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67 Merchants Row
Rutland, VT, 05701
United States

(802) 417-1528

Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

What's Growin' On

An online community of farmers in the Rutland region hosted by the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link

Intro to Starting a Goat Dairy, Part 1


Goat herdAngela Miller, co-owner of Consider Bardwell Farm, began the workshop by giving a brief history of the farm. Consider Bardwell Farm was the first cheese making co-op in the state, dating back to 1864. In 2004, Angela and her partners received their license to make and sell cheese. Last year they made about 50,000 pounds of cheese, and this year they’re increasing their poundage. They sell cheese wholesale, at their on-farm café and store, and at farmers markets in NYC, MA, and VT. Carol Delaney, Small Ruminant Dairy Consultant, discussed the business logistics of starting a goat dairy. She encouraged people to think of a goat farm as a complete system: what will you do with the milk, with the manure, with extra male goat kids, etc? She also encouraged people to think about their farm’s sustainability and be willing to adapt to changing circumstances.

Getting started:

    1. Discuss your family and farm goals. Who will do what? Monitor and change as necessary.
    2. What are you working towards?
    3. List your resources (buildings, equipment, skills, available markets, etc.)
    4. List all participants and their roles. Be sure to communicate with everyone in your family, even if you don’t see them actively working on the farm. They will be involved!
    5. Land is your source of feed for livestock AND yourself. Use your land to feed your family.
    6. Diversify your markets and products. Always have a backup.

Who will help you?

      1. Dairy goat farmer/mentor?
      2. Vet?
      3. Milk quality consultant?
      4. Feed company rep?
      5. Discussion listserv?
      6. Goat specialist?
      7. Financial advisor?
      8. Land management?
      9. Farm association?
      10. Agency of Ag contact?
      11. Milking equipment technician?

Why goats?

Advantages +Relatively safe and easy to work with +Manure dry +Goats select their feed (Eat the most nutritious part of plant) +Proven in “extensive” systems + Milk/cheese market is vibrant +Dairy infrastructure is in place in VT +Attractive to interns/easy to find help +Low cost to enter +Support from other farmers

Challenges -Difficult to sell kids -Seasonality (goats want to breed in decreasing daylight, so challenges getting them to breed year-round) -High operation costs (dairies in general are high cost) -Uncommon to find herd to buy (this might be changing as goats become more popular) -Sensitive to environment (goats don’t like drafts) -Labor intensive -Disease challenges -Strong hierarchy (so need 12-13 inches of head space), can be aggressive -Intake is high per unit of body weight (goats eat 4-6x a day, compared to cows who eat 2-3x a day. Goats can’t eat a lot of fiber, so they have to be pickier when they eat)

IMPORTANT THEME: When starting a goat dairy, keep impeccable records and start tracking each goat’s eating habits (how much does each goat eat), milk production for each goat (milking speed is 65% heritable, so you want to know who your good milk producers are!), and how much time your spending milking / feeding (some goats are fast milkers, some are not).

Getting Milkers

Tip: When choosing goats, don’t choose on just how much milk the goat produces. Fat and protein compete with milk quantity, so to get the best QUALITY milk you need to understand how fat/protein fits into the picture.

      1. Get production records
      2. Know about disease history at the farm (CAEV, Caseous lymphadenitis, and internal parasites)
      3. Where to buy
        1. Small ruminant marketing listserv (email Dr. Tatiana Stanton at tls7@cornell.edu to get the emails)
        2. American Dairy Goat Association (www.adga.org)
        3. Coach Farm in Pine Plains, NY (coachfarm@taconic.net or 518-398-5325)
        4. Trade magazines like Dairy Goat Journal or United Caprine News
      4. Price – look around so you know what to expect
      5. Do you want to buy kids and raise them (easier but have upfront costs) or buy adults (more expensive but immediate income from milkers)

How much land per dairy goat? (assuming kids raised inside)

- Need .2 - .3 acres/milking doe that grazes and hay for the rest of the year -.14 acres per goat for just grazing - SO about 50 goats = 15 acres -100 goats = 30 acres

Buildings /Animal Needs

    1. You need to think about your hay storage needs (1 cubic foot can hold 6-8 pounds of hay). A 100 doe unit needs 46 tons of feed concentrate every year. Get enough hay storage for the whole year.
    2. Loafing areas or pens
    3. Each adult goat needs 20-30 sq. feet of space
    4. 0-2 months: 3 sq. ft.
    5. 2-7 months: 9 sq. ft.
    6. 7-birthing: 12 sq. ft.
    7. Holding areas/feed areas: Each adult goat needs 8-10 sq. ft in the feed area, scrape alley, or 6-7 sq. ft. in the outside parlor
    8. Linear feed space: Each goat needs 12-13 inches per animal.
    9. Manure – Each goat produces .22 cubic ft. of manure per day.
    10. Sawdust: you’ll need 12 pounds per cubic feet, need about 1-2 pounds of bedding per day per goat.
    11. Waterers: 1 per 25 animals. Water consumption is about 1-3 gallons per day per goat
    12. Milk House
      1. Milk room – about 200 sq. ft. Size of tank related to lowest and highest volume per day and how often the tank is emptied.
      2. Can cooer, 10 gallons per can
      3. Milking Parlor: 12 ft – 20 ft x 20 ft (240 – 400 sq. feet)

Making and selling cheese– Know your cost of producing milk (again – keep meticulous records!). Understand your markets (wholesale prices for goat cheese range from $10-14/lb while retail ranges from $16-22/lb).

More about business planning…

  1. Use progress indicators to inform you of your business health and if you are obtaining your goals.
  2. What will you do when you want to retire or get out of business? Keeping meticulous records will help you sell your farm. Make a farm transition and estate planning decision now! See the resources section for help.
  3. Have a business plan so you’ll be able to get a loan. You’ll need:
    1. Balance sheet (net worth statement).
    2. Annual production plan with quantity produced, farm use, and sale price
    3. Family living (cash) needs
    4. Operating expenses, identified as to what, price, and total cost
    5. Operating revenue, identified as to source, price, and total revenue
    6. Capital purchases and sales for year
    7. Borrowing and loan repayment plans


  1. Tatiana Stanton of Cornell’s Extension program is a wealth of knowledge. Email Tatiana at tls7@cornell.edu to get on the small ruminant listserv—very worth your time!
  2. Bob Parsons of UVM specializes in agro-economics, ie farm accounting systems. Email him at bob.parsons@uvm.edu
  3. Carol Delaney – Goat guru! E-mail her at Carol.Delaney@uvm.edu
  4. Building a Sustainable Business, SARE handbook 6 (http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-a-Sustainable-Business)
  5. Holistic Management by Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield, Sam Bingham
  6. Know your goat diseases. Goat Medicine by Dr. David Sherman and Dr. Mary Smith is great.
  7. Raising Goats for Milk and Meat by Rosalee Sinn
  8. Farm transfers and estate planning - Farm Transfer Network of New England (www.farmtransfernewengland.net/)
  9. Sample budgets
    1. California 500 goat dairy budget (http://www.agmrc.org/media/cms/dairygoatsnc05r_561E506BD07C6.pdf)
    2. Langston University, Goat farm budgeting (http://www.luresext.edu/goats/training/budgets.html)
    3. ATTRA: Dairy goats, sustainable production (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=213)

Also, check out Angela Miller’s book, Hay Fever and keep your eyes open for Carol Delaney’s book about commercial dairies to be published later this year. More information to come about dairy goat housing and milking systems in a future post!