Management Challenges for Dairy Goat Sustainability

Final Report for FW07-324

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2007: $15,360.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Deborah Giraud
University of California
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Project Information


Five goat milk producers in Humboldt County, California; Deborah Giraud, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, and Steve Berry, UC Davis Specialist conducted a project that has sucessfully enhanced goat milk producers’ profitability, enhanced enterprise diversification, preserved family farms and their lands and are helping make self-employment in rural counties sustainable. This project supported assistance to our producers in starting milk metering, facilitating an association and created a new statewide conference for commercial goat dairies. Dairy goat foot rot and other foot problems were investigated and information disseminated. A new commercial goat milk producer started during the time of the project, another attempted to start, but failed. We learned a great deal about the challenges goat milk producers face. Goat milk production remains a challenging enterprise which labor, feed and fuel costs continue to exasperate. Our project was conducted under budget.


Goat milk is in demand by cheese processors and small family farms have started goat herds to enhance farm income. Humboldt County has a shrinking cow dairy industry (total numbers of farms) and dairy goats are a new enterprise which helps smaller farms succeed. The same trend is seen in the rest of the state where cow dairies are consolidating and small herds cannot stay in business. It is difficult for young couples to start a cow dairy, while goat dairies can be started for less investment, and in full production in 3 years. The Humboldt/ Del Norte Goat Milk Producers Association (GMPA) serves as a model to other areas, and producers statewide may be encouraged to start their own associations, or a statewide association.
Humboldt County is located 650 north miles from San Francisco. A cheese processor, Cypress Grove Chevre, is shipping nationally and is growing 33% a year. Currently there are five commercial milk producers milking about 1800 goats and all members of the Association. While each ranch is slightly different, most conform to a typical small dairy operation. 45 inches of winter rain present the largest environmental challenge for foot rot, housing and kid care, but allows extensive use of pasture in spring, summer and fall. Many coastal Oregon and Washington dairies have similar operations; other states in the West enjoy drier conditions but little to no pasture and are “feed lot” goat dairies. With the price of feed increasing dramatically, pasture based operations may see an advantage, although dairy goats need supplemental feed and it is a fallacy that pasture alone can supply adequate nutrition. SOme advisors think that a system with confined animals is the best for efficiency. In the span of 2007 – 2009 we have assisted new producers start milk production by sharing information, demonstrating techniques, leading them to business plan assistance, and bringing producers together to network. Lessons were learned from one start-up that did not succeed.

Project Objectives:

Goal A) Foot Rot. To determine the types of organisms causing problems in commercial herds and to demonstrate effective treatments and prevention of foot rot.
Goal B) Improve Profitability. The Goat Milk Producers Association will start a doe sampling program that helps producers cull animals that do not meet production standards.
Goal C) Conference. A commercial goat dairy conference will be held in May 2008 at Merced. Foot rot, sampling programs and the Association model will all be covered as well as other topics with expert speakers from the west. This will be advertised throughout the west. DVDs will be produced.


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  • Steven Berry


Materials and methods:

Goal A) Foot Rot. Dr. Steven Berry visited Humboldt County to look at goat lameness. Sterile swabs and clippers were purchased. Samples were taken from lame goats, and sent to Texas A&M lab. No infectious organisms were found. Photos were taken of hooves with problems. Lameness was attributed to hoof problems that for the most part can be prevented with timely trimming and clean conditions. Both of these are difficult to achieve in areas with 50 inches of rain per year, pasture systems, and large numbers of goats to trim. We held a training on foot care at one dairy, with all other producers attended. The need for timely trimming and hoof care was reiterated to all the producers. Prevention is the key, and this process was very helpful in stressing that to the producers. Dr. Berry came back for a second visit as we didn’t get to see another ranch where they felt they had different symptoms. At that ranch we saw just one case of what may have been more of an infectious wart similar to what cattle get. We found the sampling process to be very difficult. It was also difficult to find a lab to process the samples. When the lab reported no infectious foot problems, we did not sample again. A product that is a disinfectant for general sanitation was purchased to test. “Proud flesh” (swollen wound healing tissue from abcesses) seem to shrink and heal faster if this topical is applied. Better methods of foot trimming are still being explored. Pneumatic clippers were purchased and demonstrated at a meeting.

