Our Journey to Self-sufficient Goat Keeping
by Leigh of 5 Acres & a Dream
One of the most exciting times in our beginning days of homesteading was when we first got goats. The excitement began beforehand, as I researched the various goat breeds. It was great fun to pour over breed photos and descriptions, trying to decide which one I liked best. Initially, I was only aware of two kinds of goats – dairy and meat breeds.
I learned these can be further subdivided into standard and miniature breeds. In addition, they can be classified as brush goats, feral goats, heritage breed goats, pet goats, show goats, and work goats (goats that have been trained to pull a cart or carry a backpack). More recently, mid-sized, dual-purpose goats have entered the scene, particularly Kinders. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these.
How we got Started
Initially we focused on what I called brush goats. These were inexpensive, mixed breed goats to help clear the years of overgrowth on our newly purchased homestead. Later, I bought two purebred dairy goats, Nubians, and two Pygmies. I’ve also had Toggenburgs, Nigerian Dwarfs, Kikos, Boer crosses, and an Alpine cross. What I’ve learned is, not all breeds are suitable in helping us work toward our homesteading goals.
My husband and I chose the homesteading lifestyle because we love to live and work close to the land. We love living in partnership with the natural world around us and our primary goal is to create a self-sustaining homestead. This includes a number of areas: energy, water, animals, and food, which includes feeding ourselves as well as feeding our animals. When it comes to goats, I have learned that not all breeds are equally suited for this.
Production in Mind
Over the years, breeds of goats have been selectively developed with production in mind. Modern dairy breeds produce gallons of milk, and the modern meat breeds gain weight quickly. For a commercial producer, these qualities are assets.
To facilitate production, commercial feeds have been developed, which contain everything a goat needs in one package. These are convenient, but eventually I had to ask myself how well all this fit into our desire to feed our animals from our land.
Kikos and Pygmy Goats
Our Pygmies, Kikos, and mixed breed goats are an example of goats well suited to our needs. They do very well on forage and hay alone, and are good choices for pasturing. Even when in milk, they keep their weight and produce well on pasture, with garden vegetables and homegrown herbs for added vitamins and minerals.
Our Nubians, on the other hand, are a type of dairy goat that has been selectively bred over the generations for maximum milk production. It’s true that they produce gallons of rich, tasty milk, but it also means that their caloric and nutritional needs are higher. It is a challenge to keep them in good body weight and condition when they are producing milk.
Fitting Goats into the Big Picture
As I struggled to keep weight on my Nubian Does, I finally had to ask myself exactly how keeping goats fit into the big picture. Did I want to them to supplement our income through the sales of goats or dairy products? Did I want to make a home based business of these things? Did I want to participate in promoting a particular breed through a breeding program and breed registry? Or did I simply want to meet the needs of my own family?
All of these are valid reasons, but each would make different demands on my life. I needed to decide which one fit best into our plans for our homestead.
It was that primary aim of self-reliance that helped me make that choice. While I’m happy to have extra goats to trade or sell, I’m not interested in growing a huge goat business. Nor am I interested in developing a dairy business. We do want goats for milk, meat, kids, and manure for the compost, but I don’t need gallons and gallons of milk, I just need enough for our own use: for milk, cream, cheese, butter, whipped cream, kefir, and occasional ice cream.
Dual-purpose Goat Breeds
Understanding this has helped me tremendously. I’ve realized that the best types of goats for our homestead are heritage breeds, dual-purpose, or crossbreds. I admit that crossbred goats don’t carry the status of purebreds, but they do have genetic diversity and hybrid vigor, two qualities that are necessary for a small homestead.
This realization changed my breeding plans. Currently, I am working with locally available breeds, Nubian and Kiko, in hopes of breeding goats better suited to our land.
Making your own Choices
Others, with different situations, will make different choices. Because we have the land, we are able to keep bucks to breed our does. Another possibility would be taking our does elsewhere to be bred. The miniature breeds, such as Nigerian Dwarfs, are ideal for smaller plots of land, even backyards if town ordinances allow. With their friendly, gentle personalities they make ideal pets as well as providing creamy milk for the table and manure for the garden.
They won’t eat tin cans, as myth suggests, but being smaller they do eat less. A milking doe may eat a cup of grain twice per day, less for goats that are neither milking nor pregnant. Packaged goat feed, purchased hay, surplus garden produce, and a good quality loose goat mineral make keeping small goats manageable for a small family. Being herd animals, at least two are required. The good news is that they are not as noisy as the neighbor’s barking dog.
I still have my Nubians and still worry about their weight. In working toward our goals, I have learned a lot. Best of all, there is a joy to partnering with the animals. Learning to do this has been a process, but an important one. What’s best for them, is best for us.
Leigh and her husband are an empty nest couple who homestead five acres in the Southeastern USA. Besides their goats, which provide them with milk, cream, butter, cheese, meat, manure for the compost, and more goats, they have free-range chickens and a cat. Leigh writes about her homestead on her blog, 5 Acres & A Dream and invites you to visit to learn more about her farm and animals.
If you liked this post then please visit these other pieces from the DIY Homesteading series: