Getting started with homestead dairy - Ohio Farmgirl

by Farmer Liz
Here's another interview in my series about homestead dairy.  This time another (reluctant) goat lady, Ohio Farmgirl, shares her experience with milking goats.  OFG also joined me for the getting started with growing your own and getting started with chickens series, but in case you missed those interviews, she lives in Ohio (obviously) on a few acres and is very passionate about growing her own food, and German Shepherds.  She has a great blog called Adventures in the Good Land with lots of wise words about gardening, poultry, dogs, pigs and of course, goats.

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

OFG: Ah... goats. The 'poor man's cow.' Some people love goats. I do not. I'm more of a 'goat liker' and not a goat lover. We usually have between three and “a small herd” of dairy goats. To be sure the only reasons I have diary goats are because:

1. I can't afford a cow (no pasture for them to graze)

2. Poison ivy.

When we arrived at this new property it was late fall and we had no idea the entire place was infested with poison ivy. The first summer we were on this property I had a poison ivy rash every stinkin' day. So one afternoon I literally threw down my garden tools, got in my truck, and drove up to meet a woman who advertised "mini manchas" on craigslist. I didn't know what a "mini mancha" was and at the time the only thing I knew about goats was that they eat poison ivy. That was good enough for me. So I handed over all my foldin' money and drove home with two ridiculous looking, bleating goaties. The first thing they did was run over to the poison ivy and ate it. I loved them.

Then the shine kinda wore off. But we'll talk about that later. Oh, and no goats will ever be in this house. Nada. Never. No way.

I wish I could build a cow sized platform...
FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

OFG: I old-school it all the way and only hand milk. The milking machines are pretty expensive and honestly by the time I'd have to drag it out, hook it up, use it, and clean it I could just milk those darn goats myself. We prize “easy milkers” in goats and any goat who is too difficult to milk is given a bus ticket, $20, and sent on their way.

The most important tool in our milking regime is the milking stand. This makes it easy for me to reach the important parts and it allows the goat to focus on her feed. We only give bagged food on the stand. No milk, no feed. That's the way of it. Using this 'feed on the stand only' ensures that the goats are excited to run right up and stand there quietly. Kicky milker, bad attitude, stomp in the bucket? Guess what, Goatie, I'll take your food and I'll still milk you anyway – this hard nosed approach guarantees they will stand there quietly.

FL: What is your milking routine?

OFG: For peak milking greatness we milk twice a day, about an hour after sunrise and about an hour before sunset. This is in line with our other barnyard chore schedule so it makes sense to us. In a normal year we sell all the goat babies as soon as we can and take advantage of every precious drop of milk.

This year has been a bit different. For the first time we don't have pigs to eat all that delicious extra milk so I am only milking in the morning. The babies that we kept this time (two doelings who are sure to be prized milkers when they are ready) are separated from the mommas at nite, I milk the ladies in the morning, and then the babies can have the milk for the rest of the day.

The lady and her goat :)
FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your goat back in kid?

OFG: Generally we take our goat ladies on “dates” to be bred. We have a great working relationship with some professional goat breeders and this has worked really well for us. We've also, unfortunately, had to bring a several goat bucks onto the property. I can't stand bucks. They are stinky and aggressive and mean. Too Short, ThunderNuts, and SnaggleHorn all did their “chores” and were shipped off as fast as possible. There is no way I'd keep a buck on the property full time. You can read here about our misadventures with keeping a buck.

We haven't explored using AI mostly because finding a good goat vet around here is pretty tough. Also, I'm not mature enough for some things. AI for goats is one of them.

FL: How much pasture land do you have for your cow and how much supplement feed does she need?

OFG: Goats are actually pretty thrifty. Our goatyard is good sized but not enough for them the graze as their sole source of food. We've been experimenting with fencing off different areas of our wooded and brambled lot. This has been working really well. We have a ton of blackberry and wild rose which is perfect for the goats. We've also been really successful with our home made alfalfa hay project.

