Tag Archives: Dairy

Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietKeeping your animals on pasture obviously has financial benefits, and you’ve probably heard of the numerous health benefits, as well. Even nonruminants like pigs and poultry can derive a great portion of their diet from the pasture, although they will need some type of supplemental feed. So how do you make it all work?

Pasture

The key to using pasture as your sole or primary animal feed is to keep it in good shape. This means you can’t let your livestock trample or graze it into the dirt. The best way to avoid this is to ration pasture out just like you would feed—you give the animals a small space for a day or maybe a couple of days and then move them onto a fresh paddock. You keep working your way across your pastures in this fashion.

This is just a very superficial overview of rotational and management-intensive grazing methods. There’s actually a whole art to it, which is way beyond the scope of this post. Check the Helpful Resources below for more information.

Another thing you’ll have to think about is how many animals you can safely keep on your land. Stocking rates vary widely (sometimes even on the same property). Five acres per cow-calf pair seems to be the average in most parts of Kansas.

The cow-calf pair can in turn be used as a standard of measure, known as the animal unit, to calculate stocking rates for other types of livestock. Thus, on our average five Kansas acres, we could place one of the following options:

  • 1 cow-calf pair.
  • 1 stocker calf.
  • 3 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 5 mature goats.
  • 1 pony (not a full-sized horse).
  • 1 bison.
  • 1 elk.

Stocking rates for pastured pork production have not received as much attention as those for other animals, so be prepared to do your own hands-on field research. A good starting point is to plan on about 10 pigs for every acre. Young, newly weaned pigs can be stocked more densely, while sows with litters will require more space.

Note that there are many variables that will affect your stocking rate. A 1,500-pound beef cow will require 1-1/2 times as much pasture as a 1,000-pound beef cow, for instance. Irrigation can squeeze more forage production out of your land. Also, simple attention to good grazing management will almost certainly raise your stocking rate above that of your neighbors!

Always err on the safe side when it comes to stocking rate. If you have a little more grass than your livestock need, it’s not a serious problem, but if you’re stuck with hungry animals, you’ll find yourself either buying hay or selling animals. Both can be painful, especially in a drought when everybody else is doing the same thing. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have enough experience to look at your land and roughly gauge how many animals you can put on it, you probably don’t need very many animals (at least not yet). Some experienced graziers recommend starting with herds as small as two to five head when learning grazing management.

Even in the winter, you may be able to keep your animals on pasture with proper planning. Stockpiling forage and planting cool-season grasses are two techniques for extending the grazing season and minimizing hay and feed consumption. Some animals, particularly dry beef cows, may even be able to thrive on dormant range grass in the winter with a protein supplement.

Harvested Forages

Of course, winter brings an end to the grazing season. Then what? Fortunately, hay and silage offer grain-free options.

Keep in mind that the quality of your harvested forage is very important. Animals cannot thrive on moldy hay, which can be a problem if the hay was improperly harvested or stored. Furthermore, blister beetles are toxic and can be a major problem in hay, particularly if you are feeding horses, so keep an eye out. Finally, remember that any pungent odors or flavors in hay for dairy animals will end up in your family’s milk supply!

The nutrient profile of the hay will depend on the types of forages that went into it. Legume hay is particularly noteworthy, as its high protein content can be absolutely essential or a needless expense, depending on what types of animals you have in what stages of production. Lactating animals will require more nutrition than dry animals (which is why it’s generally advisable to time breeding so that livestock will give birth when the weather is warm and the pastures are lush).

When it comes to sourcing harvested forage, you have three main options:

  • Harvest it yourself.
  • Have it custom-baled on your land.
  • Purchase it.

Determining which option is best for you is largely a matter of putting pencil to paper to work out the dollars and cents of the question. Also keep in mind that harvesting your own hay offers you more control over the quality but can be very expensive on a small scale. Purchasing hay, provided that it is good quality, offers an opportunity to bring in a natural source of soil fertility from outside, but it can also introduce noxious weeds and similar difficulties.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietFeed

Some animals will need feed to perform well and stay healthy. With these animals, you will have to be careful to keep your costs down without sacrificing the quality of their diet. Poultry and swine typically need some grain for peak health and performance. While ruminants are generally healthier without grain, some genetic lines (particularly among dairy animals) are bred for high production levels and may require feeding to avoid a breakdown. Horses may require supplemental feeding in winter or if working hard on a regular basis.

