let's talk farm animals

DIY food: your own goat = homegrown dairy

Here’s an interesting story on the trend towards growing your own food. I think it’s good they got the message out that it’s 24-7 work and the responsibilities associated with raising farm animals. Not as easy as goldfish! - OFAC

Wency Leung
Globe and Mail Update
Tuesday, Apr. 06, 2010 7:18PM EDT

There are dog people and cat people. And then, there are dairy-loving goat people.

Shelley Hess is one of the latter.

In a fenced area at the end of her driveway, the resident of North Saanich, B.C., keeps three goats named Kalinga, Poppy and Nikki. They serve both as pets and a source of dairy for her family.

“Our goats are like somebody else’s dog,” Ms. Hess says – except they also each produce up to three litres of milk a day, which her family drinks and uses to make cheese. “They’re very bright animals. They’re very personable and they enjoy people as well. … They’re a lot of fun for us, and of course, they’re very useful.”

Ms. Hess and her husband David, began keeping pet goats about 14 years ago and would never consider themselves trendsetters. But lately, a small yet growing number of food enthusiasts are taking an interest in small-scale goat keeping. On the rise for both health and environmental reasons, it’s an extension of do-it-yourself food production trends such as vegetable gardening and urban chicken farming.

In Seattle, goat keepers have successfully lobbied for bylaw amendment, allowing them to keep the animals in their yards. Portland, Ore. also permits urban goat keeping. According to USA Today, plenty of other municipalities, including Carbondale, Ill., and Hillsboro, Ore., are considering following suit.

In Canada, those who keep pet dairy-producing goats are generally restricted to doing so on small hobby farms, since major cities do not allow the animals in residential areas. But that doesn’t appear to be deterring interest. Advertisements from Canadians wanting to buy and sell pet goats for milk can be spotted on classified websites such as Kijiji and Siftin.com.

Jennifer Cavanagh of Calgary says her city’s bylaws won’t deter her from acquiring a goat. She already keeps a vegetable garden and several chickens in her backyard, despite a ban.

Raising goats “just seems like the next logical step.” She is concerned about the health and quality of life of livestock raised on industrial farms, and also wants to have more control over the food her family consumes.

“If you’ve got access to milk [from your own animal], you can make the cheese and the butter as well without having to worry about what’s been done to the animal or what’s been done to the milk and cheese,” Ms. Cavanagh says.

While concerns about health and animal welfare are often cited as reasons for do-it-yourself farming, Crystal Mackay, executive director of the non-profit Ontario Farm Animal Council, says that livestock farming practices in Canada are among the best in the world.

Even though public interest in food and where it comes from has never been greater, her organization’s public attitude studies have shown the majority of Canadians know little or nothing about farming. People who decide to raise their own farm animals need to ensure they receive adequate care and treatment, she says.

On farms, laws and codes of practice address environmental issues and animal welfare. The less pleasant aspects of farming, such as taking care of manure, flies and smells, may be difficult to manage in a city setting, she adds.

Jennie Grant, who began the movement to legalize urban goat keeping in Seattle in 2007, says taking care of goats isn’t much more complicated than keeping a dog that needs to be walked two or three times a day. Her goats, a cross between LaMancha and Nigerian dwarf breeds, weigh about 100 pounds each and don’t require a lot of space, she says, noting she lives on a 380-square metre suburban lot.

Goats aren’t nearly as affectionate as dogs, however, and since they are herd animals, people should keep at least two, she explains.

While milk production varies depending on the breed, Ms. Grant’s goats have been able to produce as much as five litres of milk a day after giving birth, and can continue lactating for two years, she says.

“It’s not a lot of work, but it’s relenting. You can’t not milk your goat one night,” she says, explaining that the biggest drawback she’s experienced with goat keeping is that it ties her down. “It’s not like you can just hire the neighbour kid to walk your dog. It really takes practice to milk a goat.”

Ms. Hess says she generally breeds her goats in rotation so they have a chance to rest before restarting lactation. Since her family needs only a limited amount of milk, she sells the kids to be raised as milking goats or for their meat.

Her animals graze on the grass on her property and she also feeds them each about a coffee tin’s worth of goat feed a day. Between purchasing the occasional $10, 20 kilogram-bag of goat feed, and the initial cost of setting up an electric fence and shelter, she believes goat keeping has saved her plenty of money at the grocery store.

Plus, it’s been a treat for her taste buds. The flavour of her goat milk, which she drinks raw, is unlike anything you can buy, she says. “The way I describe it is it just simply tastes like the best cow’s milk you’ve ever had,” Ms. Hess says. “Fresh goat milk doesn’t have a goat-y flavour. It’s just lovely.”

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Posted by FFC on April 7th, 2010 :: Filed under Animal care,backyard flocks,Other livestock
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