Making Goat Butter (Using a Cream Separator)

As some of you know, I recently bought a 1-gallon Gem Dandy butter churn off eBay with a view of making butter from the excess goat milk we generate every day. It seemed like a good idea at the time. For one thing, I really dislike having to waste food, simply because I have neither milk customers nor animals to feed it to. I am also annoyed at being forced to pay more and more for butter every time I hit the supermarket. We use lots of butter, as we never (thank goodness) made the switch to margarine and Crisco—ugh! I knew the dangers of trans fats many years ago, and the only trans fats I’ve ever eaten were in food served by my family when I was a kid, or in restaurant fare.

In addition to eating butter as a condiment on bread or cooked vegetables, I use it for cooking and baking, too (along with extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil). I go through a couple pounds of butter every week (even more, if I’m doing Holiday baking). For example, the Betty Crocker recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies requires ½ lb. of butter (using no margarine), Peanut Butter Cookies need ¼ lb., and one two-crust pie uses ½ lb. of butter. Do a little baking, and you’ve used up your weekly ration before you know it. So, making my own butter can easily save me $12-20/week, considering that most brands at the local Safeway sell for $3.99-5.99/lb—depending on whether it’s on sale or not.

Making butter from goat’s milk is a bit more complex than using cow’s milk. The cream in goat’s milk will eventually rise to the surface, just as with cow’s milk, but not as readily, nor in the quantity it does with cow’s milk. Because fat globules in goat’s milk are smaller and more fragile than those in cow’s milk, it’s easier and more efficient to use a cream separator to skim it off. Fortunately, I knew that and had already bought a separator from the Ukraine through Amazon. I even already knew how to use it.

My Kubik Rubik cream separator

My separator is a 50-liter hand crank model sold by Kubik Rubik through Amazon, and I paid $138 for a new one in 2014. It now sells for $155. The parts which contact the milk are made of food-grade plastic or stainless-steel, and I really have no complaints, though the instructions are hard to wade through. If I hadn’t had a similar DeLaval separator years ago, I don’t know that I could’ve figured them out! Most of the cream separators you find advertised on regular goat equipment Websites are electric models—but they handle far more capacity than I needed and cost much more than I wanted to spend. That’s why I went the cheapo route and bought the hand crank version. How I wish I could’ve found a DeLaval like I had 40 years ago, but alas, they have all been recycled into planters or non-functioning museum exhibits.

Thankfully, once you DO decipher the instructions, the separator is easy to operate. Just be sure you’re turning the crank up to speed before you open the plug in the milk bowl, or you’ll have water or milk running all over the place. I usually run the morning milk through (about 4-gallons’ worth), and it takes about an hour, between setting up, running hot water through to warm up the machine, running the milk through (requires filling the bowl several times for 4-gallons of milk), and then running more hot water through to help clean the machine. Then you must take the separator apart, rinse, and wash everything in hot soapy water to remove the cream left on the machine parts. It looks sort of like white rubber at this point. I usually get 1 ½-2 quarts of cream from 4-gallons of goat’s milk from my Nubians. The skim milk can be used as you would non-fat milk.

Finished butter in the butter churn

The next step in making your butter is chilling the cream. It will need to sit in the refrigerator at least overnight, maybe even longer, to be cold enough to run through your butter churn. You must be sure the cream is cold enough, or it won’t get past the “buttery whipped cream” stage. Aside from that, your churn is going to whip the cream into butter for you, and it will only take about 20-30 minutes. Do you really need a churn? I would say yes, unless you only plan on doing it once or twice just for fun. Although it is possible to make butter with your blender or Kitchenaid mixer, you will find it’s a sloppy, messy business. Even with the splatter shield, you’ll need to tent the mixer with at least one bath towel, and it will be wringing wet before the butter is done. The nice thing about using a churn is that the cream is in an enclosed jar and none of it is splattering all over you, the counter, and the floor. I tried making butter with my Kitchenaid once, and that was enough for me. Another point of note: if it’s a really hot day (as it frequently is where we live), you can place your butter churn in a large bowl filled with ice water to help the process along.

Butter (left) and buttermilk (right)

Once the butter forms in your churn, it will be obvious—you will see a big clump of butter floating in buttermilk inside the churn—and it will look like butter, not buttery whipped cream. If it still looks too creamy, churn it bit longer or set the churn in an ice water bath (as described above) and churn longer. Once the cream has become butter, unplug the churn and drain off the buttermilk. Once the buttermilk is drained off (and you needn’t discard it—it can be used for cooking), you will need to rinse the butter several more times, using very cold water, until the water you pour off is clear. Remove the butter from the churn, put it into a separate bowl, and press the remaining water out of it using a large spoon or spatula. Continue until you have removed as much water as possible, because you do not want your butter to go rancid from any buttermilk that might be left behind.

Rinsed and salted butter

Butter spread into the loaf pan

Congratulations—you now have butter! Be aware that goat’s milk will give you white butter—there is no carotene in goat’s milk; it’s all been converted to pure Vitamin A. You must add yellow food coloring or Annatto (a vegetable dye commonly used in food) to have yellow goat butter. Cow’s milk will naturally give you yellow butter. If you want to use it for cooking, you don’t even need to salt it, though probably you will want to add salt for table use. My 1-gallon butter churn gives me between 2.9-3 lb of butter to a batch. I add ½ tsp. of salt to this, and it seems perfect, but you can salt to your own taste. I mix the salt into the butter in my bowl, using my hands—as the Barefoot Contessa says, “clean hands are your best tools.”

