Getting started with homestead dairy - Kim from Little Black Cow blog

by Farmer Liz
Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing bloggers who keep milking cows and goats about how to get started with a homestead dairy.  This week I am so pleased to bring you an interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow blog.  Together with her husband and children, Kim runs a farm stay in the Hunter Valley, and not only does she milk goats, she also recently got a milking SHEEP!  Kim has shared so much experience in this interview, I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I did.

Kim milking her goat
FL: Tell us about how you came to own a milking goat. 

Kim: We started out with our son having intolerances to different foods. He was in Kindergarten and we were buying goats milk for him . He liked it, but the fresh goats milk from the supermarket was 30 mins drive away and the long life goats milk tasted awful.

My husband came home from work one day and was met with the question 'Can we get a milking goat?' 2 days later we had a goat. I did not have any information on milking goats, but the lady I bought her off gave me a milking lesson.

As a child myself, I had experience with having a pet goat called Casper . He was a buck (billy goat) and spent most of his time trying to chase me/butt me.I spent most of my time shampooing him with lovely perfumed things to cover his awful smell (it didn't work).

We ended up going to a farm that had black Melaans. We bought a goat called Sarah.  David made me a milking stand. We learnt then never to buy an older milking goat because you cannot be sure of their previous history.  Sarah was a sufferer of chronic mastitis, her udder had been badly damaged before we had her. Sadly we had to sell her. I was reminded of her last week when the iron bark gum tree she ring barked on arrival at the farm finally fell over.

We then purchased a goat called Lucy from a local goat dairy. Lucy was an amazing goat and provided us with beautiful milk. Lucy's daughter 'Honey' still produces milk for us to this day.

All up we have been milking for about 7 years on and off.

I looked at getting a jersey cow at one stage but we decided against it because goats are something I can handle all on my own. They are the perfect size for a woman to manage without help.

FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

K: We hand milk our goat. For one or two goats we would find it too labour intensive to be using a machine. Also - from what we have read, a milking machine can damage the goats teats - I don't know how true this is though.

baby goat *CUTE*
FL: What is your milking routine?

K: We started out milking Lucy every afternoon without a kid (she was bought on her own).  This was convenient from a daily sense, but proved difficult as time went on because we couldn't go away anywhere unless we could get someone to come and milk her. Lucy milked for nearly 2 years without having additional kids. We were exhausted trying to keep her milking routine going and 'con' friends /family into milking for us so we could have a holiday.

Our milking routine now:

*Generally goats have twins .We keep the doe kid (easier to sell later or keep to milk later) and sell the buck kid as a pet . We are yet to face the problem of having 2 buck kids but I am sure it will happen.

This means we can choose when we start to milk Honey (ie. when the kid is 2 weeks old, up to 2 months old).

Each afternoon at 4.30 - we feed Honey and separate the kid in a small yard where she can see mum but can't have a drink. Honey has always looked quite relieved to have a rest and the kid is placed with another animal to interact with. Presently little Lucy is best friends with Harry the lamb.

At about 6am in Summer/7am in the cooler months (and 9am for farm stay visitors!), we milk Honey on the milking stand and reunite mother and daughter. Honey always holds back some milk for Lucy's breakfast- I don't know how she manages to do that!

We make a point of having a 'milking break' when Honey is pregnant to catch up with other farm things. This gives Honey's body a break and us a break. This time of year we buy local cows milk.  After the next pregnancy we will be giving Honey a break from having kids and will milk a second goat. She will have to be away from Stewart for this time.  It is important to us that we allow our animals to have a breather and respect their needs.

FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your goat back in kid? 

K: Our first goat got pregnant due to a buck just appearing at the farm one day…he just followed the scent to our farm . We don't know where he came from and we don't know where he went. Honey was a result of that romantic liason.

We now have a buck called Stewart. It was a risk for me - I knew that buck goats could smell terrible and be difficult to handle. All my expectations were turned on their head though when I found Stewart at 6 months old . He was a bottled raised buck and just had a gentle nature. He also didn't smell 'terrible' - I found out later this may because Stewart is allowed to be with his girls all the time. Many bucks are locked away in a paddock away from everything and feel they need to 'perfume' themselves to make their scent strong enough to reach a do.  As Stewart is interacted with constantly and is with the does most of the time, this might mean he doesn't feel the need to perfume himself up (they do this by urinating on themselves). He is a great goat. We can even put him with a sheep and he is happy to just have a companion if the does are being tethered.

We don't allow families to go in the paddock with Stewart on farm stay visits now as he is so big and strong. During tethering at times along the creek, I have had the displeasure of being dragged along by him while we find somewhere nice …. he is much stronger than I am.

Also, to this stage, Honey has never fallen pregnant whilst she has been feeding a baby. So we stagger weaning her baby with when we want her to start cycling again. I am sure this is not a proven thing, but it just seems to work with these particular goats. Stewart gets a severe beating up from Honey if he attempts to do anything earlier.

Honey on her tether (temporary, so she can grass along the river)
FL: How much pasture land do you have for your goats and how much supplement feed does she need?

K: At present we have 4 small paddocks we rotate over as well as tethering when we are home and I can check on the goats constantly. Tethering is a great way to 'whippersnip' and also give the goats the opportunity to access woody weeds. We now know that if we don't pick branches for them to eat or take them to the creek to tether, the result will be ring barked trees in our paddocks as the goats seek the nutrients they need. We feed the goats lucerne hay, they allow the goats to forage themselves. We also give them goat pellets. There are many sources of pellets that we can buy that suit all ruminants, but we buy goat pellets specifically made for goats as they have specific vitamins and minerals that our paddocks can't always provide.  A goat that is nutritionally looked after will rarely suffer from an illness and be less prone to things like mastitis.

