What types of goats do you keep?" This is a question that arises at every farmers market... The truth is both everything and nothing at the same time. They're Free Range goats at this point.
Natural principles underpin the Free Range way of life. We eat chemical-free foods and clean with chemical-free soaps, cosmetics, and cleaners. Use natural herbal medicines and show respect for the animals and the environment that assist us. We began breeding goats by obtaining some of the country's best Alpine and Toggenburg bloodlines; attractive, well-bred, and high-volume milkers. We transported them home to our natural pastures, began feeding them non-GMO feed and natural herbal supplements, and then released them into lush, rotating pastures... They became weak, anemic, and sick very quickly. We couldn't figure out what was going on. They had the best of everything, including abundance of pasture. What had gone wrong?
Vets, research, other goat specialists, articles, and more provided the solutions. We didn't get the answers we were hoping for. The magnificent Smoky Mountains are a virtual sanctuary for developing parasites due to their warm, moist temperatures! Parasites are the major source of goat health issues, according to the goat industry. For decades, their best advise was to deworm consistently (every 30 days)... using chemical dewormers that were up to 5 times the label amount! As a result, parasite resistance expanded widely, resulting in worms that no drug on the market could kill. It's a problem that's wreaking havoc on herds all over the south. Death rates have soared to the point where entire fields must be quarantined for up to 5 years!
The commercial dairy goat industry reacted by altering its goat-raising practices. Many raise them in barns, on bleached concrete, remove all bedding on a regular basis—sometimes multiple times a day—and never allow newborns touch dirt, eat grass, or suckle from their mothers. Instead, parents start giving their children pasteurized milk with worm prevention and antibiotics as soon as they are born. All of this was required simply to keep them alive.
This was not how we wanted to grow our animals. There had to be another option! We sought a more natural approach that would keep them healthy while still allowing them to live typical goat lives in the sun and on green pastures.
We came across a tribe of individuals known as the Kikos who raise parasite-resistant meat goats. These strong little goats! They were bred in the wild in New Zealand through natural selection to be able to grow and survive in a parasite-infested environment–on pasture! It appeared to be too good to be true. We tracked down a few of local breeders and purchased two does to see what would happen.
Sure enough, the next spring, they both had twins and kept them on pasture without ever needing to use wormer. The did and their offspring prospered. We were ecstatic, but there were still some challenges to work out. It was difficult to get our hands on these goats, let alone putting them on a milk stand! This is due to their breed development from New Zealand's feral goats.
We borrowed a Kiko buck the next fall to breed all of our dairy does to. What's the end result? About half of the children did not require any worming and survived and developed. We kept the does out of that 50 percent and began drastically altering the herd.
We needed to preserve parasite resistance, add size and frame to suit the meat goat market, and ensure that the does gave enough milk to keep us supplied with milk for our soap production.
Culling began in earnest, with our overall numbers dropping by up to 50% each year as we weeded out anything that didn't suit our ideal. We brought in heavy milking Kiko does and used hybrid vigor to enhance genetics by diversifying our breed foundation, and the results are now meeting our expectations.
We have 75 percent kiko does on the milk stand that can match or outperform our top dairy does–and they never need to be dewormed. These doelings produce healthy, fast-growing progeny that are large enough to satisfy meat customers. As a dairy enterprise, this has had a significant impact on our bottom line. Bucklings that used to sell for less than the cost of production are now a net profit. At 90 days of age, we can reliably wean 35-40 pound weanlings from our kiko does. Instead of being a net loss for the dairy industry, these bucklings have become a tremendous asset.
Our kiko does have routinely produced doelings that have grown quickly–much quicker than dairy breeds–and with very little effort. This implies they can start producing up to a year before our dairy begins. Increasing the value of milk in the dairy operation.
In addition, the total cost of the herd's inputs has decreased. Let's face it: parasites are expensive to feed, and parasite treatments are even more so. Our overall healthcare expenditures decreased once the herd switched, and feed conversion rates (amount of hay or fodder to volume of milk or meat produced) significantly improved. Our Free Reign goat crosses also live outside, on grass, in the sun, and aren't sick, anemic, or in constant need of medical help. We're looking forward to having kids sired by a mix of our own hybrid goats as well as a Purebred New Zealand goat this coming kidding season!
While this is an unusual method of breeding dairy goats, we have found it to be superior in terms of herd health as well as the financial feasibility of the dairy enterprise, and strongly advise anyone interested in maintaining sustainable dairy goats to seek in this direction for solutions.