(If you're interested in purchasing goats, visit https://gmsgoats.com)
When we moved to Indiana, I (PJ) really wanted to homestead. I wanted the children eating healthy food and I wanted them playing outside in the sunshine and I wanted them to learn how to work hard.
Gardening and planting an orchard were the easy parts of homesteading. I'd done that for years. Farm animals were something totally different. Jim and I had owned two horses when we lived in Virginia before our children were born. While we loved them, we knew how much work they were.
And so Jim was "hesitant" to let me have farm animals and told me that I couldn't buy chickens. But when a neighbor asked me to take his chickens for free since he couldn't keep them, I may have said, "Yes" without exactly consulting Jim first. (I didn't buy them was my reminder when he got home from work that day!)
Jim calls chickens the "gateway animal" because it wasn't long after the chickens that I managed to also bring home rabbits, turkeys, and finally (my ultimate goal) dairy goats!
We started in 2005 with two nubians - Melody and Sassy. They were pregnant (so was I) and I was so excited. They weren't supposed to have their babies until March. Indigo was born (an intentional home birth) on February 23. The next day, Jim was going out to the store for me and came running back into the house to announce, "Sassy is having her babies!"
Nobody but me had a clue what to do (and my knowledge only came from the books I had read). We were totally unprepared, but I gathered up my supplies and headed out to the barn (Indigo was fortunately sleeping).
Sassy was a champ and delivered a doeling and buckling with ease. The children and I fell in love with baby goats and when we started milking Sassy a few weeks later, we fell in love with the milk as well.
In March (when they were supposed to be due), Melody went into labor. This unfortunately didn't have a happy ending (you can read about Melody's kidding on the blog), but we learned so much about dairy goats during the experience and I became deeply committed to being the best goat farmer I could be.
Over the next few years, we added a motley crew of goats to our herd - we tried saanens and lamanchas and more nubians. None of them were great goats, but we were learning.
And then in 2008, we made one of the best decisions. As painful as it was to say good-bye, we sold all of our original goats and started over with 2 excellent Alpine goats - Victoria and Dayton. And from there we've built our herd into what it is today. Since 2008 we've brought in extra goats and some new bucks (to keep the bloodlines not completely related), but the vast majority of our current goat herd has been born here on our farm.
Why Alpines? Several reasons. We love their ability to milk. Our best goats will give over two gallons a day at peak and that is a lot of milk for a dairy goat. We also love their temperaments. They are very friendly and curious and aren't convinced you're out to kill them every time you make a change in the barn! But as silly as this sounds, one of our favorite traits about Alpines is that they come in different colors. There are some very good breeds out there, but they're all the same color. And to me, that's just boring. I have a lot of fun wondering what colors will be born every year!
When we first got our goats, I was the one who did all the hand milking. Colter then took over in 2007. As the herd grew, more boys started helping with the milking. Then the girls learned. The children are able to milk from a young age.
But the more goats we milked, the more it became the boys' job. We have 5 milk stands for the 5 boys. Goats are creatures of habit so each boy had their own milk stand and their own goats to milk. This is super helpful because they know their goats really well and can tell immediately if somebody isn't feeling well.
In 2016 we got to the point where we were hand milking 64 goats. Even split between 5 boys, this was a lot of work. And while the boys were able to keep up with it, it was next to impossible for us to go on vacation or get a day away because it's not exactly easy to get somebody to come in and milk 64 goats for you!
And so we made the decision to move to machine milking. This was a really difficult decision - not only because it was expensive, but because the boys really like hand milking. Yes, machine milking is faster and requires less effort, but my boys don't mind effort. And they like being hands-on with the goats at milking time.
So (as always) a lot of prayer and discussion went into the decision. The boys had to decide if they wanted to continue to grow Goat Milk Stuff and milk more goats or if they wanted to sell some goats and continue to milk by hand. And when it was framed that way, they all agreed moving to machine milking was the only viable solution.
Training the goats to machine milking was quite the chore. The machine milking system is very noisy and the goats were not sure what was going on. And they definitely didn't want to stick their head in the gate because they didn't yet realize there was food on the other side! But within a few days (or weeks depending on the goat) they had it all figured out and now they go into the machine milking parlor without any hesitancy.
