Thursday, January 21, 2010

Goats Versus Cows

I'm so glad to be back blogging. I really missed it. Our computer became infected with a really bad virus and instantly after it happened, I knew it. I made a fast trip to Spearfish, South Dakota Tuesday and the computer sat in the Intensive Care Unit at Jon's until this afternoon. His experienced hands stubbornly worked until finally this morning, he was able to get a toe underneath the virus and boot it out. Thank you to all who expressed their wishes for a speedy recovery, to leave you hanging in the middle of a important point bothered me terribly but I'm back and so let's get started.

My research found a number of interesting points. First of all, I want to establish that for a small to medium size family a goat, or two, maybe even three is far more economical for them than a milk cow. I tried to find facts and figures to substantiate this but couldn't. So much of what I will list below is common sense and points made in an old copy of The Dairy Goat Journal along with my experience.

I did find an interesting article that compared a commercial goat dairy to a commercial cow dairy. Unfortunately, it diverted off on to establishing goat milk to feed goat kids versus selling the milk. The point was well made that a commercial cow dairy could sell its milk for far less than a goat dairy and I'll bring up a few of those points that they made at the end of this blog because it established some important points for those with a number of goats.

Goat versus a cow for family milk supply
1. A goat is 1/10th the size of a beef, so it requires far less feed and will milk about 1/8th the amount a cow does at a better feed to milk production ratio. For most families, a half a gallon to a gallon of milk a day is plenty for their needs so a goat could easily supply that with the top producers giving two gallons a day at their peek. A cow on the other hand gives 6-10 gallons a day. What is a family to do with that much milk? Here piggy, piggy, piggy that and raising bum calves and lambs is all I can think of. I'm not going to make that much cheese. Some people I've known milk their cow just once a day versus twice to drop the milk production but that makes the feed to milk ratio quite expensive.

2. You should dry a cow up for three months before she calves and a goat for two months before she kids. That's a month more without milk if you have a cow versus a goat. Also you could have two goats and have a steady supply of milk with them bred at different times and still have a lower expense.

3. Trimming goat hooves requires an inexpensive set of hand clippers that resembles a pair of scissors.

A milk cow requires a large turn table in which to restrain her and tip her on her side and an electric disc grinder. We use to hire a gentlemen to trim our daughter's FFA steers a month before county fair since we neither had a turn table or the knowledge. Our beef now end up in white packages at about the time their feet need trimmed. If they lived on the range, the land would naturally wear their hooves down but ours unfortunately live in a large pen. Rich feed such as grain causes accelerated growth in hooves.

4. A goat requires less pasture than a cow and a smaller pen due to the large difference in size.

The same holds true for housing so the overall cost of fencing and a building is much less.

5. Goats compact the soil less which has less impact on the land. Since goats are browser and cows are grazers, their pasture requirements are different. You may have pasture more suitable for goats than cows.

6. Goats can be transported in a van or in to a compartment that slides in to the back of a pickup. A cow requires the expense of purchasing a horse trailer.

7. Goats require less initial investment. I purchase goats from a show herd. They are culls and I pay $350 a piece, where as a good Jersey cow around here will cost you at least $1200. A cow normally has one calf but a goat usually has two kids.

8. Far more feed goes into a cow before she freshens since she is two years old when she has her first calf, where as a goat freshens when she's one. Also keep in mind that a cow is far larger so you not only have an extra year of feed you've put into her before you gain any milk but the amount of feed she eats in one year is far greater than a goat.

9. You heard of cow pies. Well, they aren't small and manure quickly fill the pen. But goat's dingleberries are small pellets that can easily be gathered with a rake and shovel. Goat's excrement doesn't draw flies as badly either.

10. Smaller amount of wormer is required for goats than cows.

12. Finnaly, this may not be considered an economic reason but for me it is. Goats don't have a long tail to swish, thereby they can't use it to sling muck in to the milk pail when their aiming for a fly. Their always aiming for a fly or just moving the air around. That's why we always tied the tail up.

In my experience, if a cow wants to put a foot in the bucket, she does. I'm not strong enough to stop her by reaching back with my arm. That's why you often see a set of hobbles on a cow dairyman's wall.

A goat on the other hand, I just lift my arm, elbow raised horizontally, and block a doe's leg from coming forward. Most of the time I can catch her before she puts her foot in the milk. It could be that I'm not as good a cow milker as I am a goat milker but I've lost less goat milk than I have cow's milk.

My back also appreciates that our goats jump up on to a stanchion and I'm sitting upright milking rather than hunched over. Economically, that saves on a lot of Advil I might otherwise be taking but then that's just me.

13. If a goat doesn't want to get on to the milk stanchion or enter the milking shed, I can man handle her if need be. Try man handling a 1300 pound or more dairy cow. In my experience if Bessy, that was the name of our cow when I was little or was it Bossy, really wants to go somewhere, Bessy does.
14. Calling all goat owners, what did I miss?---
It's when you start adding numbers that the cost difference between goats and cows change. Most of it is in the labor. A goat needs their feet trimmed far more often than a cow and you times that by the number of animals you have since a goat dairy takes far more goats to supply the same amount of milk. This holds true for udder wash and wipes, vaccinations etc. since there are more animals to tend. There are far more to attach and remove from the milking machine. Along with more animals to assist and watch when they have their young, more young to care for etc. etc. The goatworld article said it was 1.5 to 2.5 times more expensive due to labor costs to have a goat dairy versus a cow dairy. In the end, its the number of animals that makes the difference so when you start adding more and more goats you can't say your saving money over buying a cow. Time is money.

The nutritional difference between goat's and cow's milk is another matter. Goat's have the advantage hands down. I'll discuss that in another blog but first I think I'd better tend to a garden blog and a cooking blog.

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