Next, you will need to spread and press your butter into a mold. You do not need to buy a fancy silicone or antique wooden mold for your butter. Line a loaf pan with a sheet of waxed paper, and then spread the butter in it using a spatula or a large spoon. When you’re done, you can place the pan with the butter in the fridge so it can set up. Once it hardens, you can easily cut it into rectangles, weigh it out, and package it for use on the table or in cooking. Keep it wrapped in waxed paper in the refrigerator, or even freeze it, if you don’t intend to use it up soon.

Am I glad I decided to make my own butter? Yes, though I didn’t realize how much work it would be. I’ve made all our bread for years, so I appreciate the difference between homemade and store-bought food—homemade is always better! I’m certain I’m not saving any money, considering all the time and effort, but I’m also not having to just pitch that milk anymore, either. Another big plus is the satisfaction derived from eating a slice of homemade bread, spread with homemade goat butter, and homemade apple butter or preserves. If you’ve never done it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Coping with Loss


One thing I’ve regretfully had to learn through the years is not to take any of my friends for granted. That includes the animal as well as the human ones. Each of us sails through life from one day to the next, plans and goals for what we hope to achieve dancing in our heads and oftentimes giving little thought to what tomorrow might bring instead. It may bring something very different than what we’d planned. This was brought home to me this week when we unexpectedly lost a couple of our goats.

Imnaha GRD Shine On Janette at 5 1/2 months

One was a yearling first freshener who was a granddaughter of one of our foundation does. She was a sweet, unassuming little doe who went about her business without complaint, and she went into labor right on cue on her due date. Two kids were delivered in reasonable order, but she was still straining and didn’t look like she was done. Sam thought she was just passing her placentas—she was a smallish yearling and had already delivered two kids, after all, but I didn’t think she was finished. Come morning and she was still straining and no placentas yet! Well, doing an impromptu Caesarian on the spot was out of the question, as was hauling her 37 miles to town in the back of the truck so the vet could take a look. Finally Sam and I reached the conclusion there was only one humane thing to do, and that was to put her down. Sam found during his post mortem that she had a huge buck kid lodged in full breech position, so short of doing that Caesarian, there was nothing else we could’ve done for her.

The second one was our biggest and best buck kid from one of our very best does. Mom had received her annual booster shot a month-and-a-half before she kidded to insure the kids got full immunity in her colostrum, and the three kids got all the colostrum their mom produced. I do have extra in the freezer just in case, but we didn’t need it. In addition, the little fellow had received his initial vaccination shot against enterotoxemia and tetanus, too. Imagine my shock when I went out to feed him and his siblings their afternoon bottles and found him curled up in the hay shed looking groggy. Went to pick him up, and he was listless and floppy. Well, that wasn’t normal! Sam and I took him into the milk room to check his temperature and vital signs so we could call the vet. Then we packed him onto the back porch/utility room and installed him in the bottom part of our dog crate that was lined with shavings, so we could keep an eye on him. By this time he’d cried out a couple of times and was obviously a very sick little puppy. The vet really didn’t have many suggestions to offer, so we gave him what we could. It didn’t help, and four hours after I found him down, he left us. Sam and the vet both said it could’ve been one of a number of things, but in terms of symptoms it was classic enterotoxemia. If it was, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently.

The buck kid standing in the photo is the one we lost.

So, today I’m trying to proactively deal with losing these two animals. Life goes on as before. I still have two wonderful kids from the little doe, plus I have the sister and brother of the little buck we lost. Chores and feeding must be done, no matter how sad you are, so I guess you reflect on how you could’ve done better, gather up your tears, and move on with what you have left. R.I.P. little ones. I’ll see you when I get to Heaven, but I won’t forget you in the meantime.

Worm Wars

Yes, it’s that time of year, when many of us are beginning to think about dealing with our animals’ parasites again. Does are kidding, our kids are running around exploring their big, new world—and it won’t be long before the daily temperatures reach 55⁰ and parasites become active. Of course, you’re already having to deal with the ones that spent the winter dormant inside your pregnant does, just waiting for the flood of hormones to wake them up and make them go crazy—they’re hungry after their long winter’s nap, after all.

The J-B Maid Marian and kids at six years of age

There has been a huge shift in thinking about how to best deal with the internal parasites inhabiting our livestock over the past five years or so. Routine de-worming of everybody is out, as is the rotation of anthelmintics (de-wormers). Isn’t it amazing what you can learn with a little bit of research? Come to find out that the recommendations of not many years past actually increased parasites’ resistance, and we’ve found ourselves on the verge of a disaster, not unlike the one we’re facing with antibiotic resistance. Isn’t it funny, too (in a not very amusing way), that what works best in preventing the build-up of parasites and resistance to the de-wormers we use to get rid of them is good, old-fashioned management?

It’s news to many of us, though we really ought to know better, that our animals have developed their own resistance to internal parasites, and that resistance is inherited. Look at your herd, and you will recognize right away the animals that are bomb-proof—nothing ever fazes them, and they never get sick. They are always doing great! Then there are your “Typhoid Mary” types. No matter what you do, they are always just bumping along, one hoof away from disaster. You spend more time doctoring them and taking them to the vet than all the rest, and chances are good that their kids are just like them. Fortunately, most of your animals will be in the average group: They are fine most of the time, though occasionally they will come down with something or need treatment. The good news here is that if you get rid of the sickly ones and their kids, your overall herd will be much healthier—and you will save time and money.

