ones are particularly striking. Here’s a fun fact for you though: regardless of eye color, all goats have rectangular pupils.
Goats can be born with or without horns, though most are born with them. While goats tend to be depicted in the media with long horns, this isn’t true of most domestic goats, and especially dairy goats. At 7-14 days old, goat kids’ horns are humanely and carefully stopped from growing through a process called disbudding, which kills the horn cells before they can grow. This is for the safety of everyone involved, including the goat. Goats with horns are at risk of injuring themselves by becoming entangled in fencing or other hazards, but they can also pose a risk to other goats when headbutting (a common goat behavior when determining the pecking order).
Personality and Companionship
Goats are intelligent, personable animals who make an excellent addition to any farm – but they are also growing in popularity as pets! Many of our kids born at the farm each year go on to join small farms, become a 4-H project, or liven up the backyard as an entertaining and well-loved pet. Goats are also known to be excellent companion animals for horses and other livestock who might need a friend. However, it’s important to remember that goats are herd animals. If you want one, you will need two for the goats to really thrive. Without a companion, goats can become very lonely. We don’t really see this as an issue though, since we choose to believe you can never have too many goats!
No, goats do not eat everything. While they are not picky eaters by any means, the cartoons and imagery of goats munching on trash is definitely an exaggeration. Goats enjoy hay, a balanced diet of grain, and foraging in well-managed pasture. Goats are natural foragers and aren’t choosy when it comes to leafy greens, so they will often snack on weeds, brush, and other undesirable plants. In fact, entire businesses have been built on a goat’s ability to eat lots and lots of weeds. We are seeing a growing number of cities, parks, and individuals who are hiring “rent a goat” style businesses that will bring a herd of goats in to clean up wooded and overgrown areas!
Okay, this is a common goat rumor that is actually true! Goats are natural escape artists and can outsmart their fencing if not constructed properly. One of our does, Taylor, was even known to scale our wire fencing and escape into our backyard! We highly recommend at least 5-foot, wire fencing with squares no larger than 3x3. If the gaps are too large, baby goats can walk through it. And yes, we know from past experience. The fence also needs to be well supported and close to the ground, so the goats can’t squeeze under it. Goats are very smart and can fit themselves through even a small gap when something delicious is waiting for them on the other side.
Goat milk newbies often ask us what goat milk tastes like, if it is bitter, or even if it is edible or “goaty” tasting. The truth is, there is no perceptible difference between the taste of properly handled goat and cow’s milk. If anything, we think goat milk is sweeter! Goat milk is delicious, nutritious, and has many qualities that make it beneficial. For those with dairy intolerances, goat milk may be a viable option due to smaller fat globules and a different protein structure.
Goat milk can be used for drinking, cooking, baking, and creating all sorts of other dairy products. Goat milk cheese, ice cream, cheesecake, fudge…you name it. And trust us, they are all delicious. Goat milk can even take the place of milk replacer for orphaned animals, or formula for babies. Check out the milk comparison above, and you’ll see just how nutritious goat milk can be!
We hope this has been both an illuminating guide for those new to goats, and a helpful resource for those with more experience! If you have any additional questions, feel free to browse the other articles available on our blog, or comment below! We are always happy to talk goats, answer questions, and get others hooked on what we like to call goat therapy.
Until Next Time,
Madd House Hill