Goal B) Commercial Producers meetings. In Humboldt County producers have met quarterly. The UCCE Farm Advisor, Deborah Giraud, facilitated the meetings and purchased the milk meters, the major project for the year. Twelve milk meters were purchased by the UCCE in June 2008 with SARE funding. Additional meters were purchased with other funds prior to the SARE grant. One of the producer meetings was held at a producer’s barn, and they demonstrated the use of the milk meters, shared the data collected and reiterated to the producers the benefits of the data collection. The other producers retrofitted their barns to be able to use the meters. While industry salesmen will tell them that it is easy to install and use, the facts remain that each barn is different and the meter hangers may have to be fabricated. With the demands of the daily milking and feeding, this chore and expense has been put off at several producers. It cost one producer about $1,000 to fabricate the metal bar to attach the meter hangers. Another producer started using the meters in 2009. The processor has also held several producer meetings and brought in several guest speaker with Extension’s assistance.

Goal C) Conference. The statewide conference was held on May 15, 2008 in Merced. We had 11 speakers and 19 participants. It was a great day of sharing information and presenting topic useful to the producers. Announcements were in statewide publications such as Ag Alert. Dairy advisors around the state advertised the workshop to their clientele. A direct mail piece was sent to all known goat dairies and processors to distribute. We had three vets in attendance all day. UC Davis Specialists and Advisors from around the state spoke at the conference and helped during the day. Excellent collaboration was evident and interest in goats reaffirmed. A DVD was produced of the presentations and is available to interested producers. Eight sets have been sent since the regional newsletter was sent, five were given out locally.

Prior to the conference, a survey for commercial goat milk producers was created and sent by mail to a statewide list. An email version of the survey announcement was forwarded to UCD staff so they could help distribute it, and it was sent to producers to all the email addresses we have. The survey could also be taken online. A post conference evaluation was emailed to everyone who attended. Eight evaluations were received with most of the ratings in the highest categories. Very few comments were written in the space provided, with no complaints. About six calls were received from producers who did not attend asking for information. In fall 2008 four other producers have called with questions, and several interested in starting new operations. In 2009, two more out of state producers called. Four sets of DVDs were sent to interested new producers at no cost to them.

Research results and discussion:

Goal A) The foot rot investigation was a learning experience for the producers and two researchers. No causal agent was found in the lab analysis. The assurance that the problem experienced was not caused by a contagious agent was good news. Only one goat seemed to have an infectious wart, and this was not confirmed by the lab. The sampling is very difficult on the farm, and perhaps a more extensive clinical situation would be needed to ferret out the causal agent, if it is present. Dr. Berry decided that repeating the sampling was not warranted. Stressing the prevention of foot problems by routine trimming was demonstrated in several workshops. The discussion around how to manage the labor needed to provide the necessary preventative trimming was instructive for all. Dry does who do not enter a barn each day where they can be trimmed more easily, need to be trimmed on a regular schedule. After the workshop, one producer had immediately hired a worker to spend ½ day just trimming feet until the whole herd was trimmed. They continue to have labor challenges accomplishing foot care. Pneumatic trimmers were purchased for demonstration purposes and can be shared by all the Association members. A new disinfectant was purchased for demonstration purposes and producers reported good results when used on lame goats.

Goal B) One of the producers reported that the milk meters allowed them to sort their goats into three milking and feeding strings. 100 goats were culled after collecting milk production records over about three testing dates. This information gave them the confidence to cull with sound reasoning. Feeding is being fine tuned for each string of goats, which is a cost savings and beneficial to the animals by being able to supply feed more exactly to the age and production of the goats. The impact of these changes will be immediate to this producer and serve as a model for others. Soon we hope to see the other producers in this county using the meters more extensively. While the meter project was conducted only in Humboldt County, it will serve as a model to others in the region as an accomplishment of a producer’s Association. We demonstrated to the producers that they can conduct owner sampling at low cost, as a stepping stone to full DHIA sampling.

