First up, how you handle a milking goat depends on a lot of things - what YOU want, the quality (for lack of a better word) of the doe, and how much you want to invest (both time and money). It's NOT hard to manage milk goats....but your routine/schedule/whatever depends on a few factors.
Here's what *WE* do - it's mostly generic stuff, but some is based on OUR climate and parasite loads. So...your mileage may vary, but this will at least get you started (and Ali, jump in, please! You've been doing this longer than I have!)
1. How long can you milk a goat? Depends. We have 1 doe - Annie - that I "milk through". She's on her 14th month now, and will keep going until next year. In other words, I breed her every other year, and milk her constantly. She consistently produces almost 1/2 gallon/day the entire time - it drops off in Winter to about 1 quart/day....but about the time she would kid if she was bred it picks right back up again. She gave us a doeling last year - I can't WAIT to freshen her and see if it breeds true.
USUALLY, you milk until 1 month before they deliver the next year's kids. Pregnancy is 5 months, so you milk 11 months, 4 of which the doe is pregnant. To dry them off, you just...stop. Normally, you can tell when a doe is ready to dry off - the milk production drops. We have 1 doe - Inara - that dries herself up when she's 1 month pregnant. She's weird...and if she didn't fill the pail while in milk, I'd sell her off, but she put out almost 1 gallon/day on her 2nd freshening last year (for almost 7 months!).
This year....we have Zoe. She's due 4/25...and she's STILL milking out almost a 1/2 gallon/day. So...we didn't dry her off. I asked on the Dairy Goat forum, and was told that as long as we upped her calcium (alfalfa) and basically force-fed it to her the last month of pregnancy, she'd be fine. She won't produce colostrum for her kids, though...which is why I milked both Sasha and Dulce out and froze some bottles.
2. Should they be allowed to "rest" in between? NO. From everything I've read and seen, you don't want a bred-for-dairy goat to rest - it can cause udder problems (everything from mastitis to lower production). Now....IF you're not totally focused on milk - you're only doing this to supplement your supply, say - then I *think* it'd be OK, as long as you "dry-treated" her when drying her off.
We dry-treat everybody when we pull them off the milk-line; it's easy. Tractor Supply/Atwood's/most feed stores sell tubes of stuff called "Tomorrow". It's a "dry cow" udder treatment; it comes in syringes and you need to poke the tip up the teat oriface and infuse the stuff into the udder. Sounds painful - but so far, none of the goats complain. I use 1 tube per teat...it's not that expensive, and it helps prevent nasty stuff from growing in the udder. IF I have a doe with known issues - Rosa, I'm looking at you! - then I use a vet-only treatment called Pirsue. More expensive, but has a stronger medicine in it. Rosa's the only one - so far! - that's given us any udder problems; we didn't breed her this year because I am tired of dealing with it. (She really needs to go..but SG isn't ready to do it yet. :sigh:)
Health-wise, it's not hard. I worm when they kid; here, Ivermectin and Cydectin (given by weight...I can look it up for you later, if you like). I also have Valbazan (for tape worms), but don't always use it. (All of this is given orally, by the way - even though it's meant to be injected. Vets say this works best....all I know is, it works.) Injection-wise....I don't do much. Kids get CD&T - the first shot when we disbud, the 2nd 10 days later. I think I'm supposed to give an annual booster...but I don't always remember. :oops: Oh - at birth the kids get a shot of Bo-Se (because we're selenium deficient here - you may not need it), and pre-breeding the does get one. (For some reason, it helps the does twin, which makes for smaller kids/easier births. After the trainwreck last year, I won't be forgetting this one!) Really, that's it unless the goat needs something - which has been rare here (Thankfully!)
Now, we have Alpines and Nubians. They breed seasonally - that is, only at 1 time of year. (August thru December - not that small of a window, but still.) You have Nigies, right? From what I understand, they cycle year-round. This is good - you can stagger your breedings to insure year-round milk. In other words, breed 1 in January, then 1 in March, then 1 in June - or whatever, making sure you always have at least 1 doe milking when another is due. Then you plan your dry times around that. Winter is when most people want milk, because it's when most does are dried off during pregnancy. (It's why I decided to see if Annie would milk thru that first year, because I didn't want to BUY milk when I had all these goats bouncing around. It has the added benefit of less kids to find homes for.)
Once you get your breeding schedule sorted, you need to ask yourself a few things: Do you want to use your goats to provide all your dairy needs, or just some? Drinking only, maybe? Figure out how much milk your family uses per day, then figure out how much milk each of your goats provides (on average). That'll tell you how many does you need in milk at any given time.
For US.....it means I need at least 4 does on the milk-line. And we're not totally switched over to goat's milk only yet. 4 does provide all our drinking milk, and some of our cheese. I want to switch over completely.....which is why we keep breeding more does each year. This year, I have the 2 Alpines, 4 Nubians, and 7 Cashmeres (the Cashmere milk is slated for soap, if all goes according to plan.) Cheese takes 2 gallons of milk for 1 pound of cheese.....but it's tasty. I use the whey in soap (so it's not wasted)....we haven't succeeded at butter - yet. I have about 1 gallon of cream in the freezer that I need to thaw out and use for that.
Wow - I kinda got carried away. Sorry about that! :lol: I'm sure I forgot stuff, too.....but this out to give you a starting point.
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