All of the family is involved with taking care of the goats - whether it is milking twice a day, cleaning stalls, trimming hooves, doing vet work, handling goat registration paperwork, or simply loving on the goats - the goats are a huge part of our lives and our family.
Every goat has a name and they answer when they are called (unless they are being stubborn). They each have a personality, and you can definitely tell the goats the children have spoiled.
In case you were wondering, we don't eat our dairy goats. While we are not vegetarians, it is not something we do. We can't keep them all (most of our goats have twins and triplets each year), but we do our best to make sure that all of the babies go to good homes for breeding or pets. We've even had them go to camps to be pack goats.
Kidding season is the craziest and best time of year here on the farm. We are on 24/7 kid watch and take shifts in the barn watching for signs of labor. Goats are like people - most of them can deliver without any difficulty. But they do occasionally have problems and we want to be there to help the delivery go safely for both Mom and kids.
If we can check and make sure the kids are positioned properly and assist the mom in delivering them, it goes a long way in keeping everyone alive and safe. With over 100 baby goats born every year, we are super proud of the number of live births and healthy moms that we are able to achieve.
The baby goats receive colostrum from their own mom. We weigh the baby to determine how much colostrum they receive. If, for example, the baby weighs 7 lbs, they get twice that amount of colostrum in oz. So a 7 lb baby goat has 24 hours to drink 14 oz of colostrum. Most of them drink it within 6-12 hours. After getting all their colostrum, they are switched to raw goat milk. We sell most of our baby goats fairly young to reduce their stress from moving and to make sure we have enough goat milk for the babies that stay here on the farm.
We bottle raise our baby goats because it makes friendlier, happier, and healthier goats. They're also able to go to their new homes at a younger age which is less stressful on the kids. Greyden is ultimately responsible for feeding all of the baby goats once they've all been born. But during kidding season, it can get crazy. In 2017 we had 149 baby goats born (the most we've ever had born in one day was 14!!), so everyone pitches in with bottle feeding during this time. Greyden by the way is the only one who can identify all the baby goats by sight. Once they get an udder and start milking, the rest of the boys can tell them apart, but Greyden can look at the heads of 6 all black goats and tell you which one is which! That's quite impressive.
We raise our goats as naturally as possible. They do not eat any GMO Corn or GMO Soybeans and they are not fed any antibiotics or growth hormones, so there is nothing unnatural passed into their milk. We rotate their pastures and raise them on grass in the sunshine to keep their immune systems healthy.
We do monitor their health and their fecals and will worm them if necessary. A sick goat that requires antibiotics will also receive them, but if she does, she is milked by hand and her milk is not used.
We originally got our first dairy goats in 2005 because we wanted healthy, raw milk for our growing family. We still drink our milk raw from the bulk tank and so the health of the milk is of utmost importance to us.
We use our goat milk for everything - drinking, cooking, cheesemaking, fudge and caramel making, gelato making, and (of course!) soapmaking. It takes a lot of milk to meet all the demands and uses we have for it. But our girls are up to the task!
Our herd is located in Scottsburg, (Southeastern) Indiana about half an hour north of Louisville, Kentucky. We do offer farm tours year-round. If you want to see young Alpine babies, then March and April are the best time to visit.
In 2016, we added a small herd of Nigerian Dwarf miniature dairy goats to the farm. Unlike the Alpines (which are seasonal breeders), the "Nigies" are able to breed year-round. We keep this herd so that we can offer Baby Goat Experiences year-round. Since not everyone can visit when the Alpines are little, this gives more people a chance to love on baby goats!
We are not currently milking the Nigerians for Goat Milk Stuff, but our goal is to grow the herd to the point where we start milking them. Nigerian Dwarf goats give less milk than Alpines because of their smaller size. But their milk is high in milk solids and so if we do start milking them for the business, we will use their milk to make cheese.
But for now, they're super fun to just watch and snuggle!
We have Alpine kids available for sale every February and March and we occasionally offer milkers for sale as well. If you'd like to purchase goats from our herd, please visit the www.GMSGoats.com website.
Dairy goats are a lot of work and you need to be committed to the lifestyle since they need to be milked twice a day every day, but we adore our goats and couldn't imagine life without them! You can watch our baby goats be born on our Facebook Live videos. And if you're ever close, come and visit and say hello to us and to the goats!