A Family Builds a Homestead in the Rain

The Pleasure and Utility of Goats

I’ve had goats for all but short periods of my life. On the farm where I was raised, we had pygmies, which I must admit I am not fond of: noisy, cantankerous, and quite useless except for show, in my experience (please do correct me if I’m missing something!).

When I was ten or eleven, I got a Nubian as a pet, which I might have learned are quite similar in temperament to pygmies. After her kid was stillborn, we brought in a young Oberhasli (or Swiss Alpine) to become her foster kid and companion.

That wether, Buggzie, was my sweetheart: full of personality and tirelessly mischievous, except on the trail. As a pack animal, he was a natural. We took him hiking along the coast and in the hills. Passersby always took bizarre guesses at what he might be: Deer? Dog? Llama?

Given that our Nubian was unquestionably ill-fitted for packing, we got Picasso, a La Mancha. La Machas are sweet and mild-mannered, so much so that he was the object of the other two’s bullying. But he made a good pack goat and a nice mellow farm resident. (La Manchas most notably, by the way, lack external ears but for tiny nubs or tufts.)

Once we moved to our first property with land a few years ago, my husband and I discussed getting a goat fairly soon. We had more or less inherited the goat and two sheep that lived currently in the pasture, none of whom were approachable or particularly nice, so we thought we’d get a caprine pal that might be our intermediary.

We decided on a La Mancha– a nice dairy goat should we go that direction– expecting a nice, mild-mannered little gal either way. We bought one from a local dairy and kept her for the first week or two in our laundry room. Gerdy.

She has nearly every attribute of my beloved Buggzie, but with fewer manners and less training.

We talked about milking her but worried that the commitment would be too binding. Instead Gerdy and her three barnmates are a voracious set of hay-burners.

By the time we will be moving, we hope to find the right home for our wool-factories rather than bringing them along. They’re too old to slaughter and we don’t see another reasonable use for them; while I’d eventually like to spin my own wool, I can’t practically expect it to make the near-future to-do list. Gerdy plus her pal Amy will come along.

So the question is utility, with the goal of building a highly self-sufficient homestead. At the get-go, there’s no question: the barn is overrun with blackberry vines, and the trees are plagued with ivy. Goats are stellar bramble-clearers. They even eat poison oak. So the two will earn their keep well in the first few months, and with plenty of grass and weeds, they won’t tear through hay like they do on our barren, drought-stricken land here.

The next question is, To milk, or not to milk? and I could use some help on this one.

It’s a major commitment, but so, too, is a self-sufficient homestead. So, too, is feeding a family, and buying the milk and cheese and butter– all organic– to support our diet.

To be honest, I’m not terribly fond of the flavor of goat milk, but I’m convinced I would get used to it, particularly knowing the benefits. Goats are highly efficient dairy animals, and they produce a quantity reasonable for use by a family of three. Most importantly, their milk is a perfect food for chickens and pigs, both of which we will be keeping.

The answer seems almost obvious, but I’ll let the thought percolate, round it out against the numerous other plans that will soon compete for ours in my day.

I’d love advice from someone who trudges out through the rain to the barn at dawn and dusk with a toddler underfoot or a baby wrapped against their back. Miserable drudgery? Completely worthwhile? And of course, would we need to start from scratch with a new doe, or can a nice 2-year-old with a spunky demeanor be coaxed to stand still for milking?

For these sorts of reasons I’m glad to have the time to consider, seek feedback, and look at the big picture from afar. Either way, the goats will be there.

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  1. November 7, 2014    

    Reblogged this on 2 Boys 1 Homestead and commented:

  2. November 7, 2014    

    Sorry can’t help with your questions but is making me think twice about keeping goats! My partner would like one so he could do the drudgery!