All this said, many animals are fed far more than is strictly necessary or even healthy. When determining whether or not your livestock will require feed, it is important to take genetics into account. If your goal is to minimize feed costs as much as possible, you will do well to seek out low-maintenance breeds, and low-maintenance genetics within those breeds. Thankfully, every livestock species still has breeds (typically heritage breeds) adapted to rustling their own living off the land.

Also consider your production system. Minimizing feed costs requires good attention to grazing management, and the smaller your property, the more important grazing management becomes. Furthermore, avoiding feed will often require some sacrifices, such as breeding in sync with the climate and accepting lower production levels.

What about growing your own grain for feed? Well, it just depends. Not only can creating a balanced ration be something of an art, the cost of making the feed can quickly add up to more than the purchase price elsewhere. Do the math. Does it make sense financially? Also, can you consistently guarantee the quantity and quality that your animals will need to stay healthy, particularly when first starting out?

Supplements

What kinds of supplements (if any) you need will largely depend on what kind of animals you have and where you live. Two people rarely agree on one magic formula. Many advocates of natural ways of raising all types of ruminants swear by kelp, and free-choice salt is also recommended in many situations. But what if your chickens are laying hens? Then you might want oyster shell or a feed that contains oyster shell. And what if you have dairy animals? You may need to consider a variety of vitamin supplements to keep them in top form. And what if your pastures are particularly poor? You may need a general-purpose stock lick.

The only way to know for sure what supplements will be necessary for your livestock is to do your research and then try it out. See what deficiencies are most common in your area to get off to a good start, but also be prepared to adjust down the road.

Planning a healthy diet for your animals is probably the most critical as far as your finances and their health are concerned, so take your time. Once you have a rough plan to reach your production, animal health, and food quality goals, you are ready to start looking into your breed options.

Helpful Resources

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
An introduction to meeting the needs of both pastures and animals. Includes plenty of additional reading material.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
For those who just want the basics of grazing management, this bulletin packs a great deal of essential information into a concise format.

What are Animal Units?
How to figure out how many animals your land can support.

Vitamins
Our own guide to the functions and natural sources of vitamins, along with symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle BreedsLooking for the right cattle breed for your small farm or ranch? We have plenty of resources to help you make that selection, including our online guide to cattle breeds and the first book in our new Practical Country Living series—Choosing a Breed of Cattle by Michelle Lindsey.

But if you’re curious to know what breeds like-minded homesteaders are researching, we can answer that question, too. Here are the top 10 breeds our readers have been investigating.

10. Brangus

This composite breed is about 5/8 Angus and 3/8 Brahman. It combines the beef-producing efficiency of the former with the tropical adaptation of the latter. While its excitable temperament and limited cold tolerance make the Brangus a less-than-ideal choice for many, its incredible resilience under hot, humid, and buggy conditions have ensured it a dedicated following in the southern states.

9. Highland

The picturesque Highland is a favorite on many homesteads, and not just because of its looks. This breed is exceptionally versatile, able to provide meat, milk, fiber, draft power, and land-clearing services, among other uses. Furthermore, it is both docile and hardy, making it a superb choice for cooler climates.

8. Holstein

The Holstein is the iconic black-and-white cow that dominates the global dairy industry today thanks to its incredibly high milk production levels. While purebred Holsteins require too much maintenance to thrive in a low-input, pasture-based situation, crossbred Holsteins do have potential for the organic dairy business.

7. Shorthorn

Traditional dual-purpose Shorthorns are hard to come by these days, but specialized beef and dairy bloodlines still provide options for the modern homesteader, farmer, or rancher. The health and hardiness of this breed have suffered in recent years. However, it still retains its docility, its adaptation to cool climates, and its ability to produce high-quality beef or milk on pasture with proper care.

