Raising Goats for Meat and Milk

Linda Heitman shares info on goat breeds and gives pointers on raising goats.

| May/June 2013

You are tired of paying $4 per gallon of milk and close to $3.50 per pound for ground beef at the grocery store. It’s even got you thinking about taking another step toward food independence by purchasing a few goats. Great! But now what? How do you decide what kind of goat to buy? What is the difference between a milk goat and a meat goat? How about a milk and meat cross? Is there a difference among breeds? How much does it cost to buy a goat? How much does it cost to keep a goat? Do I really need a buck? And most importantly, how do I keep my goat from jumping on my car?!

The big decision

First and foremost you must decide on your main purpose for buying a goat: milk, meat or both. Milking goats are bred for maximum production of high-quality milk. A really good milk goat can produce a gallon or more of milk per day for about 10 months. We recently butchered a 7-month-old Alpine (a popular Swiss dairy breed) buck; however, it yielded less than 15 pounds of meat. To be fair, the meat was very high-quality, low-fat, 100% organic and totally delicious.

A meat goat butchered at the same age, in comparison, would likely yield more than three times as much meat. You can milk a meat goat, too, but the milk yield will be substantially less. A milk/meat cross will give you both, but not as much of either as a purpose-bred milk or meat goat. It’s a tradeoff, so before you choose a breed, think carefully about how much milk and meat you want, and select your animals accordingly.

Milking is fun, but still a chore

If you are choosing to milk goats, you must accept that you will be required to milk them at least once per day and probably twice per day, every day for up to 10 months a year. Owning milking animals is a decision that will significantly impact your lifestyle. Unless they’re nursing or dried off, goats have to be milked 12 hours apart, at the same times every day. Failing to do this can cause resentful goats and chronic health problems. If you work all day, this can make it difficult to run errands or go out after work. Also, you’ll want to plan trips well in advance, arranging for friends to milk your goats while you’re gone.

The fat of the matter

Did you know that there is a wide variance of butterfat content in goats’ milk depending upon the breed? Butterfat content usually ranges from 2 to 6 percent, and starts low, increasing over the lactation period. High butterfat breeds are great if you want rich milk for cheese, butter or ice cream. The quantity and quality of milk a goat gives will vary by breed, forage and individual genetics.

The fat globules in goat’s milk are much smaller than cow’s milk, which makes it easier to digest for those with milk sensitivities or digestive problems. The flip side, however, is that it is more difficult to separate the cream. Cow’s milk cream naturally rises to the top within a matter of hours, but goat’s milk cream rises very slowly. If you want a lot of cream, consider investing in a cream separator specifically designed for goats. They can be expensive, but consider how much you spend a year on store-bought butter and ice cream; a cream separator will last for years and will pay for itself many times over.

5/31/2013 3:56:01 PM

goats are wonderful and very personable. before purchasing however, realize that they are HERD animals and will not be happy as a single goat. the more the merrier.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!