Kingfisher and the herd

There are many good management tools you can use. Never feeding on the ground and having good hay feeders that keep animals from contaminating their hay with feces and urine will go a long way. So will pasture rotation. Keeping manure cleaned up around your outbuildings and in your pastures helps as does making sure water containers cannot be contaminated with manure and are scrubbed regularly.

That brings me back to the subject of those de-wormers. Unfortunately, not many are cleared for use in goats, because little research money has been devoted to goats until very recently—this despite the fact that goats are extremely important food source livestock worldwide. Because of this factor, you will need to consult often with your trusty veterinarian (what would we do without them?) to learn what to do. Most likely, your vet will recommend starting with a routine fecal flotation test to see what parasites are present. Then he can recommend a course of action. Nowadays you may find yourself having to use two separate anthelmintics given together several days in succession and then a follow-up de-worming after another fecal is run to catch the parasites that are left. It’s not fun for anybody, but it must be done if your animals are to remain healthy and produce up to the level they should—otherwise you are throwing money away on a daily basis in feed costs and more.

Just remember, you have plenty of company, and yes, it IS worth it! Your animals will thank you by being the very best they can be, and they will give you satisfaction and peace of mind.

Winter Weather Report

Anne & Belle’s kids: Annika & Andy; Cap’n, Cherry, and Crystal

We continue to cope with the weather here in Northern Antarctica—I mean, Imnaha. Sheesh! How long can this cold snap go on? Every morning I look out my window to see the thermometer stuck at 2 degrees. If it makes it to 12 or 14 during the day I count myself lucky. Man, I’d love it if it warmed up to freezing. I know I say I won’t complain about mud when it thaws—but I know I will. Nothing is ever perfect, but I’m really tired of hauling hot water from the house for the animals to drink three times a day.

On a brighter, happier note: We have kids! Even though most of our does did not cooperate and are due to kid in April, May, and even June, we did have three come through, presenting us with three lovely doe kids and three bucks. All are healthy, happy, and hungry, and we are very pleased with them, too. They are really active, so I can tell you exactly what “bouncing off the walls” sounds like. It’s been so cold, we kept them in our utility room on the back porch for several days before transferring them outside to a larger area in one of our outbuildings. They will move on from there to a larger kid pen in the does’ Quonset once it warms up a bit, hopefully within another week or two.

Silver Belle’s kids from Amador: (L > R) Crystal, Cap’n, and Cherry

The rest of the goats seem to be coping well with the weather, though they spend most of their time eating hay or cuddled up together ruminating, rather than hiking up on the hill to forage. It’s just too cold for that! When I let them out of their Quonset this morning so I could feed and milk, there was one huddle of five with their noses all pointing into the corner. A couple had managed to scrape up a little hay to sleep on (they do have shavings for bedding on top of rubber mats, so they aren’t on the ground), and the others were huddled together in the opposite corner. The bucks were nestled down into the bedding in their shed, too. As soon as I show up with the warm water, I get mobbed.

Fortunately, the three does I’m milking are doing well—today is our first DHIA test day of the year, so I’m collecting milk samples to send off (we’re on Owner/Sampler-AR 40), in addition to weighing milk. One doe (Queen) is on her third lactation, one is on her second (Silver Belle), and one is a first-freshener (Lady Anne). Annie, in particular, is exceeding my expectations and looks as though she will do as well as her older sister Jane—or maybe even better? Annie came in with a really lovely udder, plus she is very well-behaved on the stand. She tends to leak a bit if you show up late to milk, however, so that keeps me on my toes. Udders are all still hairy, too, since I declined to clip them until it warms up. Right now they need all the protection they can get.

In the meantime, I need to update the information on PCdart so I can enter our test data. It’s a good time to update the goats’ individual health pages, too, with dates for booster shots, hoof trims, etc. from this past month, so I don’t get behind. Nothing is more daunting than getting behind on any kind of chore and having to catch back up. Think I’ll do that with a cup of hot chocolate!

Stay warm!

Cap’n & Andy with Annika behind

Cherry & Annika

The Wheel Keeps Goin’ ‘Round

008Now that kidding season is over and it’s nearly time to wean this year’s kids (our new junior buck Amador, five doe kids, and two wethers: Rosie, Charlotte, Anne, Jennifer, and Janette; plus Little Joe and Charlie Brown, who will be buck companions), we’re in sort of an odd time period: summer. Except for the Union County Fair in August, shows are over around here (at least for us), and Linear Appraisal won’t be happening until August, because ADGA decided to put us in a “second trip.” We’re treading water until then, just milking our does and trying to beat the heat—it was 94 yesterday and will be hotter today. July and August are normally scorchers here, with temperatures above 90 most every day and frequently above 100.

Meanwhile, the girls are working on earning their Advanced Registry *M’s. Lady Victory earned hers years ago, thankfully, as this has not been her best year. I’m just glad she’s healthy now and still milking. Kressie may not qualify for hers this time, as she had a bad kidding and then severe udder edema. When she did come into milk, it wasn’t a lot, but she’s been holding fairly steady for the past few months. With any luck, she’ll earn her *M on butterfat, and I at least have the satisfaction of knowing she’s milking better than her dam did at the same age—and she went on to become an Elite Doe! As for my four Kingfisher daughters (Bella, Queen, Silver Belle, and Lady Jane), the first three have already produced enough to unofficially earn their stars on both milk and butterfat. Yay! The fourth (Lady Jane) is lagging a bit behind the others, since she kidded later, but she will soon earn hers too. Once their lactations are completed and official (we’re on Owner/Sampler-40 AR, which requires a minimum of 240 days and eight tests, including a verification test), Kingfisher will earn his +B! We are so proud of him. I only wish we had more does for him. This fall nearly all of them will be going to our new junior buck: Wingwood Farm Lovin Amador.