6. Charolais

The Charolais is primarily used to produce beef calves for the feedlot in America. Unfortunately, this breed has numerous problems that make it unsuitable for beginners, including a difficult temperament, multiple health problems, high feed requirements, and the potential for calving issues. Crossbreeding is the standard tool of choice to minimize these challenges while taking advantage of the large size and rapid growth of the Charolais.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds5. Brahman

Although most American cattlemen think of the Brahman as a tool for producing crossbred calves with excellent heat tolerance and insect resistance, this breed is actually quite a bit more versatile than commonly given credit for. In other counties, the Brahman is frequently used as a dairy or draft animal. It is also a common ingredient when developing new dairy breeds for tropical climates.

4. Simmental

Here’s another dual-purpose breed that is commonly associated with crossbred beef production. While the Simmental is a large breed with high meat yields when adequately fed, it can also make either a productive dairy cow or a docile, sturdy work ox.

3. Hereford

Hereford varieties abound these days. You can choose from the long, tall modern Hereford developed for feedlot finishing, the classic mid-sized Hereford ideally suited to grass feeding, or the miniature Hereford, which is a good option for feeding a family on really small farms. There is also a polled Hereford for safer handling, and even a Black Hereford bred for producing Black Baldies without the risk of the occasional red calf.

2. Angus

The Angus is one of the most popular cattle breeds in the world today. Black Angus beef is associated with a quality eating experience thanks to marbling genes and an exceptional breed promotion program. The Angus has also won favor in the crossbreeding realm thanks to its ability to consistently pass on its hardiness, fertility, and beef quality to its offspring. While a quest for larger frames and heavier carcasses has led to the sacrifice of docility, calving ease, and forage efficiency in many Angus, the moderate-framed Lowline Angus has fortunately emerged to correct some of these issues.

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Cattle Breeds1. Black Baldy

The most popular breed here at Homestead on the Range is, incidentally, not really a breed. A Black Baldy can technically be any crossbred animal that is black with a white face; most commonly, however, it is the result of a cross between an Angus and a Hereford (a miniature Black Baldy usually comes from a Lowline Angus and a miniature Hereford). The Black Baldy is primarily used for commercial beef production, as its fattiness and bland flavor do not make it an outstanding candidate for gourmet grass finishing. That said, it brings a great deal of hardiness to the table, along with a docile demeanor.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Not sure which breed is best for you? This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and narrowing down your options, wrapping up with profiles of 40 common beef, dairy, and dual-purpose breeds. More information and free sample pages are available here.

Cattle Breeds
Our online guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of common and uncommon cattle breeds.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

Choosing a Breed of Cattle

We are excited to announce the release of a new book—Choosing a Breed of Cattle: 5 Needs and 40 Breeds for Selecting Cattle That Fit Your Purpose by Michelle Lindsey!

When you start by assessing the five needs of every future cattle owner, choosing between the many breeds of cattle available today suddenly becomes much easier. This book will walk you through the process of defining your expectations and then arm you with key information on 40 common cattle breeds, including beef, dairy, and multipurpose types.

With a little research, you will know:

  • Whether to choose purebred or crossbred cattle.
  • What genetic, geographical, and historical types of cattle are best suited to your purpose.
  • Which beef, dairy, or dual-purpose breeds are most likely to succeed on your homestead, farm, or ranch, no matter how big or small.

Once you have picked a few favorite breeds, we’ll even show you where to go to find more information.

Choosing a Breed of Cattle is the first book in our new series—Practical Country Living. The Practical Country Living series will offer country living enthusiasts the information they need to master new skills quickly. By the time you have finished one of our concise Practical Country Living books, you should be ready to take your newly acquired knowledge into the real world, whatever your area of interest.

More information on Choosing a Breed of Cattle is available here, along with free sample pages.

Adding Value to Milk

Adding Value to MilkLooking for ways to expand your small-farm dairy business? Milk offers many opportunities for diversifying your product offerings!

