Friday, 22 May 2020 11:28

History of dairy goats in NZ

Written by  Dr Marjorie Orr

Goats have been used for milk production for at least 9,000 years, but in New Zealand dairy goats are a relatively recent introduction.

Sometimes milking does were kept on the ships that brought immigrants to New Zealand 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 the Waikato.

In 2005 there were about 26,000 milking goats in that region, and about 40,000 throughout the whole of New Zealand.

There is a small but steady market for dairy goat milk and dairy products in New Zealand.  

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 operations is taken to the Dairy Goat Cooperative (DGC) factory in Hamilton where it’s made into milk powder and exported, mainly to China.  

All the suppliers’ farm milk goats only and these are mainly Saanen, with some Toggenburgs and some Nubians.
Unfortunately for lifestyle farmers, the costs of maintaining the very high standards of hygiene required for the sale of milk are generally prohibitive.  So most of us use our goat milk and milk products only for our own families.

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

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 the inside the legs to the trunk and around the tail.

The Nubian is a cross between the African Nubian goats and English goats.  It is of medium size and has a distinctive aristocratic Roman nose and long pendulous ears set low on the head, wide and open.  The coat is usually mainly fawn or brown and there can be patches of white, cream, brown and black.

Goats need good feed

Dairy goats, like meat and fibre goats, and possibly more than other species of livestock, need good feed, particularly if they are pregnant or lactating or both.  

Lactating does of the dairy breeds, like lactating dairy cows, tend to be lean, but they shouldn’t be allowed to get too thin.  It is rare to see fat dairy goats but dairy goats that are too thin are all too common.

The myth that goats will eat anything is totally wrong.  They like a wide variety of plants and are good at eating down young thistles and dock weeds in pasture (and also expensive plants and trees!), but they won’t eat food that isn’t clean and fresh.  Dairy goats need good quality pasture and browse and plenty of it all year round.

In winter, goats need supplementary feed particularly if they are producing milk, and this means hay, silage or concentrates.  

• Dr Marjorie Orr is a lifestyle farmer and retired vet. This article is reprinted with permission from lifestyleblock.co.nz

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