Raising goats ‘not for the faint of heart’
Originally Published in the Greenfield Recorder March 21st, 2022
By Cris Carl
If sheer cuteness and personality were the only factors, we might all have goats in our life.
If you are thinking you might want to have some goats and possibly make cheese, Laurie Cuevas of Thomas Farm & Dairy in Sunderland has some good suggestions. Cuevas’s husband, Jim Thomas, started the micro dairy farm and farm stand about 20 years ago, and the couple started to make cheeses six years ago. The couple has roughly 100 goats they raise, milk, breed or sell. They also grow feed for the goats, and vegetables to sell at the farm stand. In addition, they have fresh eggs for sale. The farm has about 80 goats in milk production right now and babies (there are a lot) are bottle fed.
Getting started with goats
“The number one thing you need to do is be sure you are approved by your town to have livestock,” said Cuevas, adding that the amount of space you have per animal factors into most approvals.
Cuevas said one also needs to ask whether they want to have goats for pets or for milk production. “What is your goal?” Cuevas said if one just wants goats as pets, castrated males are the best choice.
“They are very sweet and calm,” she said.
Next, she said it’s important to look for a reputable breeder. Local farm supply stores are a good place to start looking for references.
“Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions,” she said.
It is good to ask to see the mother and the father as well, if possible, to get an idea of the health and eventual appearance of the kid, Cuevas said.
“For reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people ask for spotted kids,” Cuevas said. “Jim and I always tell them ‘spots don’t make milk.’”
Cuevas said you need to have a shed or small barn to house the goats as one of the most important factors is having a draft-free space for the goats.
“They like to sleep on top of each other in a pile. You can’t have just one goat. They are very social animals,” she said.
She also said it’s not a good idea to get a male and female only. They will produce kids and then they will need to be separated as the kids will be too young to breed.
“Two or more females are good, and then just bring in a buck for breeding,” she said.
In terms of food, Cuevas said “there is a myth that goats will eat anything. Actually, they are pretty picky.”
She emphasized their hay needs to be good quality with no mold or dust. If one really gets into milking, adding a small amount of grain to their diet is a good thing to do, she said. Goats also can be fed vegetables, bananas, crackers and peanuts in the shell, she said.
“You need to be careful about toxic plants. For example, azalea and rhododendrons are deadly to goats; potatoes, too,” she added.
Any animal one raises is going to need to be cleaned up after. For goats, they are especially prone to parasites, so a very clean environment is important, Cuevas said. If goats are thin or have a dull coat, that might indicate parasites. It’s also good to check their eyelids to make sure they are bright pink; otherwise that might also be an indicator of anemia, which can be caused by parasites, she said.
“You really want to have a veterinarian to connect with on all that. It’s best if you can bring them fecal samples to determine the type of worm and prescribe the appropriate wormer. Raising goats is not for the faint of heart,” she said with a laugh.
There are a number of breeds that can be chosen for their milk output and the general fat content, if one wants to make cheeses. Cheeses are essentially milk curds separated by a chemical trigger (calcium chloride, rennet, lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) from whey. The curds are hung in cloth bags or placed in molds to drain until the cheese has solidified. A common breed for milking is Nubians. There are also Swiss breeds such as the Saanen and Nigerian Dwarfs, for example. If goats breed, they have a five-month gestation period. Cuevas and her husband breed their goats in November to have spring kids.
“And it’s to the day. If we breed them Nov. 1, they are born March 1,” she said.
Milking, cheese making and more
Cuevas reiterated the importance of a clean operation for milking goats or making cheeses.
“Bacteria really factors into not just food safety, but the intensity of the goaty flavor in the milk or cheese,” she said.
Cuevas said one can expect to milk twice a day and each goat will produce a little less than a gallon of milk per day.
“You have to wash the teats (and often the goat) and make sure all of your materials are very clean,” she said.
Naturally, learning how to milk a goat may also be necessary. Cuevas highly recommends the New England Cheese Making Supply Company (cheesemaking.com) for resources, help and all of the materials one needs. The company had been located in South Deerfield, but has very recently moved to Conz Street in Northampton. They even have a cheesemaking club they promote. Generally, a milking “stand” is needed for the goat to place its head through to munch some feed during milking. Once milk is collected, refrigerate it right away.
“Cheesemaking has a glamorous image, but know that it’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” she said, wryly adding “the whole goal is to get curds.”
Cuevas said making cheeses was a lot of trial and error, but she and her husband have won a number of awards for their cheeses including second place in an annual cheesemaking competition held by The American Dairy Goat Association. When making cheese, it’s also necessary to figure out what to do with all the whey. Cuevas said whey can be used in many ways, to make ricotta, feed chickens or fertilize your garden. She also suggested making yogurt with the milk.
“Just put some heated milk in a jar, add culture and keep it in a warm place overnight,” she said. Lastly, if you are interested in making soaps or lotions, she said very little goat milk is used in those products so you won’t use much of your volume.
Thomas Farm & Dairy is located at 67 Hadley Road in Sunderland. They can be reached at 413-896-4268.
Cris Carl is an avid local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist. She is an experienced journalist who has written for the Recorder for many years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.