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.
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.