Dairy goats

24.05.17

In Australia, the milk from dairy goats is most commonly sold as fresh milk, or used to produce cheese, yoghurt or milk powder. Australia is becoming known for producing high quality specialty goat cheese products. Although the majority of dairy goat products are sold domestically, there may be potential to expand into the export market, particularly in Asia.

Overview

Goats are one of the oldest domesticated animals and are bred for milk, fibre and meat production. Goats are social animals, living in herds and an individual goat has an expected lifespan of 8-15 years. Australia has developed a number of new breeds of dairy goats that have received recognition for their milk production.

Goat milk products have been gaining popularity for their health properties and ability to cater for people with cow-milk intolerances. Goat milk has a smaller fat globule and different protein to cow milk and so people with an intolerance to cow milk can often consume goat milk.

The industry body for dairy goats is the Dairy Goat Society of Australia.

Dairy goat facts and figures

  • Dairy goat farms are located in every Australian state
  • Male goats are called bucks, females are called does and babies are called kids
  • Does generally produce two kids from a single pregnancy
  • At peak lactation, females may produce 4L of milk per day
  • The protein and fat in goat milk is more easily digested than that in cow milk

Production status

It is estimated that Australian goat milk production is around 16 million litres per year with an estimated farm gate value of $20 million. There are approximately 68 dairy goat farms and 15 goat milk factories in Australia. A large portion of the dairy goat farms process their own milk and supply direct to wholesalers.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Goat milk is used for a variety of products and can be substituted for products traditionally made with cow milk. Primarily goat milk is sold as fresh milk, cheese or powder. Goat milk can also be used to produce butter, ice-cream, yoghurt and soap. Goat milk products align with current Western dietary trends towards ‘healthy’ and wholesome foods.

Cheese is the primary use for goat milk. Goat cheese is widely used in cooking and salads. The most commonly known goat’s cheese is chevre. Feta is also a popular type of goat cheese, however is more commonly produced from cow’s milk due to the increased value of goat’s milk. In the past goat’s milk cheeses in Australia were of a French style, which is a strong tasting variety that was not always popular. Most cheeses produced now have evolved to cater for those consumers wanting a milder, more subtle flavour.

Goat milk is whiter than cow milk due to a lack of carotene and has a slightly different nutritional composition. The protein and fat content of goat milk is more easily digestible than cow milk due to a much smaller fat globule and different protein. This means that people with a dietary intolerance to cow milk and gastro-intestinal disorders are often able to consume goat milk.

Goat milk is also dehydrated to form a powder. Powdered goat milk is used in similar ways to powdered cow milk. Powdered goat milk is particularly popular for use in infant formula. The greatest challenge facing this product is maintaining a constant quantity of goat milk to supply powder plants.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Dairy goat farms are located in every Australian state. The majority of production is in Victoria (35%), New South Wales (18%), Queensland (15%) and Western Australia (13%) with minor production in South Australia and Tasmania (each 9%).

There are no real environmental conditions limiting the suitability of different regions for goat dairy production, however, close proximity to wholesalers or factories is recommended to overcome goat milk’s reduced shelf-life when in raw form. Raw milk may be sold legally only in some States, otherwise liquid milk is pasteurised and has a similar shelf life to cow’s milk.

Climate

There is no actual preferred climate for dairy goats as they can and do adapt to a wide range of conditions. However, European-derived breeds generally prefer cooler climes and can tolerate frost. Breeds which originate from the Middle East are tolerant of hot conditions and can tolerate a degree of drought.

Housing

Goats require less land than cows. Dairy goats can be kept free range or in barns, extensively or intensively farmed. All housing types should be kept clean, dry and well ventilated. Indoor housing typically has dirt or straw covered floors and allows goats to access outdoor exercise areas. Feed troughs are open, allowing goats to graze throughout the day. Indoor and outdoor housing both require solid and well maintained fencing. Goats are agile and may jump or squeeze through fencing which other livestock may not. A combination of hinge joint and electric fencing has been found to be an effective solution. Goats kept outdoors will browse pasture, bushes and other field vegetation. Shelter, shade and watering points need to be provided.

Feed requirements

Goats will graze on many vegetation types and can digest fibrous plant materials. Dairy goats may typically be fed concentrated oats, barley and bran alongside vegetation and grazing. Goats prefer not to eat off the ground and instead like browsing bushes, tree foliage and weeds with elevated troughs. Feed dropped on the ground is unlikely to be picked up. As they are a browsing animal a good quality source of roughage such as pasture hay should be available at all times.

