In late December of 2009 I brought a pregnant Alpine goat home in the back of my small hatchback. In late February of 2010, she gave birth to three bucklings, and I began my life as a milkmaid.
Goats are a ton of fun. Seriously. They have a lot of personality, and they’re actually pretty easy to train. That does not mean that they’re not headstrong, because, uh, they can be. Their size means they’re fairly perfect for the small operation that is the home dairy. One 135-p0und woman can easily handle two 200-pound goats, as can one yelling 40-pound child. One full-sized dairy goat like our T-bell can produce two gallons a day in the height of her lactation cycle, and, as of this writing in late December, as much as three quarts a day. I milk her only once a day, in the early morning.
Okay: with potentially 14 gallons a week, what the heck does one do with all that stuff? Well, the babies got most of it for the first three months of their life. But here’s the funny thing. We don’t drink the milk straight, as we were all boringly raised on watery cow milk and now find the rich taste of goat milk too zoomy. I use it instead to make kefir, yogurt, and (as of this writing) 16 different types of cheese. Every two to three days on average, I am making something with that milk. And, well, I sell what we don’t use ourselves.
It’s all fairly magical. From grass and hay and garden veggies and sunshine comes milk! We do supplement with grain (about 4 cups a day for a growing doeling or a lactating doe), but in general, my one doe paid for her initial investment AND the care of a second doe within the first five months of milking her. Their care is fairly minimal (worming, hoof-trimming, mineral supplements on a regular basis) and ours do quite well inside a portable electric fence. My plan is to always have two or three does, and to cycle their kiddings so that one goat is usually kept unbred (and well-rested: ask any mother you know, childbearing and nursing takes a lot out of a girl). Bucklings become wethers and go to live elsewhere, doelings get kept or sold to be dairy animals on other farms.
Jump, girl, jump! Cricket, airborne, with T-bell and Tom
Here is a link to all the goat posts that I have made so far.
And here is a link to all I have written on cheesemaking and other fermentation stuff.
Here are some good goat and cheesemaking links:
- FiasCo farm. Probably the best dairy goat website out there.
- David Fankhauser’s dairy pages, especially his Cheesemaking for Beginners and his milking protocol.
- Dairy Goat Journal. I don’t subscribe, but…it’s out there, and much can be learned from its website.
- There are a few forums out there for you to join, like the Dairy Goat Forum and Cheeseforum.org.
- I buy all of my cultures from Dairy Connection Inc.. They are reasonable and their cultures are very fresh and well-tested because it supplies commercial cheesemakers as well as hobbyists.