Manage with care to profit from goats

Goats demand the same, if not even higher, stockmanship levels as dairy cows, according to former dairy farmer Bill Wallis,

“And the management skills are no different from running a high-yielding dairy herd. What sets goat milking apart is that managed well, there is an opportunity to produce for a growing and less price-sensitive market and to build a business unreliant on subsidies,” he adds.

Previously running an 11,000-litre herd of 140 Holsteins at the family’s Treworgan Farm, Ross-on-Wye in the Welsh Borders, Mr Wallis decided to get out of cows in 1999, mainly because he couldn’t see a profitable future in milk.

Three years later, with his daughter Helen returning to the business and having seen the potential of goats during a study tour to Oxfordshire, plus after doing a lot of market research, they decided to set up the farm’s own goat milking herd.

Beginning with 125 high health-status females, they now have 575 mainly British Saanen goats in milk – with a target of 800 in the next year. Despite still carrying a high proportion of young females, on current performance average yield of milk sold per goat is expected to be 983 litres this year.

At every stage the farm is meticulously run. “It is easy to get excited by the headline price of 40p/litre ex-farm,” warns Mr Wallis. “But cost control and strict management are essential if you are going to see any returns.”

To get started, an initial investment of £240,000 was needed to convert two beef sheds and erect two new buildings to house 800 milkers, collecting yard, parlour and dairy. The parlour chosen was a 50:50 Fullwood rapid-exit milking parlour complete with automatic cluster removers and milk meters. A further building is soon to be erected to house dry and kidding nannies and youngstock.

“Goat flow was a priority consideration in conversion design,” says Helen Wallis, who has day-to-day herd management responsibility. “One person can comfortably milk 450 goats an hour, but still have time to check yield and pick up any problems. We did look at rotary parlours, but were put off by the cost and the limited time the milker has to see goats during milking.”

Housing is all year round in straw yards with animals kept in kidding groups for much of that time.

“We are building up the herd with homebred replacements and have limited opportunity at present to cull on yield, but our target from the established herd will be 1200 litres a goat,” says Miss Wallis.

From the outset, the Wallises decided against processing their milk, focusing on production instead. Their milk is sold to an Oxfordshire producer/processor who also supplied the farm’s breeding stock.

Most feed is home-grown on the 340ha (840 acre) grass and arable unit and fed as a TMR. “We feed a flat rate forage ration of haylage and maize silage made in Ag Bags mixed with 1.3 to 1.5 kg of a 23% protein compound blend based on soya, rape, wheat, molasses and sugar beet depending on yield,” explains Bill Wallis. Feeding is once a day with any uneaten mix removed to ensure feed is always fresh.

Since goats are seasonal breeders, cycling between September and February, billies are run with the herd during that period. Nannies are scanned at 60-70 days and detailed records kept, so they are fed for yield and pregnancy and dried off at the correct time. “Goats can sustain an economic yield much longer than a cow, so they don’t have to kid every year,” she explains. “We usually milk first-lactation goatlings for 20 months between kiddings to give them time to grow and mature.”

With an expanding herd and limited sources for bought-in stock with the right health status, management at kidding and rearing the youngsters are also both critical tasks. “We rear the females and breeding males on automatic feeders. But it is vital they receive enough colostrum and everything is kept clean to avoid scours.”

The herd is thought to be one of only three that don’t choose to vaccinate for Johne’s disease and the stock is both CLA and CAE free, which gives the Wallis’s an extra income from selling breeding stock.

Rolling monthly costings to the end of June show a margin over all feed of £258/goat a year. “Once the herd is up to numbers we would like to see that margin increase as we acheive better production efficiency,” concludes Mr Wallis.


Although considering a rotary parlour, the Wallises opted for a rapid-exit set-up in view of anticipated herd size and the need to observe individual goats.

Parlour pointers
  • Be sure to check the finer points of a new parlour when switching to goats, says Fullwood technical director, John Baines.
  • Presentation of clusters close to the udder and the use of auto start capability, to allow speedy attachment is vital to enable milkers to sustain fast work rates in high throughput parlours, he stresses.
  • For accurate automated yield recording, it is essential to identify animals only once in place in milking stalls, rather than trying to rely on a single antenna at the parlour entrance, he says. “Animals can and do change places after passing an entrance antenna and enter stalls out of sequence, making it impossible to rely on accurate identification,” he adds.
  • As a cost-effective alternative to individual stall-mounted antenna-based identification systems, Fullwood has developed a receiver/transmitter worn on operators’ wrists which only “links” the animal to the correct cluster and milk meter – as the unit passes near its leg-mounted transponder during cluster attachment. “In this way, the Sensomatic Watch ID system can maintain accuracy while easing the expense of a new goat milking parlour,” Mr Baines adds.