All About Goats

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Goats come in a variety of colors, such as solid black, white, brown or spotted.
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Find a complete guide to living simply and sustainably in “Self-Sufficiency.”

You will find a complete guide to living a simpler, more sustainable life in Self-Sufficiency (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010). Author Abigail R. Gehring offers practical advice as well as step-by-step instructions on hundreds of self-sufficient projects. In this excerpt taken from part five, “The Barnyard,” learn all about goats.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Self-Sufficiency.

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Goats provide us with milk and wool and thrive in arid, semitropical, and mountainous environments. In the more temperate regions of the world, goats are raised as supplementary animals, providing milk and cheese for families and acting as natural weed killers.

Breeds of Goats

There are many different breeds of goats. Some goat breeds are quite small (weighing roughly 20 pounds) and some are very large (weighing up to 250 pounds). Depending on the breed, goats may have horns that are corkscrew in shape, though many domestic goats are dehorned early on to lessen any potential injuries to humans or other goats. The hair of goats can also differ — various breeds have short hair, long hair, curly hair, silky hair, or coarse hair. Goats come in a variety of colors (solid black, white, brown, or spotted).

Feeding Goats

Goats can sustain themselves on bushes, trees, shrubs, woody plants, weeds, briars, and herbs. Pasture is the lowest cost feed available for feeding goats, and allowing goats to graze in the summer months is a wonderful and economic way to keep goats, even if your yard is quite small. Goats thrive best when eating alfalfa or a mixture of clover and timothy. If you have a lawn and a few goats, you don’t need a lawn mower if you plant these types of plants for your goats to eat. The one drawback to this is that your goats (depending on how many you own) may quickly deplete these natural resources, which can cause weed growth and erosion. Supplementing pasture feed with other food stuff, such as greenchop, root crops, and wet brewery grains will ensure that your yard does not become overgrazed and that your goats remain well-fed and healthy. It is also beneficial to supply your goats with unlimited access to hay while they are grazing. Make sure that your goats have easy access to shaded areas and fresh water, and offer a salt and mineral mix on occasion.

Dry forage is another good source of feed for your goats. It is relatively inexpensive to grow or buy and consists of good quality legume hay (alfalfa or clover). Legume hay is high in protein and has many essential minerals beneficial to your goats. To make sure your forages are highly nutritious, be sure that there are many leaves that provide protein and minerals and that the forage had an early cutting date, which will allow for easier digestion of the nutrients. If your forage is green in color, it most likely contains more vitamin A, which is good for promoting goat health.

Goat Milk

Goat milk is a wonderful substitute for those who are unable to tolerate cow’s milk, or for the elderly, babies, and those suffering from stomach ulcers. Milk from goats is also high in vitamin A and niacin but does not have the same amount of vitamins B6, B12, and C as cow’s milk.

Lactating goats do need to be fed the best quality legume hay or green forage possible, as well as grain. Give the grain to the doe at a rate that equals 1/2 pound grain for every pound of milk she produces.

Common Diseases Affecting Goats

Goats tend to get more internal parasites than other herd animals. Some goats develop infectious arthritis, pneumonia, coccidiosis, scabies, liver fluke disease, and mastitis. It is advisable that you establish a relationship with a good veterinarian who specializes in small farm animals to periodically check your goats for various diseases.

Milking a Goat

Milking a goat takes some practice and patience, especially when you first begin. However, once you establish a routine and rhythm to the milking, the whole process should run relatively smoothly. The main thing to remember is to keep calm and never pull on the teat, as this will hurt the goat and she might upset the milk bucket. The goat will pick up on any anxiousness or nervousness on your part and it could affect how cooperative she is during the milking.


A grain bucket and grain for feeding the goat while milking is taking place
Milking stand
Metal bucket to collect the milk
A stool to sit on (optional)
A warm sterilized wipe or cloth that has been boiled in water
Teat dip solution (2 tbsps bleach, 1 quart water, one drop normal dish detergent mixed together)


1. Ready your milking stand by filling the grain bucket with enough grain to last throughout the entire milking. Then retrieve the goat, separating her from any other goats to avoid distractions and unsuccessful milking. Place the goat’s head through the head hold of the milking stand so she can eat the grain and then close the lever so she cannot remove her head.

2. With the warm, sterilized wipe or cloth, clean the udder and teats to remove any dirt, manure, or bacteria that may be present. Then, place the metal bucket on the stand below the udder.

3. Wrap your thumb and forefinger around the base of one teat. This will help trap the milk in the teat so it can be squirted out. Then, starting with your middle finger, squeeze the three remaining fingers in one single, smooth motion to squirt the milk into the bucket. Be sure to keep a tight grip on the base of the teat so the milk stays there until extracted. Remember: the first squirt of milk from either teat should not be put into the bucket as it may contain dirt or bacteria that you don’t want contaminating the milk.

4. Release the grip on the teat and allow it to refill with milk. While this is happening, you can repeat this process on the other teat and can alternate between teats to speed up the milking process.

5. When the teats begin to look empty (they will be somewhat flat in appearance), massage the udder just a little bit to see if any more milk remains. If so, squeeze it out in the same manner as above until you cannot extract much more.

6. Remove the milk bucket from the stand and then, with your teat dip mixture in a disposable cup, dip each teat into the solution and allow to air dry. This will keep bacteria and infection from going into the teat and udder.