    • November 7, 2014    

      The intimidating part is just that the schedule has to be rigid and a milking can never be missed. But the benefits appear to significantly outweigh the hassle. One note to you and your partner: goats are highly social critters, so if you get a milker, consider getting a nice wether (neutered male) as a companion. I’ve loved my boys! Thanks for the two cents! 🙂

      • November 8, 2014    

        Thanks too. Most animals need some companionship. And once I thought of alpacas after a rip to Peru. Never thought a female could cost so much…

  3. November 13, 2014    

    i’m not going to be of any help either, except to commiserate. My husband and I would love to have a couple goats (or dairy sheep, I s’pose) because we drink tons of organic milk, love cheese, and love animals. It would be so much fun, but yeah- such a huge commitment! The one thing we can think of is to have nearby friends with goats or goat experience who you can call upon for goat sitting should you want to go out of town for the weekend.

    • November 13, 2014    

      I like that idea, and have considered it. Another thought is to mentor and train interested kids from a local 4H or FFA. That’s what we currently do and they care for our animals and garden when we leave town. Win-win! The other consolation I’ve considered is that we can always try it for a year (or less) and then dry her off. Seriously considering! It makes so much sense financially and for self-sufficiency…

  4. December 5, 2014    

    We have kept goats, nine to date, for the past six years. They are excellent at clearing fields, brambles and overgrown shrubbery in particular. Depending on the year, we have had up to three that we have been milking. My hubs does it mostly, but I have stepped in when he is away. It is not a hard or overly time consuming task once you learn the proper technique and there are even milking stands available to keep them in position–we don’t use one. Of course, they need to have given birth to produce milk so timing and planning matter if you want to have milk throughout the year. We don’t put too much effort into this planning and the result is fresh milk about nine out of twelve months, in over-abundance for about six of those nine months. The fresh milk is amazing. So is fresh yogurt, kefir, and cheese. I have yet to make butter. The by-product of whey from yogurt and cheese making is so versatile. It tastes amazing and the health benefits are phenomenal. I noticed you ferment. I have used whey as a starter in fermented veg, tho you could ferment without also. The milking does not take long but it is a commitment. Things to consider are if you work away from home for long hours or like to travel and don’t have a back up milker. Our feeling is self sufficiency, any lifestyle choice for that matter, should bring near constant joy despite the drudgery that can accompany certain necessary repetitive tasks– point being, we welcome the dry spells as a break from the kitchen and milking ties. Without them we’ve realized that we probably would have stopped altogether many seasons ago. I have not spent enough time here to notice if you are a meat eater, so forgive me if this is inappropriate, but the meat is sooooooo incredible, especially the mince (in the States it’s called burger meat). My suggestion, start with one and see how it goes. Hope this helps.

    • December 5, 2014    

      I am delighted to hear your feedback, which is excellent and insightful. We are meat-eaters, and we do want to be eating only our own meat in the future. (We raise chickens, geese and rabbits for meat, but will expand to larger animals this coming year.) I have never eaten goat. How would you compare it to lamb, or any other read meat? I’ve been weighing the unusual decision between keeping a milk goat or a milk sheep. One of the reasons leaning toward a sheep (or a few) would be raising the young for meat, making the assumption that we’d rather eat lamb than goat. However, like I said, I’ve never tried goat, and lamb is far from a favorite. I’ve got a post underway further exploring the pros and cons of each and would welcome more of your thoughts!
      I love your point about the pleasure of self-sufficiency and good work. Hear, hear! Thank you so much for the thoughtful advice.