Here are some common ways to add value to farm-fresh milk.

Cream

Cream is not one of the more popular value-added dairy products around, but it does have a loyal following among health-conscious customers. Fresh, raw cream is often touted as nature’s ultimate health food due to its vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. Good cream can also provide quite the gourmet cooking experience.

Butter

Because butter requires a great deal of milk fat to make, selling butter is typically a better fit for dairy farmers with cows rather than goats or sheep.

Another pitfall with butter is that it is often harder to sell to the public. Many customers (even those who aren’t necessarily health-conscious) won’t think twice about sampling homemade cheese or ice cream. But the market for farm-fresh butter is much smaller.

Buttermilk

Old-fashioned buttermilk is the milk left over from the butter churn, in contrast to grocery-store buttermilk made from skim milk, cultures, and thickening agents. Buttermilk is one of the less common dairy products sold on small farms, but it may be a way to salvage an otherwise wasted byproduct.

Or, to take the value-adding a step further, make buttermilk soap! Handmade soap can be a truly artisan product that commands high prices. It also has a major advantage over many dairy products in that it can be sold online and shipped across the country, enabling the soapmaker to find markets anywhere at all. The usual rules apply when selling soap—check the laws (soap is regulated by the FDA) and make sure you produce a quality product every time. If your customers are paying top-dollar for handcrafted soap, they expect more than a run-of-the-mill cleansing agent.

Cheese

Whether you keep cows, goats, or sheep, cheese offers a magnificent opportunity to the artisan entrepreneur. At the same time, it is a very popular product to eat across America! And another bonus? Cheese made from raw milk is typically regulated much less stringently than raw milk itself (but please check your state regulations before starting on your cheese venture).

Another advantage of selling cheese is that it allows for considerable variety, as there are many different types of cheese that can be made. Cheese made from raw milk must be aged prior to sale in some states, which means that the cheeses many small farms will be able to offer fall into the hard cheese category. Fortunately, hard cheeses do include some very popular varieties, such as cheddar and Gouda. Pasteurization will enable you to add soft cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta to your lineup. Another option for adding still more variety is flavoring your cheese with herbs and spices.

A few words of advice—trying making cheese for home use before turning this project into a business. Cheesemaking is very time-consuming, the equipment is expensive, and quality is the key to maintaining customer interest, so it’s a good idea to test your interest level and build your skills before committing. The good news is that instructional materials abound these days, making the learning curve much less steep.

Also keep in mind that specialty cheese sales usually peak around Christmas—near the lowest ebb of seasonal dairying.

Whey

Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking. Hard cheeses are pressed to remove the fluids, which can in turn be sold as whey.

So what do you do with whey? Bottling flavored whey drinks is one option. Also, if you happen to know any other small farmers, you may be in luck. Whey can be marketed to pig farmers as feed, and it can also be sold as a very effective fertilizer for organic pastures and fields.

Ice Cream

Ice cream is an extremely popular value-added product, partly because it is readily accepted by the public whether sold by the gallon or by the cone. It’s also portable—some small-scale creameries set up shop in trailers at fairs and other special events, allowing them to capitalize on existing crowds in a festive mood.

The demand for gourmet ice cream is particularly high among older, wealthier customers. Hand churning and indulgent flavors can command an impressive premium—just be aware that choosing this marketing route will make your product a luxury and will consequently reduce your customer base.

Yogurt

Yogurt can be a favorite product among health-conscious consumers, who tend to view it as a positive snack choice.

One potential pitfall to be aware of is the fact that not all areas have a large enough interest to support a yogurt business. Even in areas with access to interested buyers, it would be quite easy to oversupply the market, since a pound of milk makes a pound of yogurt! Yogurt makers will definitely want to have another outlet for milk and dairy products besides yogurt.

Another factor to consider is that tastes vary. Most Americans prefer heavily sweetened yogurt made from low-fat milk. The thicker, less sweet product is more likely to be enjoyed by a few select groups.

