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What you need to know about dairy goat farming

Livestock
 

The Toggenburg dairy goat breed. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

I am a regular reader of your column, and thank you so much for the wonderful pieces you write for us. I am seriously considering dairy goat farming. This is because I have a small piece of land from my father, and I think dairy cow production would put too much stress on the land.

Kindly educate me more about dairy goat farming. Lucas Njoroge, Nanyuki

Thank you so much, Lucas, for reading Smart Harvest and for your commendable dream of taking up dairy goat farming.

Common goat breeds in Kenya include Anglo Nubian, Toggenburg, Alpine, and Saanen. Dairy goat production is becoming increasingly popular in Kenya, with many farmers switching to goats instead of dairy cows or integrating both. There are many reasons for this trend, and I will try to delve into some of them. The perception that goat milk is better in terms of nutrient content and causes fewer allergic reactions has fueled its popularity, even with limited scientific backing. Such is the nature of market forces; human tastes and preferences are largely subjective.

Good Twinning Ability

A dairy goat breed like the Kenyan Alpine has an excellent twinning ability. Goats have a relatively short gestation period of about 150 days (five months). Combined with the twinning ability, this means a dairy goat like the Kenyan Alpine can give you up to four kids a year. They attain sexual maturity at four to five months, but it is advised to mate them at seven to ten months, which still places them in the quick growers league and ensures a high annual turnover. Breeding them at seven months also ensures better milk production in the future. Dairy goats have a lactation period of 284 days with peak production at four to six weeks after kidding with a good feeding regime. With good management, a dairy goat can produce up to three liters a day. Add a lifespan of over 15 years, and you are assured of getting good income from a single goat.

Ease of Management

Though agile and inquisitive, goats are generally docile when handled, making them safe and relatively easy to manage on a farm. Compared to cows, goats consume less feed, and most of it is easily available. A bunch of blackjack or other weeds can form a good meal for goats, but always ensure a balanced diet. They are less labour-intensive and can be kept on a relatively smaller area. Goats are generally hardy animals, with most health problems related to internal and external parasites, nutrition, and reproduction, and a few other diseases to worry about. This significantly reduces veterinary costs and increases profits.

A Few Challenges

It is not all rosy, though; dairy goat farming also comes with a few challenges that need to be addressed. The first is the issue of a good and well-established market for goat milk. Most of the milk currently produced is sold at the farm gate with little processing or value addition. Some potential products from goat milk include bottled milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese.

Good Dairy Goat Keeping System

For a good dairy production system, the farmer, guided by the veterinary doctor, needs to have a good internal and external parasite control programme, a well-ventilated house raised off the ground to protect the goats from harsh climatic conditions, and to secure them from predators, which are many. Raised housing also ensures a lower incidence of foot rot, a common condition with poorly housed goats. Avoid stressors like overcrowding and practice biosecurity measures. Isolate any sick goats from the rest, and maintain a good feeding regime.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at FAO-Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own]

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