Raising Dairy Goats Organically

Published on Thu, 06/09/2022 - 11:30am

Raising Dairy Goats Organically.

 By Larry Tranel, Dairy Field Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Dairy goat milk has reported health benefits for both nutrition, skin care, and other uses. Organic goat milk is still in its infancy as the dairy goat industry continues to expand in various regions. Developing a market for organic goat milk, cheese, soap or other products tends to be a major obstacle. Profitability of dairy goat operations can also be an obstacle for many, even with a commercial market. For those wanting to produce for an organic market, there are many added incomes and costs in producing milk organically. Those special requirements are detailed in this article.

On the income side, organic milk can add 50%-100% or even more to the price of milk. Cull does, bucks and kids sales might also garner an increased price if a market exists. Even the manure, if not used for home field fertilizer might possibly be sold for a premium price. Having a market, again, is of utmost importance for profit success.

Expense changes can be positive or negative. Feed costs can go both ways. USDA Organic Standards have a pasture-based requirement (30% of dry matter intake during grazing season) might reduce some feed costs but also tend to lower milk production. Thus, the expense per doe might go down but per cwt. of milk sold, might go up. Internal parasites on pasture might become a larger issue with treatment options restricted, which could increase costs. These expense changes highlight some of the cost trade-offs in going organic.

There are federal organic standards and certain states might have their own requirements to consider.

Basic Organic Goat Milk Requirements (not all inclusive):
• No antibiotics, growth hormones or pesticides used on animals
• No conventional pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers used on crops
• Seeds must be organically produced, if available
• Feed production must come from certified organic land
• Feed purchases and bedding must be certified organic
• Animals are to be pastured for 120 days minimum receiving 30% of dry matter from pasture. New fence posts cannot be treated.  
• Farm where organic goat milk is produced is inspected by an organic certifier or government agent to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards
• Companies that handle or process organic goat milk before it gets to the local supermarket or restaurant must be certified organic
• Goats must have access to shelter, shade, fresh air and sunlight or protection from adverse weather. Winter confinement may be necessary and desired depending on outside conditions.

Initial certification must show proof that no prohibited substance has been applied for 36 months prior to full certification. Previous crop records, feed purchase records and dairy goat health records are all important to certifying both land for feed production and certifying the dairy goats themselves. For the most part, dairy goats need to be fed organic feeds only for one year before certification, with the doelings needing to be fed organically from birth. This can cause an issue as few milk replacers are certified organic, necessitating that kids are left on mothers until weaning or bottle fed natural, organic goat milk. Kids are also prone to scours and other health issues with no ability to use antibiotics/coccidiostats to cure them. Thus, health concerns in raising and managing a goat herd organically tends to be more difficult than managing conventionally.  

An exception to the 100% organic requirement is the transition year. The products from these goats may be marketed as transitional as the goats may be fed up to 20% conventional feeds for the first nine months of the transition, but then they must receive 100% organic feeds.

Because of the increased health concerns, overstocking of pastures and housing facilities becomes more of an issue with parasites and ventilation, respectively. Pasture rotation becomes even more important in organic goat dairies due to parasite infestation. Cleanliness of housing facilities, use of adequate bedding and adequate ventilation become paramount for organic dairy.

A goat cannot be certified organic if it has been treated with antibiotics, or a synthetic or non-synthetic substance that is prohibited. Goats that do get sick with diseases might require the use of such substances. In fact, producers must treat sick animals, even if doing so will cause them to lose their status as “organic” for that particular animal which would need to be sold to a conventional market. Whenever possible, it is important to find treatment methods that are organic and that are effective.

In sum, organic is an alternative means to produce dairy goat products but the markets often need to be developed by those producing the product. Organic goat milk and other goat products can command a higher price, but profitability may be an issue in both organic and conventional dairy goat enterprises. But, as the interest in the health benefits of goat milk and goat products continues to increase, the interest in organic dairy goat productions follows suit.