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BRITISH GOAT SOCIETY

Goat Farming

 
  • All of the standards and actions required regarding basic goat care, health and welfare apply equally to the farming of goats where up to a thousand or more goats are farmed commercially.
  • Goat milk and goats milk products are now on sale in most supermarkets and liquid milk sales represent the bulk of the market.
  • The large numbers of goats require substantial adaptation and adjustment to housing, feeding, general management and marketing strategies.
  • Some successful units farm less than 100 goats, but usually the milk is processed on farm, e.g making specialist gourmet cheeses.
  • There is a growing market in goats meat, largely using boer males as terminal sires on dairy females.

It is however, an industry which is viewed by some as a high risk opportunity: see RABDF - 2008 perspective.

More information can be found by browsing the BGS Contacts on this site and also Books for Sale

 
 
   
Light and airy barn, with raised central feeding passage   Goatlings enjoying open access to hay in an open barn.   Open fronted kid rearing barn with exterior feeding troughs
         

There are many systems for housing goats being used in the UK at present, some purpose built and some converted from existing farm buildings.
The most common and functional system for milking goats is the type with long pens with raised, central feeding passages. This enables the food to be kept clean as the feed barrier prevents the goats fouling the feed.
Daylight and fresh air and access for machinery used for feeding, bedding and mucking out are other essentials.
Goats housed in large groups tend to be deep littered, i.e. bedded down with fresh straw 3 or 4 times a week with the whole pen cleaned out very few months. Deep litter can be effective in the cold winter months for keeping the goats a bit warmer.

         
 
   
Rotary milking parlour, data collected electronically for each milking. Suitable for larger herds.   Smaller linear milking parlour - suitable for smaller herds Nick Brandon's 88 point rotary milking parlour. One of the largest in Europe.  
         

The milking parlour is a key facility that contributes to the success of a dairy goat enterprise.
There are many types of parlour in use in the UK but the most popular tends to be the rotary type due to the large and constant throughputs that are possible. Milking is a labour intensive process and automation such as automatic cluster removal, feed metering linked to automatic identification, milk metering and teat spraying systems all help the stockman to focus on the animals.
Milk metering enables accurate assessments of yield and can provide useful data to indicate potential health problems such as mastitis and can be used to target feeding to higher yielding goats.

 
         
 
   
Milk storage tanks for cooling and storing prior to collection or processing.   Milk tanker ready for collecting milk every couple of days.   Tanker driver switching on measurement console prior to collection of milk.

There are 2 options for dairy goat units to market their milk.
The milk can either be sold to a processor or processed on the farm and sold as a product such as cheese, yoghurt or butter. Whichever marketing system is used the farm will need some method of cooling and storing the milk prior to collection or processing.
Bulk tanks are the appropriate facility for this and these can easily be connected to a milk tanker if milk is to be collected by a processor, normally on an "every other day" basis.

         
 
   

Milking goats being fed a complete diet ration using a feeder/mixer wagon

 
Young stock being fed maize silage + ad lib hay. Compound pelleted feed can also be fed according to the growth stage and development of young stock
  Young stock out grazing, controlled with electric fencing.
         

Feeding is a critical part of the process of producing high quality goats' milk.
The most commonly used feeding system is to feed a complete diet using a feeder mixer wagon.
Most diets use maize silage as the predominant ingredient with grass silage, red clover silage, sugar beet and protein crops such as rape seed meal or soya bean meal also being included. The composition of the diet can be varied on a daily basis if necessary and differing levels of energy and protein can be fed to different groups of goats depending on stage of lactation or pregnancy.
Some herds graze their goats, but it is more common to zero graze milking goats, housing them all year round, to prevent intestinal parasite infections and the need for treatment which involves withholding milk for human consumption. Grazing systems can be effective where sufficient grazing is available for goats to be rotated around paddocks as part of a parasite control strategy.
Whatever strategy of feeding is used in a herd, the importance of long fibre in the diet cannot be over emphasised. Constant access to good quality hay or clean barley straw in addition to a silage or concentrate based diet is essential to the maintenance of healthy rumen function..
Clean, fresh water needs to be readily accessible to all goats, salt licks also need to be available for all goats.

