Dairy goats in the Manawatu

When we think dairy we immediately think of cows, but recently the milking goat has emerged on a commercial scale in the Manawatu.

Surprising to many, New Zealand has had a relatively long established dairy goat industry. Exports of milk powder for use in infant formulas currently supply up to 20 different markets all over Asia and Europe as well as Russia, Chile and Turkey.

The flocks are comprised mostly of Saanen goats, a specialist dairy breed, that reach a mature weight of 70kg. The flocks are housed and sheds typically have a central feeding lane with the does housed in bays on either side. Most operations employ a ‘cut and carry' system to feed grass, either as fresh cut grass or silage, and the diet is carefully balanced with meal to maximise milk production.

The amount of production depends on feeding level and meal input, but ranges from four to five litres per day. Does kid once a year and have typical lactation lengths that are similar to cows, at around 290 days. Typically the land required to support a housed operation is 15 to 17 goats per hectare. Suppliers are paid on total milk solids (MS), including protein and fat, with each goat producing around 75 to 120kg MS per year depending on the level of intensification and feed inputs. Over recent years the payout has been in the range of $15 to $17 per kg MS, which must sound good to those milking cows, but the cost of production is also higher. Depending on the level of intensification, costs have historically been around $6.50 to $10 per kg MS but these figures may not reflect current prices.

There are animal health issues that are unique to goats but many are similar to those faced by dairy cattle and sheep. Internal parasites are a challenge as goats are generally more susceptible than other ruminants grazing pasture. Mastitis, bearings, coccidiosis, polioencephalomalacia and pneumonia are likely to be encountered at some point. Lameness can also be a problem, with feet needing to be trimmed regularly (up to four times a year) due to the high rate of growth relative to the rate of wear.

The dairy goat industry is a growing and exciting arena, so watch this space!