When you think of homesteading, do you think of chickens? A large garden? Perhaps some honey bees? When you think of a small farm, do you think of a milk cow? Pigs wallowing in mud? A few horses out in the pasture?
Why doesn’t anyone think of goats?
Goats make such fantastic animals for the homesteader or small farm. Smaller and easier to care for than a dairy cow, they are an excellent source of milk (and cheese!) and they can be used for meat as well.
So why goats?
Shelter & Feed Requirements
Goats are easily kept on a small parcel of land, and require much less feed, water, and specialized equipment than a cow. One dairy cow requires an acre of grazing pasture. On that same acre you could fit 5 full size goats or 10 mini goats. A dairy cow requires a 10 x 10 shelter (100 square feet), but in that same shelter you can keep 5 full size goats or 10 mini goats. Daily grain allotment will vary between individual animals, but on average the grain needed daily for a dairy cow in milk is 5 pounds, for a dairy goat in milk it is 2 pounds, and for a mini a half pound. The hay and water needs of a cow will far exceed those of a goat. For the small farmer lacking special equipment, hauling animals can be an exercise in frustration. A cow requires a special trailer and a truck big enough to haul that amount of weight, a goat can be hauled in the back of a pickup truck, and mini goats can even been hauled in dog crates inside vehicles.
The Right Amount of Milk
But hold on, I hear you say, A cow will give a lot more milk, right?
The average dairy cow will give anywhere from 5 to 8 gallons of milk each day, some breeds give less. Unless you’re raising a small army (or, for instance, feeding 4 teenage boys – which might be the same thing) you will be swimming in milk. This is particularly where I feel goats meet the needs of the average small farmer or homesteader: a full size goat will give a half gallon to 2 gallons of milk a day, and minis will give anywhere from a quart (as a first freshener) to a gallon a day, on average. Both goats and cows typically milk for 10 months, so a small herd of goats bred in rotation will keep you in milk year round, while the cow will require extensive freezer space to keep milk for the “dry” months.
Fresh goat milk is delicious - and the Nigerian Dwarf goats we keep have sweet, creamy milk that tastes very similar to cow's milk!
Goat/Beef, the Meat
It’s true that if your cow calves a bull, you can raise that calf for beef. But you can do the same thing with your goats. A dairy calf is usually processed at 14 months, while a goat kid can be processed at 6-8 months – and most goats don’t give birth to single kids, so you’ll have more animals to process. However, goats are of course smaller, and they dress out like deer, so you’ll get less meat per animal.
Additionally, goats are fun! Friendly and curious, goats are a lot like pets to many homesteaders. You can teach them tricks and even walk them on a leash. Goats make a great project for children either on your own or through organizations like 4H Club.
Are goats right for your homestead?