         
 
   
A batch of first kidders, with well filled and well attached udders - testimony to good breeding policies.   Strong conformation in body, feet and udder all to be aimed for in getting long productive lives.   Herd males living together when resting between serving batches of females.
         

Sound breeding policies are central to the success of any goat enterprise.
Goats of good conformation will be productive over a long lifetime, resulting in lower replacement costs.
It is of course essential to monitor the performance of individuals within any herd and ensure that only the best females are chosen to keep female offspring from as herd replacements.
High quality male goats should be used as part of a breeding programme and these are typically sourced from high quality pedigree herds that can provide several generations of milk recording data and show results as an indicator of conformation and consistency.
Pedigree breeders, some of whom have supplied commercial herds are listed here. Herd improvements take place by keeping records of milking daughters and recognising valuable sires (i.e. progeny testing of promising males) - then using proven males extensively. Typically- twin males- one great, one mediocre have been identified in this way.
Some herds choose to mate their lower producing dairy females to a meat breed of goat, such as the Boer, to produce kids that can be reared for meat rather than for dairy replacements.
Artificial insemination is possible in goats, but is labour intensive for the large numbers of goats involved. It may be possible to inseminate a small group of the very best dairy females on a farm with some semen bought in from outstanding dairy males to improve the standard of the herd.

         
 
   
Mechanisation in laying out fresh straw prior to cleaning central passage way.   Goats being herded in from grazing, constrained by electric fencing.   Using a rotary sweeper mid day to push back feed within reach of the goats.
         

Regular management tasks to maintain a healthy and productive herd of goats includes bedding, feeding, foot trimming, vaccination and milking. Large groups of goats can be bedded using mechanical distribution machinery.
Clean bedding is essential for clean milk production to ensure that goats arrive at the parlour with a clean udder and teats to reduce the amount of preparation for milking that is required.
Out of parlour feeding with a complete diet is a convenient way of providing adequate nutrition to goats. It is common for feed to be placed in feeding passages once per day, but in such a way that the goats cannot access all of the feed at once.
Portions of the feed can then be pushed nearer the goats several times a day to maintain regular intake and good rumen function.
Regular foot care is necessary to maintain healthy movement and therefore production. Goats with overgrown feet will spend more time laying down rather than feeding and cudding to produce milk.
Regular vaccination against common clostridial diseases is advised to reduce losses through illness.

         
 
   
Pure Boer breeding group, male in the background. Kids are born Dec/Jan usually. Males are in demand in larger commercial enterprises.   Boer males have been used as a terminal sire on dairy dams. The kids grow rapidly, making lean excellent carcases. These kids are only about 2-3 months old.   Pure Boer kids being dam reared, which is usual. The goats turn to grass when dam goes dry which is usually midsummer.
         

As with the beef industry in the UK there are two common types of production systems for meat goats.
Some dairy goat enterprises mate their poorer producing females to a meat breed, such as the Boer, to provide a dairy cross animal to be reared for meat artificially, using milk replacer, much the same as dairy cross calves.
The other production system gaining momentum in the UK at present is to produce kids from meat breeds and suckle and rear these in a similar way to lamb or suckler beef herds..
Goat meat is a tasty alternative to lamb, pork and beef and is growing in popularity and availability.

         
 
   
Display stand of Chestnut Goats, specialist meat producers, at the Farmers Market at Cheshire County Show with a wide range of meat products to buy or to taste.   Nut Knowle Farm's display of award winning gourmet goats' cheeses. Photograph taken at Port Solent, one of the many markets attended.   Husband and wife team selling their National Award winning "Caprillate" Ice Cream at Suffolk County Show (made from home produced goats milk).
         

A wide range of produce from goats is now more freely available in the UK through supermarkets, restaurants, farm shops and farmers markets.
These include liquid milk, cheese, cream, butter, ice cream, fudge, meat, soap and cosmetics. Much of this produce comes from local businesses who take great pride and care in the management and health of their stock to produce a range of products that meet the demands of the market.
Many producers add value to their produce through on farm processing. This requires suitable facilities that meet the requirements of current food production legislation.

         
More goat farming pictures in the Gallery