The Big Question:
Once you decide that raw milk is a priority for your family, how exactly do you acquire it? If you are like us, purchasing raw milk for human consumption is illegal in our state. In fact, Wyoming just barely starting officially “allowing” cowshare or goatshare programs. So unless we want to drive out of state, we are out of luck.
So these reasons, combined with the fact that we are crazy do-it-yourself people, prompted us to look into owning our own dairy animals at the beginning of our homestead journey.
Goats were our gateway animal into the world of home dairying, and I was a proud goat-milker for several years before finally purchasing our first milk cow. However, even though my goats have been dried up for a while, and we are exclusively milking our cow, I’m still very much pro-goat. There are definitely advantages to each animal–and I’m highlighting the pros and cons for you today.
Cow vs. Goat: How to Decide on a Home Dairy Animal
Goats: The Pros
Cost: Dairy goats are generally much cheaper to purchase than a milk cow. Goat price tags vary greatly, but expect to pay anywhere from $50-$300 for a starter goat–depending on the age, breed, and whether or not it is registered.
Less Feed: Goats consume far less hay than a full sized milk cow. Heck, even when our goat herd was at its largest (10-12 head), they still ate far less than our cows.
Space: It’s kind of obvious, but a couple of goats will take a whole lot less pasture space, and less space in your pens/barns.
Intimidation Factor: Because they are so much smaller, goats are a better choice if you’ve never worked around large animals before. If the largest pet you’ve had thus far is a goldfish, sitting underneath a 1200-pound cow for the first time so you can grab a hold of its udder can be a bit nerve-wracking.
They Give Less Milk: If you have a small family, or just don’t have the time to deal with massive quantities of milk, then a goat is probably perfect for you.
The Milk Tastes Darn Good: Really. Fresh goat milk that has been handled correctly takes just like cow milk to me. Contrary to popular belief, goat milk doesn’t have to taste like a nasty ol’ buck.
Breeding Season Can be Easier: In order to get milk, you need to breed your goats so they can have babies. It depends on the area, but I always had an easier time finding a buck to rent than trying to hunt down a bull for our cow.
Goats: The Cons
Fencing: In order to keep a goat in a fence, it needs to pretty much be watertight…. And even then, they will still probably get out. This was the #1 factor in us reducing the size of our goat herd. There are definitely ways to get around this issue, but it takes a bit of creativity and usually some electric fence.
They Give Less Milk: If you have a large family, or are itching to go nuts with home cheesemaking, you’ll need to milk several goats (at least) in order to get enough milk.
It’s Tough to Get Cream: Since goats milk is naturally homogenized, very little cream rises to the top. So, if you are having visions of making homemade butter or whipped cream, you’ll need to invest in some sort of mechanical cream separator. I’m a big fan of cream, so this part of keeping goats always bummed me out.
Cows: The Pros
Fencing: If you have a basic barbed wire or wooden fence, your cow will probably stay inside–no problem.
You’ll be Swimming in Milk: For real… Even when I’m just milking Oakley once per day, I still get around 2 gallons per milking. That’s enough to make all the cheese, ice cream, butter, and yogurt that my little heart desires.
You can Feed Other Animals: I love feeding our pigs, chickens, and dogs our excess milk–and there is usually plenty to go around.
CREAM: Need I say more? The first time I got a 5-inch creamline in my milk jar, I did a major happy dance. 🙂
The Milk Tastes Darn Good: Yep– I just love milk. Goat milk, cow milk… It’s all good!
Extra Calves Can be Beef for your Freezer: Not to say that you can’t eat goat meat, but we’ve found that the dairy calves that we’ve put in the freezer have been excellent.
Cows: The Cons
Transportation: Unless you have some really generous friends with trucks/stock trailers, you’ll need some sort of truck/trailer to haul your cattle. In contrast, you can usually haul goats in a minivan… Just a thought.
Cost: Like I mentioned above, purchasing a milk cow will usually set you back $1000-$3000. It’s an investment for sure.
Feed: Cows eat more than a goat. Period.
Space: And they require a larger amount of pasture space. One cow usually requires around 2-5 acres of pasture, depending on where you live. And even though we have 60+ acres of pasture on our homestead, we still remove our animals during the pasture for part of the winter/spring to give it a rest. This means we feed hay for a portion of the year–and that can be expensive.
Breeding: Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to find a bull to borrow when it comes time to breed your cow back. Artificial insemination can be a good option–as long as you can find semen and someone who knows how to AI.
You’ll Be Swimming in Milk: The first few days this happens, it seems really fun. And then when your refrigerator is jam-packed full of milk, and you have made all the yogurt your family can stomach, and you don’t have a ton of time to devote to cheesemaking, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There are definitely ways to cope with milk-overload, but be prepared for it–it’s inevitable.
If you are a beginning homesteader, I wholeheartedly recommend starting out with a couple goats. They are a wonderful introduction into the world of home dairying, and you don’t have to shell out a bunch of cash to get started. (Just make sure you do have that water-tight fence…)
And when you are ready for the next step (or to step up your cheesemaking game), a cow just might be the perfect addition.
So there you have it– I’m a fan of both goats AND cows. Both have their benefits, and both have their downfalls. But both have made my personal homesteading experience a whole lot more exciting.
And nothing quite compares to the first time you take a sip of fresh milk from your very own animal. It makes all the sweat, money, and time spent fencing worth it. 🙂