Thursday, 11 May 2017 12:55

Long history of milking

Written by  Marjorie Orr
Dairy goats are a relatively recent introduction to NZ. Dairy goats are a relatively recent introduction to NZ.

Goats have been used for milk production for at least 9000 years, but in New Zealand dairy goats are a relatively recent introduction. 

Sometimes milking does were kept on the ships that brought immigrants to NZ to provide dairy products en route. 

Some were farmed for their milk by the early settlers, but the commercial dairy goat industry didn’t begin to develop in earnest until the 1980s. Since then it has become a small but well-established industry centred in Waikato. In 2005 the region had about 26,000 milking goats; all NZ had about 40,000.

There is a small but steady market for dairy goat milk and dairy products in NZ. Goat milk is popular because it has the reputation of being more readily digested and less likely to cause allergic reactions than cow’s milk, it’s suitable for a range of dairy products and is particularly good for making cheese.

Milk from many of the North Island commercial dairy goat farms is taken to the Dairy Goat Cooperative (DGC) factory in Hamilton where it’s made into milk powder and exported, mainly to China. 

The DGC is farmer-owned, with 69 farmer shareholders, most in Waikato region and some in Northland and Taranaki.  All the suppliers’ farm milk goats only -- mainly Saanen, and some Toggenburgs and some Nubians.

Most dairy goats in NZ (probably about 80%) are Saanen, a breed that originated in Switzerland.  They are medium-large, with coat colour white or cream and they have erect ears.  The Sable is a coloured variant of the Saanen developed in NZ.

The Toggenburg is of medium size, brown in colour varying from light fawn to dark chocolate, with distinct white facial stripes from above the eye to the muzzle and with white along the edges and tips of the ears, on the lower legs and inside the legs to the trunk and around the tail.

Placid, intelligent

Goat dairy breeds are generally good animals to have on the lifestyle farm because:

- They are placid and intelligent

- They don’t require shearing or Tb testing

- With good handling and good facilities, lactating does can be hand-milked fairly readily

- Hand-reared kids make good pets for children; castrated male kids can usually be acquired from dairy goat farms, where they have little value.

• Dr Marjorie Orr is a retired vet. This article first appeared on


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