Energy and protein are the major considerations when feeding dairy goats. Energy deficiencies are a common reason for reduced productivity and protein deficiencies can limit animal growth, milk production and health during pregnancy. A goats diet directly impacts the taste of their milk.

Kids can be fed in groups or individually. They can drink milk from a teat or directly from a container. Kids require milk for at least six weeks before transitioning to a diet of solids. Refer to the National Kid Rearing Plan, published by Animal Health Australia, for more in-depth information.

Breeds and breeding

There are six recognised dairy goat breeds in Australia. These include the Saanen, Toggenburg, British Alpine and Anglo Nubian. The former three are derived from Swiss breeds and the Anglo Nubian is from Indian and north African stock. The Australian Melaan and Australian Brown are new breeds which have been developed in Australia.

Saanen

Saanens are the most numerous breed of dairy goats in Australia. They are white or cream in colour, have a short, smooth coat and tan skin. Saanens are known for their placid nature and are noted for their reliable production. Australian Saanen stock have been awarded international prizes for milk production. Breeding for tan coloured skin has given this breed a better ability to withstand the strong Australian sunlight and open conditions under which many goats are run.

Toggenburg

Toggenburgs are the oldest recognised dairy milk breed. Animals are light fawn to chocolate in colour, with white facial stripes on their nose and ears and white patches around their tail and lower legs. Toggenburgs are robust and hardy. The breed has long lactation periods, however milk production volumes can be lower than other Swiss breeds. Cool and temperate regions are preferred, however Toggenburgs can be found in a range of Australian climates. The Toggenburgs dark coloured skin serves as protection against skin cancer.

British Alpine

British Alpines have a glossy black coat with white facial stripes on their nose and ears and patches around their tail and lower legs. The breed is active and suited to free range (commercial) farms and are able to cope surprisingly well with the heat. British Alpines have an ability to milk for extended lactations with good quality milk.

Anglo Nubian

Anglo Nubians have short coats which range in colour and markings but they do not have white Swiss markings. The breed’s Indian and North African heritage means Anglo Nubians are highly suited to Australia’s arid climate. The breed is known for its ability to produce both dairy and meat products. Anglo Nubians have a short lactation period and produce less milk than Swiss breeds. Milk is of greater butterfat content than Swiss breeds.

Australian Melaan

The Australian Melaan is a relatively new breed of goat which received official recognition in 2000. The breed has a short, glossy black coat. Australian Melaans are an intelligent breed and are hardy and productive. Australian Melaans are suited to Australia’s variable climate and can tolerate sub-tropical and temperate environments.

Australian Brown

The Australian Brown is the newest breed of dairy goat in Australia, receiving official recognition in 2008. Animals have short, smooth coats which come in a variety of brown shades. Australian Browns are quiet natured and produce similar milk volumes and solids as British Alpines and Melaans.

Goats are seasonal breeders with mating generally occurring during autumn and kidding occurring in spring. Does are mature enough for breeding at 18 months old, however they are fertile from six months so it is important to keep bucks separate until they mature sufficiently. The average gestation period is five months and does usually produce two or more kids from a single pregnancy, although triplets and quadruplets are not abnormal. Does typically produce milk for ten months after giving birth, however kids nibble at grass and hay after two weeks.

Goats are typically mated naturally although artificial insemination is becoming more widely available.

Most commercial goat dairies operate on a rotational system of kidding does every two years to ensure year round milk supply. On average, lactation lasts 300 days and an average of 2-3L of milk is produced each day. Production volumes and the length of lactation varies depending on the breed and management.

Sourcing stock

Dairy goats can be bought from commercial breeders and private herds. They may be sold via internet sites and are rarely sold by auction; however care should be taken to inspect animals for disease before purchase. Blood test results should be requested before purchase to enable some confidence in the health status of the animal. Australia has no genetically proven stock so prices higher than the average should be carefully considered.

It is uncommon to be able to purchase an entire herd. Buying adult animals requires a greater time commitment before they adjust and produce at full capacity. Consequently many producers build a herd by purchasing kids from a range of suppliers (although the biosecurity risks of such a strategy should always be considered). Milk production can be expected after one year depending on the growth rate of the kid.

Dairy goat milk production is dependent on environmental factors, for example stress and insufficient shelter from inclement weather have a negative impact on the volumes of milk an individual goat will produce. Newly purchased stock may take a year to reach full production rates.