  5. December 5, 2014    

    Lamb and goat meat are far from alike, in my opinion. Lamb, which I like, is fatty and greasy in comparison. If you like rabbit and venison, you’d probably like goat. It is milder but still a teeny, tiny, tad bit gamey. Maybe they vary from breed? Goat meat reminds me more of cow, yet still uniquely itself; hope that makes sense. Goats are much leaner, therefore can easily be dried out if not cooked properly. We had a lot of trial and error and have come up with a few do’s and dont’s regarding its preparation. We considered sheep briefly, but from my husband’s experience growing up, he thought it best to try goats as they are less work to keep (not sure on the exact details of that, but something about the need to shear them and also the potential for back end problems). We had never tried goat meat either so, phew, that worked out for us. Nothing like a goat loin strip cooked medium rare on the grill!! All our meat eating friends and family love it. Our neighbors can easily be bribed with a bag of mince. I never, ever tasted burgers or meatloaf quite so amazing. Let me know if you’d like more specifics. Gonna run and put the kiddos to bed…think I am eight hours ahead of you or so.

    • December 6, 2014    

      I love rabbit and venison, so I think we’ll have to revisit this debate. What breed of goats do you keep?

  6. December 6, 2014    

    Our goats are a mix of this and that. We adopted our first goat Alice from a neighbor and have picked up a stray here and there and birthed many ourselves. The island has wild goats so, while we think we know who Daddy is, there is no guarantee. We could control this but not worth the effort so we’re ok with letting it be as it is. Is it possible for you to taste goat meat?

    • December 6, 2014    

      Oh, how interesting! Yes, I’m sure we can buy goat meat from the local carnicerias, so I suppose we should give it a try! If and when we do so, I will let you know!

  7. December 6, 2014    

    After all my researching, etc, I gave in to my never demanding husband and we did it like it is done here. The only goats I know of ever bought onto the island were a few years back by a local who opened a cheese factory, different standards I suppose. The price was right and we took the chance; it definitely paid off for us. We did buy a puck (that’s what they call the males here) from the cheese maker but he didn’t last long. Not hardy enough for the climate I think-the cheese man lets his out to graze, but they never sleep under the stars. I will look forward to your future updates on all things goat.

  8. December 14, 2014    

    We have pygmy/boer crosses that while a bit cantankerous as you said, were trained to the milk stand at 1-1/2 years old. They all stood patiently for milking. And we did milk them. Pygmies are completely useless. While not as high a yield as a diary goat, we still got 1 qt per milking from 3 of them, so 1 gallon every two days which was more than sufficient for our family of 4. The downside to goats milk is that it is not as high in cream/fat content as cow milk so butter/sour/cream/etc are a little harder to come by. It would take us 1 hour to milk and feed all of the goats in the evenings (along with the other chores). We only milked 2 (one lost her kid, the other rejected nursing) in the mornings. Our milk had the infamous “goaty” flavor until we sold our buck, after which the milk was a flavorsome and sweet as anything you could ask for. Overall we love our pygmy/boers and the 2 does (and one buck) that we lost recently will be missed for many reasons, not just the milk. We did not find milking too tedious (we are human so there are mornings where you wish you didn’t have to) but our children are older and were able to help some with chores and eventually learned to milk as well.

    • December 14, 2014    

      This is excellent feedback– thank you! The more I’ve read and contemplated, the more I think that the real hassle may be the prep and cleanup, as in sterilizing the pail, straining, cooling. Can you comment on that? Do you cool in the fridge? I’ve heard that’s not quick enough. And do you wash and sterilize all utensils for every milking, and wash the udders? And is all of this quick or tedious? Still, weighing between potential milk animals and whether we want to wait a year before starting, I’m thinking that this will be such a huge step for self-sufficiency and goats make the most sense, we ought to just go for it. We spend too much money on organic milk, butter and cheese (granted the milk and cheese is less from goats.) Plus, I’m thinking that our La Mancha may be trainable to the stand after all. These comments have really helped me work out my thoughts, and I’ll be following up with a post about it all soon. Thanks again!

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  1. Dairy Sheep | Little Fall Creek on November 8, 2014 at 5:55 am


I'm Kelly. Writer, crafter, forager, country winemaker, cook. Mama of an awesome toddler and married to my best friend. We recently returned to the Pacific Northwest, where we're setting out to grow, make, and learn as much as we can as the future unfolds.

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