013Summer is a good time to get routine bloodwork done, and this year we will start DNA testing, too. It’s time to lay in hay and bedding for the coming year, work on facilities, fences, and paint before bad weather sets in and the temperatures drop. The goats love being outdoors when the weather is nice, but once it starts raining, they’re INSIDE. That means they expect their feed bunks to be full and their living quarters comfy, thank you! I hope we can re-design a few things so doing chores will be more convenient (and efficient). Our current set-up requires you to carry your armload of hay across the yard and the inside of their Quonset to reach the hay feeder while wading through the herd of goats—all of whom are crosswise in your path and jumping up to grab a mouthful as you go past. It’s not pretty and would try the patience of a saint. I think I’ll be investing in a new Lambar or two also, after bottle-feeding this bunch for five months.

We do have breeding season to look forward to, and then we will start on the merry-go-round again. This fall we hope to have our two bucks collected for artificial insemination. We’re waiting to hear from Bio-Genics, Ltd., regarding their schedule. In the meantime, I’ve already got our breeding list together and posted on our Webpage (check out the 2016 Breeding List). I know it’s early, but figured I might as well, since I already knew what it would be. In the meantime, I need to clip everyone and get some nice, posed photos—something I haven’t been able to do before. The kids look like young ladies and gentlemen now that they’ve grown up a bit.

Too bad I’ll have to sell some does again next spring in order to keep things from getting out of hand. It can be really difficult to decide who must go, and since we’re a small herd, I get so attached to them all. I just need to remember that they will become special goats for someone else then, and I will make a new friend or two in the process. Sometimes that’s the best part!021 (2)


Basic Needs for Owning Dairy Goats

I recently had occasion to put together a list of basics for some folks new to owning dairy goats, and though it may look intimidating, remember that you don’t have to go out and buy all this stuff at once! Most of it you will accumulate here and there as time goes by. You will need to have some items assembled before you can proceed, though. Milking equipment falls into this category. It’s pretty difficult to do a good job of milking without the things you need to do it. If at all possible, be sure to check the local classifieds, Craigslist, or eBay to see if you can find used equipment before rushing out to by new items. Lots of times you can find what you need and save some money!


  • Always have your veterinarian’s phone number available where you can find it immediately.


    • Phone numbers of friends and acquaintances who own goats and are willing to help you if need be.
    • Always be sure goats have shelter from the weather, access to clean, fresh water, and an adequate mineral supplement for your area (ask your vet to recommend one).
    • Invest in a good all-purpose reference book on dairy goat management. There are a number of excellent ones on the market—many are even available in Kindle editions (a few titles are Goats for Dummies by Cheryl K. Smith, Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats by Jerry Belanger, and The Whole Goat Handbook by Janet Hurst. There are many more. Check them out!)
    • Know the normal range of vital signs:
      • Temperature:    101.5-104⁰ F.
      • Pulse:                70-80 beats/minute (can be faster in kids)
      • Respirations:     12-20/minute (can be faster in kids)

For newborns:

    • 7% Iodine for dipping navels. Tamed iodine spray is not sufficient for this job.
    • Rounded- end scissors for clipping navels
    • Rubbing alcohol for cleaning scissors after use
    • A supply of clean old towels for drying newborn kids
    • Tetanus antitoxin (kids need 250-500 IU. Injections—this is roughly 1 ml. or 300 units)
    • Sterile disposable 3 cc. syringes with 1-inch 20 gauge needles
    • For bottle-feeding: Bottles & nipples (your choice Pritchard or regular lamb nipples) or a Lambar set-up for feeding kids. Your choice, depending on how many you have and if you can/want to feed by hand or not. You will also need a brush to scrub the inside of the bottles or comparable equipment to clean Lambar tubing.
    • Optional: Pro-Max Multi-paste (a nutritional booster. Good to give whenever administering an antibiotic to older animals also)—you can substitute a different brand, if you wish. It’s just what I’ve used.

For slightly older kids:

    • Collars: You will want them to learn to lead ASAP. You can color code them to their dams, too, which is handy if several look alike.
    • CDT vaccine (AKA “Three-way,” contains Clostridium perfringens types C & D, plus Tetanus toxoid): For protection against enterotoxemia and tetanus. Kids will need an initial 2 ml. dose with a booster 3 weeks later, and an annual booster thereafter.
    • Elastrator with rubber bands for castrating buck kids
    • Disbudding iron: Be sure you get an electric one that is sufficiently powerful to get hot enough and stay hot. Don’t go cheap here. It will only result in having to deal with scurs (small deformed horns) or worse, having to go back and dehorn later.
    • Tattooing kit with numbers, letters, and paste: You may not need these if your goats are unregistered.
    • Kid box: Very handy if you have to tattoo or disbud by yourself. Can be bought on-line, or you can build your own if you’re able. Here’s a link to instructions on building one yourself:
    • Di-Methox coccidiosis treatment—or your choice of brand. This is what I’ve used.

