Management Challenges for Dairy Goat Sustainability

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: housing, parasite control, animal protection and health, manure management
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research


    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.

    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.