Health care & pests and diseases

Goats, particularly lactating goats, are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases. Young animals are more susceptible to poor health, pests and diseases than mature goats. Goats are also sensitive to a range of weeds. For information on weeds refer to the AgriFutures Australia publication ‘The palatability, and potential toxicity of Australian weeds to goats’.

The main diseases that affect dairy goats include worms, Johnes disease, Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), hypocalcaemia, pregnancy toxaemia, mastitis and caseous lymphadenitis.

Gastrointestinal parasites (worms) affect goats as they do sheep and cattle. Control relies on paddock management, breeding for resistance and drenches. The latter are problematic in goats because few products are registered for use in goats and resistance may develop relatively quickly in goat worm populations.

Johnes disease (JD) is a slow-developing wasting disease that affects a number of grazing livestock species. Goats can be infected with either cattle or sheep strains of the JD bacterium. Infection is picked up from direct contact with infected animals (such as kids sucking from teats) or from faeces in the environment (pasture, water, bedding). Control of the disease is difficult once it is present in the herd. It may involve vaccination, reducing the average age of the herd and/or removing kids from does before they suck. Vaccination and/or the removal of kids at birth offers the best prospects of controlling the disease.  As it is a notifiable disease, your local Department of Agriculture officer/s will work with you on control procedures.  Refer to the National Kid Rearing Plan for more in-depth information.

Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) is a disease which is mostly associated with dairy goats, but can be found in all goat breeds. It is caused by a virus (CAEV), which is spread between goats via milk and body fluids. There is no treatment for CAEV. Some herds undertake repeated testing with culling of test-positive animals to provide assurance of a low level of CAE risk.

Diseases related to pregnancy in goats include hypocalcamia (milk fever), pregnancy toxaemia, and mastitis. Hypocalcamia can be treated by ensuring the doe’s energy and calcium requirements are met and pregnancy toxaemia requires addition glucose in the diet. Mastitis is an infection of the udder causing inflammation and reducing milk production; treatment includes administering antibiotics and regularly releasing milk from the udder.

Caseous lymphadenitis (cheesy gland) is caused by a bacterium which can survive for many months in the soil, feed troughs and around fences and is spread through broken skin. Abscesses form under the skin and contain a thick, highly contagious pus. Abscesses under the skin generally have little impact on the animal’s health; however internal abscesses, especially associated with major organs such as the lungs, may result in the goat becoming chronically ill. CLA is difficult to treat once established so the preferred approach is to vaccinate against CLA as part of the program to protect against Clostridial diseases.

For human safety and the safety of other goats, horns are usually removed at a young age.

Infrastructure Requirements

The following infrastructure items are required for dairy goat production:

  • Milking machinery (specific for goats)
  • Shelter and shade (if kept outdoors)
  • Barns (if kept indoors)
  • Robust wire or electric fencing
  • Milk storage facilities
  • Effluent disposal systems

Processing & Selling

Goats are milked mechanically using modified dairy cow milking machinery. Most suppliers of machinery to the dairy cow industry will modify the machinery to suit dairy goats. The main modification is the use of two cups, and for goats, the pulse rate is higher and the vacuum lower than for cows.

Typically, goat milk is chilled on site before being transported to factories in refrigerated trucks. Some producers have processing facilities onsite.

In the factory, milk is pasteurised before being bottled, labelled and quality tested. Pasteurisation is recommended and often the only legal way to sell liquid milk; however many producers argue that consumers are demanding an unpasteurised product due to the perceived health benefits of raw milk.

Goat cheese, yoghurt and milk powder are made from pasteurised milk.

Goat cheese is produced by adding specific cultures and setting agents, such as rennet, to the fresh milk to form a solid mass before it is ladled into cheese hoops, drained and then aged depending on the variety produced. Once prepared and aged the cheese is then packaged and sent to buyers. A large proportion of dairy goat farms supply milk directly to cheese factories.

To make milk powder, the milk liquid is sent to a processing facility where it is fully evaporated and dried before packaging.

Markets & Marketing

The Australian dairy goat industry is small but stable. Overall the domestic market is growing at a gradual rate. Demand for specialty cheeses is high, resulting in supply struggling to meet demand. Feta and soft cheeses are the most popular style of goat cheese. Victoria has an established market for goat cheese where supermarkets are the biggest customers although more retail outlets are stocking the products.

Consumer understanding of the flavours of goat cheese varies – education may increase goat cheese sales further. Competition from imported goat dairy products is a continuing challenge despite these products being perceived as poorer quality than Australian products. Demand is increasing for cottage cheese, cosmetics and beauty products made from goat milk.