With our two full sized and one mini goat we usually go thru one 50lbs bag of food per week to 10 days. When we bought hay last year we were probably using a bale per week. But this year with the expanded grazing areas and home made hay we have not purchased one bale of hay the entire summer. Since we aren't milking for peak performance we can afford to use these methods. This has made for some terrific savings and we are getting a lot of land cleared. If we were milking for maximum milk we would be buying more alfalfa hay.

FL: What do you do with all the milk?

OFG: We use all of it! What we don't use for the house for cheesemaking and our own use we pour on the barnyard. All of our critters love the milk – it's perfect for the chickens and the ducks even love it. But the goat milk's value really shines when we have pigs. We save a tremendous amount of money on pig food by supplementing their food with goat milk and also eggs (always cooked) from our chickens.

Having dairy animals completes the perfect barnyard circle.... the goats provide the milk for the chickens who provide eggs for us and the pigs, and the pigs provide us with meat. The pigs clear the worst of the brambles and treed areas to open it up for grazing areas for the goats. When we butcher the pigs, and especially when we render the lard, we get leavings for the chickens. It all works out perfectly and all parts of the barnyard benefit from each other.

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

OFG: The incredible savings in barnyard feed costs. It's really a great system and we can't believe how well it works. We focus our feed dollars on the bagged goat feed and it “trickles down” to benefit the rest of the barnyard.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking goat challenge?

OFG: The foolishness. I know that many people love goats for their charming personalities but frankly they just rub me the wrong way with their shenanigans. My requirements for goats are for them to produce a lot of milk and to stand there quietly while I milk them. I could go without all the drama, theatrics, and standing there screaming their fool head off. We have had a variety of ridiculous situations including coming home to find one of the goats hanging upside down by her back leg, one goat getting her head stuck in a feeder, and don't even get me started on the most dreaded time of year – goat birthing season.

Fortunately for me I have an excellent and hard working farm dog who helps me keep the goats in line. Also we favor the La Mancha goat breed – they tend to be quieter and more well behaved. There is no goat smooching on our farm.

A common challenge some people face is that their goats are “escape artists.” We don't have that problem. We have the biggest, nastiest electric fence charger that money can buy and ran hotwire on the inside of field fence. The goats respect the fence – the goats also know that there are huge, burly dogs on the outside of their goat yard. They learned quickly that any escape attempts are met with the full force of my Dog Horde. So our goats don't escape anywhere.

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

OFG: Two things:

1. Get really, really good fencing. One of the biggest mistakes folks make is underestimating the ability of a goat to get out of their pen. Don't waste your time with anything but electric hotwire on the inside of field fence. Ideally you'd want 2 or 3 strands about nose high to keep the goats inside the fence. Remember that fencing is there to keep your goats IN and also to keep predators OUT. So even if you think your goaties won't try to get out remember that is only half the problem. If you haven't had problems with predators before, once you get goats you will.

2. Never bring a goat to a dog fight.  I am continually stunned at folks who think it's OK to let their dogs “play” with their goats. Friend, that's just an unhappy accident just waiting to happen. Goats smell like poop and run when chased – they are the perfect prey. No goat – not even that big buck of yours – is any match for one big, determined dog or two medium dogs working together. Make sure your fencing is secure and your dogs are supervised around your goats.

And lastly... don't over think it. We wish we would have gotten full sized dairy goats sooner. However we were intimidated by having dairy animals so we started out with the mini goats. We quickly learned, however, that goats of all sizes are easy to handle and the more milk the better. We can't tell if we are lucky or what but our goats are our biggest farming success.

FL: thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview OFG, once again you have provided us with plenty of advice.  I don't have any goat experience, so I find it fascinating to read about them.  I love your little milking stand, I wish we could get Bella up on something like that, but goats are so much more nibble that big clumsy cows.  If you want to comment or ask any more questions, head over to OFG's blog and join in the discussion.

Check out the other interviews in this series on Homestead Dairy:
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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