When thinking about survival prepping, most think of collecting as many dried foods as possible to last for as many years as possible, along with whatever other supplies will be needed to take care of oneself and family without having to visit the supermarket, which, in most scenarios, will not be functioning in a post-crash world.
To this discussion, I would like to add something a bit out of the box. And that is – a goat will keep you alive. Yes, it’s true, and I have spent the last several weeks proving just that.
The survival system that I decided on was geared towards providing me and mine with fresh, whole food that is renewable and sustainable. So, I purchased two milking goats to go along with my garden. One is an Alpine cross whom I named Sunny, and the other a Mini Mancha (La Mancha and Nigerian Dwarf cross) who goes by the name of Fiona. They were pregnant when I bought them, and almost ready to kid.
I have to admit that I knew Alpines were good milkers, but had no idea what a Mini Mancha would do, and was delightfully surprised when it came time for milking at the amount that my little gal produces. For such a small individual, she is a powerhouse.
So, with these two ladies by my side, I began my journey into food freedom. Could my ladies actually keep me alive and healthy? I would soon find out.
The babies were born the first week of February, and I did not milk until I weaned them at 2 months of age. After that, I started milking twice per day and get 1 – 1 ½ gallons per day. Since my ladies started producing I haven’t eaten much of anything that doesn’t come from the ranch and/or local sources.
Why a goat?
My first thought was nutrition. Could I really get the nutrition I need from a diet of goat milk, veggies and fruit? So, I looked up a bit of nutritional information:
Goat milk is also a healthier alternative to cow milk. Why? Cow milk has to be homogenized to be more easily digested, which is a process where the fat globules are broken down. However, this is not necessary with goat milk because it is naturally homogenized. Therefore goat milk is much more easily digested than cow milk is.
Goat milk has more of the essential vitamins that we need. Goat milk has 13% more calcium, 25% percent more B6, 47% percent more vitamin A, and 27% more selenium. It also has more chloride, copper, manganese, potassium, and niacin than cow milk. It also produces more silicon and fluorine than any other dairy animal. Silicon and fluorine can help prevent diabetes.
Scientist are not sure why, but people who are lactose intolerant can often drink goat milk without having to worry about side effects. Goat milk does not cause phlegm like cow milk does, so you can drink goat milk even when you have a cold or bad allergy problems.
For a complete nutritional breakdown comparing goat milk to cow and human milk, go to Fias Co Farm.
Ease of upkeep
The next concern was how easy are they to keep? It turns out that they are the best bet for the money when it comes to dairy critters. Goats are less time consuming, eat less, and are less labor intensive than cows, making them much more economical. They are also browsers and not grazers, meaning that they will eat stuff that cows simply will not touch, and can be used to clear weeds. If you turn them out on your property to browse, they will eat brush and weeds, leaving you with cleared, fertilized land, sans the heavy machinery and spendy store-bought fertilizers. Just be careful of the weeds that they eat as the taste will end up in your milk.
Often the dairy goat has been called the “poor man’s cow,” because good dairy goats do not cost near as much as good dairy cows do. You can raise more goats on a smaller amount of pasture than you can cows. While it takes an acre for a cow/calf, you can successfully raise six goats on one acre. Cows usually have only one calf per year, while goats have two kids (that’s what you call a young goat) after their second year. Pound for pound a good dairy goat will produce more milk than a cow will. Unlike a cow, a good dairy goat can produce up to 10% of its body weight in milk.
Choosing your goat
There are several breeds to choose from, and what is right for one, might not be right for another.
The most frequently asked question that people ask me about goats is, ”What is the difference in each breed’s milk taste, and how much milk do they average.” And that is always one of the hardest questions to answer, simply because there really aren’t any solid answers I can give! Each individual goat is going to have its own amount of milk it’s going to give, and it’s going to have its own taste. Think of it like a grab bag. You never know what you’re going to get.
But that sounds rather discouraging. How on earth is a body supposed to choose a goat breed if they’re hesitant about each one? Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to own almost all the dairy breeds out there, and then try the milk from countless of other goats. Through much experience (read: trial and error as we bought goats that gave horrid tasting milk!), I’ve gotten to know each breed’s quirks and histories, and I’ve come to realize that it actually is possible to give people an idea of what to expect from each breed.
