So you’ve decided you want to get some goats, there are many breeds to choose from and they come in all shapes in sizes but which size is best?
Some people swear by full-size goats. They say they are easier to milk and they also produce more milk which is actually true in most cases but they are also more difficult to handle. An ornery Nubian doe will be a bit harder to control than a Nigerian in a similar mood. But even the most well bred even-tempered Nigerian Dwarf doe can’t match even a poor bred Saanen when it comes to milk production.The amount of space you have the the amount of milk you need will be the main deciding factors when it comes to choosing a breed.
There are a few options a new goatkeeper has when looking to get some goats and I will detail those below:
Option #1 – If all you’re looking for is no nonsense milk and you want a lot of it but you have little space ( say 1/2 to 1 acre) Then 2 full-sized does would probably be best for you. A full size doe of any breed generally produces one gallon of milk a day. That’s 14 gallons of milk a week! Now these are round numbers, some does will produce more and some will produce less but are you prepared to handle that much milk in a week. Can you sell it? Are you into cheesemaking? Do you have a large family? If not then you could move on to option 2. Goats are destructive by nature and larger goats will obviously create more damage. They’ll need higher and stronger fencing. More space, more food and generally more of everything so if more milk is a good trade off for all that then this option might be best for you.
Option #2 – This options is the same as option 1 but with 2 Nigerian Dwarf Does instead. Two well-bred Nigerian does will produce up to 1/2 gallon of milk a day so this is approximately 7 gallons a week. A more reasonable number that 14 gallons a week. The size of these goats also allows you to expand without having a huge impact on your feed bill and without taking up too much extra space. Goat keeping, as with many things, tends to be addictive, so it’s always good to plan for extra goats in your future.
Options#3 – This is somewhere in between the two other options, quite literally and that would be to obtain 2 goats of a mini breed. While Nigerian Dwarfs and Pygmies are considered mini breeds, crosses of them go by the same description. A mini dairy goat is any goat that is Nigerian crossed on any other dairy breed. A doe of one of these crosses usually produces over a 1/2 gallon a day. The amount varies because these crosses are not a true breed although there are breeders out there in their 4th and 5th generation. Especially breeders of mini-nubians but these goats can be hard to come by and in order to produce kids with these mini-crosses one must have a mini buck or a Nigerian buck because full sized goats can not be used on these does as the kids would be too large for the does to birth without incident. More info about these mini-goats can be found at Miniature Dairy Goats .
In my own experience with 2 first freshening Nigerian Does, I ended up with a little over 3 gallons of milk a week. This was a good amount for drinking but only allowed me to make one small wheel of hard cheese a week. In my case, with the number of goats I already had and limited space, I couldn’t really add more goats to increase my milk supply so it is good to plan ahead. A lot of people learn a few months into their home milking experience that once you find you have extra milk, you will find ways to use that extra milk and often times you will end up with a milk shortage. Cheesemaking and soapmaking use A LOT of milk. If that is something that you think you might like to do in the future without adding a bunch more goats to your setup then starting full-sized goats may be your best bet.
Nigerian Dwarfs do have their benefits though. They are small and easy to handle. They do make less milk than full-sized goats but they also eat less, much less. I think my two sheep eat as much hay as all 5 of my Nigerians combined and they are about the same size as a full-sized dairy goat. Their milk has the most butterfat than all the other goat breeds and this is appealing to most people basically because fat makes this more delicious. People won’t tell you that but that’s why they love that aspect of them. Another benefit of the small sized goats is keeping a buck is much less of a hassle. When a mini buck gets bucky they’re just a nuisance. I don’t think a full-size buck in rut is all that dangerous but their size does make them a little harder to push away.
And while on the topic of bucks if you decide to keep one, it may best best to keep a Nigerian buck wether your does are full size or not just for the ease of handling and containing a Nigerian buck versus a full sized one. The only downside to this is the resulting kids will not be purebred. This can actually be a good thing depending on what the goat market is like in your area. It may be easier to sell a mixed breed goat at a lower price than it would be to sell a pure breed at a higher price.