I grew up with a mixed herd of Alpine and Nubian goats which my father began in response to my "allergy" to cow's milk. Goat's milk is easier to digest than cow's milk because the fat globules are smaller and so my allergy became a good excuse to have a home dairy and raise goats. I can drink cow's milk without any problems. However, I don't enjoy the taste having been raised on goat's and soy milk.
I have very early memories of milking and birthing goats. They were excellent company for a lonely little girl. I've always known that I wanted a small herd for my own children to enjoy. When my eldest daughter was eight months old, I convinced my husband that I would take all responsibility and began to seriously look for animals. It felt very natural to seek out the most productive and well-bred alpine does that I could find on a reasonable budget. But when I began to do my homework, I realized that a small breed would be better for us for several reasons. First of all, our house sits on 13 acres of mostly swamp with only 3 acres of usable land that is totally wooded. Without pasture or even an open space for a respectable barn, I was left wondering where these animals would go. Our lack of pasture or hay fields also raised a concern, since I would have to feed hay and grain year-round and physically bring it in from other sources. Finally, it occurred to me that transporting an adult goat for breeding or veterinarian care would most likely require a truck, which I did not want to invest in. Then I came across an article about Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. They required one third of the space and a fraction of the feed that an Alpine would need. They would also fit into my hatchback nicely, sparing me any transportation issues. They were small enough for my toddler to enjoy, while capable of producing just the right amount of milk for a household. Beyond that they were beautiful well-proportioned miniatures that came in nearly every color imagined with a gentle disposition to match their looks. I was sold!
I visited a local breeder who had two milkers for sale and put a deposit in the mail the next day. She agreed to hold them for one week, while I built a shed and found provisions. Having no experience in construction, I relied heavily on 'Build It Better Yourself' and put up an 8x10 pole barn style structure (just shy of the square footage requiring a building permit) with a metal roof and dirt floor with an 8 month old in a carrier on my back. My husband contributed ever so slightly when I set the posts in concrete. This is something anyone can do by themselves or with help. It was a learning experience for me, but I've managed to add to this structure a milking room and kidding stall. Our herd is warm during our -20 degree Vermont winters and protected from predation in MY building, which doesn't look half bad. Their outside space benefited from used and free 4 foot welded wire fencing that my neighbor left at the road.
Most days the goats take an unleashed hike through our woods with me, cleaning brush and eating acorns. This past season we've acquired a buck for breeding, several milk customers and income from the sale of our first available kids (we kept all our 2009 kids). From ONE lactating goat we sold a share of milk (providing income for their feed) as well as made extraordinary cheese which freezes well for year-round use. The remaining milk we have used as though it was cream in cooking. 2011 will give us FOUR lactating does and more than eight kids, which we hope to sell. We are already anticipating more than a gallon of sweet milk a day, which we plan to convert into chevre, camembert/brie, gouda, yogurt, and ice cream. Yes, my mouth waters as I type this.