Saanen, Alpine, Nubian, Toggenburg, Oberhaslis, La Mancha, Nigerian Dwarf, and combinations thereof are the main dairy breeds. I would rather not get hooked on buying a purebred since they are more expensive, and certain crosses yield excellent milk, in my opinion. My gals are both crosses and their milk is wonderful.
So, when you are looking for your milking goat, go with taste, volume, temperament, size of teats if you are hand milking, and orifice size. You can determine all of these things if you go to the place where you are considering purchasing your goat and observe the hands on experience. Watch the goats to see how they relate to each other, watch your prospect getting milked, ask questions, and taste her milk. I always recommend buying from a trusted source, and if in doubt, get a vet check before purchase.
Preparing for your goat
I asked the local goat-keeper what type of fencing my girls would need. He said that if I can make an enclosure that would hold water, I should be able to keep them in at all times…. Okay! A challenge. Well, I ended up with a 52” fence because I used large pallets. So far, it has worked. My friend uses 5’ high woven wire fencing. That is optimal, but since the pallets were free, that is what I chose.
The feeder is outside of the pen, allowing them to put their heads through the holes and eat without trampling it on the ground and soiling it. Hay nets are another option, but if your goat has horns, she can get them caught in the hay net.
Large dog houses are excellent shelters, but just about anything can be used such as a raised camper shell, a-frame structures, etc. Basically, your goats need to have some place dry and out of the elements to get to. A good straw bedding inside will keep them warm, dry and happy, and provide a good kidding area.
They will also need a good supply of fresh, clean water. Goats do not like dirty water, and if you live in freezing conditions you will need to get a water heater. I use 5 gallon buckets that are cleaned regularly.
Keeping your goat healthy
You will want to get a good supply of high quality hay for your girls. I let the babies browse the ranch, but the milking mamas get a controlled feed so that the taste of the milk can be regulated. As I stated before, whatever they eat affects the taste of the milk. If you cannot get feed for your girls, they can be turned out to forage in an emergency and will do just fine as long as there is plenty of grass and other vegetation. Click HERE for a list of edible and poisonous plants for goats.
Each goat needs 2 to 4 pounds of hay each day, although some of this need can be met by available pasture or other forage. Make it available free choice throughout the day when pasture is unavailable or feed twice a day when goats are also browsing.
You can feed alfalfa (and some grass hays) in pellet form if you don’t have storage or if you want to mix it with grain. The goats don’t waste so much alfalfa when it’s in pellets, and you can limit who gets it by combining it with their grain.
I am currently feeding a free-choice oat/pea hay combination along with a non-GMO dairy goat pellet , whole oats, rolled barley, alfalfa pellets, timothy grass pellets, and molasses. They also get free-choice loose minerals and baking soda.
When it is time to worm, I mix food grade diatomaceous earth with their grain ration along with a bit of warm water and molasses to coat everything so that it all gets eaten. Here is some info about diatomaceous earth:
Food grade diatomaceous earth makes a very effective natural insecticide. The insecticidal quality of diatomaceous earth is due to the razor sharp edges of the diatom remains. When diatomaceous earth comes in contact with the insects, the sharp edges lacerate the bugs waxy exoskeleton and then the powdery diatomaceous earth absorbs the body fluids causing death from dehydration.
Food grade diatomaceous earth has been used for at least two decades as a natural wormer for livestock. Some believe diatomaceous earth scratches and dehydrates parasites. Some scientists believe that diatomaceous earth is a de-ionizer or de-energizer of worms or parasites. Regardless, people report definite control. To be most effective, food grade diatomaceous earth must be fed long enough to catch all newly hatching eggs or cycling of the worms through the lungs and back to the stomach. A minimum of 60 days is suggested by many, 90 days is advised for lungworms.
Food grade diatomaceous earth works in a purely physical/mechanical manner, not “chemical” and thus has no chemical toxicity. Best yet, parasites don’t build up a tolerance/immunity to its chemical reaction, so rotation of wormers is unnecessary.
Goats are hardy creatures, so a bit of prevention goes a long way. I keep Povidone Iodine around for minor cuts, along with hydrogen peroxide and colloidal silver. My medical kit is stocked with sterile cotton, vet-wrap, sharp scissors, an enema bottle, small bottles of hydrogen peroxide, colloidal silver and Betadine, cotton swabs, thermometer, and small towels.