For mature milking does:

    • Collars: Indispensable for handling goats! It’s good to have a lead or two also.
    • Milking/grooming stand: You can build your own or buy one on-line, though these are pricey. It can also double as a grooming stand if you can pull it away from the wall. Here’s a link to instructions for building one:
    • Hoof trimmer
    • Electric clippers: Necessary for clipping udders, around wounds, and body clipping
    • Large dose syringe (50 cc.) or drenching syringe for giving liquid medicines and de-wormer
    • CDT vaccine for annual booster shots
    • De-wormer: Consult with your veterinarian on which to use when.

Milking equipment:

    • 5-qt. tinned or stainless steel bucket to milk into. Bucket and equipment must be made of non-porous, non-reactive materials (i.e. no aluminum or plastic) that can be sterilized.
    • Tinned or stainless steel milk strainer
    • Disposable paper milk filters
    • 8-qt. or larger tinned or stainless steel bucket to strain milk into after milking. Should have a cover
    • Strip cup
    • Udder wash or teat wipes to clean udder and teats before milking
    • 1% iodine teat dip, Nolvasan, or Fight-Bac for treating teat ends after milking
    • Disposable paper towels
    • Glass containers for storing your clean, strained milk: ½-gallon canning jars work well and are relatively inexpensive.
    • California Mastitis Test Kit (CMT), in case you suspect mastitis

General Equipment/Supplies:

    • Rubbing alcohol
    • Cotton balls
    • Disposable Nitrile gloves
    • Rectal thermometer for animals: These have a ring on the end so you can tie them onto tails to help keep them in place. Digital thermometers are available also.
    • Measuring tape for obtaining weights: You don’t need a special tape for this. Weight tables for goats are available on-line or in numerous books on goats. Here’s a link to one on-line:
    • Udder balm
    • Tamed iodine or Blu-Kote spray (antiseptic)
    • Ointment for cuts & scrapes
    • Mineral oil (for grass bloat)
    • Milk of magnesia (anti-constipation)
    • Kaopectate (anti-diarrhea)
    • Propylene glycol (for ketosis)
    • Dairy safe UltraBoss liquid for external parasites (lice): Can also be used as fly & mosquito repellent.
    • Several disposable sterile 3 cc. & 12 cc. syringes. You can buy them inexpensively in boxes of 100. Don’t worry, you will use them.
    • Sterile 1-inch 20 gauge needles—it’s good to have a few 18 gauge needles on hand for giving antibiotics, too. These can also be purchased in boxes of 100.
    • Homemade Electrolyte Recipe: Here’s mine (sorry, but I don’t remember where I got it!). There’s a slightly different one in Goats for Dummies on p. 197:
      • 2 tsp. table salt
      • 1 tsp. baking soda
      • 8 Tbsp. honey, white corn syrup, or crystalline dextrose (do not use white sugar)
      • 1 gallon warm water
      • Add the salt, soda, and honey or corn syrup to the warm water. Administer using a dose or drenching syringe. Give an adult goat 1 pint or a smaller goat or kid ½-1 cup every 6 hours until diarrhea stops. Always wait an hour before feeding milk to a kid who’s gotten a dose of electrolytes—and don’t mix the two together!

New Owner’s Goat-Buying Guide

In the springtime, more than perhaps any other time of the year, many people start thinking about having some goats of their own. The reasons are many: (1) You have decided to be more self-sufficient, so along with a garden and some chickens, dairy goats would make a nice addition; (2) Your children are in 4-H and have decided on a goat project; (3) You love knitting or weaving, so you think you’d like to try raising some Angora goats for your own fiber; or (4) You have a back lot on your property that’s loaded with weeds that you need cleared. Whatever the reason, do a little homework in advance and save yourself (and the goats) a lot of grief!

Eating leftover hay in the sheep pen

Imnaha does eating leftover hay in the sheep pen

Before you do any research, seriously ask yourself what you want from your goat project and consider the amount of time and money you’re willing to give to it. As with any other animal, goats have definite needs in order to thrive, and that requires a commitment on your part. Before you buy the first one, you need to have housing and a secure pen for them, plus water, and adequate hay and bedding to get started. If you want dairy goats, you will need a milking stand and utensils for handling the milk, too. Even brush goats need shelter and a pen, so don’t think you can just bring your new little darlings home and turn them loose in the back yard or tie them to the clothesline. That will only end in disaster! They love to eat those decorative shrubs and plantings found in most back yards, and some of them (azaleas, rhodies, daffodils, and lilacs to name a few) are even toxic to goats! You will need to feed and water them twice a day, and if they are dairy goats, you will need to milk them too. They will also need their facilities cleaned up at least once a day. You can easily spend an hour or more morning and night with your goat project, so don’t underestimate it. Be realistic.

The type of goats you buy will depend on the uses you have in mind for them. There are dairy goats, fiber goats, meat goats, and dual-purpose goats that can admirably fulfill more than one function. Learn about the breeds that fill the bill for your intended use by getting a few books from the library, doing research online, or talking to some of the knowledgeable goat folks in your area. Find out what goats are available where you live and ask if you can come by for a visit. Make an appointment and be clear that you are new and are trying to learn before you buy. Most of us who raise goats don’t mind helping out new people, as long as you respect our time.

Please be aware that you cannot buy just one goat. You will need to bring home a minimum of two, because goats are herd animals and will drive you and your neighbors insane if one is left alone. Let’s face it, you don’t want to be herd queen, anyway. Any combination of two goats will work fine: two does, two kids, a doe and her kid, a doe and a wether (castrated male), even two wethers if you’re raising meat or want them as pets or brush goats. Bucks probably won’t be a consideration, as they can be noisy and stinky during breeding season. As with roosters with your flock of hens, many cities’ local statutes don’t allow them, either.

