Shelter is one of the first considerations when contemplating the purchase of a doe, according to the New Zealand Dairy Goat Breeders Association.
In Western Australia there is a niche market for goat milk and cheese, but first small landholders require knowledge in breeding, goat management, milking, animal health and markets.
Goat milk can provide an alternative for people who suffer with cow milk allergies and gastro-intestinal disorders.
Although goats are very rewarding animals to work with, they will need to be milked twice a day for the majority of the year.
In Australia there are six main dairy breed.
Three are of Swiss origin - Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine, two have been recently bred in Australia -Australian Melaan and Australian Brown and one is from the Middle East - the Anglo Nubian.
Good qulity food and water is essential for good milk production. When determining feed rations, energy and protein are the most important elements to consider.
Lack of energy is the most common problem affecting production, and protein is essential for growth, pregnancy and milk production. Feed analysis can be a valuable tool in determining what nutrients your feed may lack.
Fresh pasture is a great source of minerals, energy and protein and is a low cost source of feed. Rotational grazing can maximise the supply of pasture and minimise the need for supplementary feeding when pasture is in short supply.
Good grazing management is essential. Feed budgeting should be carried out throughout the year and take into account pasture supply and other sources of feed if needed. Surplus pasture can be harvested for future use by cuttig for silage or hay.
Regular blood and tissue testing of goats is essential to ensure that copper (Cu), selenium (Se) and cobalt (Co) levels are adequate and that Cu and Se, which are toxic, are not over dosed.
A month before mating, the doe should be gaining weight so that they are in good condition when mated. It is vital that does are feed a diet that contains adequate energy and minerals, to help them meet the extra demands of the foetus and milk production.
A poor diet can lead to hypocalcaemia (milk fever - low levels of calcium in the blood) or pregnancy toxaemia (sleepy sickness - glucose deficiency).
It is essential that you plan for kidding. Most does come into season during autumn and winter and have an 18-21 day oestrus cycle. First mating usually occurs when the doe is around 19 months old, however they can be fertile from three months old, so it is important that they are separated from buck kids early.
Breeding is very seasonal, so out-of-season breeding can be difficult and costly, requiring the use of hormones and light manipulation. The gestation period for goats is approximately five months.
Most does are mated during autumn so that kidding will occur in spring when there is plenty of green feed available. A does usually averages two kids per mating. Newborns should be protected from predators (e.g. dogs, foxes) and have plenty of shelter.
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. Commerical 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 folloed 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 vaccinate 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.
Article - Western Australian Department of Agriculture