Farming blog focus: goat farming

Have you ever wondered about farm diversification? Ever considered taking on a herd of goats? DoneDeal farming blogger Mark McConnell spoke to goat farmers to find out how to get into goat dairy farming Alyson and John Mc Knight are a brother and sister team who farm outside the village of Convoy in Co Donegal. A few years they were interested in joining the family business (their father is a dairy farmer) and decided to diversify by starting a goat herd to run alongside the dairy herd already there. They have set up that they are producing milk all year round and they are guaranteed a good price for their milk in doing so. The Mc Knights are very positive about the future of goat farming in Ireland going forward with no supply restrictions in place. One word of caution is that anybody considering entering the industry must be prepared to supply an even volume of milk year around – some producers who are not willing to do this are struggling to find an outlet for their milk. Key figures Value: approx. 74 cent per litre Used for: cheese production exported to France Output: A good milking goat can give 800 litres of milk per year Starting point They started off with 50 breeding kids from a farmer in Northern Ireland and found a supplier Yeats Country Cheese. They then found a second supplier in Cooleeny Cheese in Co Tipperary and started expanding their herd. John explains that when they started the enterprise there was a lot of uncertainty within the industry and they were lucky to be able to purchase a lot of good quality stock from herds that where cutting back numbers. This was a great boost to them and they soon grew numbers to their current level of 330 milking goats. They hope to build it further to 500 goats in the years to come. Breeds of goats The 330 goats are made up of 3 breeds: Saanen (80%) Known for its high yields, very low butterfat percentage with typical butterfat’s ranging from 2.5%-3%, and exceptionally quiet temperament Toggenburg British Alpine Both are typically low yielders but have a high butterfat percentage. The mix of breeds in the herd brings the overall herd average performance to the required level. Set up The goats are housed year around. The reason for this is they do not cope with Irish weather conditions very well and are not great grazers. The biggest step for them was the building of a new dairy unit. They kept the set up very simple and labour efficient system. They have a 6 bay double shed with a raised feed passage. Beside the shed is a 33 point milking parlour where one person can milk up to 300 goats per hour. In recent times they have added a second shed, a 6 bay single the same design as the first. The feed passage is 2.5 feet above the straw bedded area of the shed. The purpose of this is to allow the straw to build up and leaves less cleaning to be carried out through the year. They are bedded daily to keep the laying area clean and dry and that the whole shed is cleaned out and disinfected every three months during the winter period. During hot weather in the summer it is cleaned on a more regular basis to prevent disease building up in the shed and to prevent pneumonia. Diet Goats will pick at grass opposed to cows or sheep that would graze continuously for a number of hours and then rest. A goat will carry on picking through the grass sward leaving a lot of waste behind. They are fed on a diet of good quality grass and maize silage. The silage is cut at an early stage of growth and wilted. When cut early it will leave very good quality high DMD silage and by wilting the DM will also be high. They are feeding purchased maize silage mainly to keep condition on freshly kidded goats and also 1kg of a special dairy goat ration on a daily basis. Milking levels A goat will typically produce 2.5 litres a day and will continue milking at this level for 300 plus days a year. Alyson explains that some of the high yielding Saanen goats are difficult to dry off as they will milk for 360 plus days easily but will lose alot of body condition if they are not giving a dry period before kidding. The Mc Knights kid twice yearly once in the spring and again in the autumn. Breeding Goats are traditionally seasonal breeders and to achieve the autumn kidding they have to manipulate the hours of lighting that the goats receive in December and January so they can achieve kidding in August. Health management The health management of the herd is a high priority for the Mc Knights and they have a set health plan in place. Alyson explained that as a whole goat herds are healthy animals and when managed properly have very few health issues. The most important point in a healthy herd is to limit the number of purchased animals entering the herd. Their health plan is as follows: Two mange and lice treatments a year. Lice can be a problem as the goats are housed year around One worm and fluke treatment as they are dried off Heptavic P once a year Hoof trimming once a year. Again this can be a problem with year around housing Roughly 1 in 20 goats need assistance when kidding down Do you think this is something you would be interested in? Let us know. #Animals #Farming