Getting Started – Our Start

Getting Started – Our Start


The choices (& blunders) I made
and how I handled them

    This is the story of our early years with dairy goats, what I encountered, and how I chose to deal with problems.  I share this in case it is helpful to anyone else starting out, not as a guideline or even suggestions – the choices I made fit my approach and my goals for the herd, and that is unique to every person and their own herds.


First of all, I did very little research on-line.  I thought I had researched, but looking back I tended to research on an as-needed basis.  I went to our local county fair and watched the Nubian show, and approached the breeders of the winning and healthier-looking herd.  We ended up buying an adult grade Alpine doe (Larissa, pictured right) and a grade Nubian doeling. The breeders were very nice people, cared about their goats, and helped us whenever we asked, including bringing our goats back to breed.  On the other hand, they knew nothing about CAE or CL (and when informed how to prevent CAE, decided it was too much work), and were frequent shoppers at the sale barn (a huge risk for bringing home sick animals).  We ended up being very very lucky that we didn’t bring home any number of diseases, as they and we did no testing.  This was a still a BLUNDER despite the fact that it ended up all right.

Would you believe that one of the things I learned before we got dairy goats was that you had to breed them and have kids in order to get milk?  I had thought “dairy” somehow just meant milk, maybe through hormones or something, who knows! Anyway having always been a sincere animal lover (and eventually becoming quite active in puppy mill rescue), the thought of bringing lives into this world so I can have milk to play with was very concerning.  Our first year Larissa gave us one buckling and we were immediately faced with the difficulties of placing a grade mixed breed buckling or wether into a good home.  This, combined with reading Molly Bunton’s information on selling goats on her excellent Fias Co Farm website, led me towards a purebred herd.  Sure, our grade animals could give us wonderful milk, but at what cost to their kids?  I see too many goats kept in awful conditions with owners who do not love and value them.

Raising purebred Nubians, and beyond that very importantly, high quality goats that truly make a contribution to the breed, is the best insurance I can give the kids. There are no guarantees, but I believe that someone who researches, makes careful selections, and is willing to travel to bring home the right kid is someone who will give them a good long-term home.

So…to bring home my first purebred Nubians!  You would think that my aforementioned puppy mill rescue experience would have taught me that just because someone raises purebred (of any animal) does not mean that they are responsible!  Major BLUNDER: I brought home my first purebred animals with no testing and assumed they were clean.  Major Major BLUNDER: the next spring, I pooled the milk for my bottle-fed kids.

Then at some point not long after that, I got the bright idea to test my herd, thinking of course it will be a nice clean report.  But EVERY GOAT (with the exception of my Larissa, tremendous relief) tested positive for CAE.  And while the kids were too young to test…they’d been drinking the tainted milk.  It was a horrible situation. And what an irony it was that the purebred “good” goats had brought this in, while my other high-risk goats had been clean (again, by sheer luck).  If Larissa had tested positive, I may have made a different choice, but as she was clean, my decision was to say good-bye to every goat except her (the grade Nubian doeling we brought home with Larissa had prolapsed and hemorrhaged internally at her 2nd kidding).  I looked into maintaining 2 herds, one clean and one infected, but still the possibilities for cross-contamination were too substantial and risky for me.  Also there can be a margin of human error in heat-treating colostrum and pasteurizing infected milk.

Some goatherds have had to make the difficult decision to euthanize and I have to say I understand and respect their decision.  I was able to find 2 homes who with full disclosure were willing to take the positive goats, so they were divided between the 2 farms.  They were quite some distance away but I was so grateful to find people who were already dealing with this problem in their own herds and were willing to take my goats in as well.  I don’t think I’ve stated clearly that, despite the problems they brought, I loved those goats as I have loved every goat here.  It may go without saying, but I gave them away for free, with extreme thankfulness, and sadness, on my part.

The exodus occurred in the spring, and things sure felt lonely here with only Larissa and our llama.  I took a couple months to clean everything, practically dismantling the milking house for thorough disinfection.  I know CAE can be transferred only through fluid, but after what we’d just gone through, I had learned not to assume anything.  For the next year, I also had to handle Larissa as if she had CAE.  Due to that and her mounting years, I opted not to breed her anymore (she continued to test CAE negative for the rest of her life).

In July we began picking up our new, carefully researched and tested, goats. Unlike my first purebred purchase and from experience now having more opinions about what qualities were important to me, I took the time to research far and wide. So we had a couple long drives, and also a substantial investment with Ron Keener transport to bring goats from my mentor Naomi in Idaho.  Overall this all went quite well with the exception of a smaller BLUNDER: bringing home goats that in person were not what I expected.  That was the first farm we went to, so perhaps if we had gone to the 2nd farm first, having seen their extremely strong-looking animals, I would have had the confidence to say “Wow, beautiful, but now that I’m here, just not what I had in mind.”  Most likely kissing my deposit good-bye, but it would have been smarter to say no and perhaps be able to bring home a goat closer to my goals from elsewhere.  Instead I watched the 2 goats with concern and hope, and eventually sold them a year later (to a wonderful home).

I’d say from that point on, things have been pretty quiet, no major activity – tho there is never a dull moment with goats!  I test annually now and am, if anything, a bit overboard about biosecurity.  I believe it is my responsibility to my goats to keep them safe in every respect.  There are enough things that can go wrong raising any type of livestock that allowing a known problem to exist and perhaps spread is not being a good mother to my goats. Just as with my human children, at the end of the day I need to know they are healthy and that I am doing everything in my power to ensure that.

Do your research!  Ask for test results!
You will love your goats no matter what.
Starting out clean saves you heartache and money.

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