Even before we had begun homesteading we were always fond of goat milk dairy products. So much so that whenever we’d purchased butter it was always of the goat milk variety. There was one brand of butter in particular that we’d purchase at the health food store in New Jersey. We have not been able to locate this butter, or any goat milk butter at all in Maine. That became one of the food items that we really missed. We like this butter because of how light it is and how it spreads and melts quickly.
Cheese we could find in Maine, both goat and cow cheese, in fact Maine is a hot-bed of artisanal cheese making by small producers, making really good cheese, the best we have ever had. I admit that we had become sort of cheese connoisseurs, sampling cheeses from all over Europe and America. There is an organization here called the Maine Cheese Guild that we joined, even before we had acquired our goats. Even though we told them that we had no intention of becoming licensed cheese makers, that we are merely enthusiasts, they welcomed us as such. We’ve learned so many things about cheese making from the members of the cheese guild.
Back then we would purchase our goat milk, two gallons at a time, from a local farm, and Danielle would experiment, making chèvre, and we would use the milk in our coffee. Then she began making yogurt, and paneer. These were two products that are somewhat staple to our diet. Then she added feta.
Eventually we decided that the owning of our own dairy goats would make a lot of sense. I assured Danielle that I would be more than happy to milk and otherwise take care of the goats, and that she could concentrate on the kitchen end of things. So we literally began with a goat, and bucket, and a book. Well actually, two goats and several books.
We’d performed the research on dairy goats, decided on a breed, and found our pair. I will never forget that drive up the interstate with the goats sticking their heads out the window and seeing the expressions on peoples’ faces. One thing that I insisted upon was that we have a plan about herd size. Since we are not dairy farmers in the strictest sense, that the goats are merely a part of the over all homestead, we needed to keep the herd to no more than four, and even that number might be a bit much, but that is what we’d decided.
Last fall we had our two animals bred, and this spring we had baby goats, and milk. We knew from the start that we only wanted to keep two does, hopefully one from each dam, and that is exactly how it worked out. We had talked to a lot of people ahead of time and found homes for the two little bucklings.
Neither of us had ever milked a goat before, unless you want to count those few squirts Danielle had taken from Charles’s goat at the Common Ground Country Fair two years ago. But since I was to be the primary milker I had to learn. I must confess that those initial weeks were gruesome for me. I would come back to the the kitchen from the barn a couple hours later practically in tears, with less that a quart of milk in hand. I would look at the milking machines in the catalogues and online with longing. I could imagine our cheese guild friends if I’d’ve said that we’d purchased a milking machine. That would not have sounded very good, nor would it have made much sense. However I was desperate. But everyone we talked to said it would get better, to just hang in there.
And it did. Right now milking every morning and every evening is one of the highlights of my day. During the summer at the height of the lactation curve we were getting two and a half gallons of milk per day from the two animals. And simultaneously it is enjoyable raising the two little does that we kept.
Nowadays, I cannot imagine not having the goats and the goat milk. They’ve become a part of our family. Danielle is becoming comfortable and quite adept at making semi-hard cheese, and we have even made shelves down in the root cellar for a cheese cave. Her butter is one of our staples, an important part of our food system. Even our cheese guild friends are amazed that she is making butter from goat milk. When she began making the butter is was pretty good. Since then she learned to make what is called a ‘cultured’ butter, even better than the product we had purchased at the health food store in New Jersey. As far as we know Danielle is one of only a few people in Maine who makes goat milk butter. But it doesn’t matter because we do not sell it. Five gallons of milk yields one pound of butter. This might be why no one else makes it. This cultured butter is something that you can’t buy; you have to make it yourself. You can make various cheeses with the skim milk afterwards, but it isn’t as rich and creamy as it otherwise would be.
After some trial and error Danielle is now also making Cheddar and Tomme cheese. We recently cut into one of her earlier wheels of cheddar, and it was very good. I can’t begin to tell you what this means, and how it makes us feel.
Don’t get me wrong: Keeping a pair of dairy goats is time consuming. In our case, we feel that it is worth it. For Danielle the cheese making has become an interesting hobby. If you are contemplating getting a couple of goats for their milk, I would suggest doing a lot of research ahead of time. Think of what your intentions are, if you want to eventually become a commercial producer or just remain homestead size. Decide ahead of time how big or small you want your herd to be, and stick to it. When our goats had their babies we were absolutely in love with them all. But we had decided well ahead of time to only keep a total of two does for an over all herd size of four, and that is what we stuck with. I am glad we did.
Dairy goats are definitely great additions to any homestead, but the learning curve is far greater than raising chickens or growing potatoes. But with some research you will be happy that you took the plunge.