Okay, so you’ve made a commitment of time and money to your goat project. You’ve decided what breeds interest you, and you’re ready to buy and bring some home. How do you know which goats you should get? You want healthy animals without problems. Beware of cheap goats or “bargains,” because you will regret buying them later. That’s not to say that you must figure on getting the most expensive purebreds around, but as a new goat owner, you don’t want an animal with multiple problems breaking your heart (or your children’s) or the bank. A sick animal can quickly run up a hefty bill at the vet’s office, so be certain you only buy healthy goats. A healthy goat will be bright-eyed, lively, and have a glossy coat of hair. Its hooves should be neatly trimmed, and its gums will be nice and pink, so you know it is not loaded with internal parasites (worms), and it will not have scruffy places from biting at external parasites (lice). It will not have runny

Imnaha King's Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months)

Imnaha King’s Silver Belle at one week fresh (10 months)

eyes or a runny nose. You want friendly, tame goats, too, not ones that are wild as deer and climb the fences when you look in their direction. If it is a milker, be sure its udder is healthy and free from any signs of mastitis. The doe should be experienced on the milking stand, and since you are new at it, easy to milk. If you have never milked, ask the owner if you can come by at milking time so you can learn what to do.

When you find yourself ready to consider buying, ask to see the animal’s health records. Especially ask if the animal has been tested to be free of CAE (Caprine Arthritis/Encephalitis Syndrome) and CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis). These two diseases will soon ruin your goat experience if you accidentally bring them home, and nowadays it is easy to test for them. Reputable goat breeders routinely test their goats and will gladly supply you with those records. If the goats have not been tested, but you really want to buy them, ask if you can pay to have your own veterinarian do it. It can be pricey, but it is well worth the peace of mind.

Imagine one of these guys in your goat pen!

Imagine one of these guys in your goat pen!

Also, don’t buy goats with horns. Be sure kids are disbudded (had the horn buds removed, usually with a hot iron suited to that purpose) before you take them home, and don’t even consider buying adult goats with horns, no matter how much you like them. I know, they look so exotic and cute, but horns are dangerous, and you really don’t want the risk or liability. Horned goats quickly learn to be bullies, and they won’t hesitate to threaten you with them, either. Horns continually get caught in fences, feeders, or gates, putting the goat itself at risk for a broken neck, and it only takes a turn of the head for a goat with horns to rip open a little child’s arm (or worse). Imagine a neighbor’s child coming over to pet the goats and having to go to the ER to be stitched up? Lawsuit! Medical bills!–charges at the ER start at $1500 and go up from there! Goats do not need their horns for defense, as long as YOU have adequately secured their housing and pens, so just don’t have them around.

But, you say, how will I ever remember all of this stuff while I’m out talking to people and looking at goats? You won’t! I have, however put together a handy check list you can copy, print out, and tuck into your pocket to take along with you (just highlight, copy and paste into a new Word document). Maybe your intended goats won’t have answers for every item, but that’s okay. It’s only a guideline. You have to make the final decision whether to buy or not. In doing so, I hope you have fun and make some friends along the way! Good luck and happy hunting!

New Goat Check List                                                   (attach photo if available)

Name of goat: _______________________________________________________________

Owner, address & phone#: _______________________________________________________________


Birth date (or age, if unknown) _________________Sex __________________


Is goat registered/recorded? Yes_____ No _____.

If yes, what association?____________________________________________

Registration #_________________ Tattoos: RE: _____; LE: _____

Disbudded, polled, or de-horned? _________________________

Is a copy of the pedigree available? (If registered or recorded) Yes _____ No _____

Is a copy of the health record available? Yes _____ No _____

Name of Veterinarian, phone #, and location of clinic: _______________________________________________________________

Date of last hoof trimming: ____________________________

Date of last annual booster (CDT) _______________________

Date of last de-worming _______________Drug used_____________________


                           Test Parents Negative? Last Result Date of Test
CAE (Caprine Arthritis/Encephalitis, AKA Small Ruminant Lentivirus—SRLV)      
CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis)      
G6S Disorder (DNA test)      

Has animal (if doe) ever been bred? Yes _____ No _____

If yes, when?__________________________________________________________

How many lactations? _____

Any problems? _________________________________________________________

If a buck, how many seasons has he been used for breeding? _____

Any problems? _________________________________________________________

Sex & number of live offspring: Does _____ Bucks _____

Making Cheese

Some Parmesan and Farmhouse Cheddar cheeses I made in 2015

Some Feta, Parmesan, and Farmhouse Cheddar cheeses I made in 2015

I’m about to wind up my second year of making cheese from the milk my goats produce,and I have to admit I feel pretty good about it. I look at the wall of cheeses I’ve made this year, and it’s very satisfying. Things went much more smoothly too, since I had the right equipment AND a place to age my cheeses (AKA a “cheese cave”) that worked. Last year was tough, because 1) I was a newbie, so EVERYTHING was on the learning curve; 2) I was trying to “make-do” while gradually buying all the stuff I needed (kind of hard to just jump in when on a fixed income); and 3) I did not have a good place to store or age my cheeses. I would make a new cheese recipe and try to age it, but the only place I had for storage was too warm. The cheeses would weep oil, then the wax would flake off, and then the bugs would move in. NOT GOOD! Finally I gave up and just put them all in the freezer after cleaning them up. It was almost enough to make me quit, but I’m a pretty stubborn customer (and by this time I’d spent a fair amount of money on books and equipment), so I kept at it.


