The below is a draft post I started months ago. Then Joey unexpectedly died – leaving me with three week old twin kids to bottle raise. I consider myself pragmatic when it comes to the livestock – while I believe I owe all my animals food, water, shelter and try to accommodate behaviors natural to each species; i.e. free range, pasture, browse, etc. – I don’t believe livestock are “pets” the way I consider my working dogs (or even my horse) to be. However, losing Joey left a hole that may never be completely filled.
Why a Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat
Years ago, before I moved to the farm, I had a little more free time and took up spinning and weaving. I was renting at the time in a rural location so then the obvious next step was to obtain animals that would provide the raw fleeces. I found some colored Angora goats that were also a good weed control measure and kept those for a couple of years until the shearer I used decided to retire. After I moved to the farm I needed some serious brush clearing but didn’t have the time to deal with shearing myself and could not find anyone local to shear so I opted to buy some grade goats that were various types of dairy goat crosses. Most of these were crossed with Boer goats (a South African meat goat). A year or two later I bought some Navajo Angora goats with the intent of returning to spinning and weaving. A few seasons of sometimes being able to find a shearer and sometimes having to do my own shearing, combined with not having sufficient time to actually process the fleeces convinced me that fiber animals really were not in my future. I had been toying with the idea of soap making and decided that perhaps a dairy goat would be a better choice. I had already replaced the grade goats that I had not lost to predators or accidents with Katahdin sheep so started researching dairy breeds.
I had a list of things I that were important to me and some that weren’t. I had tried goat milk products, primarily yogurt and cheese, in the past and found the taste to be “goaty” and unpleasant so I wasn’t planning on utilizing the milk other than for making soap. Therefore, the amount of milk was not as important to me as other criteria. High on the list though was that the goat was easy to handle. I had had my fill of goats that had to be caught and physically restrained to do any husbandry and wasn’t interested in having to do that twice a day over the long haul.
While I was still in the consideration phase, I happened on an ad on Craigslist for a couple of Nigerian Dwarf does in milk. In speaking with the seller, I discovered she wasn’t the type of poster I’ve come to expect from Craigslist, but someone with a lot of experience in dairy goats who actually had a planned breeding program. I explained that while I had previous experience with goats, I had never owned a dairy goat before and didn’t know how to milk. After asking which of the two does she had for sale would be best for a novice (and whether she would teach me how to milk) I made arrangements to visit her place. I showed up at milking time in the evening. Christine hand milked up to twenty does twice a day and was downsizing, hence the does for sale. She brought out Joey who hopped right up on the stand and proceeded to give me a lesson in milking. An hour later she finished stripping out Joey for me (I’m a slow learner) and we discussed her breeding Joey to one of her champion bucks before I picked Joey up the following weekend. Joey wasn’t the most attractive little Nigerian, but she made up for her appearance in all the ways that counted with me.
Shortly after bringing Joey home I decided to try a taste of her milk. I wasn’t expecting to like it and was surprised to find that there was no goaty flavor at all – it was sweet and creamy and the best milk I had ever had. I have always been a huge fan of milk (well, except for a few years after I spent time in Vermont and had occasion to visit several dairy farms) but haven’t bought or drunk cow’s milk since I first got a dairy goat.
Joey could cop an attitude with the other animals on the farm. She terrorized my dogs – even my working dog avoided her whenever possible. When I bought a second dairy goat, Joey made it absolutely clear that Joey was going to be the top goat. (Funnily, according to Christine, Joey was a very quiet doe that stayed out of trouble in her herd.) On the milkstand though, one couldn’t ask for a better goat. When let out of the pen, she would run up to the milk stand and immediately jump up. When I first started milking it could take me up to an hour to milk Joey out and she would stand there quietly and patiently the entire time.
I milked Joey for three months and then dried her off two months before she was expected to kid out.
Drying her off was not easy. Even when I was only milking her every three days, Joey would still be giving me a 2 lbs of milk. Joey kidded without assistance, giving me two little doelings, and within a couple of weeks was back to giving me 2 lbs a day in addition to nursing her two kids.
Since I wanted milk and not necessarily goat kids, I decided to wait on breeding Joey again until she started to slow down on her milk production. As it turned out, I bred her again about 17 months after she had kidded and that was because I had to go out of town and had to leave her with her former owner where she could be milked. She milked out for me for another three months and then we had the long process of trying to get her dried off again before her next kidding.
In December 2013 Joey kidded twin doelings (Nutmeg and Spice). I didn’t rebreed her until February of 2015 so she stayed in milk from December 2013 until I dried her off the end of May 2015, producing on average about 2 lbs of milk on a once a day milking schedule. Her high was just shy of 4 lbs of milk.
Joey had twins again in July 2015 – the buckling was enormous and for the first time I had to pull a kid. When I had run back into the house to clean up and get fresh towels, Joey delivered a second kid – a little doeling. I kept a close eye on Joey following her kidding. She was eating and drinking normally and did not have any discharge. In other words, she was showing absolutely no signs that anything was wrong – until I went out one Saturday morning three weeks later and found her dead.
Joey was an exceptional dairy goat. The problem with starting at the top, is the only direction you have to go is down. I retained Spice and Nutmeg as well as Joey’s last doeling, Chai, and am hoping that the genetics that made Joey such a wonderful milker have passed down to her daughters. Time will tell. But Joey will remain the standard by which all my future goats will be judged.
Nutmeg kidded out last July, just a few days before Joey’s last kidding, and gave me twins. I retained the doeling, Thyme, who is now in the milk rotation herself. I dried off Nutmeg the end of July as she is due again the end of September. Nutmeg, as a first freshener, gave me, on average a little over 1.5 lbs per day during her first lactation (milking once a day most of that time).
Spice kidded out for me for the first time this past spring. Spice not only looks like her dam, but it appears inherited her phenomenal milk production. Spice, as a first freshener, is consistently giving me over 3 lbs a day, on a twice a day milking schedule, and has on a couple of occasions given me 4 lbs.
I just weaned Ash, Chai’s kid, this week. Chai, as a first freshener who snuck into the buck pen and got herself bred much earlier than I would have bred her, is on the small side but still giving me an average of 2 lbs of milk a day since I started milking her twice a day.
So far it appears I’m on the right track and that Joey did indeed pass along some very nice milk genes.