Care and Management of Dairy Goats
The dairy goat's popularity continues to increase rapidly as more people discover the dairy goat's appeal, utility and productiveness. A goat's life span is eight to twelve years, and dairy goats have a strong herd instinct and prefer the companionship of at least one other goat.
Some of the basics to know about the care and management of dairy goats are:
Cleanliness is of extreme importance. All equipment and milking area must be kept very clean.
Cooling is critical to milk flavour and quality. All milk contains bacteria, some of which comes from the air and the utensils. If milk remains warm for a short period, the bacteria begin to multiply and the quality of milk deteriorates. Therefore, cool milk immediately after milking.
If the milk is to be sold to the public or to a processor, there will be state inspection of the operation just as is required for production of Grade A milk from cows. Check with your local health authorities.Lactating dairy goats in full lactation should not be left for more than 24 hours without relief by milking.
Goats are reputed to be willing to eat almost anything. The digestive systems of a goat allow nearly any organic substance to be broken down and used as nutrients. Contrary to common belief, goats do not eat everything and they certainly don't eat tin cans.
Dairy goats have fastidious eating habits and are particular about the cleanliness of their food. Their natural curiosity may lead them to investigate newly found items by sniffing and nibbling, but they quickly refuse anything that is dirty or distasteful.
Goats do not thrive under the same conditions as sheep and dairy cows as they are a browsing rather than grazing animal. Goats like to graze good pasture but their diet must also contain ample roughage, some concentrates and a supply of bushes, weeds or rough scrub to give variety.
For a dairy goat to milk well and maintain condition you need to feed them well, a dairy goat will not milk and survive well on grass alone! A goat producing four litres of milk per day will need at least 2.5 kg of concentrates per day as well as access to good quality lucerne or clover hay. A good rule is to feed 500 grams of concentrates for every litre of milk produced and 500 grams for maintenance. A crude protein mix of 12 - 14% will give good results.
Kids are milk fed until two to three months of age, but should be consuming forages such as pasture grass or hay by two weeks of age and grain within four. All dairy goats must have fresh clean water and access to a mineral block.
Goats of all kinds enjoy branches, Some suitable trees are Blackwood wattles and Acacias. Goats really enjoy rose clippings and vegetable scraps. But be aware that Azaleas, Rhododendron, Foxglove, Lilac, Helleborus (Christmas rose) Yew, Laurel, Fuchsia, Poppy, Laburnum, Potato tops, Rhubarb leaves, bulbs, Hydrangea, Oleander, Belladonna, (deadly nightshade) Oleander, Potatoes, Rhubarb and some Gum trees are highly poisonous to goats. If unsure the best idea is do not feed it.
Always remember, when feeding anything new to your goat it should be introduced slowly. Make sure they have a good feed of hay before being turned on to lush feed.
Dairy goats do not have the thick or oily coats of other animals. They need to have access to shelter from the rain, cold winds and intense summer heat. They also like a warm bed at night. The shelter need not be exotic but it must provide these basic elements. Ideally there should be straw litter over the floor (a cement floor is easy to keep clean but it is cold and hard) and the litter should be cleaned or changed regularly to keep the shelter sweet-smelling and disease-free.
Good fences are important. They keep goats in and dogs out. They also keep foraging goats away from your trees and shrubs as well as your neighbour's flower garden.
Goats are very clever and they will quickly learn to escape over the fence or through the smallest gap in the fence. They are much more intelligent than sheep and will keep going back to the same spot. If you teach kids to respect fences you never have any trouble. You need good latches on your gates as clever goats soon learn to open them.
Your local farm supply can recommend the proper equipment.
Tethering should not be used for goats as they often strangle themselves.Also they at a disadvantage should they be harassed or attacked by dogs or the like. The tether often becomes tangled and prevents access to water or shelter.
Hooves should be trimmed frequently to assure proper development of the hoof.
How often you trim depends on the type of ground you have; goats that live on rocky, hilly properties will need less foot trimming than goats who live on softer ground. You need a good sharp pair of footrot shears and a small woodworkers rasp is a good investment for smoothing off the soles of the feet.
Demonstrations of hoof trimming are occasionally held in conjunction with some shows. Contact the Secretary or Publicity Officer if you would be interested in attending one of these sessions.
Dairy goats are usually seasonal breeders. Most breeding occurs in late summer into winter. The goat has a 21 day oestrus cycle and her "season" (when breeding can take place) lasts from a few hours to two or three days. The gestation period is five months. Twins are very common and some does have triplets or quads. A good milking doe will milk for a year after kidding, many will milk longer if they are not mated to a buck again.
Bucks have a strong musk-like odour during breeding season, but are not offensive with proper management. The doe has no odour at any time. Most small herds do not keep a buck and rely on stud services, if available, from other local herds. Most breeders require a vet’s certificate to state that the doe has tested negative to CAE and Johne's Disease before granting access to their bucks. There is a charge for the buck's service. Contact the Secretary or the Publicity Officer for information on breeders offering stud services or see the 'Studs of Queensland' pages.
Only bucks from high quality parents should be kept for breeding purposes and doe kids can be fertile from three months of age so they need to be separated from the buck kids.
For the safety of the goat-keeper as well as the other goats in the herd, kids need to disbudded (unless naturally polled) as early as possible but this is better left to an expert unless you know exactly how to do it. Contact an experienced breeder for information or an expert in your area.
Drenching and Vacination
A useful fact sheet about the need to keep tetanus vaccination current. http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/goats/health/tetanus
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