Although the southern African dairy goat industry is still in its infancy, breeders have the potential to become world leaders in their field.
If there’s anyone who knows what the potential of the goat milk industry is, it is Jan Wiese, a third-generation farmer in the Loxton district in the South African Karoo, where he farms with Merino sheep. Jan’s passion for dairy goats took root at the tender age of three when his grandfather gave him his first goat.
Over the years, Jan increased his herd and in 2012, as the owner of Karoo Goat’s Milk Products, he began to farm dairy goats commercially. Jan’s enthusiasm for these highly affectionate animals is obvious, almost as if he regards each one as a beloved pet rather than a commercial commodity.
But although this may seem an idyllic venture on the surface, he reminds us that these animals need 24-hour care. “There is a lot of planning and work around the keeping of goats. Don’t think you can braai and party on the weekend and leave the goats until Monday,” says Jan. “You have to dedicate a lot of time, have a passion for the animal, but must also have the right facilities.”
According to Jan the only difference between a dairy cow and a dairy goat is that the one has four teats and the other two.
‘Don’t think you can braai and party on the weekend and leave the goats until Monday’
His advice for any aspiring dairy goat farmer is that whether you buy three goats or 20 goats from a breeder, you must first ensure that your facilities are adequate and be sure of what you plan to do with the animals. Jan found out the hard way that you can’t use Merino kraals for goats.
“I thought that my fencing and kraals were ok when I started farming with goats, but quickly realized that the kraals won’t work for goats as they have a totally different nature,” says Jan. While a fence won’t bother sheep, a goat is very inquisitive and will clamber over the fence to explore it. Goats are also not very fond of rain and need a place where they can take shelter and keep dry.
SMELLY OLD GOAT
“If you put a goat product in your mouth and it tastes like goat, then spit it out because it’s off!” These are the words of South African Champion dairy goat breeder, Walter Curlewis of Paarl in the Western Cape. He disagrees with the general view that goat’s milk products have a bad smell and that they should be kept out of range of your nose.
Walter explains that hygiene plays a huge role in keeping the odour of goat out of the milk. “Ensure that the goat’s udder is clean when milking, as well as your hands and the bucket, and pass the milk through a sieve and refrigerate as soon as possible.”
He says that the best and safest is to pasteurise the milk. It can be frozen for up to three months and doesn’t split like cow’s milk. It is naturally homogenised, so the cream doesn’t separate and float to the surface as in cow’s milk.
Twenty-eight-year-old Walter has been farming with goats for the past 13 years. If it was up to this goat fanatic, every household would keep two goats so that no one in the country would have to go hungry. “Two goats can produce enough milk, butter and cheese to support a family of six,” says Walter.
According to some researchers, goat’s milk does not cause inflammation. It also has traces of selenium, a key element to strengthen the immune system and keep it functioning normally. Goat’s milk is lower in lactose than cow’s milk which makes it easier to digest. Walter hopes that one day hospitals will offer goat milk products to their patients.
He also hopes that universities and other research institutions in the country will do tests to determine why this type of milk is so healthy for humans. “People are not always aware of the product’s health aspects. This is something that should be promoted.”
He agrees with Jan that dairy goats take a lot of dedication. “I have had to spend many holidays at home to take care of my animals,” he says. Time is precious to people nowadays, but the long-term benefits of keeping goats make the sacrifice worth it.
“Goats need to be milked every 12 hours but it takes just a half-hour every morning and night to ensure that your family has food. That’s really not asking a lot.”
‘I have had to spend many holidays at home to take care of my animals’
Goats, being smaller animals, don’t need a lot of space and, in addition, they can efficiently transform large amounts of forage into one of the best super foods – these two factors mean they should never be disregarded.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU WANT TO KEEP GOATS?
• Firstly, find out from your local municipality if you are allowed to keep goats.
• Prepare the goat’s enclosure. This is quite a simple task. It is also cheaper to keep a goat than a Rottweiler. You only need an area the size of half a garage to keep two goats.
• Make sure you know where you will get your goat’s feed from.
GENTLY DOES IT
“You will pretty much need the patience of Job to farm with goats, as this is an animal that must be handled gently. Just as with people, stress can lead to illnesses,” says Leon Kruger, a specialist researcher for small livestock at the Agricultural Research Council (South Africa).
Leon’s passion for dairy goats led him to research the handling of dairy goats and the effect of stress on them. Stress raises the levels of cortisol, a hormone, released into the bloodstream, and the animal, just like humans, has no control over it. Even if the animals are handled in a normal fashion they will experience stress and cortisol levels will be raised. Cortisol suppresses the immune system makes the animal more susceptible to disease.
Diseases associated with stress are: lung infections; pasteurellosis and Mannheimia haemolytica; pustular dermatitis (a viral disease characterised by wart like lesions around the nose); and infectious keratoconjunctivitis, which can cause temporary blindness and weight loss. Leon says that this becomes a problem whenever the animal must be dosed or inoculated as part of a disease-prevention strategy.
Therefore it is important that when the animal is handled that it is done in such a manner so as not to frighten the goat. So for example when the goat is herded, it should be done quietly. There should be no shouting or hitting. For example, if you have to inoculate 500 animals, it is better to spread it out over a week rather than to try and squeeze it all into one day.
FLIGHT ZONES (SAFETY ZONES)
Leon explains that animals, like people, have their own personal space, or flight zone. Whenever this zone is entered it is seen as a threat and the animal will freeze. If the perceived danger continues, the animals will huddle and then run off in different directions in an attempt to avoid the danger.
Goats have specific spots where they should be held. Although you can’t explain to the animal what you intend doing, you can reduce their stress by holding them in these places. “If you hold a goat by its horns you remove its only defence mechanism. It is the same as if you hold a person’s hands, they will want to fight back,” says Leon.
The correct way to handle the animal is to put it into a crush, which is already a safety zone and also provides a barrier between you and the animal. Apply pressure on its centre of balance, usually its shoulder blades, before handling it.
Hold one hand under its chin and the other behind the head, massaging behind its ears just as you would with a dog – this calms the animal while you work with it. With the goat now calm, it doesn’t associate you with a negative experience. If the procedure was accompanied by pain, such as pulling on hair, wool, ears or horns, it will be perceived as a negative experience and every time that animal sees you, it will experience stress, and in turn a constant release of corticosteroids suppressing its immune system.
How does one make a simple crush for your goats? Leon explains that it is quite simple. You plant vertical and horizontal poles. It must be a barrier between yourself and the animal so the animal can be kept still while you perform the procedure.
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