My “cheese cave:” It’s an old bookshelf with the shelves doubled and lined with unfinished pine boards.

I tried all sorts of cheese recipes to see which ones worked best for me. The fresh cheeses, such as Chevré, Ricotta, and Mozzarella are really easy, and I make them a day or so before I want to use them. They store in the refrigerator, so no problems there. Hard cheeses were a challenge though, and while I can make yogurt from goat’s milk, I finally decided it wasn’t worth the trouble when I can so easily buy great yogurt at the store. Yogurt has to be cooked in order to change the milk proteins so it will set up, and by then it is basically pasteurized—it also scorches on the bottom of your pot, no matter how careful you are, so unless you are absolutely set on making it yourself, be forewarned.

The best hard cheeses I made were Monterrey Jack (I tried pepper jack, but I always ended up with bits of jalapeño that stuck in my cheesecloth), Parmesan, and Farmhouse Cheddar. They are relatively easy to make, but they must be aged for at least two months (in the case of Parmesan, 10 months aging is recommended), so an adequate cheese cave is mandatory. I finally got Sam to put together some shelves in my combination feed and tack room, because that’s the only place I have that is insulated and maintains a constant temperature. An air filter takes care of any dust. The main thing is the temperature, which I keep at 55-60⁰ F. Considering the outside temperature regularly tops 100⁰ F. here in the summertime, and -20⁰ F. is not unheard of in the winter, I settled for that.

Monterrey Jack I made last year with our goat's milk

Monterrey Jack I made last year with our goat’s milk

I also began dipping my cheeses in cheese wax, rather than brushing it on. It’s a better way, because the wax is hotter (225⁰F.) and kills any mold spores (at least theoretically) that is on the surface of the cheese. It can be kind of tricky dipping the cheeses (they are slippery!), so BE VERY CAREFUL. You MUST also keep an eye on the hot wax. It can very easily catch on fire, so it cannot be left unattended EVER. I keep my cheese wax in an aluminum pot with a bail handle that sits inside a stock pot containing water on the stove. Low heat is about right to keep the wax at the right temperature for dipping, and you can check it with an instant-read thermometer. Two coats of wax is generally sufficient and takes care of any holes left from the first dip. You may need to trim cheeses that develop spots of mold and re-dip them from time to time, but most of them shouldn’t need it.

This coming year I will continue learning, though hopefully I won’t be inundated with milk again! All the kids are bottle-fed, so they will consume the vast majority of milk until they are weaned (we wean at five months, since we have oodles and gobs of milk on hand). Then I plan to sell off a few milking does and once again reduce the herd to what we will keep through next winter. I aim to try a few new cheese recipes next year, make a bunch of ones I’m comfortable with, and who knows, maybe even sell a few cheeses along the way. If you can, don’t hesitate to try it yourself, because cheesemaking is fun. Make your own Mozzarella to top a homemade pizza. You will become a convert!

Kidding Season: Set Your Does Up for Success

Many folks are busy coping with the fall breeding season right now, which is either just over or still going full tilt. That means in five more months we’ll be spending our nights at the barn delivering that next kid crop and feeding babies! How well we do depends on how well we’ve prepared for it.

Lady Victory in the maternity pen with her 2015 twins. Jane is preparing to nurse.

Lady Victory and her 2015 twins. Jane is preparing to nurse.

Before Breeding season starts: Probably the best thing we can do is be sure all of our animals are in top physical condition going in. Check their body condition scores to be sure none are too thin or too fat (ADGA has an excellent video showing how to do this). While sheep breeders know they can increase the number of lambs from their ewes by flushing them (feeding a grain supplement, so the ewes’ bodies think they can support more babies, thereby producing more ova for fertilization), that hasn’t yet proved to be true for goats. It’s up to you, but I must say that we do this. Besides, it won’t hurt as long as your animals aren’t already too fat.

Make sure you are ready for those kids: Start preparing your maternity and kid pens and kidding kits. Be sure to order any vaccines you need well in advance, because sometimes they go on backorder just when you need them (so does everyone else). Make any large purchases you’ve been putting off, such as tattooing supplies or disbudding irons. You’ve been intending to make that kid box? Now would be a good time.

It’s also a good time to decide whether you need to isolate the kids from their mothers or you can let them nurse. While convenience may be of some consideration, it’s not your only concern. Test each doe for CAE and CL, because the primary route of infection for those diseases is through the mother’s colostrum and milk. Any does that may test positive cannot nurse their kids, so they will need to be removed from their mothers immediately and bottle-fed with heat-treated colostrum and pasteurized milk or only milk from does testing negative for CAE/CL. That means you will need to have a separate kid pen and equipment for feeding them—bottles and nipples or a multiple kid-feeding system, such as a lamb & goat milk bar (I am not making any brand name recommendations–I have never used any of them, preferring the pop bottle approach myself). It is recommended that any positive does should be separated from your negative does as well. Believe me, I know it’s inconvenient, but it’s well worth doing whatever it takes to stop those two diseases in their tracks.

Two months before due dates: Dry off does so their bodies have a chance to rest and prepare for their next lactations. Do a CMT (California Mastitis Test) on each doe to check for mastitis, and if needed, treat with a product specifically made for dry does. Better to catch it now, than have it incubating while she’s dry. If you suspect mastitis, always consult with your veterinarian as to the best course to follow.

