Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The purpose of having dairy goats (at least in theory) is for the milk. Good goats produce milk for 10 months and then slacken off. To get them to start up again, they need to have a kid. Some great goats will go longer, but the usual rule of thumb is to freshen a doe once a year.

Like so many animals, dairy goats are on yearly cycle. A doe kid is born in the early spring, eats well for the better part of a year before winter conditions arrive, and has her own baby or babies when she is a year old, the next spring, so that the cycle can repeat itself on schedule.

The gestation period of a goat is 5 months, and at the end of that time the newborn is ready to leap up and begin life, on the move so as to avoid predators if in the wild.

On a farm, the newborn kid is not in danger of any predation except excessive petting and picture taking.

But the 5 month rule still applies. If you want babies in March, better get them started in October.

Most breeds of dairy goats are in season throughout the fall, and the kids are born throughout the spring. Some breeds aren't so particular, such as those whose origins are closer to the equator. These will breed in the fall for spring babies, but they will also breed in the spring for fall babies, or at any other time, just about.

We had only goats who were in season in the fall, and that presented a challenge if we wanted year-round milk. Does are usually milked 3 months into their pregnancy, then dried up for 2 months so all their energy can go into the babies. So that is two months when that doe will not be contributing milk to her owners.

The smart course is to breed some of the goats early, some late, in the fall season. Say some in late August with their first heat of the season, and some in November. Anything later than that is risky because the breeding season is almost over.

Freshening is all about bringing does into milk, not producing baby goats. In a sense they are throw-aways in the process, little mouths to feed that use up the precious milk.

But with good planning, they become assets, with homes waiting for them. More on kids later!

With a couple of does freshening around the end of January, and others coming into milk in April, the flow of milk can be out of bounds. Milking all those does is a bigger chore than it was in the fall, when the milk supply was running down and last year's doelings were not in milk at all.

What to do with the seasonal abundance of milk is the big issue of a goat dairy.

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