Good nutrition is essential for any animal producing milk. We can tell when we need to provide more access to greener feed etc. simply by the quality and quantity of the milk.  We have to be very careful that the sheep don't eat the goat pellets as they are higher in copper, which can be toxic to sheep.

Fresh goat's milk
FL: What do you do with all the milk? 

K: We used to use the milk mainly for cooking. Then I learnt to make goats milk soap.

Now we freeze excess milk for the soap making. This is a great way to ensure nothing ever goes to waste. We always drink our milk at its freshest - generally it tastes so good that it doesn't last longer than the day in the fridge without being drunk up by hungry teenagers.

During goat milking time, we get 1.5 -2 litres daily. This season things are looking pretty dry and not as green, so I know the quantity will be affected until the Spring growth happens in our paddocks.

Milking time is a time for lots of custards and milk based recipes! 1.5 litres doesn't sound like much but, having that much milk each day adds up!

FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking goat? 

K: I love putting my head on a warm goat as I milk and the steam rises out of the milking bowl. When I am milking in the early hours of the morning, the sun is just peaking over the hills and there is a gentle light over everything. It is like the purest kind of meditation as you settle into the rhythm of milking, left /right /left right. It is a time when all is right with the world .

There is also something so empowering by being able to supply such an essential food into your family home without driving to the shops to buy it.

We drink the milk raw and fresh ,which is a personal decision-my belief is that we shouldn't interfere with the way nature made it. There is nothing like the taste of fresh goats milk, so creamy and good for you…also much easier to digest than cows milk.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking cow/goat challenge?

K: The first challenge we faced was fencing! There was a point there we nearly threw the towel in as the goats are incredibly clever at escaping and eating your most prized plants or the neighbours plants. We now have weldmesh fences buried in the ground, and a wooden rail or electric fencing along the top. Since we established these fences, it has been great!

My current challenge is that this is an extremely difficult task to do well if you are working on a job off the farm. I retire from teaching at the end of the year and look forward to the freedom to do this part of simple living as simply and as unrushed as I can.  Any milking animal requires time and care.

FL: What is your advice to those considering getting a milking goat? 

Look at your fencing first. Tethering is great if done safely but it shouldn't be the only way the goat can access food. Having a paddock that your goats can roam around freely in is very important.  Also don't get too attached to your plants (I am having a flash back to the 'great vege raid' this year when someone left a gate open and my entire crop of broccolli was eaten.)

Always get at least 2 goats - they are a herd animal and crave company. You can get one goat though if you are home all day and it will bond with you as a member of its herd.

Read Pat Coleby's book on Goat Care before you buy a goat , they are a very different animal to a cow or horse and research is important to fulfill their needs.

Keep one kid to enable you to have a life. Self sufficiency shouldn't be about exhausting yourself. I work on a Wednesday off farm - on this day Lucy the kid is left with mum and she gets extra milk that day …rather than me trying to milk a goat before I go to work and prepare lessons for the day.

Goats milk does not taste 'goaty' in our experience - we have saanen and nubian blood stock in our goats and the milk is far nicer than any cows milk we buy.  But - always taste the milk of the animal you are going to buy or an animal related to it - some swiss breeds have a very strong tasting milk.

Don't buy the first goat you see, visit different farms and be sure of exactly what you want before purchasing.  Most goat owners with a herd are very widely read and can answer most questions. Our vet told us that of any animal owner, goat owners often know more about goat health than the vets do because they do so much reading.

Goats are an incredibly smart animal (I imagine from our experiences about the intelligence of your average 3 year old human child without being able to talk). They are always up to something but this is the charm of them -they are just so funny and amazing to be with. If you want to have a funny story every day to tell your family, interact with an animal that interacts back, have fresh milk for your family and have weeds whippersnipped and turned into milk …then goats are for you.  Even having the brocolli eaten was worth the charm of having them.

Gretchen the milking sheep
FL: How does your milking sheep compare to the goats? (Tell us all about the sheep so far, I love the idea of a milking sheep!)

K: I have this lovely quiet milking sheep. Her name is Gretchen. She is gentle and used to being handled.

Sheeps milk is even more digestable than goats milk. The reason I looked into doing this was partly because I wanted to open people's eyes to the fact that milk comes from all sorts of different animals (you should see farm stay kids' eyes open wide when they discover you can get milk out of a goat … every picture book that they have ever read says it comes from a cow!).  I am interested in making sheep milk cheeses (the milk is very high in butter fat) for our own use. I am also interested in using the milk for soap making - an item that goes towards establishing the farm as our main source of income.

There is one problem though - it would seem that sheep don't like jumping up for you. They are not as smart as a goat, so if you show them something , they don't remember a thing about it the next day.  So Gretchen has been in 'milking training ' for the past few week, but each day is the same ' 'Mmmm- I can see the food at the end but gosh, I can't work out how to get to it. What is it you want me to do again? '.

We never force an animal …so the next stage is building a ramp to go up to the milking stand ….or maybe cutting the legs off the milking stand ….or maybe getting David to build a 'sheep milking stand'. We are learning along with Gretchen. But the point is, we keep changing and adapting until we get it right.

-In this instance I have flash backs to what it was like when I first started milking goats. Nothing is easy the first time and nor should it be. We learn so much each time we try something new and we should never give up - the rewards we get at the end are well worth striving for.

FL: Wow Kim, thank you so much for putting together all this information.  I hope that Gretchen can work out the routine soon!  And I'm glad you learnt to keep a kid, the milking routine can be relentless and its nice to be able to take a break occasionally.  I loved reading about Stewart too.  If you have any comments or questions for Kim, please head over to her blog and let her know what you think about milking goats (and sheep).  

Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

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