Goats are one of the most versatile animals of all livestock. With hard times poised on the horizon, they’ll greatly improve your quality of life. They provide us with milk, meat, leather, weed/undergrowth clearing, environmentally friendly to the earth, non-toxic garden fertilizer, horse companionship, 4H or FFA projects and as pack animals to carry their own “Bug Out Bags”. My husband and I have been breeding and raising goats for over fifteen years. This article is presented as basic information for anyone thinking about adding these wonderful animals into their lives.
What is a Mini? There are two recognized breeds of miniature dairy goats. One is the Nigerian Dwarf. A small (21 to 22 inches at the withers) friendly, colorful, easy going goat who with minimal or no assistance can deliver kids easily . The second is a hybrid goat derived from the crossing of a Nigerian Buck and standard dairy Doe. The standard dairy breeds are: Alpine, Nubian, LaMancha, Oberhaslis, Saanen, and Toggenburg. The product of this cross breeding is called a Mini. To further differentiate between the breeds, they are identified as Mini Alpine, Mini Nubian, Mini Mancha, etc. They are a medium size goat larger than the Nigerian Dwarf and smaller than the standards. Both breeds are easier to maintain, feed, shelter, and transport.
Why Would I Want a Mini? The miniature goats are ideal for small homesteads/farms/retreats. A person could easily raise two Minis or three Nigerian Dwarf to one standard. They are adaptable in all climates and are found in all 50 States, Canada, and Mexico. Their feed to milk production ratio is more efficient than the standard size dairy goats. Since they are smaller, their housing needs are simple. We have made 3-sided shelters using wooden pallets and recycled plywood for the roof. Goats do not like rain or windy conditions and enjoy snuggling down inside a small retreat. In general they are more resistance to parasites if left to browse on, and in, native terrain. They will starve in a field of green grass, but will survive readily on weedy woody plants. Countless plants are natural herbs with properties that build immune systems, maintain or correct mineral deficiencies, and serve as natural antibiotics when necessary. Minis can be less aggressive than their larger cousins so children can handle them easily. Numerous people, myself included, do not have the energy or strength anymore to physically maintain a herd of standard size goats.
Even though these are small breeds, the extra kids born that are not used to increase your herd milkers or sold, can be raised for butchering. Goat meat has a wonderful flavor. The meat can be smoked, ground, and even stuffed like a turkey. Meat and milk could also be handy items for barter.
Got Milk? One will soon tire of beans and rice. However a little cheese added to provisions will certainly make mealtime more pleasurable. Having fresh milk from your backyard would certainly lower the grocery bill too. Cheesemaking is not all that difficult. You can make soft cream cheese, semi hard mozzarella, hard cheeses such as brick, colby and cheddar to name a few. The soft and semi hard cheese can be consumed immediately or frozen and after hard cheese has aged for sixty to ninety days, it can be frozen and used as needed. I have to be careful opening the door on my freezer, as multiple packages of cheese are stacked and could be dangerous to my feet below!
Nigerian Dwarf milk has one of the highest butterfat content of all the dairy goat breeds, 5.6% to 10%. It is that butterfat that produces a higher yield of cheese, as well as providing the prospect of making your own fresh butter. The breed averages between 2 to 4 lbs (4 lbs equal 1 quart) of milk from two milkings per day. Minis will give more milk, (1?2 gal) less butterfat, (3 to 5%) however the butterfat content is still higher than most standard dairy goats because of the genetic influence from the Nigerian Dwarf.
Raw milk versus pasteurizing is a question that has no correct answer. We drink raw milk with no adverse problems, however others may feel more comfortable with pasteurized milk. Everyone has their own opinion on this topic and it is best left to each individual to decide for themselves. See: PriceWeston.com
One additional point I would like to make, is that a good milk goat can be milked for years before having to be bred again, especially if you do not have a market for the kids or you do not want to butcher them. It is actually harder on their bodies to deliver kids, milk for a few months, dry up and then breed again, year after year. They will be far more productive and have less health problems if you can milk them for 2 to 5 years before you breed them again. Plus you will continue to have a constant milk supply during winter months. Yes, the milk production will go down a bit in the fall, however it will resume again in the spring.
How Do I Acquire Some Minis? Here are some suggestions based on my own experiences. You can Google Nigerian goats, Mini goats or use the member directories from reputable goat registries. See: The American Goat Society, the Nigerian Dairy Goat Association, and The Miniature Goat Registry. Read books specifically written about caring for and raising goats. However, remember the goats haven’t read the books and therefore are not going to act exactly the way you think they are!
All things being equal, purchase a registered/papered goat. The breeder is showing responsibility by utilizing selective genetics to produce a hardy and healthy animal. You will feed the same amount of food to a registered goat as you would an unregistered one, so you might as well have the paperwork on them. 4H and FFA members need registered animals for their projects and they are a good source of potential buyers for your goats. Prices will vary depending on supply and demand, as well as the geographic area of the country. You may find quality animals for as little as $100 up to $300 or $400. There are some very nice breeders who will work with you, educate, explain, and make sure you acquire the right animals for your situation. However, you may also encounter those who use deceptive practices to sell their animals. Use common sense and go with your “gut feelings”.
Dos and Don’ts As with all things Do your homework. You wouldn’t go out and purchase a car, a gun, a home without researching, right? Do contact breeders, as many as you can, and tell them what you are looking for. Do ask them if they milk their goats. You would be surprised as to how many breeders promote and sell their goats as milkers but don’t milk them! Do ask if you can visit their farm/ranch to view available animals for sale. You will learn much by observing their herd management. Do ask them if they test their goats for any type of disease. If you purchase goats from them, ask if you can have a copy of the test report for those animals. Do ask if they will give you a “care package” for the animals you have purchased. This simply consists of a small amount of food the goats are use to eating so you can mix it with your own. This small step allows the animal to make an easier transition to their new home. Do remember when telephoning or e-mailing, that many goat breeders have outside jobs, children, chores and other responsibilities that may delay replying to your emails or phone calls.
Please don’t acquire goats at sale barns or auctions and expect them to perform the way you think they should. There is a reason breeders send their animals to these places. They may be diseased, old, or problematic and in the long run you may spend more money on them than they are worth. Don’t purchase just one goat. Goats are herd animals and they need a “buddy”. A good breeder would never sell just one goat unless you were adding to an existing herd. Don’t purchase the first goat you see. Make sure you have talked to several breeders before proceeding with your purchase.
In conclusion, I hope this information is helpful if you are interested in goats as a survival animal for your homestead. It does not matter whether you decide on the standard or mini dairy goats. With an uncertain future looming ahead, the more information we pass along to each other, the better prepared we will be–and so will the goats!