One month before due dates: Give annual booster of CDT (AKA Three-Way or Clostridium perfringens Type C & D with Tetanus toxoid; usually sold in 10-, 20-, or 50-dose vials); do a fecal egg count reduction test on your does (or have your vet do one) to see who needs to be de-wormed and what to use. Be sure you have some Keto-test strips and a bottle of propylene glycol (or another good concentrated source of sugar, such as Karo syrup) in the event a doe goes down with pregnancy toxemia (ketosis). You may never have it happen, but a bottle on the shelf is cheap insurance. Make sure you have everything you need in your kidding kits.

Kidding Kit:

  1. Isopropyl alcohol
  2. Bag of sterile cotton balls
  3. Sterile surgical scissors or disposable scalpels (for cutting umbilical cords)
  4. Plastic OB gloves
  5. OB lubricant, such as KY Jelly or petroleum jelly
  6. Rubber OB leg snare
  7. Tincture of iodine or gentle iodine spray
  8. Syringe of probiotic for newborns (there are several good brands)
  9. Roll of paper towels
  10. Towels (1-2 bath towels and several hand towels seems to work well; I like to lay each kid on a bath towel and pick off the placental mucous first, then rub the kid to dry)
  11. Animal crayon, marker stick, or plastic kid collars you can write on (if using a crayon or marker, you can use a different color for each doe and her kids)
  12. Notebook & pencil (for recording weights, sex, colors, etc. You won’t remember any of this later.)
  13. 5-gallon bucket with lid (for holding everything)
  14. Optional: Umbilical cord clips (I have never had the occasion to use them myself)

Two weeks before due dates: Dust off those clippers and give each doe a pre-kidding trim. This consists of clipping the hair on the doe’s back end, tail, and udder to make clean-up easier when the kids are born. You have to clip the udder anyway, right? Hopefully you have a grooming stand and your does are trained to get on it. Ours has a short ramp, so they can walk right onto it. Does can kid as much as two weeks in advance of their due dates (there’s some evidence they have limited control over this), so it pays to be ready. Be sure your maternity and kid pens are set up and bedded with plenty of clean, bright straw or grass hay, too (no sawdust or shavings right now). Then you will just need to put hay in her feeder and fill the water bucket with clean fresh water when you put the doe in the pen. Have your kidding kit ready to grab and the veterinarian’s phone number set up on speed dial, and you should be ready for anything!

Autumn Notes

Well, it’s not technically autumn yet, though it certainly feels like it. According to the weatherman, we had a couple cold fronts pass through this past week, so we went from the 70’s and 80’s during the day and 50s at night to the 50’s during the day and upper 30’s at night. Yikes! It was seriously cold out there, and I had to turn on my space heater. I felt sorry for the goats and the horses, since they don’t have winter coats yet. They do all have good shelter though, so I expect the goats nestled down in the bedding and cuddled up. The horses seem to be impervious—and they HATE blankets, so unless there’s a blizzard, I usually don’t bother anymore. They have a good run-in shed, but most times you’ll find them outside still grazing regardless of the weather.

Nap time!

Nap time!

Hopefully all the goats are settled now, judging from the peace and quiet of late. Kingfisher still tries to drum up some interest with his favorite does, but they’ve all been telling him to get lost. A couple of my does are giving less milk every day, so I’ll be drying them off before long. I look forward to my “milk vacation” every year, and I already have milk in the freezer for when that happens. Sam is working on a new goat shed too, and I hope it’s completed before the fall rains hit, so the goats will be comfortable this winter. It’s only a few more months before our first new babies of the coming season are due to arrive! I’ve been trying to think what I’ll name them, and which does I might sell so I can keep a few new youngsters. It would be nice to keep them all, but goats are labor-intensive and expensive to feed, so some I would otherwise prefer to keep will have to go. Marian and Kressie are due around the first part of December and Lady just before New Year’s. After that it’s kind of iffy.

Last week I read all the educational materials on the DHIA West site and took the online exam to be a milk tester. I passed with a 94% score! We plan to put our herd of goats on official DHIA test this coming year, so I have arranged for a neighbor to be our tester. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it, though, and she has no background in dairy, so I signed up so I could help if she had questions. The paperwork seems intimidating, but I know it’s pretty straight forward once you’ve done it a time or two.

Yesterday I finally took the plunge and waxed a bunch of cheeses I made over the summer. In the past, I’ve brushed the wax on, but that’s tedious and messy, so I ordered a five lb. block of wax this time so I could dip the cheeses instead. First problem: The block was huge and would not fit in any of my pans. I also couldn’t cut it up, so Sam took it outside and broke it up with the axe. Great! Now I could melt it, but second problem: The wax had dirt all over it, since Sam broke it up on the concrete sidewalk. I scraped off as much dirt as I could with my vegetable peeler, and when I finally got it melted, what was left settled to the bottom of the pan. My original thought was to melt the wax in a small Crock Pot I bought specifically for that purpose, but that was going to take forever, so I finally opted to use an old aluminum pail I found placed in water inside my Dutch oven as a double boiler. That worked rather well, but the next time I need to order wax, I’m buying several one lb. blocks instead.

Fall is the season when you can admire the harvest from your garden in all the jars of food you’ve canned and placed in your pantry. I’m usually right there too, but between dealing with the goats and sheep and Sam going back to work, we didn’t have time to put in a garden this year. I must say it’s about the first year ever that I haven’t had at least some tomato plants. I still have a few herb plants (the ones that haven’t died due to the winter cold or ravages of animals), but it’s not the same. Maybe I’ll take the plunge and try making sauerkraut this year—I’ve wanted to do that for some time, and I always enjoy trying new things. This year though, I can at least stand back and admire all my cheeses.