Some Final Thoughts

Adding value to milk invariably requires expertise and special equipment. It also requires commitment, and preferably an artisan bent. Before undertaking any value-added dairy enterprise, assess your financial situation, your workload, and your level of enthusiasm carefully and honestly. Many successful dairy entrepreneurs start out learning to make their chosen product on the kitchen stove and sharing with friends and family for free.

One way to reduce the startup costs is to purchase used processing equipment. If you do want to buy new equipment, keep in mind that some manufacturers now make dairy equipment sized for smaller farms—industrial machinery is not necessary these days.

Also note that, in niche dairying, quality is all-important. Off flavors must be avoided, which requires close attention to grazing management. Furthermore, dairy products must be moved fairly quickly to avoid expiration.

Are value-added dairy products right for your farm? If you have serious passion to see you through, maybe so.

Helpful Resource

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
This handy book offers a step-by-step approach to business planning. It addresses many of the financial, legal, and marketing issues you will encounter when considering value-added dairy. Read our full review.

An Introduction to Sheep Dairying

An Introduction to Sheep DairyingDairy sheep? Seriously?

Yes! There are many reasons some adventurous homesteaders and agripreneurs have turned to sheep dairying. Believe it or not, one is the flavor. Sheep milk has a high rate of acceptance among those who have tasted it.

And then there are the health benefits. According to various dairy sheep organizations, sheep milk boasts the following claims:

  • More protein than cow’s milk.
  • Small fat globules, which are easy to digest.
  • Higher levels of CLA than cow’s or goat’s milk.
  • Higher levels calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, B12, and E than cow’s milk.

Sheep milk is also amazingly versatile. It can be enjoyed as a beverage, but it is also suitable for cheese, yogurt, kefir, and ice cream. Can’t process it all at once? No problem—sheep milk is naturally homogenized and can be kept in the freezer until you are ready to work with it.

 

Who Buys Sheep Milk?

It is rather ironic that so few Americans use sheep milk today, given the fact that sheep dairying has been practiced in nearly every part of the world since the most ancient times. Very few people indeed drink sheep milk as a beverage in our country.

A more palatable way of presenting sheep milk to the American public is in the form of artisan cheese, popular with foodies, retailers, and restaurants alike. The United States, while it produces very little sheep cheese, is a major importer of this product. Some of the sheep cheeses popular in our country may sound familiar to you:

  • Feta.
  • Ricotta.
  • Roquefort.
  • Pecorino romano.

Some sheep farmers prefer to sell their milk to cheese processors rather than oversee the cheesemaking process. Finding a processor in your area can be a challenge, however, because a large-scale processor must be assured the milk of at least 750 ewes to be profitable. You may need to either find a local artisan to work with or learn how to make sheep cheese yourself.

 

The Best Breeds For Sheep Dairying

The sheep dairying industry is not as well developed in the United States as it is in Europe. In many European countries, specialized dairy breeds of sheep have been selected over time for production. In the United States, most new dairymen will have to do this selection themselves unless they are fortunate enough to live where imported populations of specialized breeds have been established. This can make starting a profitable dairy flock difficult and time-consuming. Upgrading a meat flock into a dairy flock may be necessary.

One mark of a good dairy breed is its ability to produce enough milk to sustainably nurse twins and triplets. Another factor is the ewe’s ability to breed back quickly, even in the winter.

Breeds that have come to the surface in U.S. sheep dairying include:

  • Assaf (specialized).
  • Awassi (specialized).
  • Dorset.
  • East Friesian (specialized).
  • Finnsheep.
  • Icelandic.
  • Katahdin.
  • Lacaune (specialized).
  • Polypay.

Hybrid vigor gives crossbred ewes an advantage over purebred ewes in health, so a combination of these breeds is often advantageous for dairying with sheep. Crossbreeding is also a reliable way to increase the milk production of a meat-breed flock.

 

Special Considerations of Dairying With Sheep

Raising sheep for dairy purposes requires different management than is necessary for raising sheep for meat or wool. Heavy milk production places tremendous demands on the metabolism and reproductive system of the ewe. In fact, it is not always possible to meet the energy needs of specialized dairy sheep on forage alone. Extra care must be given to proper sanitation and nutrition to avoid health problems such as these:

  • Mastitis.
  • Ketosis.
  • Milk fever.

