How We Got Started Raising Dairy Goats & Tips for Cold Weather Farming
Raising dairy goats in the city may sound like a strange idea. But nothing beats fresh, sweet milk and cheese that can only come from backyard goats. If you want to get a goat, be sure to get plenty of advice from urban dairy farmers beforehand so that you understand how to keep goats and how to get the most out of them. We had the good fortune to meet our mentor goat farmers by happy accident. Here is how we got started raising dairy goats and some tips for keeping goats warm in winter.
Lewis and I wanted to share our love for chickens with the public, so we volunteered our home to be featured on the 2012 Valley Permaculture Alliance Tour de Coops. Auspiciously, the pre-tour party for coop owners and volunteers was held at Wish We Had Acres Farm. The night of the party, I met Dr. Dave and Laura, the proprietors of the farm. As I was leaving the party, Laura mentioned that she had a couple of Nigerian Mini-Goat Does for sale, just in case I knew anyone who was looking for goats to purchase.
It just so happens that I had recently become convinced that I wanted goats. I asked if I could come back again to see the does in the daylight and learn more about them. I returned the following week and purchased two lovely goats, Annie Oakley and Phoenix Rose. Thus, a friendship began, based on a mutual interest in urban farming and love for dairy goats.
The Value of Friendships with Other Urban Farmers
Dr. Dave and Laura helped us out in so many ways, from teaching us how to keep goats, to giving vaccinations and disbudding goat kids, and even rescuing us with emergency milk when our lamb Eleanor arrived at the farm without a mama. We were very sad in 2014 when Wish We Had Acres pulled up roots and moved to one of the last standing farmsteads in Charlotte, where their farm expanded from one-quarter acre to five acres. Of course, we were happy that they had achieved their dream of having acres on which to farm, and promised to keep in touch.
Not long after the move, Laura posted a lovely picture of their barn surrounded by a dusting of snow. Brrrr! What an adjustment it must have been for both humans and animals to move from sunny, warm Arizona to a snowy winter in North Carolina.
Winter Livestock Tips
I asked Laura how they coped and for a few cold weather tips, and she assured me that keeping goats warm is not difficult. “Honestly, goats develop an undercoat of cashmere so the best plan is to keep their hooves trimmed for wet weather and keep their housing well insulated.” She also mentioned that dry shelter is key for everyone. To keep housing dry, make sure that you balance insulation with ventilation, and add dry bedding to your stalls regularly, and also to your coops for cold weather chickens.
Laura gave me some important winter tips concerning food and water. The farm uses a combination of strategies to keep livestock water from freezing. “For the animals without heat regulated buckets, we haul out hot water sweetened with molasses.” Molasses provides a quickly source of energy for goats, which is so important in cold weather when animals are expending lots of energy keeping warm.
Molasses also serves as a source of minerals that may be missing from their diet when pasture is not available and supports fur growth. Laura cautions, “Diet is everything in colder weather.” Dry, mold-free hay and minerals will keep them healthy. Some experts on raising dairy goats recommend supplemental protein during the wintertime.
Keeping goats warm, especially miniature goats and goat kids, is easy (and fun!) using goat coats. Laura recounts an incident that occurred shortly after their move to NC. “Our first winter here from AZ, the goats hadn’t had a chance to develop those lovely undercoats… so we headed to Goodwill and promptly dressed them all in hoodies and sweater vests. Doncha know, they found a hole in the fence and marched across the road in their get-ups?? It was a hoot! Traffic stopped 5 cars deep in both directions. (Drivers) were all too amused to be upset. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
All of the adorable photos on this page are courtesy of Laura Denyes and Wish We Had Acres.
More winter livestock tips, supplemental winter feeding, and general urban farming advice can be found on Dave and Laura’s website. Here are some tips from Laura for raising dairy goats through the winter season safely.
Visit Wish We Had Acres online.
Cold weather tips for poultry and livestock:
Tips for Keeping Goats Warm in Winter by Hoegger Supply Company
Supplemental Winter Feeding of Goats by Goat World
Cold Weather Chickens by My Pet Chicken
Keeping Chickens in Winter by Mother Earth News