|Dance with me in the witches’ grove! Bwah ha…ha…er…. Well, okay, if you’re not so into that, I’ll take an apple instead.|
It was a wonderful afternoon–about forty “goat curious” people like me showed up. Gloria and Steve’s goal in this, as in many of their activities, is to build community. They want more goat owning neighbors. They want everyone to be as excited about goats as they are.
Gloria also said that when she got her first goats, she didn’t know any goat keepers. She knew nothing. Everything she read on the Internet contradicted and confused her. The goat message boards were full of scary stories. She wants people to know that it’s not hard to keep goats. A lot of it is common sense. Good management goes a long way toward preventing the situations that lead to the scary stories you read on the message boards. As a beginner, what you really need is other goat keepers you can call on, and watch, and learn from. This is why she and Steve are spreading the good word–they want to build community–so local goat keepers can support and educate one another
Gloria produced a beautiful handout which she has given me in PDF form to share with you all out there in Internet Land. Download it here. It’s a great overview of the basics, with a list of resources at the end. It does focus on goat-keeping in the Los Angeles region, but it will be useful no matter where you live.
|Steve and Gloria tellin’ it like it is to the goat curious. Steve is wearing his Altadena booster shirt. Altadena rocks! And Gloria is in her Backward Beekeepers sweatshirt, which is the fashion statement of choice in these parts.|
Why should you keep goats? Well, for the milk, of course. And the cheese–which is milk’s higher purpose. In an urban area (at least in this part of the world) it can be nigh near impossible to lay your hands on fresh, organic raw milk. If access to that kind of food is important to you, you almost have to be DIY. Did you know that a good milk goat can give a gallon of milk a day?
Then there’s the ethics. As many of you know, Erik and I stopped buying eggs at the supermarket because we couldn’t support the egg factories anymore, especially once we learned that “cage free” and “free range” are just marketing gimmicks. We started keeping hens to sidestep the insanity. If we had the room, we’d keep goats in a heartbeat, for the same reason. The industrial milk business is not something we want to support. We use very little milk, and the milk we do use is goat’s milk.
Beyond this, there’s pure pleasure. Believe us, fresh goat’s milk from a well run creamery does not taste “goaty.” Nothing can compare with fresh, raw milk from animals well loved and fed and carefully milked.
Gloria also points out that for her, goat keeping provides an almost mystical connection to our ancestors, a reconnection to this ancient, ancient human activity of caring for milch animals. Again, like keeping chickens, keeping a few goats was once normative. Well, it is still is normal in a lot of the world–but here and now, it’s exotic, an almost forgotten art. And that’s a shame. Goats are wonderful creatures.
|Enter the paddock! Goats are escape artists, so gates like these need to be secured–carabiners work well|
|A milking station elevates the goat and provides snacks, which are a great incentive toward cooperation.|
|Look at that foam! A good dairy goat can give a gallon of milk a day. Steve and Gloria milk their goats twice a day. Once a day is acceptable, too, but twice a day increases the yield by 20%.|
|This device is called a strip cup. The first squirt of milk from the goat goes in here. The screen lets you know if the milk texture is off–a sign of trouble.|
How much does it cost?
You don’t keep goats in the city/suburbs to save money. Just as it is with eggs, you’re always going to be able to buy milk at the store for less than it costs to raise it at home. However, if you’re committed to high quality, fresh, raw dairy and gourmet cheese, you know how hard it is to find, and if you can find it, how expensive it can be. I think you can get good milk for more reasonable prices in other areas of the country, but around here raw goat’s milk goes for about $20 a gallon. Gloria and Steve estimate their own milk costs more than that, but they admit it is much higher than it need be because a) they are keeping several non-producing goats as pets and b) they are buying really expensive hay for logistical reasons and I’ll add 3) they’re paying SoCal prices for everything.
(I should insert here that Mariposa Creamery is not a commercial dairy. They are producing milk and cheese for their own consumption–and keeping goats because they love goats. So this isn’t at all about profitability.)
They say they could save a lot of money on hay if they had somewhere to store it and could buy it in bulk, instead of having it delivered in small quantities. They’d save even more if they had time to forage for the goats. Goats actually prefer tree trimmings to expensive hay. All in all, they figure it costs them about $5 per day to support each goat, that include the food, supplements and medicines. But theoretically you could almost feed your goats for free, if they had access to forage or you had time to forage for them.
In planning your own costs, you will also need to factor in the cost of the infrastructure: fencing, housing, feeding and milking equipment. This can be expensive or it could cost relatively little. It depends on your circumstances and leanings.
How much does it cost to buy a good milk goat? Around $300 locally. That’s for a goat with her kids just weaned, ready to milk. Of course it’s much less cash up front to raise up a baby.
|Meet Mint. She’s thirsty after being milked.|
|This surprised me as a goat newbie: the goats get constant access to three nutritional supplements: kelp, mineral salts and baking soda. They nibble at these when the like, when they feel they need them.|
|Spontaneous still life: hay hook and a green egg|
|If only my kitchen were so clean.|
|I admit I was kind of getting off on all the stainless steel.|
|If you have goats, even just a couple, you’re going to have plenty of milk. What do you do with it?|
|Make cheese, of course! Aren’t these incredible? Gloria and Steve made these with their own hands. This is the triumph of the DIY spirit.|
|Sometimes life is just pretty|
|Did I mention these are Nubian goats. Their milk has the most butterfat for any goat this size.|
|This is my new best friend, Dot. The sweetest kid in the world. She followed me around like a puppy asking to be scratched and giving me the big eye treatment. I was seriously tempted to stuff her in the hatchback and make a getaway.|
|Hay, nice manger!|
|Dot is shaking her head, saying, “No, you cannot capture my cuteness with your tiny box. Put it away and pet me!”|
|A milking goat drinks 5 gallons a day. This system refills automatically, so Steve and Gloria know their goats will never run out of water, even if they get stuck somewhere and can’t get home to refill.|
|A log pile provides entertainment for busy goats. So do children.|
|This kid got up on the log pile and started posing. She’s Dot’s sister.|
|This is my wistful look.|
|Did you want a profile?|
|I pulled back to capture the nobility of her pose.|
|Seriously. Can we just bronze it and put it in a park?|
|All hail our Caprian overlords.|
|Happy Halloween everybody! (Photo courtesy of Gloria Putnam)|