As a dairy goat farmer, I am constantly looking for ways to increase my milk yield and ensure my girls are reaching their full potential. In this post, we discuss how to increase a milk production in goats as well as factors that may be causing a decrease in production.
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The Basics of Dairy Goats
Understanding Different Breeds
Before purchasing a dairy goat research the different goat breeds, their lactation cycle and average milk production. It is important that you don’t set unrealistic expectations. You wouldn’t want to purchase a mini breed if your are expecting a gallon or more of milk per day. If your family consumes a large amount of milk products I would encourage you to pursue larger goat breed.
This is so important if you start noticing a decrease in production. How is her body condition? Dairy goats are naturally thin when they are in milk but take note if they start looking thinner than normal. Are there any visible signs of parasitic infection and have you ran a fecal to check for what type of parasites? Parasites will wreak havoc on milk production. Your goat will also be less interested in food and can have diarrhea if they have a parasitic infestation causing production to drop even more. If you notice any of these symptoms it is best to take a stool sample to the vet and treat accordingly.
Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary gland (or udder). It is more common in poor hygiene management practices but can also occur if your doe becomes engorged. Make sure you are cleaning your doe’s udder before and after milking. Don’t pull her kids abruptly and make sure you are milking frequently enough to prevent engorgement. If you notice that your doe has a fever, her udder is hard or hot to touch or she becomes lethargic you may want to check for mastitis. I keep mastitis indicator strips on hand especially during milking season. If in doubt, to take milk samples to your vet.
Calculate your doe’s stage of lactation. Dairy goat lactation is divided into three stages: early lactation (less than 80 days from kidding), mid lactation (80-140 days post kidding) and late lactation (140+ days post kidding) with their peak production being somewhere around mid lactation. So if your goat is at least 140 days or more post kidding it would be fair to assume that their drop in milk supply is “normal.”
Good nutrition is important! As a general rule of thumb, dairy goats currently in milk need a feed intake of 5 to 7 percent of their body weight daily because their milk production is roughly 9 to 10 percent of their body weight. They also need free access to high-quality hay or forage, minerals and fresh water. Also keep in mind that the grain you feed needs to have high sources of protein content. We currently feed a 20% dairy pellet grain mix and our girls have done extremely well with this particular feed.
It is important that you provide your doe with a dry period every year. We usually dry our does off in the late summer in preparation for fall breeding and a late winter kidding. This gives them a long period to recover and put back on weight.
Increase Milk Production in Goats with Supplements
Once we notice a decline in production and determine the goat is healthy, we usually add one or all of the following supplements:
- Alfalfa hay/ pellets
- Warm water with molasses
- Black oil sunflower seeds
- Baking soda
Alfalfa Hay/ Pellets
It has been my personal experience that adding alfalfa makes a significant difference in how much my doe produces. It is rich in protein content and protein is essential in the production of amino acids. I have also noticed that increasing the protein in my doe’s diet improves milk quality. Alfalfa alone will increase my doe’s average production as well as improve their overall body condition.
We keep several tubes of Replamin Gel on hand at all times. It gives my goats an extra source of vitamins and minerals especially during stressful periods. We added Replamin Gel to our herd about 3 years ago and I will never go without it again. It is a good source of copper and cobalt which not only helps with milk production but also helps with milk flavor.
Warm Water with Molasses
This is one of my favorites (and the girls don’t mind it either). One important factor in high milk production is water intake. Adding molasses will encourage them to drink more water and the sugar in the molasses will encourage them to eat more.
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Black oil sunflower seeds, or BOSS, is a staple for my does in milk. BOSS is high in fiber and protein and has shown in previous studies to have a positive affect on a goat’s milk production. I usually mix BOSS with alfalfa pellets and sprinkle it over their grain during milking.
Dyne is another staple in our goat medicine cabinet. It is a liquid supplement with a vanilla flavor that provides extra calories as well as glossy coat. The girls love it and the added calories help with milk production.
We will occasionally add electrolytes to their warm molasses water. This doesn’t tend to directly affect milk production but it does help them stay hydrated which is essential in producing lots of milk. Electrolytes especially come in handy when you are experiencing high temperatures in your area.
Baking soda is something you can offer free choice. The goats usually know when they “need it” and typically won’t overdo it on the baking soda. Not only is it beneficial in preventing bloat but studies have show that it increases milk fat in your goats. Having a high butterfat content is useful in making things such as butter or ice cream.
Goat health and goat milk production takes a lot of trial and error. Sometimes adding a supplement or two can drastically increase milk production in goats and sometimes it doesn’t even make a difference. Overall I try to make sure my goats are in good health before adding anything extra. A decrease in production could be caused by something else major going on such as parasites. I will say there is nothing quite like a big cup of fresh milk, especially if its goats milk!