I’ve had goats for all but short periods of my life. On the farm where I was raised, we had pygmies, which I must admit I am not fond of: noisy, cantankerous, and quite useless except for show, in my experience (please do correct me if I’m missing something!).
When I was ten or eleven, I got a Nubian as a pet, which I might have learned are quite similar in temperament to pygmies. After her kid was stillborn, we brought in a young Oberhasli (or Swiss Alpine) to become her foster kid and companion.
That wether, Buggzie, was my sweetheart: full of personality and tirelessly mischievous, except on the trail. As a pack animal, he was a natural. We took him hiking along the coast and in the hills. Passersby always took bizarre guesses at what he might be: Deer? Dog? Llama?
Given that our Nubian was unquestionably ill-fitted for packing, we got Picasso, a La Mancha. La Machas are sweet and mild-mannered, so much so that he was the object of the other two’s bullying. But he made a good pack goat and a nice mellow farm resident. (La Manchas most notably, by the way, lack external ears but for tiny nubs or tufts.)
Once we moved to our first property with land a few years ago, my husband and I discussed getting a goat fairly soon. We had more or less inherited the goat and two sheep that lived currently in the pasture, none of whom were approachable or particularly nice, so we thought we’d get a caprine pal that might be our intermediary.
We decided on a La Mancha– a nice dairy goat should we go that direction– expecting a nice, mild-mannered little gal either way. We bought one from a local dairy and kept her for the first week or two in our laundry room. Gerdy.
She has nearly every attribute of my beloved Buggzie, but with fewer manners and less training.
We talked about milking her but worried that the commitment would be too binding. Instead Gerdy and her three barnmates are a voracious set of hay-burners.
By the time we will be moving, we hope to find the right home for our wool-factories rather than bringing them along. They’re too old to slaughter and we don’t see another reasonable use for them; while I’d eventually like to spin my own wool, I can’t practically expect it to make the near-future to-do list. Gerdy plus her pal Amy will come along.
So the question is utility, with the goal of building a highly self-sufficient homestead. At the get-go, there’s no question: the barn is overrun with blackberry vines, and the trees are plagued with ivy. Goats are stellar bramble-clearers. They even eat poison oak. So the two will earn their keep well in the first few months, and with plenty of grass and weeds, they won’t tear through hay like they do on our barren, drought-stricken land here.
The next question is, To milk, or not to milk? and I could use some help on this one.
It’s a major commitment, but so, too, is a self-sufficient homestead. So, too, is feeding a family, and buying the milk and cheese and butter– all organic– to support our diet.
To be honest, I’m not terribly fond of the flavor of goat milk, but I’m convinced I would get used to it, particularly knowing the benefits. Goats are highly efficient dairy animals, and they produce a quantity reasonable for use by a family of three. Most importantly, their milk is a perfect food for chickens and pigs, both of which we will be keeping.
The answer seems almost obvious, but I’ll let the thought percolate, round it out against the numerous other plans that will soon compete for ours in my day.
I’d love advice from someone who trudges out through the rain to the barn at dawn and dusk with a toddler underfoot or a baby wrapped against their back. Miserable drudgery? Completely worthwhile? And of course, would we need to start from scratch with a new doe, or can a nice 2-year-old with a spunky demeanor be coaxed to stand still for milking?
For these sorts of reasons I’m glad to have the time to consider, seek feedback, and look at the big picture from afar. Either way, the goats will be there.