Tail docking is also recommended to ensure clean dairying practices.

When to separate the lambs from the ewes is an important consideration. In most countries, the lambs are separated from their mothers about 24 hours after birth and are then raised on milk replacer. While this practice maximizes the amount of milk available for processing and sale, it does result in a less vigorous lamb, a real downside in America where a major part of the income of a sheep dairy may come from selling lambs to ethnic markets for meat. For this reason, it may be desirable in many operations to wean the lambs at 30 days of age. The milk production can be increased in this system after the first week by keeping the lambs in separate quarters at night so that the ewes can be milked in the morning.

 

Are Dairy Sheep Right For You?

Sheep dairying is not exactly an easy enterprise to start. Building a flock can be difficult, and special equipment is required. However, if you love cheesemaking and have access to upscale markets interested in artisan cheese, sheep dairying may be a good fit for you.

Note that many sheep dairies do not rely solely on milk or cheese for their profits—lamb and wool are two additional streams of income that can make this business a success.

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts

Heritage Livestock Breed Comparison ChartsWe recently linked to the Pick-a-Chick chart from the Livestock Conservancy, allowing prospective chicken keepers to compare the characteristics of heritage breeds at a glance. The Livestock Conservancy has many other useful charts for other types of livestock, as well:

Depending on the type of livestock under consideration, these charts offer basic information on important factors to evaluate when choosing a breed:

  • Purpose.
  • Size.
  • Temperament.
  • Preferred climate.
  • Foraging ability.
  • Litter size.
  • Mothering ability.
  • Production level.
  • Recommended experience level.
  • And much more!

The charts offer a very easy way to compare and contrast breeds, as well as a way to discover some of the rarer breeds:

  • Florida Cracker cattle.
  • American Cream Draft horses.
  • Poitou donkeys.
  • Mulefoot hogs.
  • San Clemente goats.
  • Gulf Coast sheep.
  • American Chinchilla rabbits.
  • Midget White turkeys.
  • Cotton Patch geese.
  • Dutch Hookbill ducks.

Highly recommended free resource!

Toggenburg

ToggenburgThe Toggenburg is yet another ancient Swiss dairy goat that has enjoyed success wherever it has traveled. This breed took its name from the Toggenburg region in the eastern part of its native country and has been known there for centuries. It has been registered and recorded since the 1600s, but definitely traces back considerably further.

The Togg, as the breed is commonly known, began to spread across the world in the late 1800s, reaching England in the first half of the 1880s. The American population is descended from the Toggenburgs of England, the first four goats having arrived in Ohio from the latter country in 1893.

More importations to the United States followed. By 1921, there was a solid foundation and registration of the breed began, giving the Togg the distinction of being the first goat breed registered in our country. Its dairy qualities and its regular appearance at state fairs gained it further notoriety, which it has enjoyed in America ever since.

The modern Toggenburg has been bred for greater size. However, for those who prefer a smaller goat, the Miniature Toggenburg has been created through the introduction of Nigerian Dwarf blood.

Uses

The Togg is strictly a dairy breed best suited to fluid milk production. Its milk has low butterfat levels, so it is less desirable than other breeds for making value-added dairy products such as butter and cheese. However, when placed in a herd of goats of other breeds, it will contribute to cheese production by adding a strong but sweet flavor to the finished product.

The Miniature Toggenburg may be slightly more versatile due to the higher butterfat and protein content of its milk.

ToggenburgTemperament

The Toggenburg is not lacking in personality. While perfectly friendly and affectionate, it is a free spirit with a cantankerous streak. It is not above domineering people and other goats, and has been known to tackle a coyote and win. It is always on the lookout for something exciting to do and seems to spend a good part of its day finding new ways to escape.

Health

Overall, the Togg is built to last. It is constitutionally hardy, structurally sound, and dispositionally tough. Be aware, however, that it is best adapted to cooler climates and may suffer somewhat in the heat.