Your milking stand can also be used to secure your goats for hoof trimming.
Comprehensive instructions along with pictures can be found by clicking HERE. Also, remember to keep a bottle of blood-stop powder handy just in case you trim a little too deep and draw blood. If this happens, simply sprinkle a bit on, and that will stop the bleeding.
To horn or not to horn
Most goat people will insist on disbudding the babies. I don’t. I know that this is a contentious subject, but clearly, goats are born with them and they serve a purpose. We disbud (remove) them for our own personal convenience, not theirs. The choice is yours, as I have already made mine. Here is an article that supports my belief:
Yes, horns get in the way. Yes, they can cause some damage. But did you know that in most countries, disbudding is considered akin to surgically removing a leg, or ears, or an udder? And well it should be, in my book. That said, goat owners have to take their individual circumstances into consideration. Maybe, if I had a lot of little kids around, I might think differently. But I would probably just do what I did when my kids were little and there were sharp pointy goat horns around: put tennis balls, or some sort of rubber, squishy thing, on the end of the horns.Worked great. Goats didn’t care. No eyes got poked out. If I had a bajillion goats in a small space, maybe I would disbud. If I was going to show my goats, I’d have to – it’s THE LAW. Hmmm. Im not showing. In my particular case, I’m willing to make management changes in order to let my goats be goats.
If you decide to disbud, click HERE for some instructions.
A happy goat is a good milking goat. At first arrival to a new home, your goat will take some time to get used to her surroundings. Since they are herd animals, they like company. So, a compatible goat buddy is better for your goat than being the lone stranger.
Goats can hold back their milk of they are unhappy, and if they are satisfied, can deliver it easily. It is really up to them. This means that developing a good relationship with them is paramount. When I started milking my mamas, I sang to them. Now that we are in a routine, and they love routines, I open the gate and they run to the milking stand. This took a bit of doing.
At first, Fiona didn’t want to get on. She hadn’t been milked on a stand before and would have none of it. I had to lift her up and place her on it. Well, that wasn’t going to last for long, so I started only giving them grain when they were on the stand. Problem solved. They now associate the stand with grain, and the longer I milk, the more grain they get to eat, so they give me as much milk as possible.
Click HERE for detailed instructions on how to construct a milking stand.
If you have more than a couple of goats, and you will after kidding, you might want to invest in a milking machine. I invested in an aspirator purchased from an eBay seller for $109, some hose for $25, a couple of replacement batteries for $25, two fittings, a dosing syringe, and a gallon jar with lid that I had around the house. My friend had already made one, so she put the fittings and hose together for me, and showed me how to use it.
The main thing to remember about goat milk is that it will pick up the flavor of anything it comes in contact with. Therefore, cleanliness will yield the best tasting milk. Also, I don’t let my milk come in contact with plastic containers. I use a stainless steel bucket and glass jars. Immediately after milking, I strain the milk into a glass jar and place it in the fridge to cool. No “goaty” taste for me! People who taste my milk say it tastes like creamy, sweet cow’s milk. They can’t tell it’s from a goat.
Food and other stuff
When I say that a goat will keep you alive, I mean it. Here is a typical day’s meal:
Goat milk smoothie – goat milk, whatever fruit is handy and honey placed in a blender and blended until smooth and creamy, or goat milk and homemade granola made with oats, fruit and nuts.
Goat cheese and spinach salad.
Vegetable soup and homemade bread made with whey from the cheesemaking process.
Goat ice-milk mixed with fruit, nuts, and any other flavors you like.
Here are pics of a couple of the cheeses that I make with stuff from the garden, goat milk and apple cider vinegar.
Walking Onion Goat Cheese
Wild Celery Goat Cheese
I also feed the whey and excess milk to the cats and chickens. It keeps them fat and healthy.
You can also make a very mild and gentle soap from goat milk.
Goats are also used for packing, and will leave a much more invisible footprint than other animals such as donkeys and horses.
The results of my experiment are that I am feeling strong, energetic, am definitely healthy, and do not feel one bit deprived. And what do I owe it to? My two milking mamas, fresh fruit, veggies, local honey and a penchant for independence. I am confident that if the store shelves run dry, I can still eat healthy, good tasting food and get the nutrition that I need. A goat will keep you alive.
Hat tip Survival Sherpa
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Contributed by Barbara H. Peterson of Farm Wars.