Goats are generally docile animals, which makes milking them relatively easy. For people that live on properties too small for cows, keeping dairy goats can be a great alternative.
Lactation usually lasts for 300 days, with each doe producing on average 2-3L/day. Commercial enterprises typically milk their herd twice a day, but once a day would be adequate if only a small number of goats are kept. Twice daily milking may be required during peak lactation, when does can produce up to 4L/day.
Milk supply for goats is seasonal due to breeding cycle. This can make processing and distribution difficult as milk is not easily supplied year round. Flocks can be managed separately and milked in rotation to help even out milk supply throughout the year. However, seasonal production can make management easier and provide some time off.
If you plan on running a commercial dairy specialised equipment will be needed, but hand milking can be carried out on a small herd. Requirements of the milking premises may include:
- shed, holding yards, feed bins, feeders
- milk storage facilities (e.g. milk vat)
- access tracks for large vehicle or tanker
- effluent disposal system and ponds.
Dairy goats are generally healthy with a life span of 15-20 years.
One of the major viral diseases of goats is Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) virus. This virus causes chronic arthritis/synovitis in adult goats and hind leg weakness followed by ascending paralysis, fits and death in kids.
However, only 10% of goats infected may ever show signs of the disease. CAE is transmitted through infected colostrum, saliva, urine, faeces and blood and through the multiple use of injection equipment.
Another health issue for dairy goats is mastitis. Mastitis is caused by physical injury or bacteria and can lead to a loss of milk production.
Clinical mastitis involves physical changes to the udder (e.g. swollen, hard and painful to touch) and causes the milk to become watery and flaky.
Subclinical mastitis is harder to detect as there is no notable change to the udder or milk composition. However, milk yield will decline and scar tissue will develop in the udder.
To prevent mastitis make sure good hygiene is maintained. Keep the milking and kidding area free of mud, manure and urine and use teat spray after milking each goat.
Any treatment of mastitis should be discussed with your vet.
Goats are also prone to internal parasites and flystrike and will require treatment when infestations occur. Regular faecal egg counts are advisable to determine if parasites are present.
Some chemicals will require a withholding period, where milk will be unsaleable, to avoid residues being passed on to consumers. Instructions are printed on labels and should be followed carefully.
Goats are susceptible to clostridial diseases such as enterotoxaemia and tetanus, and should be properly vaccinated for these. For advice on all aspects of goat health consult your veterinarian.
Fences should be well made and maintained.
Goats rarely jump over a fence, they are more likely to climb on the fence, or debris next to the fence, or squeeze through the gaps.
Make sure fences are clear of any rocks, fallen timber or stumps. Electric fences are also effective when built and well maintained and are generally cheap and easy to install.
As the dairy goat industry in Australia is relatively small, producers are often involved in the production, packaging, marketing and distribution of products. It is vital that a business plan be produced to give your business direction and to estimate the cost of production and profits.
A small dairy with on-farm value-adding (e.g. cheese making) may not provide enough income, therefore other revenue streams (e.g. off-farm income or other on-farm activities) may need to be considered.
Size of the enterprise will also need to be well thought out. A small producer may have difficulties managing the farm, processing, marketing and delivering the product by themselves.
Consider establishing a larger dairy or forming partnerships with other dairies to increase economies of scale. Many of the costs associated with production are the same for large and small quantities.
Forming partnerships can allow for greater volume of product to satisfy demand and more effective processing, marketing and delivery.
The main markets for goat’s milk include fresh milk, powdered milk and cheese.
Fresh milk is the most difficult product to distribute as most retailers require small amounts and are often located far apart.
Opportunities also exist in powdered milk exports to Asian countries.
Markets should be established before production begins so that you are not stuck with a product you cannot sell when the herd comes into production.
Outlets for products may include restaurants, delis, farmer’s markets, on-farm or internet sales, health food stores or supermarkets trying to extend their range of exotic products.
National Livestock Identification System (NLIS)
All livestock owners within WA must be registered and their stock identified in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 (BAM (IMSA) Regulations).
Registered owners are issued with a property identification code (PIC) which outlines the properties they have registered to run stock on and the identifiers they may need to identify their stock (e.g. their stock brand, earmark or pig tattoo).
The prescribed method of identification for sheep and goats is to have your registered brand or PIC imprinted on an approved NLIS eartag. The NLIS eartag can be visual or electronic and is colour coded for the year of birth.
The colour of these tags depends on the year they were born and whether they are leaving their property of birth or another property.
Earmarking of sheep and goats is optional.
Any movement of goats between properties with different PICs must be recorded on the NLIS database and a waybill sent with the animals.
For more information contact the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Brands Office on +61 (0) 8 9780 6207, email on email@example.com or search ‘sheep and goats’ on the DPIRD Agriculture and Food Division website.
Know what you’re getting into
With the increase in demand for an alternative to cow’s milk and healthy, exotic dairy products there are opportunities to be involved in the dairy goat industry.
This may not suit everyone’s lifestyle so it is important you do your homework before ‘leaping’ in.