Pat Coleby’s experience suggests that the Toggenburg may have higher copper requirements than other breeds. A copper deficiency will initially present itself by a bleached coat.

Finally, a note on breeding Mini Toggs: Because this version of the breed is very scarce, some goat-keepers like to raise their own by crossbreeding a standard Toggenburg with a Nigerian Dwarf. Keep in mind that the dwarf goat used to produced this cross needs to be a buck—breeding a full-sized Toggenburg buck to a diminutive Nigerian Dwarf doe is a recipe for disaster.

ToggenburgPros

  • Suitability for cool climates.
  • Some level of resistance to predators (always play it safe with good fencing, however).
  • Natural foraging instinct.
  • Low feed requirements.
  • Hardiness.
  • Easy kidding.
  • Strong mothering instincts.
  • Long lactations, lasting from 18 to 20 months.
  • High milk production.
  • Sweet milk flavor when not allowed to consume aromatic weeds.

ToggenburgCons

  • Scarcity of Miniature Toggs.
  • Difficult temperament for beginners to handle.
  • Considerable ability as an escape artist.
  • Reduced heat tolerance.
  • Low butterfat levels (higher in the miniature version).
Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds

 

Saanen

SaanenAnother traditional dairy breed of the Swiss mountains, the Saanen (pronounced SAW-nen) takes its name from its native Saane Valley located in the canton of Bern. It was in this region that the Saanen was bred to produce milk in abundance on the summer mountain pastures of Switzerland. However, it is interesting to note that the Swiss did not select exclusively for production or for hardiness—they also bred for the hallmark white coat.

The Saanen began to spread throughout Europe in the 1890s, quickly earning for itself a good reputation as a dairy animal. Its rapidly growing international fame brought it to American attention, as well. The first Saanen set foot in the United States in 1904, and around 160 others followed over the next two decades.

Unfortunately, the early American importers were not overly particular as to quality of the goats they purchased. Out of the original 160, only about 30 were physically sound. The descendants of these 30 were largely the genetic basis of the American Saanen population, but more trouble was soon to follow.

During the Great Depression, many goat keepers were forced to drastically reduce their herds. While some managed to hold onto a few goats, this nationwide disaster hit rare breeds, such as the Saanen, the hardest. Inbreeding crept in as numbers dropped.

Once the economic hardships passed, however, Americans turned back to European genetics to revive the breed. Saanen bucks were imported via Canada and worked wonders on the breed’s productivity and physical structure. This marked improvement was probably the cause of the rapid expansion of the Saanen in numbers and popularity, across both the nation and the world.

 

SaanenUses

The Saanen is frequently referred to as the Holstein of the goat world, making it well suited to commercial dairying, or perhaps an ambitious homestead with a way to use, sell, or otherwise dispose of all that milk.

Surplus wethers make satisfactory meat goats, or they can be trained to pull carts and carry packs.

 

Temperament

Compared to other goats, the Saanen is remarkably quiet and laid-back. It takes to routine very readily, and there isn’t much that can get under its skin—even close confinement. It seems to have less capacity for boredom than many breeds, and it will not try to scale the fences looking for entertainment (although it may tunnel out if presented with an opportunity).

The Saanen loves its people and makes a truly sweet companion. Combine this with its calm, even temperament, and you have a goat that will cause little trouble when being handled.

 

SaanenHealth

The Saanen is typically hardy and healthy. However, it is a high-production dairy breed best suited to intensive management, and it is not immune to breakdowns when its needs are not taken into consideration. Close attention to a diet that can compensate for abundant milk production is a must.

Also, the Saanen is prone to sunburn and skin cancer if not provided with shade. This is not a problem with Saanen goats with colored hair, referred to as sables. But even sables still need shelter to avoid the rain.

 

Pros

  • Superb disposition.
  • Suitability for confinement.
  • Adaptability to cool climates.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Hardiness under proper management.
  • Longevity.
  • High frequency of twins.
  • High levels of milk production.
  • Quality meat.
  • Strength as a pack animal.

