The goat is called the poor man’s cow. They are inexpensive, easy to handle, and eat a wide variety of vegetation. They are basically browsers, meaning they eat leaves and stems from shrubs and trees. They are the most efficient animal to convert browse to lean meat. When commercial feeds become unavailable, they would be the most likely survivors. They are also easily trained as pack and cart animals, able to pack 20 to 40% of their weight and pull five times that. They can negotiate more difficult terrain than any other pack animal and continue with only the water they get from vegetation for up to four days, if not making milk. They would be the best animal to “bug-out” with to either the woods or range. They can make good use of cut-over areas, growing deciduous trees, and weeds June through September and grass pastures October and November and April and May. December through March requires winter feeding on some combination of evergreen blackberries, heather, dry grass supplemented with oil seed cake, hay, silage, grain, roots, kale, twigs, bark, even discarded Christmas trees, and ivy. The books say ivy is poisonous. However, my St. Croix sheep have kept my property ivy-free without a problem. It may be they have to get used to it gradually. The sheep were orphan lambs that incorporated ivy into their diet as they began eating solids.
The milk breeds are Alpines, La Mancha, Nubians, Saanens, Toggenburgs, and Oberhaslis. The Saanen gives the most milk and the Nubian the richest milk. The Alpines and Toggenburgs are the most persistent milkers, meaning they continue producing milk the longest before dropping off and going dry. Usually people breed their goats to kid every year, breeding them after seven months of production, milking another two or three months, and then drying them off for two months before kidding again. With the persistent goats, one can milk continually without rebreeding for 13 to 36 months. This means more feed goes into milk production and is less stressful for both the goat and owner. So these would be good choices for a family milk goat.
For someone who wants both milk and meat, Boers, Nubians, and Saanens are the best choices. They are the largest goats. The Boer is actually a meat goat, breeds year round, and commonly has twins and triplets. Therefore they give sufficient milk for a number of kids. One can reduce the number of kids they are nursing to the degree of milk needed by humans. The Saanen and Boer are also excellent work goats. The Nubian seldom has the temperament for work.
Pigmy goats and Nigerian Dwarf goats are small breeds that can give up to two quarts of milk per day. Their small size classifies them as pets, making them legal to keep in some cities. Three dwarfs can be kept in the space needed for one standard goat. If one’s bug-out location is a rocky hilly area with lots of brush, the Spanish goat would be the most efficient meat producer.
The best breeds to “bug-out” with would be the triple-purpose goats– Saanens and Boers. However, the Saanen, being a high milk producer, requires grain for that production. The wethers (castrated goats), however, would be fine to take along as pack and meat animals. That leaves the Boer as the most important breed to maintain when SHTF.
In using goats to rustle their own feed, consider the following rules of thumb. If a kid is fed an abundance of milk and grain, the rumen does not develop to handle the coarse feeds they need when rustling. The kid should be weaned off milk between 8 and 12 weeks and fed one pound of grain and protein concentrate a day, along with roughage until nine months old. By then the rumen has developed enough for it to continue developing on a roughage diet. If a goat has been fed in confinement as an adult, it will not adjust to grazing. Also, if a doe has always been dried off after 5 to 10 months of milking, she will persist in that pattern. So to have a goat that adjusts to your system, you best start with young ones. For the best tasting milk, you need to confine the doe off browse, silage, and turnips four hours before milking. Milk every 12 hours or 6 or 7 AM and 4 or 5 PM, but be consistent. You best confine her at night, then release her after milking until four hours before the next milking, then out again until dark.
In breeding the dairy goats, it takes two to keep a family in dairy products year round. So to use the system used for dairy cows, we would need six people with six does each, supplying two other families and each keeping a buck, which will rotate between herds each year. Goat milk is naturally homogenized, so it is harder to separate out the cream to make butter. Goat’s milk is not as universally used, so it may be harder to find the other 12 families to supply. This may be the place to discuss the difficulty finding a community of breeders who all have or agree to have the same breed. Our three lines could actually be three different breeds. The breed conservationists would never approve, but consider that during World War II some European breeds of livestock were lost or severely depleted. So, we should consider with all our stock which breeds could logically be combined if necessary.
With goats, I would put all the dairy breeds, except the Nubians, in one class. The Nubian is genetically different in some ways. Importantly, the polled (hornless) gene in both Nubians and Angoras is not linked with the intersex gene, like it is in the other dairy breeds. It is necessary to avoid breeding polled to polled in those breeds. I think the other breeds could be crossed, but Nubians, Angoras, Boers, and the dwarf breeds should be kept separate, though the dwarfs could be crossed with each other. Some crosses with Angoras to make the Pygora breed and with Pygmies on Nubians to make the Kindergoat have been done, and that is fine if one wants to maintain these breeds. The small Kindergoat gives nearly as much milk as the Nubian, and the kids efficiently convert feed to meat.
