Have you wondered about having your own quality dairy in your backyard? Thinking about goats? Worried about the expense and wondering if this backyard dairy adventure will really save you money? Here’s a guest post from our archives with Elise from The Frugal Farm Wife to answer the question – are dairy goats cost effective?
The Cost of Backyard Farming
Quite often when I give a class on chickens, the first question I get asked is, “Will keeping my own save me money?” The question isn’t so easy to answer. If you’re fine eating factory-farmed chicken eggs that may contain unhealthy amounts of antibiotics, other medications, trace heavy metals and other objectionable matter from unhealthy rations and regulatory practices in most large scale chicken operations then, no, you will not save money raising your own because Walmart will price match. However, if you’re, going to great lengths to provide yourself with truly pasture-raised, grain-free, vegetarian or (insert your specialty of choice) eggs from reliable sources and paying a lot for it at the store then, oh yeah, you will be saving money. You’ll also be saving hassle and worry.
The beauty of having your own animal is that you decide what they eat and how they live. You decide how long they produce product and you also decide how what they produce is processed. That’s true for chickens, turkeys, sheep, cows and, as featured here, goats. If you’re currently debating between a goat and a dairy cow, try reading this.
Elise breaks down the basics of keeping a goat in no nonsense way; you may eventually choose to do things differently than she outlines here but this will help you get started. For instance, as goats are social creatures, you may end up with a bawler if the goat is on its own in the yard so you could decide to get another goat. No big deal, double the estimated cost of the goat(s). You’ll still come out on top if what you’re seeking is quality, healthy dairy. So, here it is, according to Elise…
Are Dairy Goats Cost Effective?
Something about goats that continually astonishes me is how low maintenance they are. Oh, they want you to think they’re high maintenance alright, whining if they even think its going to rain and all that, but their actual requirements are surprising low.
Mostly, I’m referring to how much they eat. Vanilla [a milker] currently consumes one quart of alfalfa pellets per feeding/milking, which is a twice daily occurrence. Other than that, she subsists solely on roughage she grazes in the back yard on her picket line. Well, that and water.
I’m convinced that with a little management, a single dairy goat could be kept in the average back yard.
So what would it take to get in the family dairy business?
- A goat of course. Preferably a bred doe. This could run you anywhere from $100 – $300 depending on how fancy you decide to get.
- Grass and/or hay. Grass is best of course. As I said above, The average back yard really should be able to provide the needed roughage.
- A picket line or portable Fence system. If you let the goat have access to the entire yard at one time, the good stuff will never have a chance to re-grow since she’ll always eat that first. Thus, the need for a picket line.
- Shelter. As I mentioned, goats aren’t overly fond of rain. A large dog house should do the trick, although you may need to make the entrance larger. I did a quick search on Craigslist and found a really nice one for $40.
- Alfalfa pellets or hay. We supplement with alfalfa rather than the traditional goat feed for extra nutrients in the interest of remaining entirely grass-fed. Our goat eats one quart at each milking (twice/day). At that rate, a 50 pound bag ($15) should last about a month.
- A container for milking (preferably stainless steel). $15? Unless you get fancy and get a seamless stainless steel heavy duty milk pail. Those cost a fortune but can be worth it in the long run.
- Milk filters. My favorite? A nylon curtain from goodwill, sterilized and cut into 12″ square sections. These can be washed and reused almost indefinitely. Should costs $2 or less.
- Jars. Quart jars, half gallon jars, spaghetti sauce jars, whatever suits your fancy.
Our current milker, Vanilla. I tried to get a picture of her yesterday on her picket line, but neither she, nor my photobombing toddler would cooperate.
Dairy Goats: Cost Effective?
Let’s say you’ve never milked before and your lack of skill causes your goat to lose production so she only gives 1/2 a gallon per day. That’s 3 1/2 gallons every week or roughly 14 gallons per month.
I think it’s safe to say that quality milk for $3 a gallon would be a really good deal, that would come out to $42 for those 14 gallons, but with you owning the goat, you only spent $15 on feed. Hopefully, but we should create some wiggle room and say you budget $25/ month for goat upkeep. Still a great deal.
Of course that figure doesn’t take the initial cost of the goat and all her …stuff… into consideration.
You could go all out and buy a registered doe for roughly $300. The benefit to this would be the ability to sell register able kids for a lot more than cross bred kids. You also have a much better guarantee that she’ll be a good milker.
On the other hand, you could get an unregistered doe for perhaps $100. The quality of her udder and teats may or may not be as good. We once bought a Nubian/Sanaan cross bred doe for $100. She ended up being slightly harder to milk than our registered Nubians. When she kidded, she had two doelings which we sold for $75 each at 3 months old. Not a bad deal, eh?
Okay, let’s assume you go with the registered goat. If she’s fairly young, she should last you for several years, but let’s average the cost out over two years just to be on the safe side.
Your first year expenses would be:
- $150 for the goat
- $40 for the shelter
- $20 for the picket line
- $30 for milking containers/jars/filters
- $180 for feed
Total cost: $420
$420 for 182 gallons of milk (sticking with our low figure of 3.5 gallons per week) equals $2.30 per gallon of milk.
If that’s more milk than your family will use (as milk), and it’s certainly more than we use, keep in mind that you can make your own delicious yogurt and cheese which cost even more than milk does.
Since you went with the registered doe, it seems reasonable to assume that you could expect to average $200 a year selling her kids at 3 months old. We’ve sold 3 month old doelings for as much as $250 each, the bucks however often sell for as little as $50 each.
We always hope of course for twin doelings, but seldom ever get it. One of each seems to be the most common, but occasionally, we get twin bucks. That’s always a bummer.
So now, if you’re a neighborhood dweller, the big question is, what are your neighborhood rules?
A big thank you to Elise for getting our mind working on this issue of home-grown dairy and the cost effectiveness of goats. Elise is a Christian, wife to Gabriel, mother to Garrett, sometimes cake decorator, and fanatical frugalista. She shares gluten-free recipes and their journey of living frugally on an ecologically regenerative farm at frugalfarmwife.com.
If you’d like to know how to prepare for baby goats, click here.
If you’d like to read a good book on natural goat care, click here.