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To Goat or Cow? That Is The Question

By: Everett S
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For a family of three on a ten acre homestead, would it be better to have a small cow, like a Jersey, or a couple of goats?

From what I have read and been told, even a small mixed-purpose cow is going to produce way more milk than a family of three can use, even if they make cheese and butter with it too. But I’ve heard that goats are nearly impossible to keep out of the garden, and are more difficult to care for.

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Category: Farming & Gardening

Comments (2)

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  1. tenzicut says:

    You are right, you are not right and you have partly the right idea. How is that for an answer? It is not an easy question to answer. You will have to answer the following questions for yourself.

    1./ A family of three.
    How much milk do you drink? I drink/use nearly a gallon a day by myself. Some people use less than a cup a day. How much are you using?

    A cow will produce 3-5 gallons a day (Dexter) to 20 gallons a day (Holstien) to somewhere in between for a Jersey or a cross.

    I have a Jersey/Gelbvieh(Gelp-fee)cross heifer and I will be keeping her calf on her when she freshens. The calf will take some milk and I will take the rest for my needs. The cow will produce as much as the demand on her is… theroretically. If I get WAY too much milk, the rest will go to feed the hogs as a supplement.

    2./ Do you prefer goat milk to cow milk or cow milk to goat milk? I actually do not care for the richness of goat milk in a glass or on my morning oatmeal. In the past I have found goat milk to be perfectly nasty with Fig Newton cookies and will not try that combination ever again. I prefer cow milk for those food items, however, I prefer the goat milk for many of my cheeses, carmel and gelato.

    I also only use real butter in my kitchen and Jersey is ‘cream of the crop’. Goat milk is self homogenized and will not easily seperate as cow milk will. Nubians have the highest butterfat generally, with some individuals at 5.2% butterfat. Jerseys are about 5.3%. Each individual within a breed can vary as well. My milk goat is a Boer/Nubian/Saanan cross and gives large quanities of excellent milk.. without kidding, as she is a precocious milker. The grass turns green in the spring and she thinks she needs to produce milk. What are you prepared to do with the offspring? I used to butcher all my buck kids. All calves, except for replacement heifers are butchered when they are about 12-18 months.

    3./ Will you, the significant other or the kids be milking? A Jersey cow usually have a weight range of between 800 and 1,200 pounds. A goat is not nearly that weight (90-135#)and can easily be handled by kids. Will you be milking by hand or with a milking machine? That also could make a HUGE difference in your decision. You may chose to only want to milk out a goat instead of a fully lactating cow.

    4./ Fencing. Let me tell you about a Jersey cow.. the former mother of my heifer calf. I had more problems keeping that steeplechaser cow inside my 4 and 5 stand barbwire fencing in one year than I ever had with my goats since 1996. When my goat is not in a log fence in the barnyard, she has a 30 foot leash and she is moved daily. Only once has she gotten into my garden and it was sorely my fault. She just took advantage of my negligence at the gate latching. The former milking Jersey cow however, is nicely tucked inside my freezer to escape no more. I used to have nice tight fences before she came along, but her former home didn’t and they taught her that fences were made to be broken, or jumped.. or squeezed through.

    The trick with goats is .. they like to stand and look over the fence. Either give them something to stand on (like a rail at an old fashioned western tavern before the brawl) or put something there like an electric fence to keep them from standing on it… about 6″ out at goat chest height on the fencing poles. NEVER pet a goat over the fence, they like to be petted. Petting them encourages them to stand on the fence to be petted. Even on my log rails, with not petting the goats over the fence, they do not stand on the rails. Have a cheapo fence from the beginning and they learn to get out.. well.. Blame them from learning they can escape due to human mismanagement of the fence? When I first had goats, I had no fence. I tied the queen goat up and they all stayed with her. Goats are browsers, so you DO have to move them 1-2 times a day.

    4./ Kidding problems are usually easier to deal with than dealing with a calving issue. Goats are generally easier to transport for whatever reason you need to transport them. It is generally nicer to clean out a goat barn instead of the cow barn. A shave all my milking animals down to a show cut and they get bathed every 2 weeks. The udders are clipped with a #40 blade (Oster). Goats feet need trimming more, but cow feet can be harder to do.

    5./ Train both species on a halter and socialize them to people. With my goats or cow I can go out into the pasture with a book and use them as a warm backrest to read in the sunshine if they are laying down chewing cud. They like going for walks with people on their leadropes.

    7./ It is also your preference if you decide you are a goat-person over a cow-person as well. A cow will be a 15-20 year investment (time as well as money) and a goat will be with you for 7-12ish years. A cow will give you meat in 12-18 months and goat kids, you can get up to 3-ish per doe per year and you can butcher them out at 4 months (my preference) and get 40lbsx3 animals per year.

    8./ Both are herd animals and should have something of a herd animal with it. My horse and heifer are now buddies in the back pasture, but before the heifer and the goat were not to be seperated. So if you have goats, you should have 2 at least and if you have a cow, you may not need 2 bovines, but maybe buddy it up with something else for a friend. (Like a goat?)

    9./ You do not say where you are. Some lands are capable of having 1 cow/calf pair per 2 acres and some lands are about 40-60 acres per cow/calf pair. Do you have more pasture or more browse? Are you going to buy all or part of your feed for the animals? How harsh are the winters? How hot are the summers? Do you need extreme shelter for them to warm or shade them?

    10./Water. Do you have to haul water? I did for 3 years until the well was drilled. Do you have a faucet or will you need to haul multiple 5 gallon buckets?

    Good luck and I hope you find your new family member soon. Whatever you get, they do become part of your family as they are feeding your family.

    — tenzicut

  2. Maureen says:

    Very nice review of this big question. I’ll add a couple points. The biggest problem with cows is bulls and the biggest problem with milk goats is bucks. I strongly advise looking around at what your neighbors have and working out some sort of bull or buck sharing deal.

    The other issue is fencing. If you only have does and wethers (no bucks) they will stay inside the 4′ ranch panels (a fast inexpensive way to build a fence). Or if you like portable electric fence, well trained goats will stay inside the taller mesh electric fencing (Premier). All this is very elaborate compared to what will contain a couple of cows – just portable fence posts and two rows of hot tape. Cheap, easy to move. Works great as long as the food supply holds out.

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