We have 3 different breeds of goat on our farm at this time. Saanen, LaMancha, and British Guernsey.
Saanens are large white goats with straight ears and delicate faces. They produce a lot of milk, but have a relatively low milkfat content which makes their milk taste slightly watery. What we love about them though, is their temperament. They are truly gentle giants... Quiet, mellow, friendly, loving and patient, they are a pleasure to have around.
There you have it! We have a couple other breeds mixed into a couple of our does, but these are the breeds we're focused on.
Some of the goats were given to us by friends, and some we traveled significant distances to purchase, but all of them were hand-picked and carefully considered. A good deal on a goat means nothing if the goat isn’t one that meshes well with your lifestyle and plans. So we researched, purchased, raised, fed and monitored them, and then sold the less well-matched goats until we were left with the ones that truly suited us. Keeping an animal that you don't get along with because they’re a good producer, or an animal that you love despite their horrible milk production, doesn’t do anybody any favors. Find the perfect home for the animal, and find the perfect animal for your home.
We carefully looked into each breed of animal before purchasing. What personality traits are common? What genetic weaknesses should you watch out for? In this case, how much milk can you expect and how will it taste? Diet makes a distinct difference in the taste of milk, but so do genetics.
We don’t have registered animals. People can lie just as easily on a registration form as they can to your face, so we just focus on the animals themselves (what a concept!). Health can be improved and certain bad habits trained away, but an animal with bad conformation or a bad attitude will never be worth your time.
So after a lot of research, practical experience and trial and error, these are the goats we have settled on. For now!!
What We Feed
*NOTE: I mention often that I feed local high-quality grass hay. This is NOT normal grass hay, I've never seen any grass hay to equal it. Normally dairy goats would be fed Alfalfa hay, but we tested this grass hay on our goats and saw no discernible drop in their milk production so we've been thrilled to use it.
We have two very different diets for our goats, depending on whether or not they are being milked.
Non-milkers: During the leafy months we have found that they do shockingly well on their own. We had 2 bucks, 1 wether and 1 unbred doe on a blackberry-filled 2 acre pasture from April through September with no supplemental feed. Not only did they survive, they thrived. They stayed fat, and their coats were lustrous and practically shimmered in the sunshine. No sickness or injuries all summer, and they didn't get anti-social either.
Just in the past few days (first part of October) I've started throwing them some cheap grass hay (not our good stuff) in the mornings. Not because they were losing weight, but I noticed that they had started standing near the barn at chore-time. No hollering or drama, they just stood there and watched me feed, letting me know they were hungry this morning. Since there are still plenty of greens I will just give them the cheap grass hay, and if they start losing weight and/or when the weather turns, they will start getting a small amount of the high-quality grass hay.
They have constant access to a salt block year-round.
Milkers: During the leafy seasons they get just enough hay in the morning that they will clean it up in a couple hours, then they can snack throughout the day outside. There's no sense feeding them all the hay they can eat, and having nature's bounty going to waste outside their door... Keep a close eye on their milk production though, to make sure they are adequately nourished.
At dinnertime and throughout the winter, they get fed enough to eat until they're full, with some nibbles left over for later.
Always keep an eye on their weight, and adjust your feeding habits accordingly.
Milkers should be fed grain whenever they are actively being milked. It can be useful getting your doe on the milkstand and giving her some grain in the week or two before weaning to prepare her for milking, but pregnant and non-milking does do not need grain (in fact, graining a doe late in her pregnancy can cause her kid to be overweight and harder for the doe to birth). Good quality hay (and preferably some natural forage) will sustain them nicely.
Our grain mix is 2 parts whole oats, 2 parts whole barley, and 1-2 parts whole corn (some goats don't eat much corn). Since goats have 4 stomach chambers, they process whole grains very well, and there is far more nutrition in whole grain than there is in rolled. We also sprinkle some kelp in their grain each feeding, and worm them on a regular basis.
**By "leafy season" I literally mean leaves. Goats are brush-eaters. Brush, tree leaves and bark, blackberry bushes, etc.**