OPINION

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Getting your goat
Five-acre blocks, Collins Street farmers, small holders and dairy goats. There are periodic, coincidental explosions of each of these. In my case it was the arrival of the first baby and a desire to see her thrive; so goat’s milk it was. Absentee landholders plagued by blackberries and other weeds bought the myth that goats would eat anything. More about that later. Goats loosely resemble sheep, so many people bought them on the assumption that a good dog and yards was all that was needed. In fact goats are very different from sheep. They can jump higher and push harder, for a start.
Nor will they run in docile flocks. Every goat is a rugged individual. They have to be managed as individuals, not run as a flock where each member follows the other docilely through a gate. Female goats are clean, delicate and demure. Male goats, ‘entire’, that is complete with testicles, stink. I hear you asking how I know this? For a long while, I shared my life with a lady who loved her goats, managed them really well, and as a profitable sideline kept a billy-goat. His sperm was much sought-after by owners of lady goats which need the services of a billy to get goat kids, and on whose behalf they produced the milk which was a highly sought-after commodity. This process saved us having to discuss ‘the facts of life’ with our children. Billy goats are totally unambiguous about sex.
Goat’s milk is the most commonly consumed type of dairy in the world. In fact, 65% to 72% of all dairy consumed globally is goat’s milk. This is partially due to the ease of keeping goats in developing countries, as opposed to cows. Goat’s milk is an important source of calories, protein, and fats. In many countries, people express a preference for goat’s milk over cow’s milk.
It is thicker and creamier than cow or vegetable milks, more homogenous, and has more nutrients that may offer health benefits. It is easier to digest, there is less risk of milk allergies and it is lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk. We fed our first child on goat’s milk, and she was a strapping endorsement of the product. The goat we milked was called Priscilla.
Goats are relatively easy to milk from a raised stand, and most goat udders have only two teats. There is a controversy currently in play, over raw, i.e. unpasteurised , milk, goat and cow and the pasteurised version. If you are contemplating goat-hood, you could do worse than look at the WA Department of Agriculture’s ‘Introduction to dairy goat farming for small landholders’. It lists the six main dairy breeds of goat in Australia. Three are of Swiss origin – Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine, two have been recently bred in Australia – Australian Melaan and Australian Brown and one is from the Middle East – the Anglo Nubian. There is a small and appreciative market for goat meat. One of the feature meals of an Australian Symposium of Gastronomy held in Tasmania took place in the Long Gallery at Salamanca. Guests were seated 12 at a table, and the meal was a whole roasted goat kid, one per table. No plates, no cutlery, just bare hands. It was very greasy, but delicious. Nevertheless, the breeding rate of goats is too low to make a living from the meat. The real market is in milk and milk products.
“The goats will live off the blackberries as they clear the block” is one of the common delusions about goats. In fact they need to free-range on good pasture which requires excellent fences and gates. And whereas a single-wire electric fence will constrain a cow or a horse, goats learn to listen for the barely audible sounds of the pulse, and they know immediately if the fence is off, or shorting. And they’re off and away, and not easily brought back. Strong physical fences are de rigeur. And don’t count on a solitary goat on a chain. It’s inhumane, inefficient and a nuisance. They are seldom moved on to fresh grass in time, and spend their miserable lives at the limit of the chain, at the edge of a miserable manure- and urine-stained circle of trodden grass. So if you are contemplating becoming a goat breeder, good quality food and water is essential for good milk production. When determining feed rations, energy and protein are the most important elements to consider. Lack of energy is the most common problem affecting production and protein is essential for growth, pregnancy and milk production. Feed analysis can be a valuable tool in determining what nutrients your feed may lack. Fresh pasture is a great source of minerals, energy and protein and is a low cost source of feed. Rotational grazing can maximise the supply of pasture and minimise the need for supplementary feeding when pasture is in short supply. Good grazing management is essential.
In short, keeping goats is not an enterprise to be undertaken lightly or inadvertently.
John Fleming II

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