Goal C) Conference. The outcome of the Conference was educational presentations delivered to 19 producers, and a DVD created that can be shared with many more. Sets have already been mailed to others in the western region. A pre-conference survey was created to ascertain what topics the producers wanted. We had good response. This resulted in a long list of topics, many of which were addressed. There was no concentration of topics requested and many topics were suggested. A post conference evaluation was sent to all who attended. Another outcome was the interactions of Cooperative Extension Specialists from campus with county-based Advisors coming together to listen to, and help goat milk producers. Planning for future events and research are in discussion. A meeting the night before the conference was held with most of the speakers attending. Several ideas were presented that are in the planning stages, including a doe sale at the State Fair. The Golden Bear Doeling Sale was discontinued years ago, but a producer who was involved is interested in starting it up again. The proceeds could go toward UCD research and extension projects. However, in 2009, there is a large sale in Sacramento through the ADGA and we were advised this would not be a good year to pursue this.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Goal 1) Accomplished. The UC Davis media group videotaped the presenters and created a 3 part DVD of the presentations. These were offered and mailed by request in the Regional newsletter.

Goal 2) Accomplished. I decided to make the newsletter a western region publication. I contacted dairy goat specialist in four states and obtained articles. The newsletter was sent to our mailing list of commercial dairies in California and all cheese manufacturers and milk bottlers. Contacts in Oregon, Washington and Utah were sent copies and asked to pass it on to all their milk producers. It was sent to Extension agents as well.
Livestock Farm Advisors California 15
Utah Extension 15
UCD Animal Science faculty & Extension 10
UCD Vet Med 2
CA Artisan Cheese Members 12
Cypress Grove Chevre 3
Producers & Processors 68
UC Dairy Advisors 8
Oregon goat milk producers 6
Veterinarian 1
UC Administrator 1
Nutritionists 1
SARE Maryland 3
SARE Utah 3
Arizona 3

Total Distributed: 151 in 2009, and the remaining printed will be distributed at the 2010 UCD Gaot Day.

Goal 3) Web Site and Trade magazines. Not accomplished yet. A similar article describing the results will be written and sent to trade magazines and posted to our UC goat workgroup web site, with links to and from the animal science department and other goat web sites. Flash files of the presentation can be added.

Goal 4) The information generated was to be shared at Goat Day held at UC Davis each January. This event was not held in Jan. 2009 as usual. I did not learn the reason. With the budget cuts at the UC departments, we do not know when it will be held again.

other Outreach: A professor in Mexico contacted us and plans are forming for a student and professor visit and exchange. He came to California in October 2009 and visited several commercial goat dairies. Junior college student exchange was recommended, and the Ag Advisory committee is taking up how to set up such a program.

A SARE sponsored conference in Visalia was held in December, 2009. A poster describing the project was shared there.

Educational materials (including photographs)
a)The UC Davis media group videotaped the presenters and created a 3 part DVD of the presentations. Not accomplished yet is the flash version for the web. A web site is also in the planning stages.

b)Several photos are available. A poster was created.

c)Educational materials for producers were gathered and handed out at the conference.

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Future Recommendations

Commercial goat milk producers could benefit from a statewide association, and a large statewide educational workshops at least every other year. More research and extension educational programs are needed. Costs of production and management challenges continue to increase. It is difficult to attract commercial herd owners to workshops; there is no ‘best time to meet.’ Distances in California are extensive and it is very hard for small dairy owners to get away from the farm, as it is expensive to hire temporary help and sometimes very difficult to find. Many are doing the milking themselves and have few or no relief milkers. Many commercial goat dairy owners do not belong to the American Dairy Goat Association. There are educational opportunities at the national convention which they could take advantage of.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.