In this week’s episode of the Grow Edible Podcast, I talk with Rachel Hoff about keeping backyard dairy goats. Rachel and her husband Tom run Dog Island Farm, an urban homestead in the heart of Vallejo, California. In addition to a big garden and the requisite flock of poultry, Rachel manages a flock of adorable dwarf dairy goats on a one-quarter acre urban lot. Her goats keep Rachel, Tom and their 16 year old son provided with milk, yogurt and cheese.
Dwarf dairy goats are small animals about the size of a Golden Retriever. They can be accommodated on an urban property, but are a serious commitment.
Goats in urban settings will require imported feed, appropriate medical care, and shelter. Goats in milk require milking twice a day, and feeding newborn kid goats takes nearly as much effort as feeding newborn kid humans. Male goats – bucks – are generally not appropriate in an urban setting because they smell bad, and when your milking doe kids, you have about a 50/50 chance of getting bucks. All this should be considered before folks take the plunge into goats.
Selecting goats and maintaining a good line of goats is key to ensuring a productive and healthy herd. Urban farmers should be very selective about the goats they buy, and should seek out a high quality breeder. In order to get the best genetics, small goat herd owners may need to hire breeding bucks out of the main breeding season.
Managing dairy goats is easier, faster and more efficient with two people – one to wrangle the goats and one to do the actual milking. Getting goats acclimated to handling of the udder area from a young age can make the eventual milking process smoother and easier. During the height of milking, a dwarf dairy goat will produce a pound or more – sometimes much more – of milk a day. Urban goat keepers should be prepared for the effort not just of the herd management, but also for the in-season effort of preserving that glut of milk.
Today Rachel and I discuss:
- What can be done on one-quarter acre in the city: Rachel and Tom grow 6,000+ pounds of produce, plus provide all their eggs and dairy, and grow 75% of their meat. And they both have full time jobs outside the farm.
- How to maintain a flock of dairy goats, including necessary shelter, fencing, food, breeding for dairy production, etc.
- What kind of commitment is required for dwarf dairy goats. Rachel breaks down both the time to milk and the expense to feed her herd.
- How Rachel deals with the inevitable male kid goats. You might think of this as the “pets or livestock issue” and we get into a frank discussion about the reality of sending cute, personable baby goats to slaughter.
- The downsides of goats. Rachel talks about smells, screamers and bitchy milkers, and how she deals with all these potential irritants.
- Breeding, weaning, and bottle-feeding vs. keeping the kids on their dam for milk.
- The process of milking, including the steps Rachel takes to prevent mastitis in her milking goats and the expected daily yield from a dwarf goat.
- Dealing with a seasonal milk glut – how Rachel preserves the milk she gets and how she suggests managing breeding for a more continuous fresh milk supply.
Resources for Today’s Episode
- The Dog Island Farm Website
- The Goat Justice League, a resource for urban goat keepers
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats
- City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping
- The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese
- The Truth About Keeping Backyard Goats, a blogpost from urban homesteading website Living Homegrown.
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The theme music for the Grow Edible Podcast is Rodeo, graciously provided by my dear friend, the supremely talented Kristen Ward. You can find Kristen’s music on iTunes and Amazon. Rodeo is off the Last Night on Division album – it’s one of my favorites!
Perpetual hat tip to Erik and Kelly of Root Simple, the cool Godparents of the urban homesteading movement. Erik and Kelly put out a sharp and edutaining podcast in addition to writing great books, running a fantastic blog and generally spreading their urban farm wisdom far and wide. They graciously allowed me to steal their phrase “audio companion.”