How it might work to maintain three breeds of goats in a community might look like this:
A = Alpine
B = Toggenburg
C = Saanen
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3|
|1||A||A 1||A||C 2||AC Cross||B 1||AB Cross|
|2||A||B 1||AB Cross||A 2||A||C 2||AC|
|3||B||C 1||BC Cross||B 1||B||A 1||BA Cross|
|4||B||A 2||BA Cross||C 1||BC Cross||B 2||B|
|5||C||B 2||CB Cross||A 1||CA Cross||C 1||C|
|6||C||C 2||C||B 2||CB Cross||A 2||CA Cross|
|Year 4||Year 5||Year 6|
|1||A & crosses||2’s Alpine||A||5’s C||AC Cross||4’s B||AB Cross|
|2||A & Crosses||4’s B||AB Crosses||1’s A||A||5’s C||AC Cross|
|3||B & crosses||6’s C||BC Crosses||4’s B||B||2’s A||BA Crosses|
|4||B & crosses||1’s A||BA Crosses||6’s C||BC Crosses||3’s B||B|
|5||C & crosses||3’s B||CB Crosses||2’s A||CA Crosses||6’s C||C|
|6||C & crosses||5’s C||C||3’s B||CB Crosses||1’s A||CA Crosses|
The average dairy cow or doe reproduces herself by five years of age but can easily keep reproducing for 10 years. So some purebreds will be maintained for some time. One person could manage Boers, Spanish goats, or the dwarfs for meat production part time, using the system of 30 does and three bucks used sequentially. Alternatively, one could maintain any breed pure, for a time, using 10 does and two bucks, breeding sons of one buck to the daughters of the other buck. Extend the generation interval by using them as long as able and keeping new parents from later breedings. Even with a 4-year generation interval, one could go 8 to 12 years before needing new blood.
Sheep are no more efficient in crude protein production per hectare than cattle, and they are subject to predation, disease, and parasites. They require more labor than cattle but considerably less grazing land per animal (1/4 acre/ewe-lamb pair). However, like cattle, they make efficient use of land too arid or too steep for cultivation (over 15-20% slope and 8-16 inches of annual precipitation). Sheep fit best in areas of medium to low rainfall, grazing steeper areas than cattle, short grass ranges preferably with lots of forbs (herbaceous plants like clover and dandelion).
Sheep are the most important wool producers. The six top dual purpose wool-meat sheep breeds begin with the Rambouillet. Only the Merino has finer grading wool, but the Rambouillet is more productive with respect to lamb meat. They are the breed of choice for extensive grazing and wool for light-weight comfortable clothing. The Targhee comes next for high quality apparel type wool, and it adapts to both farm and range conditions and even has some parasite resistance. Next are the Columbia and Corriedale crossbred-wool breeds. They are excellent range sheep with wool valued by hand spinners for making blankets. They have meatier lambs than the fine-wool sheep. The Long-wool breeds to consider are the Border Leicester and the Romney. The longer, coarser wool is most easily spun into yarn and used for making thick sweaters and rugs. These breeds do not have the same flocking instinct as the range breeds and do better on good pastures. The Leicester is valued for crossing on Rambouillets to produce a meatier lamb. The Romney is valued by hand spinners for hardiness in the wetter Pacific Northwest climate.
For strictly meat production, the blackface medium-wool breeds are most popular. These are the Suffolk and the Hampshire for large meaty lambs. They are kept on diversified farms where the feed and pasture are good quality, which is especially necessary for the Hampshire. Their wool has little value, but it still needs to be clipped every year. The Southdown is a smaller medium-wool sheep adapted to hillier pastures. If one wants primarily meat but would like some wool for spinning, the Southdown wool is similar to cashmere and easy to blend with other fibers. This breed does not eat shrubs and trees, so is used to weed orchards and vineyards.
If one wants lamb meat without the bother of shearing, three hair sheep breeds meet the requirement. The Dorper is the best meat breed, producing very meaty twin lambs with the highest value skins of any breed. They are good foragers in hot, dry climates. The St. Croix, also known for twinning, utilizes coarse feeds and has the most parasite resistance of any breed. They do eat trees and vines. The Katahdin also produces twins, utilizes a high forage diet and has good parasite resistance. All these hair sheep breed year round and if necessary could be combined. The Barbados is a hair sheep I do not recommend, due to wildness, making management more difficult. The same breeding program recommended for meat goats apply to sheep.
Dry lands, defined as a growing period less than 120 days encompasses 41% of the earth’s land mass and much of the Western U.S. Here, range animals provide an efficient subsistence base in areas otherwise unproductive for humans. Highest yields often occur where cattle, sheep, and goats all share the range. Cattle eat grass, sheep eat forbs, and goats browse. If one’s survival retreat consists of acres of range land with a water source, pastoralism could become the survival strategy. Seven adults with as many children could handle 30 horned Hereford cows and three bulls, eight Nubian does and two bucks, 30 Rambouillet or Crossbred-wool ewes and three rams, and use nine riding mares and one stallion for transportation. I would select Morgans of Western working lines. Successful pastoralists hold a wealth of ecological knowledge passed down through generations of experience. Since, in the U.S., pastoralism, other than under fence, is a dying way of life, the learning curve will be very steep for newcomers.
I am convinced that what will survive when SHTF are small communities pulling together. Your family’s stockpile of food, water, bullets, and band aids will last only so long. Over the long haul, communities producing their own necessities from farms and ranges will rebuild civilization.