Getting Started with Dairy Goats

You’ve decided you want dairy goats, but don’t know where to start. While not covering everything that might be a consideration for your situation, here are some steps you may find useful in gathering information that will help you be successful.

RESEARCH LOCAL ZONING LAWS

Know what restrictions there are, if any, for raising small livestock on your property. You can find local regulations at the office of your city or town government or on their website.

DISCOVER LOCAL DAIRY GOAT RESOURCES

Most dairy goat breeders are eager to share their experience with a new or potential dairy goat owner. Local dairy goat clubs and associations often have Facebook pages and websites to explore. Your USDA county extension office may have staff with dairy goat experience and may be able to recommend local farms to contact.

LEARN ABOUT HOUSING AND FENCING NEEDS

Dairy goats need protection from wild and domestic predators, from poisonous plants and shelter from adverse weather. Your specific needs will vary by location.  Do It Yourself books can be found at your local farm supply stores as well as online. Quality housing and fencing are critical to the safety and well-being of your animals.

Many dairy goat owners use livestock guardian dogs or other guardian animals to stay with the goat herd 24/7. There are specific breeds that are natural guardians and are well suited for this task. Although mountain lion, bear, bobcat and coyotes may be predators of concern in your area, domestic and feral dogs account for most attacks on dairy goats.

EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT DAIRY GOAT MANAGEMENT

Read an introduction to dairy goat care and management: https://adga.org/care-and-management-of-dairy-goats

Local farm supply stores have dairy goat care and management books or you can locate books and resources online. The old proverb “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t be more applicable to managing your new dairy goat herd.

LOCATE A SMALL RUMINANT VETERINARIAN

The contacts you make through the ADGA Membership Directory, your local dairy goat club and ADGA sanctioned shows will likely result in recommendations for an experienced small ruminant veterinarian in your area. While you will learn many basic health management practices through reading and mentoring relationships, having a veterinarian you trust and know you can reach before the need arises is strongly recommended. An established relationship with a veterinarian is also a legal requirement for obtaining certain medications.

LOCATE FEED SOURCES

Even if you have forage on your property, milking does will require additional nutrition to produce well, and all goats benefit from mineral supplements. Your veterinarian, USDA extension office and local breeders can provide valuable information concerning nutrition needs, feed and mineral sources in your area.

LEARN ABOUT LOCAL MILK SALE LAWS

Before you sell milk or milk products, you need to be aware of laws regulating those activities in your state. Laws vary widely as do the practices of dairy goat owners. You should be aware of the laws in your area as well as the potential risks associated with consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

DETERMINE WHICH BREEDS BEST SUIT YOUR GOALS

Read basic descriptions of each dairy goat breed: https://adga.org/breed-standards

Visit farms that raise the breed(s) of goats you are considering. Talk to more than one breeder to gain a balanced perspective. To produce milk, does must be bred and give birth to kids. Visiting farms will help you determine local availability of quality sires or if owning a buck would be preferable.

Once you decide on a breed, it is very important to learn the breed standards and registration requirements before you make your first purchase. Breed standards and registration extend beyond appearance. Registration is a statement that the goat conforms to the represented breed and does not contain non-dairy goat ancestry. It is also important for predicting goat production characteristics and reproduction consistency.

The detailed breed standards and registration requirements are in the ADGA Guidebook which is available with your membership in the American Dairy Goat Association. (ADGA)

Once you become an ADGA member, the ADGA Membership Directory will help you locate dairy goat breeders and services near you.

BUY ADGA REGISTERED GOATS

A goat registered with ADGA comes with a pedigree or record of ancestry.  ADGA registration records go back more than 100 years.  The information that comes with a pedigree will provide the information you need to continue to improve the production and conformation of your dairy goats with each new generation.  While purchasing a registered goat may cost a bit more initially, you will know that your animal is “as advertised,” and registered offspring will be more valuable.

BECOME AN ADGA MEMBER

To obtain the ADGA Guidebook, ADGA Membership Directory, take advantage of lower fees and other benefits (https://adga.org/member-benefits), join ADGA as a Regular or Youth Member. Your membership should be in the name of the individual, farm or family that owns your dairy goats. Individual Membership is required for association directors and ADGA licensed dairy goat judges. Some shows require that the exhibitor own a dairy goat in their name rather than being owned in a joint family or corporate membership.

Joint Memberships are available for corporations or groups of two or more individuals who do not need or want the privileges of individual membership. A full explanation of privileges and limitations for each membership may be found in the ADGA Guidebook.

Become an ADGA Member: https://adga.org/join

RESERVE YOUR HERD NAME

A herd name becomes the first part of the name of each kid born to does you owned at the time of breeding. Your herd name identifies you as the breeder and is an important part of building your reputation as a dairy goat breeder. A herd name must be unique and acceptable according to ADGA standards.

To  ensure a herd name is available, call the ADGA office (828-286-3801) during office hours (Eastern Time) or complete the contact form: https://adga.org/contact

Complete guidelines for herd names may be found in the ADGA Guidebook.

Reserve Your Herd Name: https://adga.org/forms/adga-herdname-request-form