7. Remove the goat from the milk stand and return her to the pen.

Making Goat Cheese

Most varieties of cheese that can be made from cow’s milk can also be successfully made using goats’ milk. Goats’ milk cheese can easily be made at home. Making goat cheese, however, you will need at least one gallon of goat milk. Make sure that all of your equipment is washed and sterilized (using heat is fine) before using it.

Cottage Cheese

1. Collect surplus milk that is free of strong odors. Cool it to around 40°F and keep it at that temperature until it is used.

2. Skim off any cream. Use the skim milk for cheese and the cream for cheese dressing.

3. If you wish to pasteurize your milk (which will allow it hold better as a cheese) collect all the milk to be processed into a flat bottomed, straight-sided pan and heat to 145°F on low heat. Hold it at this temperature for about thirty minutes and then cool to around 80°F. Use a dairy thermometer to measure the milk’s temperature. Then, inoculate the cheese milk with a desirable lactic acid fermenting bacterial culture (you can use commercial buttermilk for the initial source). Add about 7 ounces to 1 gallon of cheese milk, stir well, and let it sit undisturbed for about ten to sixteen hours, until a firm curd is formed.

4. When the curd is firm enough, cut the curd into uniform cubes no larger than 1/2 inch using a knife or spatula.

5. Allow the curd to sit undisturbed for a couple of minutes and then warm it slowly, stirring carefully, at a temperature no greater than 135°F. The curd should eventually become firm and free from whey.

6. When the curd is firm, remove from the heat and stop stirring. Siphon off the excess whey from the top of the pot. The curd should settle to the bottom of the container. If the curd is floating, bacteria that produces gas has been released and a new batch must be made.

7. Replace the whey with cold water, washing the curd and then draining the water. Wash again with ice-cold water from the refrigerator to chill the curd. This will keep the flavor fresh.

8. Using a draining board, drain the excess water from the curd. Now your curd is complete.

9. In order to make the curd into a cottage cheese consistency, separate the curd as much as possible and mix with a milk or cream mixture containing salt to taste.

Domiati Cheese

This type of cheese is made throughout the Mediterranean region. It is eaten fresh or aged two to three months before consumption.

1. Cool a gallon of fresh, quality milk to around 105°F, adding 8 ounces of salt to the milk. Stir the salt until it is completely dissolved.

2. Pasteurize the milk as described in step 3 of the cottage cheese recipe.

3. Domiati cheese is coagulated by adding a protease enzyme (rennet). This enzyme may be purchased at a local drug store, health food store, or a cheese maker in your area. Dissolve the concentrate in water, add it to the cheese milk, and stir for a few minutes. Use 1 milliliter of diluted rennet liquid in forty milliliters of water for every 2 1/2 gallons of cheese milk.

4. Set the milk at around 105°F. When the enzyme is completely dispersed in the cheese milk, allow the mix to sit undisturbed until it forms a firm curd.

5. When the desired firmness is reached, cut the curd into very small cubes. Allow for some whey separation. After ten to twenty minutes, remove and reserve about a third of the volume of salted whey.

6. Put the curd and remaining whey into cloth-lined molds (the best are rectangular stainless steel containers with perforated sides and bottom) with a cover. The molds should be between 7 and 10 inches in height. Fill the molds with the curd, fold the cloth over the top, allow the whey to drain, and discard the whey.

7. Once the curd is firm enough, apply added weight for ten to eighteen hours until it is as moist as you want.

8. Once the pressing is complete and the cheese is formed into a block, remove the molds, and cut the blocks into 4-inch-thick pieces. Place the pieces in plastic containers with airtight seals. Fill the containers with reserved salted whey from step 5, covering the cheese by about an inch.

9. Place these containers at a temperature between 60 and 65°F to cure for one to four months.

Feta Cheese

This type of cheese is very popular to make from goats’ milk. The same process is used as the Domiati cheese except that salt is not added to the milk before coagulation. Feta cheese is aged in a brine solution after the cubes have been salted in a brine solution for at least twenty-four hours.

Six Major U.S. Goat Breeds

Alpine–Originally from Switzerland, these goats may have horns, are short haired, and are usually white and black in color. They are also good producers of milk.

Anglo-Nubian–A cross between native English goats and Indian and Nubian breeds, these goats have droopy ears, spiral horns, and short hair. They are quite tall and do best in warmer climates. They do not produce as much milk, though it is much higher in fat than other goats. They are the most popular breed of goat in the United States.

LaMancha–A cross between Spanish Murciana and Swiss and Nubian breeds, these goats are extremely adaptable, have straight noses, short hair, may have horns, and do not have external ears. They are not as good milk producers as the Saanen and Toggenburg breeds, and their milk fat content is much higher.

Pygmy–Originally from Africa and the Caribbean, these dwarfed goats thrive in hotter climates. For their size, they are relatively good producers of milk.

Saanen–Originally from Switzerland, these goats are completely white, have short hair, and sometimes have horns. Goats of this breed are wonderful milk producers.

Toggenburg–Originally from Switzerland, these goats are brown with white facial, ear, and leg stripes; have straight noses; may have horns; and have short hair. This breed is very popular in the United States. These goats are good milk producers in the summer and winter seasons and survive well in both temperate and tropical climates.

Reprinted with permission from Self-Sufficiency by Abigail R. Gehring and published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2010. Buy this book from our store: Self-Sufficiency.

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