Milk goats can work on African farms

Goat’s milk is good business for farmers who supply niche markets. But with the right marketing, and more interest from small-stock farmers, the goat milk market has excellent prospects.


A few goats can supply an average family with enough milk for their daily needs, for at least part of the year, and goats’ milk is high quality food.

The advantage of farming dairy goats is that you can start with only a few goats and grow the business as you are able to. Although milking machines make life easier for the dairy goat farmer, hand milking is quite feasible especially when numbers are not too high.

Goats are small, easy-to-handle livestock and their healthy and flavoursome milk has potential for value-added products such as cheese, yoghurt and fermented milk products.

Keep in mind what the Honourable Sebastian Kopulande, MP for Zambia’s Luapula Province said: “We are not in the business of exporting jobs, we need to add value to products here in Zambia.”


Deon van Dalen, founder of Dairy Goat SA, says between 10 and 15 goats can be kept (with feed) on as little as a hectare. Van Dalen advises new entrants to dairy goat farming to take the time to find out where their interests lie.

Some farmers will naturally be more interested in breeding than in cheese-making or trading. Focus your efforts where your interests are, to avoid having your hands too full while you are still learning the ropes.

Indigenous goats can be successfully crossbred with European dairy breeds like this British Alpine goat. The crossbreds improve the milk production of the local goats while the indigenous input gives the animal the necessary hardiness.


Goats are seasonal producers and don’t produce milk in the dry, cool months (June to August). From a marketing perspective this is not ideal, but from the perspective of producing milk as cheaply as possible it is.

At least in the beginning, stick to the principle – let milk follow available grass and browse. There is no cheaper way to produce milk. The less feed you can buy in the better.

On the plus side the farmer can use the ‘dry’ months to catch up with farm chores: service the milking machines, deep-clean the facilities, sell off surplus animals or poor performers, repair fences and sheds and fill holes.

For breeders, Van Dalen advises against keeping meat and milk goats together in the ‘dry’ season as a way of making extra income. “Interbreeding is inevitable, and it will have a negative effect on the milk production potential of your goats,” he explains.


The three mainstream dairy goat breeds used in southern Africa are Swiss Saanen, Toggenberg and British Alpine, all from Europe.

In a successful dairy goat project in Kenya (designed and implemented by British NGO Farm Africa), the British Toggenburg was crossbred to indigenous goats.

A limit of 75% Toggenburg was set to make sure that the adaptability and resilience of the local goats was not lost.
Mating the indigenous ewes to a purebred Toggenburg buck resulted in offspring with decent milk volumes and good hardiness.

Goat milk is a quality food that will boost health in families dependent on subsistence farming. This farmer does not have the means to purchase milking machines, yet, but he is milking his goats and ensuring that his family and perhaps his neighbours have access to their milk. PICTURE BY ABBASHURU – WIKICOMMONS

The Kenyan dairy goat system works with a purebred buck in place at a buck station. Porject farmers bring their ewes to the station for mating with the Toggenburg buck. The buck must be rotated out every 18 months to avoid inbreeding.

There is a separate breeding unit to ensure a continuous supply of purebred replacements. This is an improvement scheme that takes regional realities into account, while upgrading the local animals.

Trials in Malawi using Saanen bucks on local does showed that the crossbred goats had better ADGs (Average Daily Gains) on veld, and 275% more milk, than local goats. And, in comparative trials in India crossbreds produced 65% to 130% more milk than indigenous goats.

Nutrition and management are key players in the performance of dairy animals whether they are goats or cows. In commercial dairies it doesn’t make sense to milk animals off veld alone and feeding rations must be seen as part of keeping dairy goats.

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