Why Keep Goats?
Adding goats to the farm was our first step towards keeping "livestock". Larger mammals often require more work than poultry, but the rewards from keeping them can be equally increased. While we do not have plans to expand the farm (yet) to other larger beasts, it is interesting to take a look at the benefits our goats have brought.
The type of goat we decided on is small and hardy, which fits our lifestyle right now. Larger goats produce more milk, but they'll also need more space and can be harder to wrangle should they get loose. Goats as a species are generally hardy, certainly much tougher than some four-footed animals like horses. Since one of our uses for our goats is to help keep our stone walls weed-free, sure footed Nigerian Dwarfs with their buttery milk was the way to go.
Three goats may not be particularly effective at keeping acres of stone walls cleared, but our herd will continue to expand. At the moment our fencing is limited, so they only get to work on that part of their job when we are around to supervise. Next year we plan to use temporary fencing to move them around the fields, spending a day or two in each spot and clearing it of weeds. By that time we also will be using less supplemental grain, as they will be done growing, and soon enough we should have at least two more goats as we are going to breed Tater and Sweet Pea.
As mammals, goat's are prized for their milk. While a farm looking to produce milk on a larger scale will often turn to cows, who yield more gallons per milking, we went with goats for a variety of reasons. A single cow produces about eight gallons of milk per day - that's about 128 glasses. Since our initial milk needs are just for our family, that seemed like overkill, especially given the added space a cow would need. Goat's milk is also healthier for us humans than cow's milk. It's the type of animal milk most similar to human milk, which makes it easy for our systems to digest. It is low in lactose, which means that people who are lactose intolerant can often drink goat's milk. Goats produce only a quart or two of milk a day. If you're commercially farming, that means you'd need a lot of goats to keep up supply, but if you are family farming, it's the perfect amount.
To address the taste of goat's milk, it is distinct from cow's milk. Many people are averse to goat's milk because they've had milk from a farm which keeps a buck. Male goats are notoriously - quite frankly - disgusting, spraying themselves in their own urine and ejaculate to attract females. The overwhelming odor of a male goat can effect the taste of the milk, whereas goat's milk from a farm that keeps only does and wethers (neutered males) will be noticeably less bitter, less "goaty". It's also the perfect milk for certain kinds of cheeses, fudge, and making soap.
Another benefit of keeping goats that cannot be underestimated is their entertainment value. A few Nigerian Dwarfs are great therapy, and their constantly cheerful and adventurous attitudes are infectious. I have pretty much always wanted goats, and bringing our triplets home filled our farm with a joy that has not dissipated over the following months.
Goats will also provide your farm with valuable manure which is noticeably odorless (especially when compared to the fetid droppings of geese). Goat droppings are full of nutrients that are great for your garden and their manure is unoffensive.
While we have no intentions of eating our goats, it is also good to point out that goat meat is the most consumed meat in the world and can be another reason to add them to your farm. Another use we are not considering, but many farmers prize, is the fiber of certain types of goats like Cashmeres and Angoras.
The right kind of goat can bring a multitude of benefits to your farm, making them one of the great "permaculture" animals. They'll bring milk, large appetites, happiness and more to your homestead. While they're a bit more work than chickens, the time investment on the part of the farmer is still minimal for these great rewards, and for us the entertainment value is reason enough to keep these little animals.