Goat cheese is commonly sold to restaurants, delicatessens and supermarkets, with farmers markets becoming a popular outlet, particularly for those farmers that value-add their own milk. Health stores are also a common market for goat milk. Fresh goat milk is difficult to market for many producers because of the small quantities produced; wholesalers generally require larger quantities as they are distributed over a large area.

Australian export of dairy goat milk is small but increasing. The primary export destinations are Asian markets which may provide an opportunity for increasing the export of goat milk in powdered form. Compared to powder made from cow milk, goat milk has a higher return. Value added products, such as infant formula, attract an even higher return. New Zealand and Europe are direct competition for powdered goat milk. Asian markets have requested goat UHT milk, however in comparison to their demand for other dairy products this interest may be insufficient to drive production.

Internationally, Australian goat cheese is well received, including in France. However European cheeses, particularly French, already have a large market share in overseas markets, such as Asia. Some Asian nations such as Japan and Malaysia prefer the milder flavour of cow milk. There are opportunities for export growth in countries such as Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, however, it would need to be coupled with education on the health benefits of goat milk products.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

Goat milk production is affected by seasonality to a greater extent than cow milk. This means herd production may be surplus to demand or fall short of demand which is exacerbated by the distance between producers and retailers. Some producers mitigate this by managing a number of separate herds and milking them during different seasons. Other producers embrace the break in seasons as time off.

Goats may be more susceptible to stress than cows and this may then affect milk production and quality. Careful management and maintaining a routine can help reduce goat stress. Health complications are more common with dairy animals than other grazing livestock. Careful attention should be paid to how goats are kept and fed.

Dairy production is labour intensive. Farmers embarking on this venture will need to plan and balance their lifestyle around the business. It is often a seven day a week occupation while the does are in milk.

Regulatory considerations

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code applies to all dairy businesses in Australia. This regulates production and processing of dairy products to ensure they comply with food standards. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania have additional requirement to this. State government dairy authorities or health departments typically license farms. For further information contact your local state government.

Goat farmers, particularly meat goat farmers, use the National Livestock Identification Scheme. This system tracks each individual animal through the production system. Each animal has an ear tag to identify it and where it was produced. Dairy goats may be exempt in some states and exact specifications under this scheme also vary between states. For more information, contact the NLIS authority in your state/territory.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

Optimising genetics, reproduction and nutrition of dairy sheep and goats – RIRDC publication (2014)

A guide to starting a commercial goat dairy – University of Vermont Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (2012)

Dairy goat manual: second edition – RIRDC Report (2009)

Farming and marketing goat and sheep milk products – RIRDC Publication (2009)

Performance Benchmarking of Australian and New Zealand Business Regulation: Food Safety, Chapter 11: Food safety in dairy production and processing – Australian Government Productivity Commission (2009)

Adding value to new animal product supply chains: dairy goats, emus, rabbits, turkeys, sheep’s milk and silkworm – RIRDC Publication (2008)

Nutrition and management of goats in drought – RIRDC Publication (2005)

Water quality and provision for goats – RIRDC Publication (2004)

Dairy goat farming practises for specialty cheese and other products – RIRDC Report (2003)

Improved breeding in dairy goats and milking sheep: guidelines for the development of national breeding plans– RIRDC Report (2003)

Increase in Autumn and Winter milk production in dairy goats – RIRDC Report (2003)

Dairy goat products: developing new markets – RIRDC Report (2001)

The palatability, and potential toxicity of Australian weeds to goats – RIRDC publication (2000)

Year round supply of goat milk – RIRDC Publication (2000)

Other resources

Department of Primary Industries NSW – state government agency which relates to the dairy goat industry.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand – the governing body for food standards across Australia and New Zealand.

National Kid Rearing Plan – available to download from Animal Health Australia website

Image Gallery

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British Alpine dairy goats grazing

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Dairy goat kids eating green feed

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A contained herd of dairy goats ready for milking

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Maturing Kervella goat cheese

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Dairy goat doe and kids in a hay lined enclosure

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Dairy goat kids feeding from a shared bucket of milk

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Dairy goats being mechanically milked

Related Publications

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Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)

08.10.14

Optimising genetics, reproduction and nutrition of dairy sheep and goats

15.01.09

Dairy Goat Manual - Second edition

15.01.09

Farming and Marketing Goat and Sheep Milk Products