Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seasonal Farmstead Goat Dairying

Spring is in the air and the requests for our fresh chevre are mounting rapidly. We thank you all for that. I know it comes as no surprise to any of you that we do not simply "turn on the milk tap" to magically have the milk here to make into cheese. We are a true farmstead goat dairy, and that means every drop of milk you get in our cheese was bred here, born here, birthed here, and milked here by our caring hands. We do not buy milk from an outside source. There is nothing "wrong" with that, it is just not our style or preference.
So why don't we have year-round milk like the cow dairies? Or even some of the goat dairies? I will try to summarize that choice here.

Goats by nature are seasonal breeders at our latitude. They come into active heat cycles as the days get shorter in the fall. It is light driven as much as anything. Cows apparently do not have this same sensitivity to day length. Goats can have year-round milk in several ways. One way is to do what is called "milking through", which means some goats are well suited to just keep milking without having to freshen (have babies) again. We have not gone too far with this, but may try it on a limited scale in the future. Another way is to manipulate heat cycles with artificial lighting to induce heats at other times of the year. We will not be trying this one. There are some hormonal manipulations that can be used as well, but that will not be practiced here either. We have chosen to let the goats breed and birth with their natural cycles. We have had good success with the health of our animals and goat kids with this routine. And with this routine comes an added bonus for the milker crew. We get 2-3 months off the milking chores when the weather is the least pleasant outside here in the Pacific Northwest. This allows us some much needed time "off" for a little goofing off of our choosing. Animal chores never end, but the load is lighter in the Winter. We have found when it is cold, blowing sideways rain, the goats do not want get up and be milked any more than we want to be there to milk them. We all win with this routine.

A brief description of our year:

December/January
Goats are basically "dry" (not milking). They are busy resting and growing their pregnancies. We are busy with organizing, cleaning out the nursery barn, planning, and wrapping up the farmers market seasons. If we hope to travel anywhere, this is the time.

February/March/April
Babies begin arriving and the barn comes to full life. All births are attended if possible. Assistance is given as needed. Lots of late night barn checks and all day kidding activities abound.

May through October
This is peak milk season. Cheese is being made regularly, volumes are increasing, and life is really busy: literally 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are at farmers markets, community events, and delivering to our local customers, who we are ever so grateful for.

September through November
Milk volumes begin to decrease. Goats begin coming into active heats, and the selected matings are completed. We begin to look forward to the seasonal changes.

The gestation for a goat is 145-150 days. They tend to have multiple births here (great nutrition). Triplets are more our "norm" and we get a few quads-not by choice. The babies are weaned from the milk at 8-10 weeks of age. It is still an amazement to me how many of us depend on this beautiful milk from these magnificent animals.

We milk about 20 in the peak time. This gives us about 40-45 gallons of milk to make into cheese every 2-2.5 days. As a comparison, right now in early March, I am making the fresh chevre with only 13 gallons. So thanks for your patience and understanding as we begin anew. We look forward to seeing all of you again.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this fine post. We linked to it as our feature post today at www.AllThingsGoat.com. We've also added you to our Google Reader so we can stay abreast of events at your dairy.

    Happy Spring!

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  2. Thanks Martha Ann. I am planning a blog called "A Year in the Life of a Dairy Goat" for this coming week. Just need a few more pics. Rhonda

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