 

SaanenCons

  • Tendency to burrow under fences.
  • Susceptibility to sunburn.
  • High nutritional requirements.
  • Low butterfat content of milk.

 

Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds

 

Pygmy

PygmyThe Pygmy goat shares much of its early heritage in common with the Nigerian Dwarf breed. It originated as a landrace in Africa centuries ago, arrived in Great Britain during the days of imperial expansion, and quickly became popular in Europe as a zoo exhibit.

Miniature goats were noted to have varying types in those days. After surplus goats from zoos were dispersed to private owners, selection began to fix and enhance preferred characteristics. One version had dairy potential and proportions similar to those of standard breeds; this went on to become the Nigerian Dwarf. The other version was absurdly stocky for its size, with large bones and heavy muscling. This goat became the basis of the Pygmy breed.

At first, Pygmy goat prices were ridiculously high as the breed became something of a fad among owners of exotic pets. However, this very popularity ensured that in short order the supply would exceed the demand. Prices fell accordingly.

The Pygmy goat is still popular around the world, however, with pet owners and homesteaders alike.

 

Uses

Many Pygmy goats today are primarily kept as companion animals, either for people or for lonely horses. Likewise, they are a common choice as children’s show goats and as petting zoo exhibits.

With the rise in popularity of homesteading, it was quickly found that Pygmy goats were versatile working animals, as well. Their muscular physique makes them suitable for home meat production, and they also excel in the weed-eating department. While they are efficient milkers for their size and can make good homestead dairy animals, milking a Pygmy goat is a task that requires some patience due to their tiny udders.

 

Temperament

Pygmy

The Pygmy goat fairly bursts at the seams with personality. It is always busy, playful, and eager to jump and climb. It will try to scale anything that its little legs are equal to. Some type of goat playground equipment is a must for this breed, or it will quickly grow bored.

But its intelligence, combined with its docility and desire to please, make the Pygmy goat easy to train. With plenty of positive reinforcement, it will readily pick up most standard dog tricks, such as stay, shake hands, walk on a leash, and jump through a hoop. Just one word of warning—if you feed your Pygmy goat treats, be prepared to have a perpetual (and vocal) shadow on your heels!

Since you will not be able to stay outdoors and provide for all of your Pygmy goat’s extensive social needs, give it a companion. This does not have to be another goat. Most Pygmies are quite content around sheep and horses.

Remember that Pygmy bucks are still bucks. They will fight with other bucks for dominance, although they rarely hurt each other. They typically do not attack people, but it is always best to be alert around Pygmy bucks, just in case, as their horns can inflict painful injuries.

 

PygmyHealth

The Pygmy is an exceptionally healthy, hardy breed. In its native home, it was naturally immune to the tse-tse fly. While that is not something most American homesteaders will have to worry about, we can readily appreciate the sound health behind that immunity. In our country, it translates into resistance to mange and mastitis, two common problems in dairy goats.

However, please be aware that your Pygmy goat will thrive best when provided with a simple shelter so that it can escape the rain. Make this structure even better by providing benches inside so that the goats can sleep out of the mud.

Note that Pygmy does are capable of conceiving as early as two months of age, before their bodies are ready for the strain of pregnancy and delivery. To avoid injuries and difficult births, wait until your doe is about eight months old—perhaps older depending on her size and physical condition. Always wean doe and buck kids separately to avoid accidents.

 

PygmyPros

  • Affordability.
  • Suitability for small acreages.
  • Ease of handling and transportation.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Minimal feed requirements.
  • Willingness to eat weeds and other undesirable plants.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Early maturity.
  • Longevity.
  • Ability to breed year-round.
  • Tendency to have three to four kids at a time.
  • High milk production relative to size (about half a gallon a day).
  • Very high butterfat content.
  • Milk exceptionally high in a variety of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
  • Long shelf life of milk.

 

Cons

  • Vocal tendencies.
  • Tendency to grow bored without something to play with.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Short lactations (four to six months).
  • Small, hard-to-milk teats.

 

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